Please Explain the Basics!

By: Italino “Tony” Pietrantonio

Picture this: it is a typical day on duty. The weather is not too bad and you arrive early enough to accomplish the few things you usually do before starting your work period. How do you spend the rest of your day? My workday started with some physical activity with the guys on my team, followed by some administrative paperwork. Inevitably and joyously, we would get to the part that we all loved: training. Training was vital to our work and ensured we performed at our best when times were at their worst. Even though it seemed mundane at time, it was the basics that allowed us to accomplish so much. This is something I have carried along with me as a commercial diver, public safety diver, supervisor, and instructor – still believing in the basics.

What constitutes the basics to you? 

I was asked this question recently and gave my typical response of buoyancy control, search patterns, rigging, and emergency procedures. I was then asked why those answers? For the first time, I suddenly found myself thinking about my answer and wondering why I responded with those tasks. So, I asked some fellow dive team leads about their thoughts on the basics and received many of the same answers. Although I agreed with the answers in a sense, I started to wonder if we were truly doing our divers a service in their development by practicing the skills, but without providing the knowledge behind what we do. I looked at public safety diving and compared it to commercial diving as it relates to the work environment and requirements. 

We work in tough conditions. Most of the time, we cannot see, the temperatures are not always the best, and our bodies may not be rested properly. Yet, we still are expected to show up and find the lost person, object, or vehicle and bring it to the surface for recovery. How many of our divers can really demonstrate knowledge on how to accomplish this mission efficiently and safely? This comparison provided a new outlook and additions for the basics as I see them.

Do you know the Laws? 

I propose it should not just be about skills in the water, but also about the knowledge that accompanies those skills. At the most basic of levels are the gas laws: Boyle’s Law, Charles’s Law, Guy-Lussac’s Law, The General Gas Law, Dalton’s Law, and Henry’s Law. These laws form the basis of everything we do in diving. Why is what little time spent on these in the basic open water class enough for a working diver? Should we not be teaching our divers the laws in such detail that they can do the calculations and understand what they mean? A diver who understands Boyle’s Law should not only be able to tell why an uncontrolled ascent from any depth is dangerous, but why is it more dangerous from 10 meters / 33 fsw / 34 ffw. Boyle’s Law is the foundation upon which we set hyperbaric injury, lifting operations, and gas consumption. We can increase their understanding of hyperbaric injuries when we combine Henry’s Law discussing solubility of the breathing gas in our body with a solid understanding of Boyle’s Law. Certainly, we should offer them the knowledge of Dalton’s Law, so they understand why we choose certain breathing mixes at certain depths based off the partial pressure of oxygen. The gas laws that demonstrate how gases behave in our bodies should be a go to in our toolbox of basics.

Rigging and Lifting 

Now, look at another basic skill we use: rigging and lifting. I challenge every diver to understand Archimedes’ Principle. Archimedes, as I like to tell divers and students, is the old man in the bathtub who discovered buoyancy while washing up. It was his discovery and mathematical algorithm that allows us to bring up objects from the depths. Our divers should be able to calculate buoyancy requirements on any job. If we all understand and can perform the calculations, then it provides multiple checks when planning to ensure the best plan. 

Let us go one step further and add a safety measure for our divers on a lift. First, they know the gas requirements for that mission and can choose the correct lifting device. A vehicle lift can be dangerous for divers operating lifting systems while around the vehicle. Why not try remote filling and lifting with your divers at a safe distance. So, how much more air should we use to fill the bag when it’s at a depth 15 meters / 49 fsw / 51 ffw. We can calculate it accurately when Archimedes’ Principle and Boyle’s Law are used together correctly. It is another knowledge tool for an advanced understanding in basic skill operations.


A diver injury is the worst moment for any dive team, and it is only made worse if that injury becomes permanent. Looking back at where this literary journey began, we can add all the gas laws together for our divers to best understand how volume, temperature, and pressure affect us while diving. Combine that with Henry’s Law and Dalton’s Law and all of us should be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of a diver injury. There is no better advocate for an injured diver than another diver from the team. EMS personnel have a great knowledge of how to treat the sick and injured, but diving injuries and the stresses of diving do not fall within the core competencies for EMT’s or Paramedics. WE need to be more educated in our own physiology, injuries and illnesses, and how to recognize and treat. An arterial gas embolism is the most dangerous complication in diving. How can we determine between an arterial gas embolism and severe type II DCS? Can your local hospital recognize and treat either? We must be the advocates to help guide the EMS service ensure our divers get to the right hospital or specialty center.      

Again, what do you consider to be part of your basic skills toolbox? 

We should regard ourselves as basic working divers not basic open water divers. Our knowledge and that of our divers should reflect that fact. Public safety divers must be knowledgeable in diving physics, physiology, and illness and injury. These basics in terms of knowledge will only serve to increase our effectiveness and safety. I challenge all of you leading your teams to set the bar higher and make this knowledge an integral part of your training.

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