The two primary forms of underwater recreational diving until recently have been snorkeling and scuba. That's changing with the advent of Hookah diving.
Snorkeling is the most basic of the underwater diving sports, in that you have a facemask and a tube for breathing while at or very near the surface, but little else. When you submerge, you can never be further from the surface than as long as you are able to hold your breath. A scuba, or Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, gives one a much higher degree of freedom, a longer range of depth during a dive, and the ability to breathe under the water using compressed air carried in a cylinder.
Hookah diving is something entirely different: a step between snorkeling and scuba, but with a unique set of advantages and a few disadvantages when compared to other types of underwater activities.
What Is Hookah Diving?
Hookah diving, unlike scuba diving, does not require the diver to lug an air-supply along for the dive. Instead, the air-supply is centrally located and centrally distributed to each diver using the hookah device. The primary component of the hookah is a compressor mounted on a floatation device, often referred to as a raft. Some hookah rigs are onboard devices, kept on or attached to the boat or ship; but most are the standalone, floating device type. The compressor may run either on gasoline or on electricity from a battery.
The gas-powered models tend to require more maintenance and are somewhat more subject to corrosion in the maritime environment. Additionally, one must be concerned with the possibility of contaminated fuel and take the requisite care to ensure the fuel used is of the proper type and is in good condition. Electric hookahs, ,on the other hand need less maintenance, and the batteries can be charged while in use for a virtually unlimited supply of breathable air.
From the compressor the air is distributed via air hoses into and under the water to air regulators designed specifically for hookah use, and then to each diver. A single hookah is capable of compressing enough air for four or more divers to use depending on the technical specifications of the hookah in use.
Hookah requires no certification, but it is more complex than snorkeling and there are numerous safety factors to be considered. Before undertaking the sport it is important to obtain enough knowledge and skill to make participation in the sport safe.
Breathing compressed air from a scuba tank during a dive is safe only so long as one adheres the safety guidelines that encompass such things as knowledge of decompression techniques and protocols, nitrogen-narcosis, decompression sickness (the bends) and other safety issues. Similarly, hookah diving requires some of the same knowledge and practices, though to a lesser degree than scuba. This means scuba is a much more technical undertaking and is the reason hookah diving does not require certification.
Pros and Cons of Hookah Diving?
Is There a Need for Hookah Diving?
Certainly for the weekend or vacation enthusiast, Hookah diving provides a way to get down under the waves and see the sights without being encumbered by tons of gear and the costly time-consuming process of certification. Getting your PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certification in order to go scuba diving can take hours of classes plus a few days for the required dives.
A spontaneous weekend get away or being unable to get a class done before your vacation means you are out of luck and stuck with snorkeling. The freedom of a hookah rig, therefore, goes beyond just the minimal gear you carry during a dive. It is, however, worth your time and safety to exercise due diligence by reading, researching and getting some professional advice and instruction before embarking on your hookah adventure.
If you are planning on being more than just a few feet from the surface, you should have an emergency supply of air like Spare Air or a pony bottle to use in any out of air scenario or emergency that may occur.
Additionally you should know and understand the risks of breathing compressed air and how to mitigate those risks through proper diving and ascent procedures. Things to consider include having your dive area marked by a diver-down flag, always being with your dive buddy, remembering to check all your gear before entering the water, and checking the gear of your buddy as well.
At the surface, check the hookah, make sure it is functioning properly, and make sure your air hose is unobstructed and is supplying air while taking breaths from the regulator to ensure it is functioning properly and is correctly adjusted. Your first dive(s) should be used to familiarize yourself with the nomenclature of the equipment and to practice its use and to practice emergency procedures such as buddy breathing with your diving companion. Lastly, always remember to check local condition such as tides, wave height, weather, and visibility and stay within your limitations.
Having provided for safety first, it is now time to explore and take in all your dive site has to offer from coral reefs, fish, and vegetation to all manner of marine life and the general beauty of everything the underwater world has to offer. This is where the capabilities of hookah diving really start to shine by allow you to move through and interact with that world relatively unencumbered by equipment or the constraints of time. The hookah opens a world of other possibilities, such as underwater photography, spear fishing, treasure hunting, research and other recreational pastimes.
How to Start Hookah Diving
There are a couple of different ways to get started hookah diving, and you just have to take into account which is right for you. First and foremost, it is going to take at least one dedicated friend, as recreational diving of any sort should never be attempted alone.
One option to consider involves just jumping right in (pun intended). Just go ahead and do it. Research the kind of hookah diving gear and other gear you want and make the purchase. Just going all in can actually make sense if you think about it like this. Yes, hookah diving equipment can be expensive, but unlike scuba gear, if you have one or more friends who will be down for the cause, the division of funds can make the purchase affordable and significantly less than scuba equipment for two, three, four or more would cost.
Every time you dive, you hope you'll see something new - some new species. Sometimes the ocean gives you a gift, sometimes it doesn't.
-- James Cameron
The other option, while still requiring a buddy, of course, is more of a "toe in the water" approach (again pun intended). Once you know where you want to dive and when you will be there to dive, start calling the local dive shops or start Googling them for prices on rentals and what they offer in the way of instruction and advice on local areas.
Many shops provide free or low cost instruction when you rent. They are also very familiar with the local areas and should be able to direct you to a good beginners spot and fill you in on how to get updated on local conditions, what to watch out for and what extra little pieces of gear or equipment can help you maximize the comfort and enjoyment of your underwater recreational endeavors.
Remember, they want you to have a great time, they want you to tell your friends, and they want you all to come back and rent again or buy a hookah diving rig from them, either new or used. Once you have become a hookah diving afficionado, you can decide whether to move on to scuba or other forms of diving, and many do after becoming enthralled with the world under the waves.
We hope this information on hookah diving has been informational and educational and will peak your interest in this great outdoor/underwater sport. Hookah diving can certainly provide many hours of enjoyment while also helping build skills toward transitioning to scuba if that is your desire. The world of hookah diving is bringing the underwater breathing experience and the underwater exploration experience to more people than ever before. You could be one of those people, so why not get out there and give it a try? You won't regret seeing a whole new, unexplored world.