By Sean Harrison
Starting my technical diving in the early 90s I found the steps to learning this “secretive” form of diving very cumbersome and at times daunting. The first step of course back then for me and most others entering technical diving was nitrox, and at that time I was only qualified to use 32 and 36 percent mixes. Did I mention that course took a month?
After this I was cut free to do my own thing and learn the ins and outs of more advanced diving techniques and habits, which were picked up later at the deep air and trimix levels. While gaining “experience,” I was responsible for learning how to use doubles, carry stage bottles, rig equipment and label cylinders. That’s to say, my early education in the finer points of technical diving were very much left to me alone.
Fast forward five years, and I was an instructor. My first real technical students were TDI Nitrox and Semi-Closed Circuit Rebreather (SCR) certs. Keep in mind that at that time, most agencies still did not have nitrox programs available.
Once I started teaching TDI Decompression Procedures I found myself spending a lot of time in shallow waters teaching trim, buoyancy, equipment configuration — the very same things I had to learn on my own – to my students. I did this for two reasons: firstly because I remember how hard it was for me to figure this out; and secondly I wanted the diver’s comfort and ability levels to be satisfactory before I brought them into deeper waters, where things could really go wrong quickly. This practice expanded the number of dives required in my courses from eight to sometimes ten or twelve,, depending on how the diver was doing and how I felt the student’s skill levels had progressed.
Fast forward once again and a couple of years ago, TDI released its Intro to Tech Course. It has proven to be very successful. Looking back now, hindsight being 20/20, it all makes sense. The Intro to Tech Course matches the TDI philosophy; give the instructors flexibility and the tools to teach the course and give the divers small achievable goals while gaining valuable experience in between.
By starting your “could be technical divers” off with this course you can not only qualify the divers and take away the myth of technical diving, you can also make your life a lot easier should they progress into your Advanced Nitrox and Decompression Procedures courses.
The Intro to Tech course covers the basic elements of all technical divers: proper buoyancy, equipment management, gas management, proper weighting, equipment selection and much more. You can also use this course to highlight the differences between a technical and sport diver . For example, when clearing a mask use minimal air to do so (this becomes very important should your diver go on to take a rebreather course; carrying only the equipment needed for the dive; and — the most important skill — anyone can call the dive at anytime.
I find that in most of the courses the most valuable piece of information the diver walks away with is, a change of mindset. Sport divers tend to start a dive with a loose plan and make adjustments on the fly this, as you well know, is not acceptable in a technical dive. There are contingency plans but they are thought out in advance.
The moral of the story is: Teach the Intro to Tech course so that when you get the divers into your Advanced Nitrox, Decompression Procedures or Rebreather courses they are better prepared. That way you can teach them the knowledge and skills they really need rather than cleaning up things that they should have had a handle on from the start.
A reminder for those TDI instructors who are active and currently teach Advanced Nitrox and Decompression Procedures level courses. You are qualified to teach Intro to Tech, but you must register as an Intro to Tech instructor with Headquarters before you are certified to deliver the program! The form is in the back of your instructor guide… OR can be downloaded here.