If your team has new systems or needs to be brought up to date on how systems work, seek out training.
Here are a few items you can include in your logbook to help you stay organized and honest, track progress, and work on self-improvement as a diver.
No matter what, you will get some butterflies in your stomach and the thrill of a real world mission cannot cloud your need to remain a responsible team member.
Full face masks are not exclusive for public safety use; there are many benefits to diving one in the sport diving world.
Dr. Thomas Powell
The modern scuba world is one of excitement, adventure, exploration, and enjoyment. Every day people take to the water to see new things or enjoy a different environment from the norm. Despite this trend, there are a select few individuals who choose to dive in order to serve their communities. These divers are willing to get wet despite harsh conditions, limited or no visibility, and dangerous environments. Essentially, when a truck containing hazardous materials experiences an accident in the middle of a snowy winter night, there are people out there who are willing to attempt to rescue or recover the driver. These problematic diving conditions suggest that public safety divers must work to remain safe and protected as much as possible. One of the primary items that can add to a public safety diver’s protection is the full face mask. Within the public safety diving community, full face masks have largely replaced the standard recreational scuba mask in both training and operational settings. The following factors suggest why all public safety divers should love the full face mask and seek to utilize them to improve safety and operational capabilities.
- First, the full face mask is an item that allows for the encapsulation of a diver’s face. If worn with a latex hood, the head and the soft tissues around the mouth, nose, and eyes will be protected. On those difficult days when a diver must submerge into unknown conditions and potentially hazardous materials, the chance of injury or ailment is reduced. This factor can provide protection from chemical contaminants, hazardous biological materials, and even cold. Similarly, fitting attachments such as spider straps ensure that a full face mask can be securely attached to the head of a diver and remain more secure when compared to a traditional mask with a single strap. The fact that a diver’s head is better protected can help to improve confidence, capability, and even response time.
- Improved Field of Vision
Second, the full face mask provides an increased field of vision when compared to a traditional scuba mask. The large lens structure found in many full face units provides a wider, clear surface area than traditional masks, and therefore improved visual capability. In most scenarios, public safety divers may not have the luxury of clear, high-visibility water, but when an individual does have the ability to see, the greater the field of vision, the better a diver can search or make observations.
Perhaps more important than anything, full face mask units provide a resource that has not always been available to the public safety diving community. In years past, divers have relied on rope, hand, or tactile signals. Communications systems found in full face masks allow divers to communicate to not only other divers, but to the surface support team during an operation. This factor allows for complete discussion relating to scenarios, the provision of guidance, and the possibility of improved recognition during problem situations.
Finally, a full face mask allows for unique and improved breathability. Essentially, a diver can breathe from his or her nose. During intense or difficult scenarios, a diver on a full face mask unit can take deep breaths through both the mouth and nose into the lungs. This factor can improve the ability to relax and remain calm during problematic situations.
The full face mask is a unique tool for any public safety diver. It allows a diver to communicate, gain improved visibility, and protect soft tissues. There is no reason that a public safety dive team should not use, care for, and promote the use of full face mask units in operational settings and training environments. A resource of this type can help to protect the life of an individual who works to assist others. Programs such as the ERDI Full Face Mask Operations Course can help any dive team learn to better utilize and employ full face mask units during operational activities.
-Dr. Thomas Powell
Air Hogs Scuba
Integrating a full-face mask into your equipment kit while technical diving can have enormous benefits in terms of safety and communication. It is very important you seek the proper training when using FFM for technical diving.
by Dr. Thomas Powell:
Dive teams operating in the modern world can only be successful if they train to be successful. A dive team is comprised of volunteers who have taken a step beyond recreational scuba. These men and women have chosen to dive in barely tolerable, low-visibility conditions in an effort to serve their communities. For some, this is an obligation, and for others, public safety diving can become a passion. To be successful, team leaders must bring every team member home from every operation. To accomplish this objective, dive teams must be prepared for the most extreme, harsh, and unfriendly environments. To achieve this level of preparation, teams must train beyond basic levels of diver knowledge.
The first step for any dive team is to both understand and practice full encapsulation; encapsulation means that all areas of the diver’s body are covered and protected from exposure to the environment. The conditions in which public safety divers work can be extreme, to improve safety divers must be encapsulated when they enter the water. The first steps toward achieving encapsulation involves training in the use of dry suits and full face masks. Together, these two items (in conjunction with dry gloves, boots, and hoods) can provide encapsulated protection. Experience with dry suits and full face masks is essential when entertaining emergency response training. International Training offers both sport training in full face masks and dry suits through SDI, and technician and operational training through ERDI. Eliminating diver contact with water and the environment can reduce the dangerous potential for a diver to come into contact with chemical, biological, or other hazardous materials.
Once a diver understands encapsulation and how his or her equipment functions and is used, team-based emergency response training must be performed. The first of these steps can be found with Emergency Response Diver 1 (ERD 1). The basic ERD 1 Course takes a diver/dive team and introduces operational settings, skills practice, team work, recovery operations, planning procedures, and protocols. This program also offers an opportune time to advance a diver from recreational training with full face masks and dry suits to operational levels while performing team-based exercises. This type of program increases safety by forcing a team to work in unison through scenario-based operational simulations. If a team is trained to work together, the overall risk held by individuals is reduced. Essentially, the team members will learn to trust one another to work toward safe success.
Third, a team must review the types of operations performed in its operational setting. Are there rivers and streams? Do major social events occur? Is a boat critical for many operational entries and exits? The answers to these questions will provide guidance as to what other forms of operational training a team may require. Moving water suggests a need for ERD Swift Water training. The need for a boat suggests the need for ERD Small Boat Operations training. The presence of major events may suggest the need for ERD Threat Assessment training. ERDI provides many sub-specializations for dive teams. In many cases, these courses may require a request from a team leader. The best way to discover how to get the training you need is to contact an area ERDI Instructor and find out how best to get the assistance you need. Any ERDI Instructor can provide a doorway to assistance, and if an instructor is not in your region, ERDI’s World Headquarters can help to provide assistance as needed.
One course that every dive team must take is ERD Contaminated Water. Certain departments of various types already undergo hazardous materials training, but teams must train to deal with decontamination and hazmat problems as they pertain to dive operations. Beyond basic encapsulation, team members must understand how to scrub, clean, and remove gear from a diver in the manner that best protects the diver’s physical well-being. Divers must trust one another to bring each other home following an operation. The actions required to achieve this objective do not end when a diver leaves the water. Public safety divers must view all dive operations as contaminated water scenarios. The water in which a diver operates may be unknown and any form of hazardous material may exist in that water. When a diver exits the water, this hazardous material may still remain on the diver’s equipment.
Once a team has trained through various operational scenarios, and prepared for the types of operations most common in the team’s operational region, the Emergency Response Diver 2 (ERD 2) program serves as a capstone course. This program is one that brings together the learned knowledge and skills of all team members to practice and train for the worst worst-case scenarios. Essentially, divers can combine skill sets and organize activities into a streamlined set of operational protocols that provide the most secure and efficient method for bringing every diver home at the end of a mission.
Finally, no team is always ready for any type of operation. Once a team has deemed itself “trained,” the training cannot stop. On a regular cycle, team members must practice skill sets and problem adaptation. If this type of continuing education is not performed, team members may get rusty and skills may be forgotten. Issues such as this are what can get a team member hurt. One weak link in the educational chain can lead to a problematic operation. To encourage regular training and operational preparedness, ERDI suggests that one in every four team members become an ERD Dive Training Supervisor. This program is tailored to help a leader develop training plans, and incorporate skills practice into a regular program.
Safety is the key to operational success for any dive team. The most efficient way to remain safe is to train for the worst possible situations. A dive team must never stop training if it wishes to remain successful, safe, and to provide the most benefit to a community. With training comes safety, success, and security.
-Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC
by Brianne Grant:
Sport divers commonly make the mistake of thinking that diving a full face mask is just for public safety divers, when in fact they can be fun and beneficial for the sport diver too!
- Communications Option – Full face masks have the option to be used in conjunction with underwater communication systems, which are available for sport divers. Divers can have the ability to communicate with each other, the surface, a boat, or all three. Being able to verbally communicate underwater can be an awesome experience for courses such as fish identification or underwater collector. Even for fun recreational dives, under water communications eliminate the guess work of hand signals, and allow divers to share their encounters on the spot!
- Wireless communications – Wireless comms are great for diver-to-diver communications. Consisting of a microphone for divers to speak into, and an ear piece or small transmitter with channel options. Typically these are small units that can easily be attached to almost any full face mask unless there is a manufacturer specific unit. Ocean Reef and Ocean Technology Systems (OTS) have reliable and user-friendly systems.
- Transducer communications – This is similar to the wireless system however it is typically used from one diver to a transducer or receiver that is in the water and relayed to the communication box. This type of system is commonly used for divers who work the dive boat circuit. The transducer system allows the diver to be on the bottom and report conditions back to the boat.
- Security – Some sport divers do not like the idea that a regulator could be knocked out of their mouth, or that their mask could potentially become dislodged from their face during an entry into the water.
- A full face mask provides a single unit housing both the breathing apparatus and the mask, and secures both to the face. This eliminates the potential of a regulator falling out or being knocked out and also makes it very difficult for a mask to come loose or off. Full face masks are great for the different water entries sport divers use depending on dive conditions (back rolls, giant strides, cannon balls, shore entries).
- Visibility – Just like scuba diving or snorkeling masks, full face masks have either a silicone or latex skirt that can be clear or black; the biggest distinguishing factor is going to be the surface area of the visual field in the full face mask.
- Skirts – Black or clear skirts on a regular mask can often give sport divers the feeling of claustrophobia because the skirt sits closer to our peripheral line of vision. Full face mask skirts sit further away from the eye; they sit closer to the hair and chin line giving the diver better peripheral vision, especially in a clear or lighter colored skirt.
- Visual field – The visual field on a full face mask is larger than that of a scuba or snorkeling mask.
- Comfort – Some sport divers prefer using a full face mask for several comfort reasons:
- Mouth Pieces – A typical regulator system can be cumbersome, oversized, and uncomfortable, or the bite tabs can be chewed off. Full face masks do not have bite tabs or a mouth piece that requires a lip seal around it, instead a diver’s mouth is free eliminating any of the discomfort felt with a regulator mouth piece.
- Jaw fatigue – Often sport divers will bite down on the mouth piece tabs very hard which can result in jaw fatigue or post dive soreness. This can be uncomfortable and of some concern to divers who have been medically cleared and dive with TMJ, as biting down on bite tabs can cause jaws to lock or seize up. Full face masks help to eliminate jaw fatigue because they do not require the diver to hold a regulator in their mouth.
- Protection – Full face masks can provide additional protection from various in-water elements:
- Jelly fish! They like to sneak up on us and sting our faces, necks, and heads when we’re diving which is never fun. Full face masks help protect our face, portions of our neck, and forehead from those sneaky buggers.
- Sunburn – Full face masks can help limit our sun exposure while diving and surfacing. Although most divers don’t realize it, we can get sunburned while diving, especially in tropical or shallow conditions. Ultra violet rays can penetrate through the water and can often be magnified, those rays can also reflect off the sandy ocean floor in turn providing us divers with sunburn. Sometimes sport divers forget about the sun exposure to our faces because we concentrate on the other exposure the rest of our body is susceptible to. Full face masks can help limit and filter the sunlight penetration and reflection providing us with some additional protection.
- Ice diving – This specialty can be made more enjoyable by diving a full face mask since it will encapsulate the entire face protecting it from the cold water. Our heads lose a lot of heat, and relatively quickly, but by using a hood and full face mask, ice diving can be enjoyed more comfortably.
- Specialty Course – SDI does offer Full Face Mask as a specialty rating which is great for the sport diver looking to expand their diver knowledge!
- The SDI Full Face Mask course only requires an Open Water Scuba Diver certification as a prerequisite. This course can be great for sport divers looking to attain the Advanced Diver rating, Master Diver rating, or those moving towards a professional rating.
These are just a few of the advantages for sport divers using full face masks. There are many manufacturers and styles of full face masks that are available for the sport diver. They come in a variety of colors and sizes to fit the needs of each individual diver. If you are interested in the SDI Full Face Mask course or want to learn more about a particular full face mask, check in with your local SDI dive shop here.
by Dr. Thomas Powell:
Modern dive teams operate within a world inundated with technological advances. In years past, teams relied on experience, skill, and hard work. Teams today still maintain those attributes, but they also have capabilities and support structures that far exceed dive teams of the past. Technology can eliminate some of the busy work, frustration, and extensive hands-on searching that divers were once required to perform.
One of the first technologies to help dive teams around the United States was sonar. Side-scan and down-scan sonars allow dive teams to view bottom topography and look for abnormalities despite black water, currents, or short-staffed teams. Essentially, a boat operator can work with a sonar operator to cover large areas quickly when a team is searching for an object with known dimensions. As a comparison, dive teams of the past may have looked all day in a brown-water lake for a stolen vehicle that was submerged; whereas today, with the right technological assistance, a dive team can cover the same search area in a fraction of the time. This technology also provides increased safety because divers may only enter the water when a target or potential search item is located. This scenario suggests that fewer divers would be needed and the potential dive time for the associated team could be reduced. When fewer people are in hazardous water for a shorter period, the likelihood for problematic instances is reduced. The hazard reduction is further amplified when a team takes into consideration the fact that active divers will be fresh and ready to enter the water as needed.
A second technology that is still fairly new for dive teams is dive computers. Dive computers allow dive team members to record critical data such as depth, dive time, and temperature. These data sets are things that recreational divers may take for granted, but could help provide critical information to a criminal investigator or medical examiner. Though dive computers have been around for many years, technological innovation has allowed basic computer systems to record more information and support the use of various gas mixtures for divers. In a world where dive team missions grow more complicated and public safety work environments may remain unknown or unsafe, the more information available to dive teams the better. Similarly, backup digital recorders have been developed and are available to teams as redundant data recording devices. In court rooms, the concern is that a standard dive computer may have been manipulated or altered. These simple data recorders are clipped onto a diver during an operational dive and can be handed off to investigators to ensure redundant data sets and unaltered evidence sources for courtroom proceedings. The use of both dive computers and redundant data recorders can also allow a dive team to record information about a dive site to be better prepared for potential future operations in the same location.
Third, dive teams everywhere have started to use subsurface electronic communications systems. These systems may be hardwired or wireless, but in both cases the objective is to allow a diver to actually speak to surface personnel. Many of these systems even allow for digital recording capabilities. Essentially, a diver can speak in detail about what he or she finds, and how to proceed with a dive. Team leaders and tenders can also provide complex direction to a diver if issues arise or mission changes develop. Rather than relying solely on line-pull techniques, many dive teams use electronic systems for primary communication and train to use line-pulls as a redundant back-up source. The concern is that teams must still train to use line-pull communication methods and then practice these methods. Reliance on electronic systems can lead to failure if the “tried and true” older methods are not maintained.
Fourth, teams can make use of location recording devices. Global positioning systems (GPS) allow dive teams and investigators to record dive site locations, entry locations, and in some cases even evidence recovery locations. Systems such as handheld GPS units or boat-mounted GPS units can allow a location recording to be taken directly over an evidentiary collection point. Similarly, systems such as rangefinders allow shore personnel to take distance measurements from known entry locations to collection points or marker buoys. Simple rangefinder applications are even available for modern smart phones. Other smart phone applications can allow tenders or team members to take digital compass headings that can be imprinted over digital pictures to show important location information and how it visually associates with an operational dive area. These systems all allow a dive team to better record its actions and how operations were performed in relation to a dive site. Information such as this can allow a scene to be recreated and show credible proof that items were recovered from areas claimed by dive team members.
Next, modern dive teams often make use of metal detecting systems. These systems may be mounted on watercraft or carried by individual divers. Metal detectors allow a dive team to find and recover items made of various types of metals submerged underwater. A single diver may use a hand-held metal detector to find a small piece of evidence such as a handgun, or a boat mounted detection system may be able to locate larger items such as a submerged vehicle or watercraft. Again, items of this type can reduce search times and allow for more rapid and less problematic recoveries.
Finally, imaging and lighting systems are critical for dive teams. Pictures and video allow dive teams to show where items were found, the environment around these items, and the manner in which these items were recovered. With advances in small digital imaging devices, dive teams can now mount cameras to full-face mask units or other gear components. An entire dive operation can be filmed using a “hands-free” technique. Imaging evidence of this type can prove in a court room that a dive team followed proper procedure, and that items were recovered in locations claimed by dive team members. Similarly, in waters where visibility is a factor, lighting systems may expand visibility or allow for improved imaging. Everything from basic hand-held lights to large canister-powered lights can also be mounted to full-face masks systems or strapped to the back of a diver’s hand. Again, lights can be operated in a safe fashion that allows the user a full range of dexterity with both hands. Where imaging was once not a factor during subsurface operations, the entire duration of a public safety dive mission can now be recorded and if helpful, illuminated.
Technology has advanced the capabilities and resources available to operational dive teams. With each passing year, new innovations make dive operations safer and more efficient. If dive teams choose to make use of innovative technologies, teams must train to use these items to ensure safety and operational success. It will be exciting to see what comes next and how safe rescue and recovery operations may become in the future.
– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC