A question that is batted around on public safety diver forums, meetings and general discussions is ‘what is an acceptable or maximum depth for a PS diver?’ If only there was a straight forward answer to this question. In order to see the complexity of this question we have to dissect the various regions and conditions in which PS divers respond. For the most part, this article is going to focus on the US dive teams, as other countries have different regulations and in most cases allow their teams, once properly trained, to respond to any situation without fear or question that they may be exceeding a regulation or governmental standard.
There is a wide spectrum to areas of response: from shallow water retention ponds (less than 6m / 20 ft) to deep high altitude lakes (60m / 200+ ft) and then there is everything in between. Each of these environments presents their own challenges and risks, regardless of depth. Shallow retention ponds have silt at the bottom that is extremely fine, easy to stir up and loaded with fertilizers and heavy metals. Deep lakes can have low visibility and nearly all have extreme thermo clines, as well as hidden obstacles to contend with. Rivers, fast or slow moving, present their risks too: subsurface floating objects, deep “pools”, undercuts, and the list goes on.
Dive teams are going to respond to the situation and do their best to fulfill their obligation to the community, so irrespective of governmental regulations or guidelines, ensure the team is trained for the possible conditions they can encounter. A well constructed SOP will define the conditions the team may encounter and will also serve to define what training needs to be done. Training a team for deep cold water or high altitude exercises that they will never encounter is counterproductive and a waste of time and valuable budget money. This is not to say this training will not benefit the team, but the team should be fully functional and ready to respond to a more likely ‘call out’ first before they seek higher level training.
It is quite often that dive teams who do need to respond to deep or overhead locations (wreckage, cars, boats, aircraft, caves) will have to look outside of their normal PS course offerings and seek out technical training, such as the courses offered by Technical Diving International (TDI). For cold water deep dives, advanced nitrox and decompression procedures courses may be in order. For even deeper dives, trimix may be needed. The skills and knowledge gained during these courses will benefit the divers, even for the shallower dives.
So to get to the root of the question ‘how deep can you dive to’ from a training agency and safety perspective, as deep as you have been trained, are equipped for, and feel comfortable going to. The final decision maker is: is the risk acceptable. Dive team’s primary objective – bring back what you put in the water.
For more information on courses that ERDI and TDI offer, visit us at www.tdisdi.com.
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