by: Dr. Thomas Powell
Scuba diving is a sport that a person can enjoy for an entire lifetime and never truly reach the end of training or educational opportunities. As the scuba community has expanded, many sport divers have started asking more and more about the world of technical diving and the opportunities that it has to offer. Technical diving is a realm that many new or long-standing sport divers often look at with awe, excitement, and desire. As technical instructors make educational opportunities available to a larger group of potential students, many unique and interesting questions often get asked. These questions are often critical to aid in the education of newly-minted technical students. When questions do not get asked, a student or a new technical diver may choose to test certain ideas that may lead to problematic situations or even injury. The desire to go deeper, see new things, and venture where few have gone before can cause individuals to become complacent about sensible actions. For that reason, the technical community has been a tight-knit and supportive group for many years. Understanding why answers to certain questions are important to know, but not to “test,” can go a long way toward helping a student become a more competent diver who builds a trusting relationship with his or her educator.
There are many questions that show an eagerness to learn but deviate from the tried-and-true standardized educational path. Of those questions, here are four examples with illustrations as to why knowledge is essential when partaking in the “advanced” levels of scuba diving:
How many dives do I need at the bare minimum to jump to the next course and training level?
We all want to learn more, grow as divers, and push some sort of limit in our individual sports, hobbies, and activities. Otherwise we would not grow at doing what we love. The problem is that becoming a better diver is not about the card, what course you have jumped into, or how high you can go within a hierarchy. Instead, scuba education is about getting more proficient, learning tricks that make diving easier and more enjoyable, and more than anything, PRACTICE. The point behind taking a training course is to learn how to perform certain skills and how to do new things (or become more skilled at certain things). The job of an instructor is to ensure that a student can safely complete tasks and perform as a competent diver. This does not mean that every diver who completes a new course is the best diver in the world at that particular training level. The education provides a diver the means and knowledge he or she needs to – go out and safely continue working to become better. Some divers may be ready to jump to the next level of training, while others may desire, need, or even be encouraged to continue diving and practicing. Similarly, participating in too many courses in a row may create an overload of information for a student. One of the best practices out there for any student is to partake in a class, and then GO DIVE! Once the student feels like he or she is ready, the next educational step should then be taken. Training should never be based on a baseline minimum number of dives, but instead on the readiness and preparation for a new program. A diver who looks at scuba education as a race to the finish may not take the time to learn the things he or she needs to know to stay safe and efficient in the water. The best way to make the determination regarding a person’s readiness for the next step in education is to ask the instructor and follow his or her guidance. The goal of any instructor from Technical Diving International (TDI) is to train and prepare divers to be competent enough to dive and be partners with his or her own loved ones. For this reason, a good instructor can help a diver make quality decisions about what steps to take and when, in regard to scuba education. Once a diver knows in his or her own mind that he or she is ready, and the associated instructor agrees, then it is time to safely take that next step.
Can I get by with my current equipment? Do I really need to spend money on something so similar to what I already have? I can cut some of this cost out, right? Why does my computer have to be replaced? Those things are expensive.
Technical scuba diving can be an equipment-intensive world within the overall realm of scuba diving. Many divers get into diving with fun new equipment geared toward sport activities. Depending on the type of diving a person is learning, new equipment may be needed. The best way to view equipment in scuba is to relate it to something else. If you were running a marathon would you rather wear your dress shoes in the closet at home, or would you rather wear a fitted set of stable and comfortable running shoes that would not blister your feet? Or, if you had a loved one who was in a medical emergency, would you want the ambulance coming to get that person to have quality modern life-support equipment or hand-me-down equipment from twenty years ago? Sometimes “it might work” is not the way to approach gear needs, especially involving life support equipment. A technical diver does not necessarily need the most expensive and newest top-of-the-line equipment, but he or she does need quality life support equipment that is both dependable and reliable. A technical student must remember that he or she may be venturing into colder waters, darker waters, soft ceiling scenarios, or even hard ceiling overhead environments. These situations call for redundant gear items and equipment designed for that type of diving. Similarly, many sport computers do not have the capability to plan for the use of mixed gas or decompression needs. Again, the job of an instructor, following the standards of TDI is to ensure that during training, a technical student learns about what equipment a diver at each training level needs in order to dive at that level in the safest way possible. Sometimes gear can be recycled for technical diving use, but money should not be the determining factor behind diving in a safe or unsafe manner. Instead, quality equipment should be obtained when possible, and learned (in regard to use) prior to partaking in advanced and potentially more complex diving activities.
Is my depth limit associated with the course a requirement or is it just a suggestion? I can go deeper if I feel prepared right?
Depth limits have been established by TDI with safety in mind. Instructors have been trained to show students why depth limits are important, and often depth limits are associated with gas, physiological reactions, and physiological needs. For instance, why would a person go to a certain depth if they could stay twice as long and dive more safely on a gas mixture different from air or nitrox? The person who wishes to push that limit without knowing a good answer to that question is not taking his or her time to either answer the question in an effective fashion, or is only entertaining technical scuba for the thrill of the moment rather than the love of the sport and the desire to do more. Similarly, TDI Instructors are required to take advanced students to specific depth ranges to complete many of the courses within the technical program. Technical students will get the chance to go “deeper” during training and not just simulate depth as an exercise. Pushing depth limits without knowing how to be safe, monitor physiology, or be prepared for problems can lead once again to injury or even death.
Can I use my shiny new gear to go straight into tech? I bought this yesterday and I am ready to roll!
Many new technical students do make the decision to purchase new equipment to support the needs and activities related to technical diving. These purchases may include new regulator sets, buoyancy compensation systems, dry suits, wet suits, masks, lights, and even fins. The problem is that many new students may be jumping into gear that they are not yet able to use in a confident manner. Once again, if you pay for one hour of training time at the gym, do you want forty-five of those minutes to be spent learning how to use the equipment? When a diver buys new equipment at any training level, that gear needs to get wet. The diver needs to strap it on in a safe and controlled environment and work out the bugs. Not knowing how to use or configure new equipment may lead to problems, a lack of focus, or a dislike of diving activities. For this reason, prior to starting any technical program, a diver should go to the water with his or her gear and do some sport dives to make sure he or she is ready to learn and enjoy a future class. The only time this type of situation does not come into play is during a program such as TDI’s Intro to Tech Course during which a diver may be trying new equipment and diving methods for the first time, and a lack of preparation may be considered part of the educational environment surrounding the course.
One other question that is often asked by new technical students revolves around training. New students, old divers, and anyone getting wet should remember that skill practice has a purpose.
I was doing these things long before this class. I already know this stuff so can we skip these steps and move on?
Many individuals have partaken in “technical” scuba activities over lifetimes of underwater adventures. Every dive shop knows old salty divers who went deep long before technical scuba was organized under TDI and other agencies. Similarly, many technical classes require that basic tasks be performed that sport divers have learned over time. These tasks may include the deployment of a lift bag, buoyancy skills, or basic physiological reaction tests underwater. Students may consider repeating old skill sets redundant and desire to move forward at a faster pace (eliminating skill steps). The problem with this request is that basic skills may not be the same in the technical realm of scuba. For instance, the diver may know how to deploy a lift bag, but can he or she deploy that lift bag while hovering in a neutral fashion next to a vertical wall at depth with gloves on? Technical instructors are often looking for more than basic single-skill competency. Instead, they are looking at how the diver handles his or herself while enduring various complicating factors. What was once a simple skill in warm Caribbean waters during an SDI Advanced Adventure Course may not be so easy in deeper and colder waters while wearing a redundant equipment load. Technical students must trust that skill sets have a purpose, and once again practice is a good thing. Working through skills and trying to become more competent at what someone may consider a basic task is what makes a diver “better.” So while a diver has the attention and time of an instructor, the best value is to do everything he or she can, new and old, in the hopes of establishing a better understanding or receiving possible advice from someone who has done it countless times.
No question is a bad one. Education and understanding is essential to safe diving practices and learning programs. Instructors should be ready to answer questions or at least find information for students as knowledge is requested. It is always better to ask and learn rather than push the unknown within a community that may have sensible answers already developed based on experience and knowledge. Technical diving is about learning the complex nature behind advanced scuba diving activities while developing independent proficiencies; so ask questions and then take the time to enjoy and use what you learn.
– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC