sidemount diver

4 Reasons Tech Divers Make the Best Divemasters

By Mike Brickman

When you think back to the dive training you’ve done over the years, no doubt there’s that one instructor who stands out to you. The person who seems to know everything there is to know about diving. Their knowledge extends beyond the diving manuals. They always have an answer to every question you ask, a DAN article, a link to a talk, or a whitepaper about exactly what you’re looking to learn. In the water, they are calm, they look awesome, and they make buoyancy look effortless. They can talk gear and dive theory for hours. They never seem to run out of good dive stories to tell – usually about something sketchy that they did years back and how they are lucky to have made it back to the surface afterwards. There’s a decent chance that the person you are thinking of is a tech diver.

Buoyancy, trim, streamlining 

Tech divers tend to look pretty good in the water. All their gear is tucked away nicely with nothing dangling. They hover in place without moving during their safety stops. They glide effortlessly through the water as they swim. Every move appears deliberate, rehearsed, and easy. But it’s not just about looking cool. An experienced tech diver knows that corking to the surface on a staged decompression dive can result in Decompression Sickness. They know that an untucked light cord or loose hose can cause them to become entangled and get stuck inside a wreck. And they know that a misplaced fin kick can quickly lead to a silt out and disorientation inside a cave. 

As a Divemaster or instructor, you are a role model for your students. They will look at you and mimic what they see. If you kneel on the bottom, reducing visibility and potentially damaging aquatic life, your students will too. If your gear looks like a spider’s web, so will your students’. If you are not precise on your ascents and stops, your students won’t learn to be either. You can be a positive example for your students and the dive staff around you.

Teamwork 

Tech divers are trained to work in strong teams. A solid teammate is more than just a buddy to dive next to. A teammate knows how you dive, whether from years of diving together or from a common training background. They communicate easily, recognize and assist with problems, and anticipate other team members’ needs throughout the dive. Does this sound a lot like what you’re taught as a Divemaster or what you desire from a Divemaster as an instructor? As a Divemaster or an instructor it’s important to be a strong team leader. 

But, it’s more than just working as a strong professional team. All too often, if you dive tropically, you see groups of students, far away from their buddies, paying no attention, blindly following the dive guide. They are typically unable to help their buddy during an emergency. In many cases, may have even skipped the important pre-dive safety check with their buddy on the surface. This is unacceptable in the world of tech diving! It should really be unacceptable in all diving. Learning this mentality early and reflecting it in your classes will help you produce safer divers. 

Self-Reliance

While tech divers are trained to work in teams, they also understand that things happen underwater. Buddies can separate, emergencies can occur, and there can be factors preventing you from getting immediately to the surface. What it comes down to is that as a tech diver, you need to calmly handle your problems underwater until you can safely reach the surface. As a Divemaster, you are responsible for the lives and safety of students or certified divers in your care. You cannot allow your own issues to interfere with safety or productivity of the class. 

As an instructor, you may know firsthand the frustration caused by a Divemaster not finishing the requirements of a dive due to a gear problem. I am personally very picky about who I’ll let assist with my classes. I have a schedule to keep, liability for what happens under my supervision, and a conscience to live with in the event of an accident. Many of my preferred assistants come from the same group of people that I tech dive with for fun.

Dive planning and pre-dive checks 

Commercial airlines have very prescriptive maintenance schedules, intricate pre-flight checklists, and detailed flight plans. Pilots, cabin crew, and ground staff try to think through all the possible emergencies that can happen as well as how they will be mitigated. This is both a reflection of the complicated logistics of commercial air travel as well as the cost of human life when things go wrong. Good tech divers think similarly. We often spend more time planning, briefing, checking, and debriefing than we do diving. For example, how much gas does it really take to get two people sharing safely to the surface from 100 feet/30m? What happens if the current starts kicking and we lose the upline? What if my light fails on a night dive?

As a technical diver, I do not put my head underwater without feeling good about the plan and the state of my gear and team. I need to ensure that I have the best chance of coming back safe. It’s no different as an instructor or a Divemaster. I need to ensure that my students have the best chance of coming back safe. But it doesn’t stop when the class ends. It is my responsibility to train them to be independent and safe divers. I want them to see the importance of planning and pre-dive safety checks. 

What to do next 

There are many additional reasons that I think tech diving helps me to be a better instructor, but hopefully by now I’ve convinced you to take an introductory class. A joint TDI Advanced Nitrox and Decompression Procedures class is the logical next step. You will learn a good mix of theory, practical applications, and gear. You will have plenty of time to practice what you learn in the water under instructor supervision. Even if you don’t plan on conducting deep dives or doing a lot of staged decompression, I truly believe you will come out as a better diver and dive professional. You will learn something new. Learning is important at all levels, no matter how advanced you think you are. For me, the day I stop learning in diving, is the day that I find something new to focus my time and attention on.

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