The thought of someone panicking underwater is often linked to a new or inexperienced diver. Rarely do we visualize a technical diver suited head to toe in advanced diving equipment with their mask on their forehead in a full blown panic at the surface. It’s often assumed technical divers are bullet proof to panicking because they have spent so much time and gained so much experience in the water that they simply wouldn’t panic to various situations. Well, we might burst some bubbles here but that is simply not the case. Technical divers are not exempt from panicking underwater; we’re going to outline a few things that could trigger a technical diver to panic and how they can be avoided.
Time – Timing is everything right? In this case it is… Technical divers need adequate time to gear up before entering the water. We’re not suggesting tech divers should move at snail speed but it’s important not to rush the process of gearing up before a dive. When a diver is rushed, they could miss essential predive steps and start the dive on the wrong foot by elevating their breathing and heart rate. This increased stress and pressure (no pun intended) could be the start of a downward spiral to panicking if something else goes wrong. Take your time to set up and don’t rush the process for your teammates either.
Again, what’s the Rush? – It’s no secret that elevated swim rates will increase your overall work load and breathing rate resulting in increased Carbon Dioxide (CO2) production. When you swim hard and overwork yourself, your body metabolizes more oxygen, which creates more CO2. This overload can cause us several problems but to focus on one; the body’s first reaction to CO2 build up is increased breathing rates and anxiety. As you breathe harder and faster, your body has the tendency to retain more CO2, which creates more anxiety. This is a slippery slope, if you happen to have an equipment failure or some other emergency while you’re already anxious; you are simply that much closer to a full blown panic attack. If you suspect you are working too hard and building up too much CO2, it is important you slow down or stop and gain stable contact (if possible), relax, and get your breathing under control. This break will allow your body to vent excess CO2, effectively transport oxygen, and reestablish a regular breathing pattern. This way you can get yourself back in control of the dive and in a position of handling emergencies if they arise without going into a panic mode.
Task Overloading – It’s important not to overload yourself with tasks while technical diving. You ultimately should have a dive plan / profile to keep in mind at all times. Situations might require the use of a reel and lift bag, surveying and taking notes, switching deco gasses, and more. Can you keep up with your dive plan while taking on any of these tasks? If so, don’t try to compile too much at once. If you’re making decompression stops while ascending up a wall, switching gasses and sending a surface marker buoy should not be attempted at the same time. Prior to entering the water, make a plan for tasks to be completed and allow for time in between just in case it doesn’t go as planned or if the task takes longer than expected. If you find yourself overloaded and overwhelmed, stop! Think about the situation and your options. Ask your teammate for assistance if possible.
When a technical diver is far back into a cave, wreck, or has significant decompression obligations the consequences of panic can be extreme and fatal. Time is a similar component to the three scenarios we’ve outlined above. In most panic scenarios, divers felt some form of time pressure; whether they are attempting to swim a distance, hit a depth, perform multiple tasks and more. Make sure you allow yourself and your teammates to take their time (it’s not a race) and have adequate time allotted for the tasks of the dive.
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