Hi! My name is Benjamin Matthews. Six months ago, I joined the SCUBA family. I took an open water course at a local shop, and after two weekends of classwork and dives, was certified. Needless to say, I was ecstatic; I couldn’t wait to find a diving buddy, and start logging dives. I felt that I knew everything I needed to be a “great diver” — after all, I was certified! I very quickly learned how wrong I was.
As I started getting dives under my belt, I began to realize that although I had been “certified,” I had not been trained. I had all the head knowledge that I needed; I could recite virtually every procedure in the book, I knew what I was supposed to do and when I was supposed to do it while I was under the water, and I had every acronym and signal down pat. Unfortunately, this knowledge only helped so much since I wasn’t properly trained on how to apply what I had learned during the classroom lessons.
Could my scenario have been avoided? Honestly, yes. Looking back, there are a few pieces of advice that I wish I had known beforehand, so that I ended up not only certified, but trained as well. I’d like to share the advice here, so that others who may be thinking about getting certified don’t end up making the same mistakes that I did.
The instructor, not the company, is the most important part of training.
I have lost count of the number of times that I have read this since my class ended. Every dive blog seems to pass this advice along, and I must agree with it. I fell into the trap of thinking that there was only one “good” certification company, and that the rest were subpar. I’ve since learned that this is not the truth. When it comes down to it, the company only certifies you, it’s the job of their instructors to train you. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if your open water card contains three letters, or four letters—what matters is that you are trained, and know how to dive properly.
If I could rewind the clock, and give myself some advice, I’d tell myself to be patient, look around at all the local shops, and take the time to meet the instructors that would be training me. I would tell myself to “listen to my gut,” and don’t ignore the first impression that the instructors leave. I had heard this advice before, but it wasn’t until after I was certified that I realized the true importance of it.
However, after meeting the instructors at Scuba John's Dive Shop and seeing how they work with their students (and tossing me a free lesson or two as well), I could see first-hand how a good instructor can make a big difference. To those who are going to take their open water course, I can’t stress enough how important it is to find a good instructor who will take the time to work with you, and seek to meet your needs.
During training, the size of the class is important.
When I took my open water certification course, the class was full (if not overflowing). This size lead to large amounts of down time, while the instructor checked off the other students. Unfortunately, it also meant that our skill checkoffs were rushed, and there was no time to loop back and practice skills that we weren’t comfortable with. We were told that to practice any skills we were needing help with, we would need to book a one-on-one session with the instructor, because there wouldn’t be time to review during our training dives.
I would advise those who are planning on taking a course to ask their instructor how big the class sizes are. I would make sure that the class sizes have a hard cap, so that they don’t get too big. You want to make sure that the classes are small enough so that you and your instructor will have plenty of time to answer any questions that arise during the classroom portion, and have extra time in the water to review and practice any skills that need it.
Habits picked up during training stick around.
This advice is bittersweet, because it can go both ways. The good habits that I learned and reinforced during my certification course stuck with me. Unfortunately, the bad habits that I picked up, and didn’t correct, continued to plague me until I started dedicating dive time to correct them.
As an example, during my class, we were required to stay on our knees on the bottom of the pool/lake while the instructor wasn’t working directly with us. To keep us down, we were heavily overweighed (I personally wore 10lbs more than I needed). Because we were carrying excess weight, several members of the class, myself included, got into the bad habit of using our BCDs as “elevators.” When I began diving for real, I found that I would subconsciously be making the same mistake of “riding the inflator” up and down, rather than taking the time to properly weigh myself beforehand.
To those looking to get certified, let me encourage you to search for an instructor and a program that will train you under realistic circumstances. If possible, look for a program that will teach you how to execute skills while being neutrally buoyant, rather than on your knees on the bottom. A good instructor will make sure that you are trained under optimal conditions, so that when you begin diving after you are certified, you already know what the best habits are, and are familiar with the feeling of diving correctly.
In short, to those who are getting ready to take an open water course, don’t fall into the trap of only getting certified, without getting trained. This was a mistake that I made, and I wish I could rewind the clock and do things a little differently. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of finding an instructor who is willing to work with you, and your needs. Your instructor will be an important resource for you, both now and in the future. Remember, if you find yourself struggling at any point during the class, say something to your instructor. They are trained, and will be able to help you fix any issues / difficulties you are having. If you are able to avoid forming bad habits during your course, diving will be much more relaxing and enjoyable. I bid you all the best of luck, and happy diving!
Every Dive is a Solo Dive!
The term “solo diving” has brought up many questions and concerns for years within the dive industry. Some divers see solo diving as reckless and dangerous. Others see it as their only way to dive because of scheduling and inability to find a dive buddy. However, with proper training and experience I believe solo diving can be done safely.
While solo diving, there are several risk you must accept. Obviously, the first is a dive buddy. Divers tend to worry that without a dive buddy they wouldn't have a back up air device for an out of air emergency. However, solo divers are trained to dive with a redundant air source. This is not a problem with proper training and practice. During a solo diver course, students learn advanced gas planning procedures to know exactly how much air they would need for the dive and they plan reserves. The biggest thing you lose with solo diving is a redundant brain. Your dive buddy can help if you become unconscious, panic, or have other problems that hard to deal with by yourself. This is why solo dives shouldn't be pinnacle dives. When divers go alone they do so in a familiar environment. You also lose some of the joy of sharing the experience of the dive with your buddy. However, none of this makes solo diving bad. For some people is the only way they get to go diving.
What I want to talk about is the mindset that every diver should have before entering the water. The mindset should be that every dive is a solo dive. This means that you should be a self-sufficient diver. One thing that I stress the importance of in all of my classes is the importance of self-sufficiency. While many of the dives that you do take place within buddy, it is important for you to be able to handle bad situation on your own if necessary. While diving you may find yourself alone. It can easy to lose a dive buddy in bad viz, in large groups, and if your not paying attention. You need to be able to handle whatever may happen if you find yourself alone. Below I want to give you a few tips help you become a more self-sufficient diver.
How to be a self-sufficient diver.
1. Plan your dive and dive your plan.Before every dive, you should take the time to plan. Whether you're diving solo or with the buddy it is important to plan out the following at minimum: maximum depth, maximum time, minimum air pressure, and dive leader. I was talking to a guy who investigates dive accidents. He said that a majority of the accidents investigated, the divers did not have a dive plan. You can greatly reduce risk by simply planning your dive.
Another way to be self-sufficient just take a preventative mindset. This means to stop the problem before it happens. For instance, don't dive with gear that isn't working correctly. Believe it or not, people have died diving with gear that they knew was faulty before entering the water. Another way to prevent problems is to dive with the proper equipment. An entanglement issue is much easier deal with if you have a line cutter or a dive knife. Having a back up flashlight can make all the difference if your primary light fails. Don't dive at night or in dark water without two flashlights.
3. Know your gear.
Take time to play with your gear above water. Develop muscle memory so deploying you're accessory items is not a chore. Many times the first time divers use their emergency equipment is in an emergency. This is not the best time to become familiar with new gear. Go to your local dive site and do a dive just practicing with your gear.
4. Dive Often
Diving skills are perishable skills. If you don't use them you will lose them. You can't expect to be a good diver and only dive a few times a year. This goes for everything in life. You get better as you practice. Local dive sites may not have the best diving conditions in the world, but it is place to practice and become a safer diver.
5. Continue Education
Continue learning and continue taking courses. It will help challenge you and push you to the next level. The SDI solo diver course is a great learning experience. It will push you and make you think. You will learn new skills and how to become more self-sufficient in your diving and planning. Plus courses are great way to make new dive buddies!
Over the years I have talked many divers that do not understand what is happening in their body during a dive. So I thought I would write a blog to get you thinking about it. This is in no way a comprehensive article that will give you a expert knowledge of DCI (decompression illness) but will hopefully cause you to think. Also, i am not a medical doctor so do not take this as medical advice. If you suspect you have DCI contact Divers Alert Network and medical services immediately.
Although we still consider a good deal of what we know about diving physics to be theory, much of what we understand today is testable and repeatable. For instance, if I descend on SCUBA without equalizing my ears I will experience pain and possibly rupture my ear drum. And if I hold my breath on SCUBA and ascend, the air trapped in my lungs will over expand and rupture. Obviously, neither of these are good things. They are both painful and can result in serious injury or death.
But what about things happening in our body that we don't feel and may not feel until hours after a dive?
Decompression illness, also know as the bends, is a very real thing and people do die from this malady. The cause of it is breathing gas (air, nitrox, trimix) under pressure and coming up before you body has time to properly offgass. This can look like coming up too fast or staying down for too long then surfacing. It is a having much more pressure in your body's tissues that the pressure that surrounds your body. We are not talking about pressure from the air compressed inside the scuba cylinder, but the atmospheric pressure that the water creates around us at different depths.
From sea level to roughly 60 miles straight up towards space, our atmosphere that we live in creates 14.7 psi or 1 atmosphere of pressure. This is the weight of air at sea level. The higher we go in altitude the less air pressure there is. When we go diving the atmospheric pressure is doubled just at 33ft deep and pressure builds the deeper we go.
So what's the big deal? Why does this matter?
Well, look at it this way. If you haven't dived in the last 24 hours, the pressure of the gasses inside your body is considered to be at equilibrium with the atmosphere. In other words, the pressure of the gasses inside your body is equal to the pressure of them around you.
When you dive on SCUBA and breathe at depth, your body's natural response is to equalize to the atmospheric pressure around you. If you are at 33ft or 2 atmospheres, twice the pressure of earths atomsphere. At that time you are breathing in twice the amount of the gas molecules with every breath than you would at the surface. You body begins to store the excess gases into your bodies tissues to try and achieve equilibrium at that atmospheric pressure. We call this ingassing. At 132ft or 5 atmospheres you would be ingassing 5 times the amount of gas molecules with every breath than you would at the surface. This should help explain why the deeper you go the less time you have.
Our primary concern in recreational air diving is the gas Nitrogen (N2). This is the gas that limits our time at depth and causes DCI. There are other forms of DCI with helium based mixes and oxygen toxicity issues with nitrox but that conversation is for another time. Dive tables and dive computers helps track the intake of these gases in your body and give us No Decompression Limits (NDLs) which are time limits that we can stay underwater without required decompression stops. These NDLs help to keep us safe and avoid DCI if we maintain safe diving practice such as, slow controlled ascents, 3-5 minute safety stops, proper hydration, and etc. Now there is no guarantee that if you do everything correctly that you will not get DCI but it is unlikely. Most DCI occurrences are diver error.
You need to develop the mind set that every dive you do is a decompression dive. When you go down and breathe gas under pressure you are ingassing excess gases. When you ascend you begin the first stages of offgassing the excess gasses. During the ascent it is important that you control your ascent rate. The current recommend ascent rate is 30ft per minute. That's 1ft every 2 seconds. This gives time for the gas to safely come out of your system which in turn reduces the risk of DCI and lung over expansion injuries.
You are considered totally offgassed 24 hours after you last dive. While we ingass rapidly at depth, it takes time to offgass. You should notice that when you are planning multiple dives in a day that your NDLs are less for your 2nd & 3rd dives. Some divers call this the nitrogen penalty. I don't see it as a penalty because these NDLs are greatly reducing the risk of DCI.
I wrote this after talking to a group of divers recently who was taught to follow their bubbles up and let the bubbles beat them to the surface and judge if they should go back down according to how their body felt after the dive. When i asked them which bubble do I follow? The big ones, little ones, medium ones?? None could answer me. This DCI we are discussing is happing in our bodies on a molecular level. We can't see and generally don't feel symptoms to long after the dive. Some cases reported no DCI symptoms until the next day. So don't base your diving plan on following bubbles and "I feel fine after the dive". Based your plans on what doctors and scientist have been studying and developing over years of research. Use your dive computer or table to plan dives. Read and research this stuff as much as you can... I believe the more you know the safer you can be. It is arrogant to think it can't happent to you.... it's science!
Here is a link to signs and symptoms of DCI
Here is a link to the treatment of DCI
Check out this video from TED Ed on decompression illness. It is a great visualization of what is happening inside your body when you dive.
Here is a video that I created with some spearfishing tips. Hopefully this video will help improve your spearfishing game! The viz was low when when I shot it off the Charleston, SC coast, but that is when spearing is at its best! Let me know what you think!
Many divers feel the need to get a certification card for every course they take. That’s ok. Some divers love their card collection. I’ll admit it, I like mine too! There has been much time, study, money, and effort to get to where I am. So again, there is nothing wrong with having your cards. However, there are many divers who have a bunch of cert cards but their diving is a testament of how little they know and practice. Don’t be that diver!
I have always considered myself to be a SCUBA “personal trainer”. I don’t like large classes. I prefer teaching small to private courses. People tend to enjoy the course more and are more attentive in small group settings. Plus, I like getting to know people and making dive buddies.
This season we are adding a non-certification personal training course for divers who are looking to hone their skills and not necessarily receive a certification card from it. Well, Why would you do something like that? We want to be able to offer a training experience that helps you identify your weak points of diving and hone them into shape. It takes the focus off of just getting a cert card and finishing the course. The focus is how you preform diving above and below.
This course is designed to personally evaluate the individual diver. The course will cover dive planning, gear set-up and streamlining, in-water skill honing (such as buoyancy control and gas management), reel and smb deployment, situational awareness, post-dive considerations, and much more.
Every course is individualized and taught as a 1-one 1 course. The course will last 2 days and will cost $199. The end product is that the diver will be much more comfortable and competent in their diving skills in and out of the water.
If this is something that you are interested in, contact us and we will discuss where you are and where you want to be in your diving.
Do you look like an underwater yard sale while diving? Are you losing pieces of gear during your dives? Have you ever had a piece of dangling dive gear entangled? If so, this article will help you get your gear all cleaned up and streamlined.
The more streamlined you keep your gear and body in the water column, the more efficient and safe you will be. Also, if you keep your gear from dragging around and dangling all over the place you are less likely to damage aquatic life!
Here are some ways to stow your gear that will keep it in the same place each time you dive. This helps develop muscle memory which in turn results in faster response times to deploying gear when needed.
When divers add flashlights to their kit it is usually tied off to their wrist or dangling around somewhere. With the use of a bolt snap, line, and bungee you can get it out of the way when not in use. Check out the pics below and see how you can adapt these modifications to your own gear.
Attaching Line Cutters
Unless your spearfishing, pumpkin carving, or a few other random activities that I can think of, you probably don't need a dive knife. If you decide to use a knife for your diving activities you can do a lot with some cable ties and your bcd to keep it nice and tidy. Also, the inside of your calf is a pretty good place to stow it with knife straps. Line cutters are a much more efficient tool to use to cut yourself free of entanglement. They are much easier to stow and keep streamlined to your body. Try attaching them to your dive computer to keep them out of the way and easy to get to. Check out the pics below
Attaching Slates and other accessories.
Many divers employ the use of underwater slates for more complex communication underwater. They are normally bulky pieces of gear that dangle all over the place. Instead of buying a big slate, consider a wrist slate. My personal favorite is wet notes that I can stick in my thigh pocket. My drysuit has a thigh pocket on each side. If you don't own a drysuit that is no big deal. We sell glue-on thigh pockets that work nicely on wetsuits. We also sell a pair of shorts that go over your wetsuit that have thigh pockets on it. Thigh pockets are a great addition on how Check out the pics below.
Snaps VS Retractors
I believe that bolt snaps are a much better option than retractors and lanyards in most cases. Bolt snaps are much less bulky and keep gear more streamline. Some divers are intimidated with using a bolt snap and fear dropping gear and losing it. However, just some above water practice deploying and stowing equipment will prove that it is not a problem. Buy good quality stainless steel snaps. Zinc snaps will corrode and the gate will jam or you will be unable to open them just in a few dives in salt water. Even in fresh water the cheaper snaps gate spring will begin to rust and you will have trouble using them. We sell SS snaps that are always available at the dive shop.
Octo and Boat Snaps
Try using a small bolt snap with some bungee or large o-ring to clip off your octo to avoid dangling. This works better than most manufactured octo holders. All you have to do it pull the octo off and it will pop away from the bungee with ease.
Learn a Hand Signal
Below is the hand signal to say, "You good sir, have a dangley". You should use this hand signal to help your dive buddy police their dive gear
How do we team dive with the many different types of dive computers and decompression algorithms on the market? It’s not often that we see a team of divers all diving the exact dive computer. In this months blog, I thought it would be a good idea to have a discussion about procedures that should be considered when you are team diving with dissimilar computers.
First off, lets talk about the why this could be an issue. Not all dive computers are created equal. Most dive computers have similar basic functions. They display current depth, NDLs (no decompression limits), they track nitrogen loading, ascent rate, and log the dive. However, different computers use different algorithms/decompression modules and this can give divers different NDLs times than their teammate's computer. This can translate to some confusion while diving if we do not plan appropriately.
Here's why your dive computer may be giving you more or less time than your teammate's computer. Different algorithms/decompression modules calculate dive data differently. While all of these algorithms are theory, most of them have gone through testing by the Navy, NOAA, and other various organizations. This doesn't mean they are flawless, just tested! The most common decompression modules that are in use today are Bulhlmann, VPM, and RGBM. Do a google search and learn about them. Cool stuff! There are also variations and conservatisms to each of these models such as gradient factors, deep stops, etc. Some dive computer manufactures add in there own unique variations to these deco modules such as Pelagic’s DSAT or Z+. There are many possibilities! The chances are that your computer is running a different deco model than your teammates.
Recreational Computer Dive Planning.
So what should computer dive planning look like to a recreational diving team that stays within NDLs (no decompression limits)? I believe that basic computer dive planning should start with a conversation about maximum depth, maximum time, minimum air pressure, and a dive leader. Most dive computers that run any sort of decompression model has planning software within its menus. When planning out a dive with your team, every team member should find their NDLs on their personal dive computer for the maximum depth of the dive. What you may notice is that some of your teammates computers will be more or less conservative than yours. This means that your teammate may be given more or less bottom time for the dive. This is because their computer may be running a different algorithm or it may be set on a different conservatism for the same algorithm. Many dive computers today have user adjustable algorithms to closely match your teammates computer. You can find out if your computer has this capability by simply reading the user manual. Yes, you should always read your computers user manual. If the team cannot match NDLs, you should simply dive to the more conservative computer. If the diver ignores the NDLs of his computer because the other team member is getting more bottom time out of his, you will bend your computer causing it to enter into emergency decompression mode and locking you out for the next 24 or so hours. Dive within the limits of the more conservative computer.
Technical Computer Dive Planning.
How should computer dive planning work for Technical Divers? First off let me say that I am a proponent of cutting dive tables for every technical dive and keeping them in a pocket or something easily accessible. Even when diving multiple computers. Cutting tables can make you more intimate with the dive plan and provides an extra margin of safety. It’s too easy with all the software available such as ultimate deco, v-planner, and the planning software available in most dive computers today to have this information. Your smart phone is capable of this as well. I understand that computers give more realistic dive data than planning from a square profile. However, they are still electronic devices being used underwater to lead you through a decompression schedule attempting to keep you from getting bent.
That being said, I conducted an online research of how different diving teams plan their dives when the team is using dissimilar dive computers and dissimilar algorithms. As expected, I received many different opinions. Some diver teams said they plan their own dive based on their personal preferences of algorithms and conservatisms and some use identical plans.
Here are two examples below:
A tech diving team made up of two divers uses their own software and preferences to plan out their individual decompression schedule. Diver 1 uses Bulhmann ZHL-16 with a GF (gradient factor) of 30/70. Diver 2 also uses the same Bulhmann ZHL-16. However, he chooses to use a GF of 50/80. Their deco schedules look totally different. They dive and stay together for the same depth and bottom time. However, when it is time to leave they go at decompression alone diving their independent deco schedules. Diver 1 is making deeper stops along the way up while diver 2 is stopping shallower and surfacing much sooner than diver 1.
You cannot call this type of diving team diving. If something was to go wrong they are unable to assist one another because they are solo diving. Loss of deco gas, toxicity issues, and every other situation that may appear must be handled alone. However, in overhead diving environments, sometimes scattering the team at different places may be beneficial. This is not due to the fact of opposing views on decompression theory. It is due to restriction and over-crowding issues in a small space. Doing that requires a lot of training and pre-planing to make sure that the divers are able to assist each other if the need arises.
A tech diving team made up of two divers begins to plan out their dive. Diver 1 is diving a computer that uses VPM while Diver 2 is diving a computer that uses Bulhmann with GF. They run a few deco schedules on their planner and agree on the schedule that Diver 1’s VPM computer puts out. Diver 2 adjusts his GFs to closely match the agreed upon deco schedule. Diver 2’s computer has only a small variance from the agreed upon schedule by a 10ft deeper stop for 1 minute. The divers agree to stay together while diver 2’s computer requires the extra stop. They stay together through the entire dive working as a team and aiding one another when needed.
I believe that this is the best way to plan dives when diving in a team with dissimilar dive computers using dissimilar algorithms. During my online studies and conversations on this subject, most divers use the planning method from example 2.
Dive safe and within your limits!
I get this question often. My answer is always the same. If you are going to be a diver, yes! Owning your equipment plays a big part to you comfort and safety underwater. It makes your more confident and safe while diving. There are many benefits to owning your own equipment. Lets look at some ways that owning your equipment makes your a better and safer diver. Also, I've included some tips for your consideration when you decide to make your gear purchase.
Familiarity Builds Confidence:
Diving with the same piece of equipment every time that you dive will build confidence in yourself and in your gear. You can customize your gear and add accessories that stay put. When you rent different gear every time you dive, you will have to relearn where everything is. Being familiar with your equipment will drastically cut down response time to issues. For instance, knowing where your line cutter is during an entanglement issue will make the situation go much smoother rather than having to search for it. After purchasing your new equipment and getting your accessories placed, you should go to a pool or a familiar dive site and work on developing muscle memory and practicing skills with it. This builds confidence. I will put my BCD on in my house and practice taking on and off the line cutter, lights, reels, and etc. This makes me more efficient and confident when i’m diving. Never believe that without practicing these skills that you will be able to perform well when its needed. I’ve heard it said, “the worst you perform during training will be the best you perform during an emergency”. Practice makes proficient.
What should I buy?
Most divers already own their personal gear (mask, fins, snorkel, wetsuit, and boots). The life support system is considered: the regulator system, the BCD, cylinder, and the dive computer. In my opinion, you need to own the following at minimum; dive computer, regulator system, and BCD. There are generally 2 ways to buy your equipment. Piece by piece or a complete package. You will save a good deal of money when you buy a complete system. Many manufactures offer discounts that save several hundred dollars when you buy a gear package. Check out these packages below.
However, if you decided to buy your gear piece by piece I would suggest that your purchase a dive computer first. Not all dive shops rent dive computers and this is especially true if your going on a trip out of the country. Owning and learning your dive computer is one big part of your diving safety. The dive computer at minimum monitors your ascent rate, your no decompression limits, your depth, surface interval, and most even log the dive profile. There are many makes and models with tons of bells and whistles. Most entry level dive computers can be bought for around $250-$300. Chose one that meets your diving needs and don’t buy twice.
New or used?
Buying used gear sometimes can cost you more money than buying brand new gear. The first thing you must do when buying used equipment is to have it serviced by an authorized gear technician for that particular brand. Gear must be serviced yearly. Don’t chance it and kill yourself trying to save money. Die of something awesome instead. You cannot survive underwater without properly working equipment. There are parts that move every time you breathe and they take wear every time you breathe. It will wear out. If you cannot afford to have it serviced, you cannot afford to own equipment. Rent instead. Simple. Rant over. If someone local cannot do the service, the gear will have to be sent off. That generally takes at least 2 weeks. Most shops charges $35-$50 per stage (A reg set has one 1st stage and two 2nd stages) plus the rebuild parts. That can cost you around $200-$250 per year. Buy the time you pay for the used gear and have it serviced, you may have more invested than if you bought new gear. You need to take that into consideration when purchasing. Some companies like Oceanic and Hollis offer great warranties and free parts for the rebuild for LIFE! That will save you around $100 per year in service parts. Check out below some of these offers:
If you have any questions about purchasing gear please feel free to contact us! We will be happy to answer any questions that you may have. Thanks!
Working with divers almost on a daily basis, I’ve observed some bad diving habits that I want to point out. Most of these things are slips of the mind or just plan carelessness that causes trouble later in the dive. Check out below some of these bad habits.
Not checking air pressure before getting into the water.
Don’t skip this step. Before ever putting your equipment on your body, you need to know if the cylinder has sufficient air. I’ve been on many boat charters where divers gear up, jump in the water, and descend only minutes later to find that their tank was near empty. O’rings fail and can leak air out with you hearing it. Sometimes dive operators make mistakes and can skip a tank during filling. It is your responsibitiy to know if you life support equipment will support your life. Check your air and all of your gear.
Not discussing a dive plan.
Many times divers jump in the water without discussing any type of dive plan. At minimum you should discuss with your dive buddy maximum depth, maximum time, minimum air pressure to surface with, and who is leading the dive. You need to know how deep your going, how long are you staying (what’s your NDL?), how much air will you surface with, and are you leading or following? These are just the bare minimum things you need to discuss. This simple conversation can save your life. Don’t dive without a plan. Most all diving deaths and accidents happen when divers are diving beyond their limits. Decompression sickness is real. If you overstay your limits, you will get bent. If you run out of air you can drown. If you don’t stay together you will get separated and spend most of the time searching instead of diving.
Rushing and Overheating
There is no reason to rush to set up your equipment. You are entering into an environment that you cannot live in without the support of correctly operating scuba equipment. Do not dive if your equipment isn’t working correctly. Every year there are multiple diving deaths because divers choose to dive with a known equipment issue. Don’t be that guy. Bring extra equipment and/or know when to call the dive. During the summer a lot of divers overheat. They rush setting up their equipment and skip steps trying to get into the water to cool down. Take a few minutes and jump in the water to cool down if your getting hot. It is better on your body. It helps avoid decompression sickness. It will help you conserve air because your not jumping in already worn out. You are less likely to make mistakes in setting up your equipment when your not overheating. Slow down and you will speed up.
Not hydrating before diving
It is believed that a leading cause of decompression sickness is due to dehydration. Start drinking water a day or so before your dive and stay hydrated. You blood becomes thicker when your dehydrated. Imagine a bubble rising in syrup and then one rising in water. The bubble will rise much slower in syrup. We are taught to ascend slow. We are infact decompressing on every dive we do and trying to eliminate bubbles and bubble formation. Staying well hydrated will aid in this process. Also, don’t drink alcohol before diving. Not only does it impair your judgement, it also dehydrates you. Save that for later.
Having bad buoyancy control
Buoyancy control is a skill that you will continue to develop the more you dive. However, it is a critical skill for safe diving. Just about everywhere I dive, I see divers new and old silting out the bottom with their fins. Divers come to see and experience the dive site, not silt. Don’t be the guy that ruins visibility for everyone else. Your body should be horizontal in the water column and none of your gear should be dangling about. Kicking coral can kill years of growth. Between oil spills, toxic water discharging and bad environmental choices by big cooperations and government, we have plenty of other things already killing it. We definitely do not need divers helping with that. Imagine yourself in a 3rd person view. How is your body positioned? Where are your fins? Bad buoyancy control shows a lack of diving skill. Read last months blog to learn how to weight properly and/or take an advanced buoyancy course with me.
These are many more bad habits that divers tend to hold on to. Think through your diving habits. Are they safe? Make changes to become the best and safest diver that you can be.
What do you look like underwater? Some divers walk across the bottom, some use their hands and fins to swim, and some kick like they are riding a bicycle(don’t do any of that). I have heard some instructors tell students that a divers underwater orientation does not matter as long as you are breathing. However, I want to share with you today a few things that will help you become more stable underwater and look great while doing it.
Check out these pictures below. Which diver looks like they are more streamlined, stable, and will have the least amount of resistance while moving underwater.
If you chose the horizontal diver, your right. This is called being trimmed out. This divers orientation creates the least amount of drag underwater. On the surface of Earth, we walk upright because it is the most efficient method of travel. However, this is not efficient underwater. When we dive underwater we are in a totally different environment like an astronaut in space. Like astronauts, divers have to practice how to position themselves and move in a foreign environment. Underwater, the most effect way to move is in the horizontal trim position.
Being properly weighted is the first step to getting in trim. Where you place weight on your bcd has a direct effect on how your body will be positioned while diving. Placing all the of the weight toward the divers waist or butt can cause a head up - butt down position. Placing all the weight towards your shoulders can cause a head down - butt up position. Because everyone's body is different, weight positioning will vary to each diver.
The first thing to do is to get the right amount of weight on you. You want to check for proper weighting with a tank at 500psi. This is because your tank loses weight and becomes more positively buoyant as you breathe it down. Checking your weighting with 500psi left in the tank will ensure that your are neutrally buoyant at the end of your dive. Doing this with a full tank on will make you positively buoyant at the end of your dive and you will have difficulties staying down during your safety stop.
Here is how to find the right amount of weight.
With a dive buddy helping, (keep regulator in your mouth during this incase you sink)
1. Take your tank down to 500psi
2. At the surface, deflate your BCD and hold a normal breath of air in your lungs.
3. If you are weighted properly, you will float at or near eye level. If you release the air from you lungs you should begin to sink.
4. If you are overweighted, your will sink. Remove some weight and repeat step 2.
5. If you are underweighted, you will float above eye level. Add weight and repeat step 2.
If you have been diving over/under weighted, you will immediately feel the difference and the freedom of diving neutrally buoyant. Its easier to control yourself, you will consume less air, you will slip through the water with much less effort, and tons of other benefits will come by diving neutral.
Now, being weighted properly does not necessarily mean that your diving in the horizontal trim position. This has to do with weight placement, practice and discipline. Placing all the of the weight toward the divers waist or butt can cause a head up - butt down position. Placing all the weight towards your shoulders can cause a head down - butt up position. Use your dive buddy to help move weight around to help you achieve the horizontal position. You shouldn’t have to contort your back to achieve this position. You do want to arch your back a bit, but it shouldn't be tiresome or painful. If your having to twist your body to stay horizontal, you need to work on weight placement. Stay still while hovering and see if you lean to one side or the other. If so, make adjustment to weight placement. Take pictures and judge yourself against the pictures above. Keep your legs bent up at a 90 degree angle like in the picture above. Make a conscious effort to not kick up the bottom. Kicking up the bottom is a great way to show other divers your skill level. They will probably not be happy that you trashed the visibility. Another thing to consider is that kicking up the bottom does damage and can kill coral and other delicate marine life.
Keep practicing. Practice makes progress! Also, consider taking an advanced buoyancy course. I can help you get trimmed out and diving like a pro.