A trip to the Maldives would be incomplete without a look into the underwater world that lies just below the surface. From 5 meters to 30 plus meters, the reefs, channels and sea bottom are open to exploration by surface divers and certified scuba divers; it’s the certification that will determine just how deep they can go. Which certifications are absolutely necessary, and which recommended courses will be the most advantageous?
For more than snorkelling and surface diving the PADI Open Water Diver certification is the minimum requirement for scuba diving in the Maldives. For non-divers that want to explore without breathing equipment and stay just near the surface, they may want to consider the Skin Diver course to fully take advantage of snorkelling and surface diving; the course is not required however and the appropriate skills could be learned from an experienced diver.
There are some additional qualifications that PADI recommends for diving in the Maldives. These additional courses can up your game as a Maldives diver but not all are of equal importance according to divers in-the-know. Get the inside scoop on the certifications that can really make your Maldives diving holiday one to remember.
Become a Drift Diver
The Indian Ocean current and its movements carry divers and fish-attracting nutrients along the island chain, making the diving a treat for drift divers. The idea of drift diving is to go with the flow but control is of the upmost importance. A drift diver course teaches the technique, planning and organisation required for effortless dives. When you are confident in your dive abilities you can focus your attention on what matters most – the Maldives underwater sights. To get that feeling of flying while underwater and to cover a longer distance than when there is little to no current, advanced diving skills are required which can be obtained in the Advanced Water Diver course or in the specialty Drift Diver certification.
The Maldives currents are known for their strength, even when the tides change and other regions would have a period of “slack tide”, the Maldives can experience an increase in current strength. These secluded islands fall in the middle of ocean interplay between monsoon, ocean and tidal flow. For safety reasons, constant communication with the surface of the diver location is essential when drift diving.
For drift diving in the Maldives there are dive sites such as Embudhu Express for advanced divers and Kandooma Thila for prolific fish life, a teardrop-shaped thila with outcrops and overhangs. Guridhoo, Fish Head and many dives in the deep south will also satisfy divers dreaming of drifting.
Open Water Diver to the Next Level – Advanced
While the Maldives has diving for all levels, the strong currents make a number of the sites accessible to advanced divers only. That being said, as long as you don’t go below 20m, it’s the experience that counts rather than the certification. The AOW (Advanced Open Water Diver) is only required for diving between 20-30m whereas 10-20m is a very good depth to see the sea life that the Maldives is known for. Also, it’s recommended not to do the OW (Open Water Diver) and the AOW back to back without getting a few OW dives in between.
AOW allows you to go past 20m up to 30m in the Maldives, where 30m is the max. Many say that taking it deeper just isn’t worth it unless you’ve already got tons of dives under your belt and you’re looking for a new experience, a new challenge. Deeper dives are shorter dives as the air consumption goes up drastically. For a short trip to the Maldives you may want to maximize dive time by staying above 20m.
Don’t be tempted to rush through the certifications, unless a really great package deal is being offered. While a certification can make divers feel well-qualified, in actual fact it’s experience that will make for an advanced diver in practice. Be careful not to let that piece of paper misinterpret your true ability.
What divers DO recommend in terms of best value certification is nitrox..
Enriched Air Nitrox
Recreational diving with enriched air nitrox is now common as it reduces sickness, increases safety margins and allows longer dive times. Many report 20% more bottom time and the ability to do more dives in a day without feeling exhausted – also an important factor when you want to enjoy your holiday out of the water. This one element will help scuba divers take advantage of every moment of their stay in the islands. Some dive-dedicated liveaboards are now offering Nitrox free, as standard, included in their packages. This includes the Constellation fleet bookable through Maldives Dive Travel.
Training is required to dive with Nitrox since there are different principles to diving with it. Using the equipment properly is a big consideration, as well as knowing what’s in the scuba tank and setting the dive computer. The PADI Enriched Air Nitrox course will prepare you for these needed skills and comes as a highly recommended course by divers that have been to the Maldives.
Spot It and Shoot It (with a Camera)
The other courses PADI suggests for diving in the Maldives include AWARE – Fish Identification, so you can really feel at home on the reef, and the Digital Underwater Photographer. With dive sites like Kudarah Thila, a protected marine area bursting with life, these courses offer supplementary wisdom that will not go to waste. And the two skills – identification and photography – go hand in hand. If there was just one more course that could enhance your Maldives dive experience it’s the all-important buoyancy control with the Peak Performance Buoyancy course.
With the tens of courses being offered it can be tricky to know which ones are really necessary and which ones best suit the Maldives diving environment. Nitrox comes out on top by far; it’s recommended by scuba divers who have been to the Maldives and have experienced the advantages of enriched air diving. You can get certified on board a liveaboard or at a guest house with a dive school, such as Casa Mia.