Sharing Technical Diving Lessons with the Sport Diver

by Rob Bradish:
tech lessons

It is a discussion heard all of the time. The sport diver saying he doesn’t want his diving that rigid. They just want to stick the thingy in their mouth and go see the fish. Meanwhile, as technical divers, we are so consumed with doing things in a particular way, that we sometimes forget that, adaptability is also a skill. No wonder the two camps sometimes have difficulty finding common ground! That said, people often overlook a fundamental truth. There is no such thing as Technical Diving! It is all recreational and both forms have common roots. Lessons were learned, and passed down through the learning process that were provided, typically via another diver’s mishap, and possibly at the expense of their life.

Knowing that, let’s look at some of those lessons, often spelled out in technical training manuals, and see how they might apply to the sport diver.

  • Lesson One – Every dive is a decompression dive.
    The lesson is actually in every Open Water Diver class, but sometimes only gets a cursory look. While there may seem to be differences between Non Stop Diving limits and Decompression Dive Plans, they are really the same thing. In both cases, whether by computer, table or some other method, the diver is examining time at depth, and then building an exit strategy that allows the gases dissolved in our body’s various tissues, to escape before becoming large enough to be a problem.Failure to recognize that, and plan and act accordingly, is just waiting for an incident to occur.
  • Lesson Two- Any Diver, Any Reason, No Questions Asked
    As a part of a technical team, it is our job to show up prepared and ready to function at 100%. That said, sometimes a diver may be 20 minutes into a dive before they realize they are not hitting that goal. It is the job of the diver to know when to make that call. It is so important to the team, that the mantra has been adopted in an effort to make that decision even easier, eliminating embarrassment or ridicule as a concern.A favorite buddy, a sport diver to his core, used to word it a little differently, but the message is the same. “As much as I enjoy diving, there is not any single dive worth all the joys in my life going forward”.
  • Lesson Three- Stop Learning, Stop Diving
    Recently, another diver stated they had perfected a style of diving that worked for them and that they saw no need to alter it going forward. As a technical diver, we are often told that a critical part of the post dive meal was to discuss, at least a few, points of possible improvement. This is in recognition that, during every dive, there is room for improvement and growth. We don’t stop training. Whether through self-study, mentorship, or quality class material, there is a recognition that things change, and when change occurs, so to must learning.In all things, there must be a realization that failure to continue learning in any dynamic activity could contribute to failure at a later time.
  • Lesson Four- The Trip is often more important than the Destination.
    Technical Diving is full of stories about people that achieve some feat. It is also full of stories about people who fail while trying to achieve some feat. Those who achieve a tough goal rarely do so without a lot of forethought and planning. It is also a part of the training described in Lesson Three, as well as combined experience and lots of practice. When failures do occur, there is often an after action discovery. Frequently, reasons cited include exceeding ones skill set and abilities.Preparation is rarely rushed, and doing so often leads to skipped steps. Taking time in that preparation is a valuable use of time. In most cases, that destination will be there tomorrow!
  • Lesson Five- You carry a Submersible Pressure Gauge for a Reason.
    In Technical Diving, running out of gas can, and likely would, be a life threatening event. It is simply not acceptable. We plan for it, and we plan for contingencies, to insure we do not run out of gas. Yet somehow, there always seems to be some person, returning from a sport dive trip, and boasting about how they used every bit of gas in their tank, like they should be applauded for their skill!!Sorry folks, running out of gas, or even getting close, except in cases of mechanical failure, is unacceptable, period.
  • Lesson Six- When spending peanuts, expect monkeys.
    Diving at a technical level can be more expensive than recreationally. Redundant systems and extended training cost more as a function of keeping the diver safe!! Even so, the technical diver will likely spend more on any one individual device than the sport diver. Technical divers are frequently reminded that their gear is not scuba equipment, but life support equipment. Quality has an associated cost. Remember the old adage, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is”? This applies to repairs, training, and product purchases, and often, we know it when we see it.If a product or service is undervalued, it will very likely be under delivered as well. While quality may cost, shortcuts in training or services always cost more.
  • Lesson Seven- There are NO shortcuts!
    If an Indy Car racer wants to win the Indianapolis 500, he will drive thousands of miles in practice to get to the winners circle. Diving should not be any different. Many planning a technical dive will do “mockup” dives ahead of the actual dive, planning and re-planning for contingencies and spending hundreds of hours just in preparation. A sport diver can often recognize the “old Salt” at the back of the boat. They breathe gas more efficiently, they move more gracefully through the water and the always seem to have a great time. When you look at their log book, frequently they have logged many dives and hours underwater, typically far beyond the norm.Fact is, experience does matter. Can’t get to the boat this weekend because of rough sea? Head to your lake or quarry. While it may not be what you were looking for, rarely does a person not see benefit from a little practice.

There are many lessons to be learned but these seven can help provide a solid core. Technical diving may not be on a diver’s goal list, but its lessons have been hard fought and should not be treated lightly. To do so would be to forget another lesson found in the quote of George Santayana. “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”. With so many Scuba Diving lessons learned through the mishaps of another diver, it would seem foolish for a person to want to repeat that lesson. Most importantly, we have these lessons and know they work. The only risk in applying them, therefore, is to have more enjoyment, both for today’s dive and those in the future!!

– Rob Bradish, who refers to himself as “a sport diver with Technical Interests”, has been certified since 1981, and crossed over to “the Dark Side” as an instructor with SDI/TDI. He is the owner of Sub-Aquatix, in Clayton, North Carolina.

Effective Preparation for Every Dive

by Rob Bradish:
Divers preparing equipmentAhhh, the thought of buried treasure!! I would be willing to bet that if I were to interview a thousand divers, at least one or two became involved in diving because of some story they had once heard about finding buried treasure! I remember one such story being Peter Benchley’s, “The Deep,” in which they describe the famed “Three Lock Box.” Such a box was kept for only the most important items and required three separate keys, maintained by three separate individuals, to be opened. This insured that the property owner would receive the property to which he or she was entitled. In comparison, a “three lock box” can also be an effective metaphor for dive preparation.

So often when thinking of dive preparation, the diver may limit his or her self to pre-dive gear packing and the planning discussion that goes on during the ride to the dive site. However, if someone is to be truly prepared, there is much to do long before the day of the dive. In fact, when examining preparation, there seems to be three clear keys to Effective Preparation for Every Dive.

From a personal perspective, the first key has to be mental preparation. Preparation of this type extends far beyond using a computer to pre-plan your time at depth 50 minutes from now, and requires some steps to effectively get there. For example, the diver must recognize his or her own capabilities. Is the dive being considered within the realm of the diver’s training? Is the site a new site or one dove many times in the past? Does one have all of the appropriate skills, tools, and techniques to complete the dive safely? Participants in some activities are encouraged to visualize, a process of mentally walking through the event, attempting to identify possible challenges or areas where an incident may occur. The night before a dive, visualization can help one determine choices for gear while packing. On the ride to the site, visualization allows the diver to prepare more directly, while witnessing environmental issues that will likely affect the dive. Without this kind of mental preparation, a diver cannot just say they are ready to dive on any given day.

Few people look forward to loading and unloading heavy gear. Hauling tanks back and forth from a dive vessel, or climbing back on board a boat using a dive ladder can require a lot of effort, making physical preparation the second key. While much of that preparation should occur months and weeks before a dive, through exercise, skills practice, and healthy habits, it continues right up to the day of the dive. Frequently, a dive actually begins with a drive to the departure location, either the morning of or the night before. Eating a healthy meal, hydrating effectively, and arriving well-rested are all part of physical preparation. The fact is, staying up until 2 am the night before drinking beers with friends might seem like a great start to a weekend, but not to a weekend of diving. Knowing such activities lead to the increasing probability of DCS incidents, it just doesn’t make sense. Knowing there is another diver, who may depend on his or her buddy, makes it even more important to be able to perform at optimum levels.

Obviously, gear preparation is something that cannot be overlooked and it is our third key. Scuba diving is called a gear intensive sport for a reason. The fact is people do not have gills, and if we are to enjoy what the marine environment has to offer, then equipping ourselves to exist in that environment is important. Annual maintenance is vital to safe diving, if only to insure the life support equipment is performing to standard. Trying to verify gear functionality on the way to a dive site however, is not preparation. Many find it effective to “flat diver” the gear before packing. Essentially, one would lay everything out and make sure that everything needed for the day’s dive is ready. In contrast, the only way to verify regulator and buoyancy compensator functionality is to assemble and test each delivery and exhaust point. Batteries and bulbs need to be fresh in lights and computers. Surface marker buoys and lift bags should be clean and ready to deploy. Finally, is the “Save-a-Dive” kit adequate to actually save the dive? Will the spare mask and fin straps work properly with the gear being packed?

While “plan the dive, dive the plan” has been a part of the diver mantra since the early days, it is important to note that such planning begins long before the day of the dive. Effective mental preparation, through training, research, and visualization are all key components. Physical preparation with effective exercise and living habits are also key. Finally, equipment preparation, not only in maintenance of equipment but in its proper selection for its anticipated use, is the final key. Only with all three keys, can we effectively unlock the “three lock box” of dive planning. Only at this point can the diver effectively determine the goals, depth, and duration for the dive. Even the seemingly simple tasks of entry and exit need to be planned.

Finally, never forget the post dive plan! It would be a shame to go through all of that preparation and planning, failing to include a stop at the local tiki hut for a meal, libations, the telling of lies, and sharing of discoveries!!

Safe Diving!

Rob Bradish, who refers to himself as “a recreational diver with technical Interests”, has been diving since 1981, crossing over to “the Dark Side” as an instructor with SDI/TDI. He works as an independent contractor through Air Hogs Scuba, of Garner, North Carolina and Blackbeard Scuba of Southport, North Carolina.

Simple Rules To Dive By

by Rob Bradish:

trimmed diver and turtle

photo credit: Ray Bullion

Deep diving is a portion of recreational scuba diving that can present dangers and concerns for any diver. These factors can be avoided through proper technique and training. First, divers must utilize common sense and safe practices prior to getting wet.

So, let’s start off with a level set. I started diving in 1977. I was not a professional until about two years ago, and while I have traveled a fair amount, I am certainly not a once-a-year, off to the islands kind of diver. I am, for the most part, just like most of you; I like to dive. This is just my opinion and I encourage you to think on it and more importantly, develop your own response. That said, with over 35 years of diving, I have never gone into unplanned decompression, never run out of gas, and never had an incident become an accident.

I am constantly shocked at the number of divers on a boat dive that need to spend 8 – 10 minutes on the line at 20 feet during a recreational dive. Even scarier is the frequency with which I will hear someone come up the ladder with their computer beeping. When asked, they seem shocked and say something like, “I wondered what that was.” Moreover, an informal survey among charter professionals seems to indicate many of these divers are younger, some with just a few years or dives under their belt. This worries me because as I review the training and knowledgebase available to divers today, the detail is much greater than what we previously had.

So, it begs the question, why are divers today, who are better trained and have more information available than ever before, experiencing incidents that we all know, for the most part, are avoidable?

So, what are some differences between new divers and those who may have more experience? Well, right off the top, I have a few rules I dive by, many of you may have heard before.

1. Plan your dive, dive your plan. We have all heard this for years, but how many especially in our age of computers, actually do it? Most computers even have a modelling software built in to help you. But this goes way beyond anticipating your depth and runtime. In sports and high risk activities, people are taught visualization as a means of preparation. The point here is to, first, psych yourself up for a positive outcome, but more importantly, try to visually prepare and foresee any incidents before they occur. Sure, you can talk about what you hope to see and your separation plan, but do you talk about your dive time? What happens if you go to deep, or stay to long? You get the idea, sit with your buddy and talk about the dive, the goals, and the contingencies to insure you both have success and a good time.

2. Three strikes, I’m out. This is one that is personal. I have found that if I have three mini-incidents, my head can get out of the game, and the best thing for me to do is call it. This even includes driving to the charter! I have also learned for me specifically, the number one thing that can lead to an incident is new equipment or a new configuration. Not yet familiar with that new computer? Get a phone call from the boss about work on the way to the site? Can’t quite get your kit to feel right? Any of these items can take your mind out of the game, but a couple or more together, and I know I will be distracted.

3. There is no dive today worth all of my diving tomorrow. Seems simple, but I am always shocked at the number of people who are afraid to call a dive. Fifth dive of the day and you suddenly get a booming headache? Long ride out and you notice the boat bobbing more than you are used to? No matter how hard you try, you just can’t wrap your head around the dive? CALL IT! There is no dive that is more important than all my future diving. This also leads to an additional rule that tech divers frequently state. Any diver can call the dive at any time, for any reason, without fear of repercussion. Now don’t get me wrong, there will likely be some good natured razzing, but we have all called one. It makes no sense to harass someone when there mind isn’t 100% in the game! More importantly, this rule does not just apply above the waterline.

A few years ago, I was privileged to complete my cave diving certification, a section of diving which is dedicated to rules that are necessary to have a successful cave penetration dive. Now, years later, nearly every time there is a death in caves, one or more of these rules was broken, frequently by divers with a great deal of experience and practice. It is important to note however, it was likely not the broken rule or rules that lead to tragedy, but complacency that lead them to ignore the rules in the first place.

I won’t tell you that there is never a reason to run out of gas or go into unplanned decompression. I will tell you however, if you refuse to be complacent about the rules taught to you as a new diver, then the likelihood of you experiencing an incident or accident will be greatly reduced.

Rob Bradish – who refers to himself as “a recreational diver with Technical Interests,” has been diving since 1981, and crossed over to “the Dark Side” last year as an instructor with SDI/TDI. He works as an independent contractor through Air Hogs Scuba, of Garner, North Carolina and Blackbeard Scuba of Southport, North Carolina.