by Jon Kieren:
Technical diving is inherently dangerous. Diving in environments that restrict your access to the surface requires your foundational scuba diving skills to be second nature so when an emergency arises you can focus on solving the problem and aborting the dive. Whether you are just starting your TDI Intro to Tech Course, or have over 200 Advanced Trimix dives, these six essential skills should be practiced on every dive.
- Predive Check, Descent/Bubble Check, and S-Drill – While there are three skill sets listed here, we group them together because the overall objective is the same for all three: start the dive properly equipped and with fully functioning equipment.
- Predive Check – Once fully dressed for the dive, as a team, each diver runs through their own equipment to verify primary cylinders are full and valves open with turn pressures verified, stage/deco cylinders are full with regulators pressurized but valves turned off, BCD inflates AND holds gas, dive computers/gauges are turned on and functioning properly, mask/fins/weights/etc. are donned and in good condition to dive.
- Descent/Bubble Check – Depending on conditions and site, either on the surface or on the initial descent, the team inspects each other’s equipment looking for leaks and trapped or entangled equipment.
- S-Drill – Each team member takes turns conducting the proper gas sharing procedure with another teammate.
- The dive does not start until all of these checks have been conducted, any complication must be resolved before continuing the descent.
- Trim/Buoyancy/Finning – It’s not just for looks. The importance of being able to hold your position in the water column and prevent silting-out an environment cannot be overstated; and everyone can use a little practice. Every dive, try to spend some time focusing on different finning techniques and trim/buoyancy control. Grab the GoPro and let your buddies film you so you can get some valuable feedback on what you actually look like in the water as well.
- Valve Drills – On every single dive, you should practice shutting down and re-opening each valve. Make sure do to this with a teammate so they can verify each valve gets re-opened. Depending on your exposure protection and recent diving activity, you may find it more difficult to reach your valves than you remember. It is important to work on this flexibility and muscle memory on a regular basis, because when you really need it is not the time to realize that you cannot reach a valve.
- Remove and Replace Stage/Deco Cylinders and Bottle Swapping – It is important to occasionally practice removing and replacing stage/deco cylinders in order to maintain this muscle memory. Even if the dive does not require you to stage a cylinder, practicing this skill often will speed up and smooth out the process on the dives where it is required. Going over your bottom time because you were fumbling with a stage cylinder is both embarrassing and dangerous. You should also practice swapping bottles with teammates. This can be done while decompressing by swapping stages or lean deco gasses that you are finished with between your teammates. This increases team awareness, communication, and equipment familiarity. It is extremely important to check that no hoses or equipment have been trapped by the stage/deco bottle any time you replace one.
- Lift Bag/SMB Deployment and Reel Skills – Both deploying a lift bag/SMB and running a reel are skills that deteriorate quickly when not practiced regularly, and sloppy work in these skills can be extremely dangerous. Practice these skills as often as you can, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
- Post Dive Briefing – It is extremely important to debrief every single technical dive. Discuss the highs and lows of the dive, where communication was good, where it was bad, and what areas can be improved upon for the next dive. You cannot see yourself in the water, so it is important everyone in the team provides some constructive criticism. This is often done with friendly banter, but it is important to remember that this feedback will help you improve your diving and safety.
While this is not intended to be an all-inclusive list of skills to be practiced for technical diving, these six skills are applicable to most technical diving scenarios, and can be easily practiced on just about every dive. What other skills do you like to practice regularly?