What's New Under the Sea - My Family Travels

FTF investigates underwater gadgets and new programs designed to introduce children and elders to the undersea world in a fun and safe way.

You probably marveled at one of those little torpedo-like devices in the James Bond movie, Die Another Day, but now children over age 8 in many Caribbean resorts are taking advantage of Sea-Doo’s Seascooter Dolphin to make snorkeling more fun and accessible. What does it do? Well, this yellow cage-enclosed engine is a lightweight, compact underwater personal propulsion device to assist young and/or weary snorkelers and divers across or under the water for a close-up look at marine life.

With its own buoyancy features, a battery life of 1.5 hours, and the zero emission engine that Zap products are known for, it’s a tiny marvel of leisure technology. In Turks & Caicos, we heard about another wonderful use for the Seascooter – the ability to introduce children with limited mobility to the undersea world.

Taking the Kids Down Under

Once upon a time, kids had to be at least 12-years old to join their parents on underwater adventures. While that age has been lowered to 10-years for scuba diving (though several dive operators still insist that children be 12 in order to complete deep water dives), SNUBA was invented to allow a diver over 8-years of age, and a guide, to descend to a depth of 20 feet tethered to air tanks kept on a SNUBA raft above.  No scuba experience and no previous diving experiences are required.  All you need is basic swimming skills and a desire to explore the wonders underwater.  Older kids can try it in many resort destinations.

A newly introduced program from SNUBA ensures that the older kids aren’t the only ones who can take advantage of an underwater excursion.  The SCUBA DOO program, available for children between the ages of 4-7, promotes family entertainment by tailing to the younger ones.  Kids wear a specialty designed floatation vest, providing the buoyancy needed to stay afloat above the surface.  A child-sized mouthpiece connected to a regulator on the SCUBA raft allows kids to venture 10 feet in length from the SCUBA raft.  Kids can cruise above their parents, power snorkeling along the surface.

Now, thanks to a new program called Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth (SASY), kids as young as 6-years may join the Big Guys while breathing from their own air tank. Red Sail Sports (877/RED-SAIL), based in Grand Cayman, introduced SASY in hopes of “giving little adventurers a safe and easy way to enjoy the living seas.” This program has caught on and now it’s also available in other Caribbean resort areas. Two important elements ensure a safe snorkel experience: 1) a buoyancy compensator allows young users to float effortlessly; 2) a regulator guarantees a constant air supply. Red Sail claims kids who are frustrated with standard snorkel equipment will love their no-leak device. Beginners can try a supervised SASY session in a swimming pool, on the beach, or out on a ‘real dive’ with mom and dad after just one lesson!

Serious divers will want to look into Kids Sea Camp (800/934-3483, email [email protected]), a supervised “camp” that introduces the magic of the deep seas to children 4 to 15-years while their parents are diving. As a marine environment learning and scuba-intro program, Kids Sea Camp (KSC) operates in many beautiful locations for several weeklong sessions every year.  Families looking to experience the Kids Sea Camp in 2009 can take advantage of several destinations including Grand Cayman, Roatan Honduras, Bonaire, Curacao, Grand Bahamas, The Galapagos, and Costa Rica. Bonaire, a noted destination long popular with certified scuba divers, is a typical program. At the Bonaire resort where KSC is based, counselors and escorts will introduce kids to the underwater world with age appropriate programs: SASY (ages 4-8), PADI Seal team (Ages 8-11), and PADI Jr. Open Water Course (Ages 10+). Additionally, days pack in a lot of fun, education and excitement for children and at times, the entire family.

Taking Grammy and Gramps Down Under

Another underwater option for kids 8 and older is Sea Trekkin’, an activity introduced at Coral World (530/626-0100) on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands that has spread to Xcaret in Mexico and other resorts. Participants wear a helmet hooked up to an air supply as a guide leads them along a handrail-supported trail that goes 12 to 30-feet under the clear water. No experience is required, and it’s a great alternative to scuba diving or snorkeling if you’re interested in seeing the coral reefs, tropical fish and unique aquatic life native to the area.

BOB is another amazing new technology operating on St. Thomas in the Caribbean, as well as in other resort areas around the world. The “Breathing Observation Bubble” is just that: a glass-like bubble which encloses divers heads and shoulders while they travel on an underwater motor scooter at a speed of 2.5 knots, at a depth of 8-feet, on a three-hour guided tour of coral reefs. Here’s a way to get Grammy and Gramps into diving.

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