Here are answers most questions Hartley’s Helmet Diving has encountered over the decades of conducting the undersea walk. Call or email us if you have questions not addressed here.
How much is it?
Our current price is $108 per diver, unless a discount is offered for certain times. Riders are half price and can look through the glass bottom. We accept the major cards, MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Diners Club, Discover, eldest child and… oh yes, cash. (Eldest child must be Bermudian, and able to lift diving helmets as crew. Otherwise keep child, and we will take cash instead). Our bank does not take traveler’s checks. Do not change your US dollars into Bermudian dollars, as the US dollar is accepted island wide and is considered equal (by us). Some banks charge you a foreign exchange fee when you use your US card here, so you,and we, save by your using cash. More info concerning money.
How much are photos?
Undersea portraits are $20 per person, plus a $10 charge for the disc. We do not do prints. One usually gets over twice as many photos as there are people. Three people will pay $70 ($20+$20+$20+$10=$70) and get 7-10 photos. We do not sell videos. However, you usually get a short clip if you have ordered photos. If you have photographic toys, GoPros etc, bring them. Buying some of our photos enlists our photographic assistance.
Where do you leave from?
We leave from the Mangrove Bay Public Dock in Somerset (just100 yards down from the Entrance to Cambridge Beaches), or a 5 minute walk from The Mangrove Bay Post Office along the coast road.
Will I get a refund if it is raining?
No only windy and wavy. Rain is not a problem, only high speed winds and rough seas. Call us from the Visitors Information Center even if you have reservations, to touch base when you arrive. 234 3535
Are there any age or fitness requirements?
It is best if kids are at least five years old. They then have an attention span that may last the 30-40 minute dive. They will also get much more out of the dive because they can read the message stick and know that the pretty blue one is an angelfish, and the one with the big nose is a hogfish. Kids are less likely to back out if they can reason that, if the first dive came back up smiling and with all their feet and fingers intact, then they can do it, even if they are a bit scared, and have never done this before. Some adults have problems making this cognitive leap. There is no upper age limit really. If you are fit enough to get out walk up one flight of steps without wheezing and clutching your chest, then you pass the fitness test. Those with diagnosed heart and respiratory conditions must have written consent from a doctor.
Are contact lenses and glasses OK?
Yes! Your head is totally dry.
Should I bring my clear prescription glasses?
Yes. More light brings out colours better, but is never so bright that you would need sunglasses underwater. Some wear sunglasses for the Joe Cool or Jacquie O look. I often put people’s glasses on their heads for their photo, so you do not get white spots from the flash.
How long is the trip?
The ride to the reef is about 30 minutes and each dive is about 30 to 40 minutes, and then the ride back. If we are fully booked with four dives, (Twice in 2018), then the trip can be up to 4 hours.
Can I book on the Nassau trip?
No! Chris is no longer conducting private outings.
Should I bring my snorkel gear?
It is not necessary. You will see enough to satisfy your quest for the undersea. We do not permit snorkeling. At the moment our fish associate food with the golden headed divers. They will get killed by spear fishers if they associate food with the rubber finned divers. Most carnivores would love to kill Charles the Hogfish (Charles III Speared 2003), Stormin Norman or Oliver the Snapper (Died of old age 2005), Barry the Black Grouper(Disappeared 1992),Herb the Hind or Graham the Grasby. In 2016 we bent tradition and allowed folks to wallow on hot still days in the water using noodles. But still no head or mask looking at fish.
Do I need shoes?
No foot protection is necessary. Divers are encouraged to go bare foot as this is supposed to be a sensory experience (sand between your toes, wind in your hair etc.). Bermuda has no hide-in-the-sand stingrays or blue crabs. Even tender footed divers have never cut themselves on the sand. Severe diabetics can wear foot protection if they wish. Socks are best.
Are there any sharks?
I wish! There has been a world wide decline in the shark population due to over fishing and a lack of food for them as well as their senseless murder for their fins and cancer cures. In my 40 years of helmet diving in Bermuda I have never seen a shark. No! I did not just close my eyes. We are not invading any shark’s territory, as we have been diving on the same site since 1984. There are no gallons of blood and guts being poured overboard, as on TV shark programs, to lure them to our area. We have seen the odd barracuda, which we point at excitedly. The embarrassment of being seen sends them away. They are no threat to helmet divers anyway. We can’t give you sharks but we have seen shark suckers or remoras. Click here to seeYouTube of Hartleys helmet diving with a friendly shark sucker in Nassau.
Are there lockers for valuables?
Lockers are not required as we are all on the same boat. I threaten to frisk everyone if anything goes missing but I have not had the opportunity to make good on the threat. The bulk of your cash should be in the hotel safe and watches and cameras are easily identifiable, so no one would take them. You will not be at a public beach.
Is this suitable for individuals with ‘special needs’?
Folks with Downs Syndrome, MS, amputees, visually impaired, (deaf people are at an advantage so they are not in the discussion here), mentally challenged, and even ‘normal’ have all participated with ease. Anxieties and emotional baggage are handicaps most likely to give divers trouble, not physical or neural malfunctions. People with the previously mentioned issues have had so many real difficulties, that they are unlikely to allow self conceived anxieties to stop them. How hard can this be?
Can we go swimming while others dive?
You can deduce from the fourth question from the top about snorkeling that we prefer not. We have quite a few fish we have known for several years. All of them are non-toxic. This is a term I use to avoid saying that they are ‘good eating’. Oliver was over twenty years old and this is a testament to the wisdom and suspicion gained by his years. At the moment the fish associate the vertical walking creatures with the gold heads as friends and providers of food. If we allow swimming and snorkeling while we are diving, it will blur the distinction between the good and bad guys. I have lost several hogfish and a couple of groupers over the years to spear fishers, as it is difficult for them to differentiate between benign snorkelers, and deadly spear fishers. Other tours do not have the kind of fish we do. If you throw food casually, as you would throw bread in the park, you will get a certain type of aggressive creature, pigeons and sparrows, or chub and breams, depending on the environment, taking over the show. Therefore, we do not encourage them to participate. Breams are only palatable if eaten with lots of ketchup. They might know this as they are not too wary of helmet divers or spear fishers. If fed, these mid-water will totally take over a dive area. The colorful reef fish, such as angelfish and butterfly fish will retreat. Your 30-40 minute dive, complete with hands-on contact with the fish and creatures, will satisfy you, if only for that day. Armed with the info learned on our trip, you can rent a small boat with snorkel equipment, and go on your personal adventure. The fish will not be as tame as at our site, or look at you as friends, but it will be your adventure.
I have heard it could be a long time waiting for others to have their dive. Is this true ? What do I do?
This was often the case when we were offered through the ship’s Shore Excursion Programs. We would take four dives of 6 or 7 divers, which would result in having to wait over an hour and a half for other people to have their dive. Back in the 80’s during Reaganomics we frequently did trips with 5 dives. Now days a boat load of twenty divers results in a wait for only two other dives. This is perfect as the time flies quickly. There is a glass bottom, fish books and other books to peruse. Or perhaps you could view it as quality time with your spouse, child etc without the pressure of having to do something else or be somewhere else. Think about it…Why are you on holiday? Some people (who view time as more valuable than money), have rented a small boat, which we tow behind us to the reef. We stick them on the first dive and then they take off on their own after that. If you can choose the time you visit Bermuda, then come the week after Labour Day. Parents are getting their kids back in school and business drops right off. It is a good time to join us, as the water is still warm, and the wind still mainly southerly.
Can my spouse go on a separate dive so we can take turns looking after our infant?
No Problem. Often when there are other families, very small children, can be distracted by feeding the fish and playing with other children, so parents and older children can go down together. I can be called at any time to bring up a parent to console a noisy child. It has not been required yet. Kids often behave differently when parents are not looking.
What will I see through the glass bottom?
Not much compared to what will be right in front of your face wearing your Hartley diving helmet. Riders looking through the glass bottom do ooh and ahhh and claim they saw lots of stuff, and that they are happy. Probably because they were not pressured to go outside of their comfort zone.
Do the fish bite?
Well yes, and no! I dish out the food so I do experience the occasional bite. Most fish are disinterested in us as they must swallow prey whole and we are too big.
Can I dive if I have asthma?
Asthma is a symptom. If your symptoms are great, then your body is calling for help. Answer its call. If you use your inhaler daily, and never leave home without it, then this is not for you. Call us if you have concerns. Scuba diving is not recommended for lung scarred asthmatics where decompression from deep dives is required. If in doubt see the Legal Form and check with your doctor.
Can I dive when pregnant?
This is a personal decision, like ‘Should I cross the road?’ or ‘What foods are best to grow a child?’. The second trimester is the safest. Our dive is less stressful than holding your breath and momentarily swimming to the bottom of a pool.
I am very large, will the helmet hold me on the bottom?
We have different sized helmets, as not all people are created equal. We give larger divers weight belts
if necessary. Note the belt and the extra air hose in the photo on the left of the larger diver.
I am very thin/small will the helmet be too heavy?
No. We have floats to put on the helmets to make them lighter as well as small helmets for children.
I went diving years ago in Flatts Village. Is it the same operation?
Yes and no. My father started his Flatts operation in 1947 and eventually sold it to his crew. Paul Pike renamed Hartley’s Underwater Wonderland, Bermuda Bell Diving. He has since retired.
Will I get sea sick?
We dive just over a mile from shore to avoid the sediment near the coast. We do not go right out the edge of the ancient volcano’s rim, by the reef line. The water is the clearest there, but the ocean swells can make people ill. We tie the boat by the bow and the stern and point the bow into the wind, and the surrounding shallow reefs suppress the waves. We are fine even if the wind is fairly strong. You may call us to confirm that the weather is good. We still go if it is cloudy or rainy. Only strong winds, especially out of the north, force us to cancel.
Do I need to make reservations?
Yes, please. This is especially important if your stay is short, if it is high season, or if we are not having daily trips, during the beginning or end of the season. I like it when we have daily trips with similar amounts of divers on each, rather than 4 on one day and 24 on the next. Call us toll-free at 866-836 3989 when you are ready to make it happen. If you call during the day you will probably get my wife or the answering machine if she is on the road. If you call after 5pm EST but before 9pm EST (10pm Bermuda Time) you may get me. We are an hour later than the east coast. Please, DO NOT wake us up in the middle of the night, to tell us you thought an answering machine would take the call. We have children, so we do answer calls in the night (Yes, officer we will come down to the station and pick him up! Or, Yes honey, we can hear you are too drunk to drive. I will come and pick you up). More info on how to book.
Do I have to bring a towel?
Yes, please, and your bathing suit. If you wear your bathing suit, then bring dry underclothes, so you can have a rinse and use the changing room after your dive.
How do I get back?
You can take a bus, bike, ferry or taxi. We can use the cell phone to call one and have it waiting upon our return. If you are on a dockyard ship, you just walk back.
Can I fly on the same day I dive?
We do not dive deep enough for such problems. Book early and do not leave our adventure for the last day. It takes nerves to take off on a boat, when you are supposed to be at the airport later the same day.