I Want To Be A Tech Diver. Where Do I Start?

by John Bentley

Why did you get interested in diving?

Television, magazines, stories from a friend – it doesn’t matter the source, exploring the underwater world and escaping the surface is enticing and exciting. So how do we keep exploring? What exactly is technical diving?

Planned deco allows you to see the deeper features longer.

Decompression divers employ oxygen mixtures of all kinds to extend their time looking at wrecks and reefs on the ocean floor. While the sport diver may get two 15 minute bottom time dives at 100ft the decompression diver can cruise around for 60 minutes or more, getting the most bang for their buck.

Helium gets you to the bottom with a clear head.

For dives past 130ft decompression divers blend some Helium into their cylinders and dip into the realm of the rarely seen. The reefs and wrecks they experience are sometimes visited less frequently in a year than astronauts to the moon.

Overhead training allows you to take a journey into the past.

Cave passage formed over millions of years of water erosion that stretch thousands of feet from the entrance are reserved for those trained in overhead diving. The unique beauty and tranquility that these sites offer is only surpassed by the incredible timescale with which they formed.

Where do we begin?

Tech divers need 3 things

Practice

Passion

The Right Gear

Path

Becoming a technical diver is equal parts training, experience and passion. If any of the three are lacking the added risks in technical diving aren’t worth it.

  1. Become a Certified Diver
    1. This is only the beginning of building a skill set. A solid focus, from day 1, of having fun while being thorough and cautious, is the best way to prep for becoming a tech diver.
  2. Expand your Skills
    1. For many entry level technical courses 25 dives is the minimum requirement. You can count training dives, like those in a specialty class, towards that requirement.
    2. Deep – Expand your depths and get an introduction to complex dive planning.
    3. Navigation – Employ underwater navigation techniques to always know where you are
    4. Search and Recovery – Utilize complex navigation and lift bags with a team mindset
    5. Rescue – Get in the water and practice for emergency scenarios
    6. CPROX1st AED – Learn the ins and out of emergency treatment in the dive realm.
  3. Get Introduced to the Gear
  4. Get Started on your Path

An Important Note

While technical diving is still for fun (recreational) divers will quickly notice a difference in the discipline and mindset involved in the average technical dive. Dives in the “technical” range are still geared towards seeing things under the water; they aren’t for people wanting to go deeper, just because. There is a higher risk associated with cave and decompression diving. This risk is mitigated, in part, by thorough dive planning and training. As such, divers doing these dives are held towards a higher standard. It will take practice to become a technical diver. No amount of research and reading can supplement that in water time. Divers will notice that the minimum standards are often exceeded during training courses and individual technical instructors often do this. Technical training teaches a diver redundancy so that problems can be successfully solved 1500ft inside a flooded cave and an exit to the surface can be executed. While that sounds complex and scary it’s a necessary aspect of diving in that environment. Technical training is not only challenging but it’s fun and at the end of it the diver has a golden ticket to see parts of the world that are totally closed off to other people.

What to Expect

Gear – While the gear is fundamentally the same, divers in their introductory tech class (Intro to Tech, Sidemount or CCR Air diluent) will notice some fundamental configuration differences.  Instead of 2 second stages on one cylinder they’re split between two, with a separate first stage on each. Gas planning becomes an in-depth thorough process and the harnesses seem to have more chrome.

Backmounted Doubles

Backmounted doubles came into use in part because of the problems with backmounted independents and single orifice doubles, neither of which are as common in modern diving. Independents are two cylinders strapped to one’s back with independent regulators on each one. If a 1st stage was to fail the diver was down to one cylinder. Single orifice doubles were two cylinders linked together with a valve, and one 1st stage regulator. If a first stage failed on a single orifice doubles set all the gas would be lost. The isolated manifold doubles used today eliminate both of those problems. Each cylinder can be worked independently, but the diver can also breathe gas from both cylinders out of one regulator. This form of doubles is typically held together with metal bands and the valves are linked with an isolation manifold, allowing the two to be separate if needed. Backmounted doubles diving is similar to regular single cylinder backmount, offering a profile that is vertically the same.

Pros: Ability to breathe both cylinders from one 1st stage – even with a 1st stage failure

Cons: Manifold rupture will cause catastrophic gas loss, bands/valves not available in all areas

Sidemounted Doubles

Sidemount cylinder mounting originated for cave diving and have become more popular in all forms of technical diving since. They separate the dual cylinders, with a 1st stage on each cylinder, and mount them on either side of the diver’s body. This doesn’t allow the diver to breathe from either cylinder in the event of a regulator failure, but does give the diver easier access to valves. Sidemount diving gives the diver a larger horizontal profile, but a smaller vertical profile.

Pros: Independent cylinders, modularity in and out of the water

Cons: Can’t breathe from the cylinder if a 1st stage fails

Rebreather

Rebreathers offer an extension of diving abilities by forgoing large cylinders in favor of recycling the gas exhaled by the diver, scrubbing the CO2 exhaled, and injecting prescriptive amounts of gas from smaller cylinders. This can drastically increase the dive time compared to carrying double cylinders of the same generate size/weight, especially for deeper dives. Rebreathers can be back or sidemounted, and the profile they create is dependent on the configuration.

Pros: Extended dive times with fewer and smaller cylinders

Cons: Expense, more monitoring required during the dive.

Streamlined Profile

Despite the gear choice the entry level tech diver will be taught to streamline their equipment to prevent dangling items and drag. This ensures a maximized profile for efficient propulsion and awareness.

Skills (general) – The introductory tech diver will practice their trim and buoyancy with the new equipment configuration. This builds the foundation of efficient diving. Once the foundation is there the student can practice locomotion and move on to more advanced skill practice.

Skills (specific) – Throughout the tech programs the specific dive skills for that category of diving are practiced until faultless. For overhead diving navigation and line skills are honed in until they’re automatic. Decompression divers can plan and execute the stops and gas management without blinking an eye. Rebreather divers meticulously build, test and break down their units to ensure perfect functionality of the equipment. Skills for each course are laid solid in the first level of certification, and advanced from there. Each step deeper or further hones these skills and adds additional challenges to develop a well rounded, well prepared and well informed diver.

Academics – The academic portions of a technical course are very similar to any other scuba class. Students will do some self study and bring the new knowledge to a discussion with their instructor. The dive planning aspects for a technical course are significantly extended from what most individuals are used to but a vital part of executing a successful dive. In overhead and decompression diving, the gas management portions of the planning discussion will take longer than most divers are used to. They even utilize a computer program to calculate their gas volumes and reserves required for the dive.

Mentality – Technical diving is still fun. It’s all about seeing cool things, just like sport diving, but technical divers see sights longer, deeper, and hidden to the sport diver. While technical divers are still fun-focused they also regular focused. Jokes can still be made, laughs can still be had, but a certain sense of serious must come about when it comes to dive planning and execution. All diving has risks, and those risks are increased if proper planning, skill practice, and execution are not done.

So, what are you waiting for? Find a TDI instructor near you today: https://www.tdisdi.com/search/?area=instructors

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2 replies
  1. Ted Reitsma
    Ted Reitsma says:

    Even if you do not plan to do extended range, sidemount, penetration, extended decompression or rebreather, it is valuable learning experience and can make you a better diver. Using a pony bottle and knowing how to side sling it snuggly would be helpful for any diver. I always breath off my octopus and have my short second stage on a necklace bungie. I carry a ‘fanny pack’ with backup lights, second mask, zip ties, extra flashlight, reef hook, jon line. You get the idea.

    Reply
  2. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Great article, just a coment, one of the key benefits of sidemount you don’t appear to have mentioned (unless I missed it when.reading) and one of the reasons for its popularity in cave diving is its ability to protect your valves and 1st stages from impact damage by keeping them out of harm’s way in an overhead environment, particularly relevant in tight spaces.

    Reply

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