Everyone has their own ideas about what makes “technical” diving different to sport diving, but most would agree that at the heart of any real differences is the level of planning and attention to detail that tech divers go through to make their dive happen… And to help make sure that their dives unfold exactly as intended… Or close to it.
I guess we can also agree that the kind of person who doesn’t get a buzz out of planning and who feels no sense of fun putting all the components of a good plan together, and then after everything is over would not get a huge satisfied high from looking back on a great dive that went exactly according to plan, is probably not cut out to become a technical diver.
Folks who take shortcuts and can’t be “bothered” with the details that help to make a technical dive, “safe and sensible,” must understand that complex, advanced diving such as deep wreck or cave diving is simply not possible without a good plan. (Well, let’s rephrase that. The dive may be possible but the level of risk involved would put doing it in the “crazy” category… which should be along the same lines as impossible.)
So, a day in the life of a technical diver – let’s call her Janet — might go something like this.
If Janet is typical, she wakes up early and excited because today is DIVE DAY, and there is not much wrong with that. Again, if Janet is typical, she had her initial checklist ticked off and most of her dive gear packed and ready to go the night before.
Janet, probably like most technical divers, has had the experience of arriving at a dive site only to find that some important piece of kit got left behind. There is actually a law of technical diving that states the importance of the piece of kit left on your kitchen table is directly proportional to the square of the distance the dive site is from your house. For example, I once arrived, at a site more than a seven-hour drive from home, to discover my dry suit was still in my dive locker.
But Janet, has learned her lesson and has a checklist of what gear and accessories have to travel with her to the dive. And, in the case of our Sample Day, let’s say that she used it the evening before as she played the Tetrus-like game of fitting all her kit into her car. She has everything she needs.
Again, if she is typical, before she leaves her driveway, she’ll make one final scan to make sure everything really is loaded, and nothing is sitting on the roof of her car – something else we have been guilty of – and then she makes that all-important phone call or text to her dive buddy: “Leaving NOW. See you there!”
During that drive, Janet will most likely go over the overall dive plan in her head. Chances are very good that she and her buddy have spent some time prior to Tech Dive Day, working out exactly what they want to do “on the day.” You might say their Dive Day actually started some time beforehand when they discussed what they wanted to do and how best to do it. Also, it’s likely that some of the basics such as gas fills was done and dusted before this particular Dive Day dawned.
You might read in some books that tell us the story about high-risk activities, which participants go through a process of visualization before the event; essentially working through the activity in one’s imagination. That may be the case, but if Janet is like most technical divers, the process of going over the dive on the way to the dive site is called fun… the whole aspect of anticipation may well help us to work through the nuances of the dive before it happens, but very importantly, in my opinion, anticipating the ins and outs of an upcoming dive is a big part of the fun.
Anyhow, at the dive site – and let’s say our sample dive is a shore dive… perhaps a cave dive – Janet and her buddy will get those checklists out again as they unpack their gear and get it ready for the dive.
An important difference between technical divers and most sport divers is that technical divers understand fully and plan around carrying spare gas for their buddy in the event of some catastrophe with that buddy’s gas supply. You may already know about or have heard about the rule of thirds and what it entails. Janet and her buddy follow this rule, and also take things a step further by making sure they have each confirmed what flavor of gas their buddy is carrying for them. In other words, one of the first actions when the two of them get together is to analyze their mixes and mark them together.
We should never dive with people we do not trust and respect, but we should never accept – even from folks who qualify as good mates and dive buddies – that a cylinder carrying spare gas that we may have to use, is what someone tells us it is without analyzing it for ourselves. What this simply translates to is that Janet and her buddy (Bill), reanalyze their gas at the dive site and confirm some things: 1) that it is the same as the mix they planned to use, and 2) that each and every cylinder is appropriately marked with contents and MOD (Maximum Operation Depth).
As Janet and Bill put together their kit and get themselves ready for their dive – once again using a checklist and confirming with each other that each step in the elaborate process of getting ready and prepping gear is followed correctly, they will also take time to confirm what are called the dive’s Waypoints.
These waypoints are mini-events that punctuate the dive breaking it up into little bite-sized chunks, which seem to make it easier to track and manage the dive and to confirm that the dive is actually happening the way it should.
Typical waypoints include the TDI START acronym to begin the dive. START represents: S-Drill and bubble check (no leaks and long-hose ready to deploy in an emergency); Team check (buddy check including stress assessment); Air (what gas or gases, how much and what to do if some disappears); Route (where the dive will take the team, elapsed time budgeted for each stage of the route, and where the “safe exits” are; Time (total expected run time, bottom time, decompression times and contingency times).
These are followed by waypoints for the dive itself and are often referred to as Go-or-Go-Home checks. At specific times, such as reaching target depth, the team will confirm with each other that everyone is cool to continue. Janet and Bill, as an experienced buddy team, will most probably have a set of basic waypoints they use on every dive. For a particular dive, they may add one or two additional waypoints specific to the route and plans for that dive… Let’s say arriving at a specific landmark.
With these tasks all completed satisfactorily, the fun continues and ramps up a little. Janet and Bill will do a final survey of the dive site, the conditions, and how each feels before giving a final OK and starting their dive.
Now we could run through the dive, minute by minute and foot by foot, but let’s just say that both divers have broad smiles on their faces the whole time they are underwater. And when the dive is over and the kit is cleaned and packed away, things might wrap up sharing a drink, a burger, and one of the pair coming up with the bright idea to do it all over again tomorrow!
Technical diving should be fun. You can find out how by contacting your local TDI facility by clicking here – https://www.tdisdi.com/search/?area=tdi
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