Wrecks are one of those things that cause a lot of people to learn to scuba dive, but not all wrecks are created equal. For the sport or technical diver, the wreck is a piece of history or a location where marine life congregates, creating a colorful palette for the eyes or the photo opportunity of a lifetime. But some divers don’t see wrecks this way.
Public safety divers unfortunately dive on different types of wrecks. In fact, sometimes they never even see the wreck they are on, experiencing it by touch only. While there may be some common elements – an over head environment that does not belong in the water or sitting below the surface – this is where the similarities end. Even the training received in a sport or technical wreck diving course doesn’t really apply for Public Safety wreck diving. Sure you can learn how to manage confined spaces and how you are unable to make a direct ascent to the surface, but there is so much more to learn about diving on the wrecks that public safety divers experience.
There are some major differences in these dives that require Public safety divers to obtain special training. First, the wrecks are new, and still contain fuel oils and battery acids. The can also wreck be very unstable. Generally, it is a crime scene until ruled otherwise and thus wreck reels are not used for navigation. There is also a distinct possibility that the diver will not even see the wreck, but rather find it by running into it. The public safety diver does not know what to expect: the windows and doors may still be closed, requiring the breaking of glass and the cutting open of doors to gain entry. In some cases, the wreck may be lifted and pulled to the nearest shoreline before any doors or windows are opened. In addition, on should consider that most wrecks that are regularly dived by sport divers have also been cleaned of most entanglements. This is not the case for Public Safety Divers, making their dives more dangerous than those of recreation divers.
The best way for PS Divers to prepare for their kind of wreck dives is to take a specialized ERDI dive course. The course generally starts in a pool or controlled environment where the diver can start to understand the tasks they need to perform and the associated safety protocols. Eventually, the diver will perform all of these tasks in a blacked out mask and progress from a simulated aircraft fuselage (or car or boat), to the real thing. Working as a team, the target is identified and then the decision is made on how to proceed; leave the target where it is and perform a search or float it and bring the target to water’s edge.
When the time comes, it is best to be prepared and practiced. Part of being prepared means receiving the proper training, and not a “modified” course. Being prepared also means having the proper SOPs in place for the type of diving the divers will be performing,. For example, when it is a known overhead environment, it is common practice to send two divers in at once, rather than the normal procedure of only sending one. One diver will always remain on the outside in the event they need to assist the other diver.
Again, not all wrecks are created equal and remember the number one objective – bring back safely what YOU put in the water.