by Sean Harrsion:

Divers often wonder and ask the question, “What is tech diving and what is the difference?” This is a very good question and one that is sometimes not so easy to explain. Before I attempt to explain the difference, and this is just my view point – I am sure there are many others, I think it is important to give a brief history. Technical diving came from sport diving and both fall under the category of recreational diving. As divers explored the unexplored underwater world, it was human nature to see what lay beyond what they could see or were able to reach with the equipment and experience they had at hand. Those early scuba explorers decided it was time to push the limits, this required more equipment, a better understanding of human physiology and stricter adherence to dive planning. With these new procedures, technical diving was born. The name was coined in the 90’s when the first technical diving magazine was released.

From wreck and cave divers

Tech diving came primarily from wreck and cave divers. Wreck divers had explored the shallower wrecks or had a need to spend more time on the larger shallow wrecks. Cave divers quickly found a need for better procedures or contingency planning because they were always in a “hard overhead”, as did wreck divers. Both needed better procedures to address the “soft overhead” concerns. Soft overheads are decompression obligations. Both soft and hard overheads mean a diver cannot make a direct ascent to the surface, this single thing is perhaps the biggest difference between sport and technical. For wreck divers, there is always the search for new wrecks which continue to be found everyday which means those divers have to follow the contour of the ocean floor. Today it is not uncommon for wreck divers to dive wrecks in the 152-182 metre/500-600 foot range. Cave divers are also on a quest only their quest is a little different, they want to find the end of cave systems or connect them to other nearby systems. This pursuit can take divers kilometers/miles underground and in some cases, bring them into the ocean from a fresh water system. These new boundaries required the development of new equipment, reels, lift bags, and “Jersey” up reels to name a few. There was also the need for a new buoyancy compensator (BC) that had the ability to attach additional cylinders and lights as well as have a greater lift capacity to accommodate the additional equipment.

Planning

As noted earlier, decompression is one of the biggest differences between sport and technical diving but there are some others. Technical divers tend to be planners, they will research a dive, map out the depths (the deepest they plan to go and the maximum they can possibly reach) and work this plan over with their buddy or team for months leading up to the dive, just to make sure all bases are covered. They also adhere to a strict gas management plan, meaning all the divers in the team have the proper amount of gas for the dive and, based on their individual air consumption, can all stay at the target depth for roughly the same amount of time. Another defining point is the practice of safety procedures. Just after entry on every dive, technical divers will do what is commonly called an S-Drill. The S-Drill consists of each team member taking turns conducting the proper gas sharing procedure with another teammate. The divers also perform a bubble check on each other to make sure nothing is leaking, an out of air drill, an equipment check to make sure each diver has all the equipment they need for the dive and once everything is cleared, the dive can begin. One other area of technical diving that makes it different is that it normally is task specific. Unlike sport divers, who for the most part (photographers, videographers, and spear fisherman aside), jump in the water with a plan to surface in an hour or so, during which time they drift along looking for marine life or whatever happens to pass by. A wreck diver is focused on the wreck and maybe trying to identify it, get to a particular portion of the wreck or even map it out for a future dive. A cave diver is looking for a new passage or to “wall it out” which means find the end, they too may be mapping out a cave system for future dives.

I can do that

After reading the above, you may be thinking… I do all those things, they were taught in my basic course, and you would be correct, but there is a difference. Technical divers perform complete buddy and safety checks before every dive, they also set limits for a dive and stick to those limits, there is no casual approach to their diver procedures. Another common practice in technical diving is: any diver can call the dive at any time for any reason. Sport divers commonly let their buddies surface alone and this is generally not tolerated in technical diving. Some of the differences between technical and sport, if applied by sport divers, would actually make sport divers better divers. Performing technical dives does not always mean going deep, it can mean just staying longer and being better prepared for the “what if”. For more information on technical diving go to www.tdisdi.com and search through the TDI course offerings. To get your first introduction, sign-up for the TDI Intro to Tech Course.

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