Mad about scuba diving but feel like it isn’t an option when you’ve got littlies on your hands? We are here to change your mind, mama!
In my very humble opinion, White Manta Diving is one of Singapore’s best liveaboard companies. Established in 1989, they started running trips to West Malaysian dive sites on the old (and small!) White Manta — the boat I experienced my first trip on.
Fast forward to 2014 and the company now has two magnificent vessels in operation, The Black Manta and the (new and very large!) White Manta, with a third, and very extravagant vessel, The Blue Manta, set to launch in 2015. They offer trips to many world-class diving destinations within South-East Asia, including the Indonesian Archipelago, Thailand Andaman Sea and the seas of West Malaysia.
The White Manta boat, which mostly operates out of Singapore between June and October, is helmed by Dive Master extraordinaire and marine life enthusiast, Chris, who happens to own the best arsenal of “What’s That Fish?” books I have had the privilege of rifling through! I love meeting people that are passionate about what they do for a living, and that is Chris. It is hard not to get wrapped up in the magic of diving when you are with him.
I have been diving with White Manta since 2008. When we first found out I was pregnant we assumed that diving would be something that was hard to achieve, but the guys at White Manta squashed that thought right away!
Chris and his fantastic crew love having kids on board. They believe that if Mum and Dad love diving, the sooner their little ones can get their sea legs! They encouraged us to bring our baby on board as soon as we felt ready to get back out there… so with our then 4 month old in tow that is exactly what we did!
It is important to note that White Manda don’t provide a babysitting service, so you and your partner will need to alternate dives.
Here are my top tips for a great weekend out on the boat:
– If you have a very small child, like we did at the time, book cabins 1 or 2 on White Manta as these have enough space for a port-a-cot and also have their own ensuite. They are also located on the upper deck, so if bub does happen to have a bad night you won’t disturb the rest of the boat.
– Buy your own baby/child life jacket to take on board.
– Take baby Panadol just in case! Remember at the end of the day you are 8+ hours from land and it is best to err on the side of caution.
– If bubs is on solids bring them along! The boat has ample fridges on board to keep food cold for bubs (and the wine cold for you!)
Have older children and would like to know more about getting them involved?
We recently caught up with Chris to get his thoughts on the how and the why of scuba diving with kids.
At what age can children start to learn to dive?
ThePADI Bubblemaker programme has a diver prerequisite of 8 years of age, as does the Skin Diver course (non-SCUBA). This is conducted in a swimming pool or pool-like conditions in open water. The guidelines of the programme include:
• Briefing – Children will learn how to use the equipment, how to equalize, how to clear a regulator and mask, as well as overview breathing rules.
• Children will be taken underwater in water shallow enough in which they can stand.
• Children will be assisted with their equipment and supervised in the water.
• Debriefing – The programme’s limitations will be explained to child participants, and the need for additional training to dive unsupervised will be reiterated.
PADI Junior Open Water / Scuba Diver certification can be gained after the diver has reached 10 years of age. Upon certification the diver is restricted to 12m depth and must be supervised by a professional or certified parent or guardian. Standards of the course are that the diver is never to be left unattended (our maximum ratio on the White Manta trips is 2:1). All PADI courses available to kids are outlined on their website.
What are the important reasons for starting a child diving at a young age?
I believe it is fantastic in the development of non-cognitive skills and helps children share unforgettable experiences with their family members that dive. Additionally, early familiarity with the underwater environment and engagement in diving activities breeds care and understanding of this delicate ecosystem. With growing concerns about over-fishing, destruction of species (and their entire ecosystems) and climate change, the next generation need to be armed with a desire to stop this destruction and enjoy a healthier planet than the one they inherited from their elders.
What can children hope to gain from the experience?
Fun! Diving is an amazing skill that will see children go to amazing and different places, meet new people, and have incredible experiences. It helps to educate them in ecology and the marine ecosystem – being under water is a visual and sensory overload!
What are some of the great experiences you have had with children on board White Manta?
There are too many to count! Junior Open Water courses are always lots of fun because of the children’s unabated enthusiasm for diving. We’ve had one <10 year old diver who completed about 50 Bubblemaker dives, before recently becoming certified as a Junior Open Water diver!
What would you recommend parents think about when considering if their child should undertake a diving course?
How mature they are. Diving is fun – but it is also serious – so children need to be able to concentrate for more than a few seconds at a time. They should be water-proficient, so engage them in a range of water activities before considering diving. Think about enrolling them in a snorkeling or skin diver course to get them started.
What are the key things to look for in a good dive operator?
Safety first in all instances! We are very pro-safety on all of our boats and refuse to take risks, even if that means we sometimes don’t satisfy our clients. We want our clients to have an incredible experience, but above all else we want them to be safe.
Second to that is service. On board the White Manta, our crew take care of your gear set up for each dive, your food, we also provide a masseuse on board, in addition you get handed a warm towel upon your exit from the water after each dive – the only thing you do is dive!
Melissa Bujtor, originally from Australia, now based in Singapore, is an ex-banker turned mum and budding food and lifestyle photographer. She is extremely passionate about all things food, especially when she can combine it with her other love – travel! You can view Melissa’s work and contact her via her blog here.