Lessons for Recreational Divers from Technical Diving – Part 3

Lesson #15

Execution is more important than achievement.

Technical diving horror stories are racked with divers pushing far beyond their limits or the limits of safety in a quest for achievements with little to no rewards. Most balanced technical divers realize that how well a dive is conducted matters as much if not more than a number on a depth gauge or a distance in a cave. Respect is gained through conducting all dives well. Even a dive in 100 feet/ 30 m of water done very well, will gain more real respect than a dive conducted to 400 feet / 123 m where the diver executed the dive very poorly. Technical divers do not rush to depth before they can execute all skills and techniques flawlessly in shallow water.

Do not be in such a rush to push your limits. Achievement will come in time. It is far more important to take the time to gain the ability to really execute a flawless recreational dive prior to adding additional tasks or pressures to your diving. Plus, you gain the added benefit of much greater confidence in your diving. This frees you to concentrate more fully on what you see and experience while you are diving. When diving becomes second nature through concentrated work to master execution that is a true achievement.

Lesson #16

Call the dive, anyone?

Technical diving has a saying that anyone can call the dive at any time for any reason with no negative consequences being applied. This is taken very seriously. In fact, not so long ago, if a dive was called, those involved would often not even discuss the reasons behind it for fear of applying pressure to the decision in the future. To this day, it is completely fine for any member of a team to call the end to a dive without any reason. It has always been thought that such a choice was the only logical position to have. Who is to say someone was wrong. If a diver was made to feel guilty for ending a dive prematurely and the dive was to continue, the whole team would be endangered. Once the dive is ended the entire team exits the water.

Far too often in recreational diving when a member of a team tries to call for the end of a dive the other member simply waves goodbye to them. Affectionately know as “the kiss off” the two divers go their separate ways. On more than one occasion, this has ended badly. When one member of a team wants to end the dive, both members of the team should proceed to end the dive together. There is always time to make another dive or to fix the problem that occurred. It really is a matter of respect for those you dive with.

Lesson #17

All Dives are Decompression Dives

This is well understood by all technical divers. The process of diving under pressure compresses gas into solution in the body. By ascending you are by definition decompressing. There are differences in no stop and required stop diving, but the message is clear. You must account for and accurately track decompression for all dives whether they are no stop or required stop dives.

Lesson #18

200 feet / 60 m per minute?

What are you crazy? What could this possibly mean? You must be talking about some kind of new piece of equipment. Nope, I wish I were. This is one of the reported observed ascent rates after the average recreational diver is finished with a safety stop.

Technical divers know that a dive is not over till well after they have reached the surface. In fact, they fully understand that the greatest increase in pressure is the last twenty feet/ 6 meters. So, the final ascent to the surface for most technical divers is very very slow. They do not want to rush through the greatest pressure change they face for the entire dive. Often the surface is viewed as another point of decompression or the final stop. They know that the dive does not end until hours after the dive.

Technical divers also know that rushing to get off the bottom is probably a bad idea as well. If rapid pressure change is bad near the surface than it would make sense that it is probably not the best idea at depth either. Technical divers have been adding deep stops to their profiles for over a decade. They aid in decompression efficiency.

Recreational divers seem to be in a rush to get out of the water once they perceive the dive to be over. For many, this is when they begin to leave the bottom. Do not be so quick to leave the bottom. It is not a bad idea to add a deep safety stop at half of your original depth. Or better yet, try to make all dives multilevel when possible. If it is not possible, throw in a few delays before your normal safety stop. Error on the side of twenty feet/six meters for the final safety stop and slow down your ascent. Especially when you leave your final safety stop. Consider the surface your last safety stop.

Lesson #19

Bends is not a four-letter word.

Technical divers go into every outing knowing that getting decompression sickness, bends, is a real risk. They plan for this possibility on all dives. They know exactly how they are diving, what they are breathing and are very aware of any symptoms that may arise after a dive is over. They are prepared with oxygen and emergency assistance plans for all dives. They are also quick to seek help when they believe they might have a problem. They also carry diving insurance to help offset any costs that may come from seeking treatment. This helps avoids delays in treatment and basically eliminates any financial resistance to seeking treatment.

You want to keep track of your dives and plan taking into account all factors that might put you at greater risk for a problem. Purchase diving insurance that covers expenses for treatment for diving related problems. It eliminates any financial resistance to seeking medical advice if you suspect you have a problem. If you dive, there is always a chance of a diving related problem on any dive. These are easy to avoid, but do not avoid seeking medical advice whenever you have even the slightest suspicion that you might have a problem. Even if you just give DAN a call. When in doubt, get yourself checked out.

Lesson #20

70 % = 1/3 Huh?

That is correct. Not if you are studying math, but if you understand how your lungs work it is true. Seventy percent of your gas exchange occurs in the lower third of your lungs. This lesson is not so much an advent of technical diving, but rather of extreme freediving. Tech divers have been concerned about breathing for some time. Gas can go fast when you are deep. Freedivers have to do their best on one breath. They spend a lot of time making that one breath count. They use deep relaxed diaphragmatic breathing. They fill their lungs from the bottom by dropping the diaphragm and filling them to the top with the chest. They have a relaxed pause at the top and then use a slow exhalation.

Tech divers have been using this breathing pattern for years to optimize their breathing parameter. This is the most efficient breathing pattern there is. Even with workload changes, the seasoned tech diver knows that they will not get any more gas if they alter their breathing from this pattern. In fact, altering breathing could actually make their breathing less efficient. Or worse, it can cost them their life.

You should look to refining your breathing habits to increase your comfort in the water and get more time in the water. Small changes in breathing techniques can pay huge dividends in bottom time immediately. Work with a seasoned instructor to polish breathing or join a freediving clinic near you.

Lesson #21

Be Better This Dive Than the Last, Be Better Tomorrow Than Today

This is a tech divers credo. The best tech divers realize that they are never done learning, training or growing. Complacency can and does kill you in tech diving, but more often it just hurts performance. In technical diving that is the only thing that counts. Being able to do things on the bottom is the only reason to go. Once you stop learning you become out of date and you can be dangerous. Tech divers are always polishing performance and continuing to educate themselves on the state of the art.

You are never done training. Get over it. The great thing is if you keep working at it you will find that you enjoy diving much more than you ever imagined. Plus, you gain the skills that allow you to focus more on what you are seeing on your dives rather than on conducting the dives. It is freedom, the freedom to see and do the things you want to do without putting yourself or anyone else at risk. More importantly, it allows you to gain real confidence in your skills. This frees you up to enjoy your dives more than you can possibly imagine.

Technical diving is not an end for most divers, nor should it be, but it can supply hard fought lessons to all divers. Tech diving accelerates the learning curve because the demands placed on the diver are a lot higher. The cool thing is that all divers can steal what tech divers learn to make their diving better right now. Try some or all of these lessons and see the changes right away. The only risk is having even more fun when you dive.

This article originally appeared, in it’s entirity, in the First Quarter 2004 Undersea Journal.