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Practical advice for divers in Egypt’s Red Sea

The Red Sea is one of the most beautiful diving locations in the world, catering to both experienced and inexperienced divers; whether the diver in question is interested in seeing well preserved wrecks, colourful and exciting sea life, or simply enjoy dives in near perfect conditions. Having recently dived in the Red Sea, on a live-aboard sailing out of the port of Hurghada; I have returned with a few handy tips to get the most out of a diving holiday on the Red Sea.
Red Sea coral
Getting out there

Getting out to the Red Sea is simple enough, but getting out there if you own your own dive equipment can be a bit more taxing. Different airlines will have different regulations when it comes to the transportation of scuba diving equipment, and the most prudent advice in situations like these is to contact the airline that you intend to travel with. Generally speaking, you’ll simply have to pay a heavy bag charge, though if you’re extremely frugal with your other luggage, you may be able to slip under the limit.

Of course, the other option is to limit the dive kit you take with you; it’s rare to find large, reputable Red Sea diving companies that don’t allow the hire of kit, so it’s more a case of working out the cheapest option. I’m not tremendously attached to my cylinder or weight, and I was worried that the pressure changes inherent to flight may damage the pressure gauge on my regulator (though I should add that you can buy casing that circumvents this risk), so I simply hired them on arrival. Make sure that you book rental kit in advance to avoid disappointment.

One final point on the subject of transporting diving gear; whilst this has never happened to me, I have heard horror stories of divers being under the heavy bag charge limit when they arrive, but when leaving, without any additional luggage in their packs, being told that they’re over. This clearly implies alleged fraud on the part of the staff at the airport, but again, this was not my experience. My suspicion is that the divers in question may not have drained their equipment properly, and therefore allowed additional water to tip them over the limit. Don’t come a cropper, make sure you correctly drain!
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Get used to the good life

An aspect of diving in the Red Sea that truly did catch me by surprise was just how helpful the staff and crew in both Hurghada, and on board the Blue Voyager were; in the sense that they go above and beyond the politeness and affability that you expect from staff when on holiday, and in to territory, that at least to start with, is quite uncomfortable. The first time I emerged from the water in my dive gear, I was pleasantly surprised to find a crewman ready to carry my gear to the storage rack. Indeed, as the holiday proceeded, it became clear that the crew really did intend to be at the total beck and call of the holidaymakers staying on board; no task was ever too much effort. What truly surprised me about being treated in such a luxurious manner was that all that was expected as payment by the crew was a, comparatively meagre, group tip. Which in a way was what made me so uncomfortable about being waited on hand and foot in the first place; I felt like I was getting service far and above what I paid for. Certainly not a complaint, but something that is definitely worth preparing yourself for, either way.

In terms of food, it’s worth confronting the elephant in the room. Most divers I have spoken to about trips to the Red Sea are quick to imply that they, or a fellow holiday-maker, got ill to some degree from the food that was provided. My experience could not be further from that cliché, no one was ill in the week that I was on board, and the food was always well prepared, and delicious. As with the service, my only real surprise was the exemplary quality; I have definitely eaten far worse in hotels and restaurants, both at home and abroad!
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Know your limits

As with the previous entries, my only real complaint about the diving it is in many ways not a complaint at all, more an observation of a cultural and/or commercial difference. In essence, it’s a very good idea to know your limits in terms of depth, and severity of conditions. This is because, in all but the most dangerous of circumstances, there’s a lot of leeway as to how far you can stretch your diving qualification. Once the guides are satisfied with your competency after a few dives, you are given a great degree of freedom as to the depth and variety of dive that you can partake in; many on the boat dived at depths, and in conditions, that were far above what their qualification would allow.

Many, given the supervision of the other divers and guides, would see this as a boon, but it’s worth bearing in mind that some more straight-laced diving buddies may see diving a wreck at 40 metres in a strong current, on just a PADI Advanced Open Water qualification, as a bridge too far. I’m of the mind that this more lax attitude is a way of getting my money’s worth, and the safety record of the company I was diving with was, and is exemplary; but if the thought of this makes you uncomfortable, make sure you bring a dive buddy with you that shares your convictions, or you may end up paired with a stranger who you’ll anger by depriving them of an otherwise exciting dive.
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Keep your eyes open

It goes without saying that there’s a lot of colourful and exciting aquatic flora and fauna to see in the Red Sea, but a trend that I have noticed increasingly amongst holidaymakers in general, let alone divers, is the tendency to live their holiday through a camera lens, to the detriment of their holiday experience. With such majestic, awe-inspiring sights on offer under the waves of Red Sea, I confess to being quite angered at my buddy’s inability to enjoy his holiday first hand. It’s very easy to miss a particularly beautiful Picasso Triggerfish when you’re desperately trying to catch a Clownfish from the perfect angle.

I think the most damning example of camera overuse was many my buddy missed a pod of dolphins swim by in close proximity, as he was too busy filming some particularly artistic coral a few meters away. The site of particularly curious dolphin swimming out of the pod to examine, and assess, the threat posed by myself and the rest of the group we were diving with, will stay with me forever. The fact that the dolphin didn’t like the look of us, and fled with the rest of the pod, is beside the point!

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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