Lessons from Technical Diving for Recreational Divers

My friend Luke recently asked me if it was okay for him to translate one of my talks into Spanish. I said, “Of Course!” It reminded me about the article that inspired the talk. This was originally run in the Undersea Journal in 2003, I believe. It still holds true today, so I thought I would share it here.

Lessons from Technical Diving for Recreational Divers

Many divers do not realize that many of the items they dive with today and view as standard pieces of equipment had their origins in technical diving. Also, many of the techniques that divers view as standard had the origins there. BCDs, SPGs, underwater lights, and many more pieces of diving equipment were originally developed for the demands of technical diving.

Cave diving is regarded as the first form of technical diving. This demanding environment pushed the early explorers to develop improvements in the very limited scuba technology of the time. Buoyancy control is critical in diving and even more critical when cave diving. The cave divers saw the need for having more control over their buoyancy than just swimming harder. The cave environment would not allow that. So, they experimented with cutting out plastic bleach bottles and tying them to there cylinders. They would add air to them on descent and dump air out on ascent. This need led to the development of the BCD.

Knowing how much air you have would be critical in a cave. The early scuba gear did not have SPGs. Many cave divers would machine their own pressure gauges into their existing regulators. They could then know exactly how much air they had throughout the dive. This also led to more sophisticated gas management practices.

What is surprising is how long it took to adopt these new tools in the recreational diving community and level of resistance to the improvements by many in the community. Technical diving is not for everyone, but many of the ideas and techniques used there are very beneficial for the recreational diver.

Lesson #1
You are not as good as you think you are, neither am I.

A great deal of the lessons learned in technical diving are learned the “hard way”. Meaning someone died to allow us to learn from their mistake. It is not uncommon for divers as they progress in their training to feel and believe they have arrived. This belief tends to be over stated in their mind.

Technical divers know they are not as good as their mind tells them they are. That is why they train for big dives in shallow water first. They may even do dry runs on land. They work up changes to their gear and in their techniques as if they were learning them for the first time. They will visualize the change being used. They will then work up the change in the pool or confined water. Then, they will introduce the change in shallow water and progressively take it deeper. Only when they are total in tune with the new technique or gear will they use it in an actual mission oriented dive. Nothing is just done.

Recreational divers can take from this that you are never done learning, that you are not qualified for all environments or all conditions, and when you think you are, it is probably time for more training.

Lesson #2
Mileage Matters
We are not talking about used cars.

Technical divers know there is no substitute for time in the water. They would not dream of conducting a 300 foot dive after being out of the water for six months. Nor would they think it acceptable to dive a different environment, beyond their experience level, and/or with techniques or equipment that they were not trained to use without first training for that use.

Diving is a game of mileage. The more you dive the easier it and the better you become. There simply is no replacement for time in the water.

Lesson #3
Training Counts

Technical divers usually take great pride in who then have trained with. You hear stories of the greats that have come before and some who are still with us. Training does make a difference. Some are happy to take training with whoever arrives when they need it. Most technical divers who have been “around” for some time actively search out the instructors who they feel will connect with them and from whom they will receive the best training. Many technical divers travel great distances at great expense to receive the best training they can. They understand that training counts. Training will save their lives when it really matters most. Also, it is the training that is going to allow them to enjoy their fullest capability on dives. They will actually be able to do things on dives rather than worry about surviving them.

Who you train with and how you train counts. Seek out those instructors or instructor trainers that you connect with the most. Training from a sound educational foundation is a must. But, the application of that foundation matters even more. The recreational diver can gain a certification almost anywhere, but gaining a qualification is another thing. Make sure you seek out instruction that allows you to have the confidence to enjoy the dive for what it has to offer, not simply the activity of diving

Lesson #4
If You Pay Peanuts, You Will Get Monkeys.

Seasoned technical divers understand there is no free lunch. If a service is under valued, then the product is very likely under delivered. Many technical divers have commented that in retrospect even the most expensive course was very inexpensive. The lessons learned, tools gained and experience developed out shines any thought of economics. Quality costs, but bad training and poor performing equipment costs even more.

Realize that you get what you pay for. It may seem like a great deal now, but ask yourself what is it costing me in the long run. It is much easier to learn to do something well the first time. Making up for that will be far more expensive in the long run.

Lesson #5
You Can Learn A Lot From the Internet.
How to Actually Dive?

Technical diving is loaded with Internet information. Of course, how much of it is any good and who is actually giving the advice is tough to judge. The Internet is a very valuable tool. It can help coordinate international teams for projects, gain insights into where and who to see in an area of the world you have never been, and so much more. It cannot however replace actually diving. Technical divers know this very well. There are a lot of people who appear to be experts on the Internet that you never see actually out diving. Many do dive and are great sources for information.

Be careful whom you trust on the Internet. Check and double-check information that is gleaned from the Internet. Build a consensus of information before you adopt new ideas or techniques. It is said that a little knowledge is dangerous. Knowledge without application can be equally dangerous.

Lesson #6
Got Ego?

There is nothing wrong with a healthy ego. When ego starts to get in the way of judgment that can be a problem. Many technical diving accidents and deaths have been attributed to people allowing their brain to place their rear end somewhere it should not have been. Technical divers know they must be ready for what they are going to do on all levels. If they are not ready they do not dive. No questions asked.

Make sure that you are ready for the diving your brain (ego) is saying you are capable of doing. Do not let your mouth talk your body into something it cannot handle.

Lesson #7
No One Can Dive For You

One of the things that makes diving so pleasurable is that it is an internal sport. Much of the activity lives within us. Plus, we have to perform and do it well to fully enjoy diving to its highest capacity. Technical divers understand that they must be in control of their dive at all times. They are solely responsible for their diving outcome.

It is important that you never allow anyone to talk you into something you do not feel ready to do. Also, it is just as important that you do not rely on someone else to conduct your dive for you. Only you can dive for you.

Lesson #8
Cheap Second Hand Parachutes Anyone?

I do not think many clients in the skydiving field would say such a thing. Technical divers would never insure their lives to inferior or below standard equipment. It is their life support. Technical diving is equipment dependent and as such, equipment and its maintenance is treated very seriously. Equipment is the tool that allows access to the world being explored. Technical divers error on the side of better is always better.

Diving equipment is life support. You should treat as such. If it has been awhile since your equipment has been serviced, rather than assume it will be fine for the next dive go get it serviced. It is good piece of mind. If your gear is a bit out of date or your diving requires more of your equipment now than it did before, consider investing in better equipment. If you take care of your gear it will take care of you.

Lesson #9
Sixty-Four Pounds per Cubic Foot

You quickly say the imperial weight of seawater. Good answer. Technical divers are very aware of this number. Whether it is metric or imperial. They realize with all the gear they wear that every extra speck of surface they expose to the water that need not be is forcing them to move more water. Streamlining and balance in the water are critical. They spend enormous hours mastering a working position placing the smallest surface area against the water as they move. It does not seem like much, but it can literally mean their life. If they are not efficient in the water they could literally breath too much gas and not have enough to complete their dive. Everything on their gear is placed to reduce drag. There are no dangling slates or lights or clips. Everything is tucked away. They rig for wreck and dive with cave techniques.

Although not as dramatic for the recreational diver, the benefits of streamlining and balance in the water are clear. Greater gas efficiency, lower exertion, more comfort, ease of movement, and grace in the water are all benefits of working on streamlining and balance. This does not come easily or naturally. Most courses can only start you on the path. If you dive once a year or all year long, better body position in the water is as critical for you as the technical diver. Simply try to avoid having anything on you that creates unnecessary drag in the water. Tuck hoses, stow accessories, bring your arms to your sides and think about how you can minimize moving any more water than you have to.

Lesson #10
Operating Systems Work Great for Computers
Sure They Do.

Technical divers understand that it is very important to have a system to work from when diving. Survey courses only lend to learning many ways of doing things, none of them well. They also understand that you can never “systems” the diver out of the equation. It is more important to train the diver first than to trust blindly in a system of diving. The system is only going to be as good as the diver who operates it. Systems can and do make diving operations better and safer. However, technical divers understand that the system begins and ends with them.

It is important to learn a system of diving that allows you the freedom to develop your skills in a guided pathway. However, never forget that you are responsible for the application of any method of diving you use. Train with those that help you make yourself the best you can be first and help you apply the system you choose to you.

Lesson #11
A Poor Craftsman Blames His Tools
This works both ways.

Technical divers understand that gear is rarely the problem. It is the operator that is the problem. If they are experiencing a problem while diving they do not blame their tools (gear). They look to see what and why they are having problems with the gear and then they fix it. They do not simply continue to dive grinning and baring the issue. They take the steps necessary to solve the problem right away. If that means stopping diving and making a change that needs to be worked up from the pool, they do just that. No excuses. They also do not blame their success on their gear. Gear becomes simply a tool to give them access to the area they wish to visit. They carry what they need for safety and nothing extra that is unnecessary.

Find gear that works with you and not against you. If something does not work, change it. Do not suffer through multiple dives struggling with gear that is causing you a problem. Invest in the gear that is right for the diving you plan on doing. You will find as you dive more that you will adopt different pieces of equipment for different environments and needs. It is not uncommon to have multiple exposure suits and BCDs.

Lesson #12
The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

Technical divers would never dream of conducting any dive without complete dive planning. They use systems to help remember all the necessary components of a dive to plan for. They plan for oxygen exposure, decompression obligation, inert gas narcosis, gas management, thermal stress, mission and logistics. They take into account all the other aspects of the dive before arriving at the dive site. For some dives this planning may take months or even a year.

Never just jump in the water and see what happens. It takes very little time to conduct a predive plan for recreational diving. Simply thinking through the aspects of the dive that are critical can make a scary dive and thing of ease. Make sure you and your buddy agree on all aspects of the dive plan. That way you are always on the same page during the dive.

Lesson #13
The Best Bet is to Bet on Yourself

Buddy diving is the foundation of all diving, even at the technical level. However, every technical dive is planned as if the dive will have to be completed with no one else there. Technical divers always dive as two self-sufficient divers choosing to dive together.

Never assume that anyone else can or will help you on a dive. It is always better to be able to help yourself than rely on someone for help. Plus, it makes you a better buddy. You are more able to deal with your own difficulties so you are better prepared to lend assistance when your buddy really needs it. It is also important to make sure you gain the necessary skills to lend assistance when needed. Rescue training and the associated additional training are a must.

Lesson #14
Got Gas?
Sucks to Be You!

In technical diving running out of gas is unacceptable. Short of total mechanical failure, dives are planned in great detail to avoid such things from occurring. The reserve carried by a diver is not for his buddy, but rather for him or her. If that diver chooses to provide that gas to his buddy is up to that diver. If providing that gas will cost the diver their life, the decision is to not provide the gas. Gas planning is one of the most critical aspects of preparing for a technical dive.

In recreational diving, there is just no excuse for running out of gas. Gas management should be a part of all predive planning for even shallow dives. Leave reserves on all your dives and carry redundant gas supplies for deeper dives. There is no time in any dive where you should be unaware of how much gas you have. If you have total mechanical failure of your breathing system, then and only then is it acceptable to be out of gas. Then the use of a backup supply or buddy is acceptable. Mechanical failure occurs less than five percent of the time. Other than that, there is just no excuse for running low or out of gas. None!

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.

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Accomplished Bad Divers

My friend John Chatterton posted this post on his blog and I thought it should be shared here as it fits into our discussion here. This is reprinted with his permission.

http://www.johnchatterton.com/2013/03/19/accomplished-bad-divers/#comment-406

Posted on March 19, 2013 by John Chatterton

The Seeker
Years ago, when I was crewing on the Seeker, I had the opportunity to dive with some really skilled and talented wreck divers. Much of what I now know, I learned from them. On the other hand, I would occasionally come across divers like Ed, who was an extremely Accomplished Bad Diver. For the entire time I knew Ed, he appeared to be an excellent emergency manager who in no way understood the concept of prevention?

Ed was a deep air diver, and later a technical diver, who for several years was diving from the Seeker on impressive wrecks like the Andrea Doria. I would estimate that over that time, I watched Ed make something like 40 serious deep decompression dives. Surprising, over that time I do not believe that he ever surfaced having breathed exclusively the gas he brought with him for the dive. He ran out of gas, on virtually every dive I saw him make.

One of Ed’s many problems was that he described himself as an “air hog”. He regularly used more gas than the average diver. Now, Ed could have modified his dive plans to better fit his gas consumption rate as it was, or he could have figured out a way to carry more gas with him? He also could have consciously decreased his level of physical exertion which would have lowered the volume of his gas needs, or he could have worked to improve his level of physical fitness and cardio pulmonary efficiency? Unfortunately, Ed did not do any of these things.

cartoon from NASE
What Ed did was to become extremely skilled at obtaining gas from other sources while in the water. If his problem was running out of gas, his solution was getting gas from other divers, or from the boat, and he became very good at it. Apparently, an important factor for the selection of his buddy was their ability to supply him with gas. He would also utilize dive boats that had an in water emergency gas supply. If all else failed, he would cruise the anchor line looking for gas from other divers.

You can only imagine the myriad of problems this caused. Buddies did not like carrying Ed’s breathing gas, and dive boat operators did not like putting emergency oxygen in the water for the exclusive use of one particular diver. More than once, Ed was out of gas on the wreck before even beginning his ascent. More than once, Ed and his buddy both ended up out of gas, both with a pending decompression obligation. More than once, Ed was blacklisted from a dive boat, and eventually that is what happened with Ed and the Seeker.

On one occasion, not on the Seeker, Ed returned to the surface, however his buddy did not. The buddy’s body was never found, and Ed was not able to say what had actually happened to the missing diver? On another dive, and another dive boat, Ed botched setting the hook on the Andrea Doria, and ended up separated from both his buddy and the anchor line, which was not connected to the wreck. Ed did a free ascent, and surfaced owing 99 minutes of decompression, according to his computer. The buddy ran out of gas on the wreck, but surfaced on the anchor line, and ultimately did his omitted decompression hanging from their dive boat, adrift. The vessel they were diving from was now committed to saving the dive buddy, and unable to search for the now lost Ed. It was sheer luck that the Seeker was approaching the site and able to search for Ed. It was even more good luck that we found him. Amazingly, both divers survived, and Ed was diving the Andrea Doria, badly, the very next day. I refer to divers like Ed as, Accomplished Bad Divers, because that is what they are.

Akumal Cenote in Mexico
Now, Ed is not going to come on my website and dispute anything I am saying here about him. This is because he lost his life, not surprisingly, in a diving accident. At some point, he decided to undertake cave training, and became certified as a cave diver. For a guy who has trouble managing his breathing gas, cave diving is either a really, really good idea……or really, really, really bad idea. Unfortunately, in Ed’s case, it was the latter. He ran out of gas, alone, after leaving his buddies, 1,200 feet from the entrance of the cave. Basically, after all that cave training, and after all his deep diving experience, he was not even close to managing the gas he needed for the dive he was making.

He had absolutely no idea of how capable a diver he was, or was not? He did not realize how dangerous he was. His focus was completely, and totally, misdirected. Ed was really capable, and knowledgeable, and experienced at only one thing, diving badly. Yes, Ed is certainly an extreme example of an Accomplished Bad Diver, but many of us may know divers who are developing their skills in similar ways, working on remedies, but not prevention.

Any out of gas situation, any emergency, any unplanned event, is cause for one to reflect. As divers, we need to honestly analyze what actually happened, and figure out why? In Ed’s case he should have taken his first out of air experience, and had a serious talk with himself. He should have figured out why it happened, and figured out what he had to do to make sure it never, ever happened again.

Ed wrongly concluded that he was an absolutely amazing and talented diver, just for his surviving!!! Ed’s survival was a monument to his extraordinary diving abilities, and no one could tell him differently? He was able to prove this to himself over, and over, and over. Unfortunately, I think he believed this the first time he ran out of gas, and probably did not think otherwise until the it was last time he ran out of gas.

This blog is not really about running out of gas, or even about poor dead Ed. I want this blog to be about honesty, humility, and perspective. Everyone makes mistakes, and most mistakes can be valuable opportunities for learning, but not when we learn the wrong lesson. If you or I survive any kind of diving emergency, did we do something right, or something wrong?

Cheers


Redefining Failure

I recently was at a TEDxManhattanBeach Salon event and a discussion between TED Talk videos prompted a response from me about failure and the need to redefine it. I had not realized that I thought differently about failure than most until it was brought to my attention with this discussion. That is part of the beauty of TEDx events, they bring very different people together to share in ideas worth spreading. So, in that spirit, I thought I would share this.

The discussion was about fear and making big changes in your life. The theme of the salon event was Work Smarter. We had watched a talk by Stefan Sagmeister on The Power of Time Off about taking a year long sabbatical every seven years rather than leaving it to the end of life in retirement.

Video courtesy of TED

It was clear that many attendees felt fear around failure and that failure is a very negative thing. The risk of change and feeling stuck were clear limits to imagining such an idea as taking a year off. The conversation turned to failure and this is when I raised my hand to contribute a comment.

“I think we need to redefine failure and change what it means for people. I would suggest that failure is not negative at all. If you are going to change or try to do anything new, it is impossible without failure. In fact, you often learn more from failure than you do from your successes when you are trying to innovate or make changes.

I would take it even a step further. I would suggest that we look at failure as a requirement for success. Success is not the opposite of failure, but failure is required for success especially if you are trying to do something that has never been done before. You cannot help but fail when you have to figure things out as you go because there is no lead to follow. So, failure really is how you figure out what does not work.  Failure is required to get to what will be successful. Innovation is impossible without failure.

I am known for saying you only fail if you quit, so make sure you can afford not to quit. Eventually, your competition will die.  If you can stick around long enough you will be the only one left. LOL Of course, it does not hurt to be good too.”

We went on to watch another talk by Stanley McChrystal called Listen, Learn… Then Lead

Video courtesy of TED

This led me to add, “Some failures are bigger than others. If we look to avoid all failures we risk big ones that have much higher consequences than if we accept failure as part of our process for success. By welcoming small failures along the way we can refine our approach and techniques to improve our chances of avoiding big failures that can kill people or have massively negative consequences.”

After the event wrapped up I was thinking about the discussion and realized that it is not failure that should be viewed as negative or even scary. Rather the consequences of the failures.

In fact, if we work to avoid failure at all costs and fear it, we risk our opportunities to workout and fine tune our approach and techniques prior to a time where the cost of failure is much higher. Gen. George S. Patton stated this as “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.” inspired by an old Chinese proverb saying a drop of sweat spent in a drill is a drop of blood saved in war.

If we can welcome failure as a necessary part of a process toward success we are much more likely to better our chances of success when the risks are higher and the consequences of failure carry with it much higher costs or even death. Failure is the sweat of trying. Failure is the byproduct of the effort that brings us to a better solution or ultimately to true innovation.

Applying this to a diving context is easy and is part of the Precision Diving mindset.

It is part of our approach to accept that we are not as good as we think we are. This is the foundation of our thinking as Precision Divers. We are always trying to be better this dive than the last and better next dive than this one. If we accept this, we are accepting that failures are part of our successes and a required part of the process.

To be a better diver we have to strive for allowing for mistakes and failures to occur regularly. Ideally, while we are training and in less critical environments than when such errors or failures would have truly negative consequences. We work hard on mastering ideal breathing and creating a ritual around having it become habitual or automated behavior.

The evolution takes time and mileage. We have a lot of time in the beginning where we are not using ideal breathing. It is also why we spend time learning how to regain ideal breathing and working on recognizing when we are not using it. Accepting that this process takes time, that success comes from failures, and being better able to recognize when we are not breathing ideally is critical in reaching the ultimate goal of having ideal breathing be present no matter what we are doing. More importantly, having the choice to deviate from it when we decide it is necessary to control our diving; control rather than happy accidents.

As instructors, we need to provide the room and freedom for our clients to fail and have that be okay and acceptable. Then, we can provide the tools, techniques, and support to make those failures become successes. Often, more is learned by failing than just succeeding. We can take this one step further by arming our clients to be able to think through situations and have a mental image of where they should end up.  It can be very powerful for a client to self correct or solve their own problems without help.

Perhaps, we should consider praising failures especially when self corrected and help walk the client through the progression that occurred. At a minimum, take a close look at our own diving and how we present and react to failures from within and with our clients.

Buoyancy is a foundational skill in Precision Diving. We know it will take thirty to fifty dives for an active diver to become intuitive or automated with it, if they are lucky. It will take fully up to two years for all of the mindset and approach of Precision Diving to seat for a client. So, we need to provide repeated opportunities for clients to exercise foundational skills. It is the drills, missteps, and feedback we facilitate that help guide our clients through the process of refining their abilities and moving buoyancy control from the threshold of holding position within a few feet in either direction, to a few inches in either direction, to no movement in either direction. Over time, the client will own this awareness and begin to advance their refinements without us. Then, you know they have begun to arrive.

The more opportunities we can provide for safe failures or ones with minor outcomes, the better the outcome may be if the consequences of failure are larger. This becomes even more critical in technical diving applications where error chains are much shorter and the risk of adverse outcomes is much higher. Plus, the increased confidence derived from knowing you can solve problems and fix things as they happen only makes the possibility of positive outcomes even better. We want to make sure that every client has the full capability they can develop from their time with us. We owe it to them to help facilitate failure and learn from it while accepting it is an important part of the process toward confidence and success.

As Precision Divers we want not to fear failure or try to avoid it in our process toward ideal performance, rather we want to view it as a natural component on our road to success and innovating our own diving. This is not unique to diving, but likely a good lesson for us in all of our life. It has been for me.


Open Circuit Rules for Technical Diving

In 2001 Andy Holman and I were working to launch a technical diving club in Southern California.  It did not really go anywhere.  But, part of our efforts was to come up with some resources to help members and the general public to be better divers.

I recently came across our efforts.  This was part of our work.  Most of it is still very valid. Some of the comments on deep stops may or may not be valid any more.  There is mounting evidence that certain applications of deep stops may not be best practice.

See what you think.  Anything you would add?

Anything that should be removed?

Rebreather Rules can be found here.

Open Circuit Rules of Survival  (OCRS)

Draft Version 1.2

1.      Equipment

Maintain and prepare equipment a few days before the dive day.

Don’t dive if equipment is not 100%.

Be willing to call the dive or dive trip.

Dive a standardize kit.

Ideally, the team should dive the same configuration.

Master one system for equipment first. Better to be good one way than crappy at a lot.

Equipment survey classes do not work.

Rig for wreck diving and dive with cave technique.

Learn how to adopt new configurations, if necessary.

Integrate configuration changes slowly.  Walk them up from the pool.

Use the most appropriate configuration for the planned mission of the dive.

Be multi-environment and multi-mode capable if your diving requires it.

NEVER dive a configuration without proper training in that configuration or mode or environment of diving.

Always plan for failure at worst point in the dive (depth, distance, time).

Be willing to call the dive at any point if safety is in question.

Always conduct predive checks.

Checklists are a good thing.

You should never dive if equipment is an issue.

Only use the best equipment possible.

Equipment should not be your limiting factor.

Carry only what is necessary for the dive and safety.

Streamline your kit for a balanced and hydrodynamic profile.

It is better to be good with your skills than to dive deep with bad skills.

Equipment handling and dive operations should be second nature.

Technical diving is more than equipment management.

Over-learn skills.  Responses should be automatic.

You should feel completely comfortable accomplishing something on the bottom phase of the dive.  If not, go back to the pool.

If you are amazed that you made it back from a dive, STOP technical diving.  Perhaps you should take up golf?

If you are not good with liftbags, learn how to use them.

Buoyancy control is critical for sport diving, I would bet it matters more here.

When diving wet, you must have a redundant BCD.

When diving dry, if you cannot swim without any air in your BCD at the beginning of a dive, your drysuit will not help you.  Have a redundant BCD.

Your kit should have sufficient redundancy to not have equipment keep you from coming back from a dive.  However, anything that is unnecessary should be removed.  Anything that is not standard must be justified.

All hoses are routed down and in.

One is none and two is one.

Always have a redundant gas supply.

If you are technical diving, doubles with an isolator manifold is mandatory.  Or use sidemount.

Independent doubles are unacceptable.

Always have enough gas to comfortably ascend while making all required safety and decompression stops.

2.       Predive Planning

Make sure all variables are accounted for before entering the water.

Complete accounting of oxygen, decompression, inert gasses, gas management, thermal exposure, mission and logistics must be known for each diver in the team.  If there is a number, you do not know for sure till you have one.

These are the planing questions that should be answered in each area.

Oxygen:

What is the planned maximum PO2 for the dive?

What is the CNS and Pulmonary exposure?

Is there a better choice for maximum PO2?

What is the maximum PO2 that is acceptable for decompression?

How do I plan to avoid Hyperoxia?

How do I plan to prevent Hypoxia?

Do you have enough room in CNS time to extend the profile?

Have I accounted for repetitive dives and/or repetitive days?

Have I visualized my gas switches?

Do I have a system for gas switching?

Are my cylinders properly marked?

Are my cylinders analyzed?

Do I have a system to cover a bad gas switch?

Do I carry my deco gas with me or can I stage it?

What schedule do I plan for oxygen breaks?

Is this schedule often enough? Or too often?

Do I plan on making back gas breaks before a gas switch?

Decompression:

What system will I use to safely control decompression on the dive? (EAD, Air Computer, Nitrox Computer, Multi-gas computer, or Custom table)

What decompression obligation am I able to handle?

Am I qualified, willing, prepared, and able to do this level of decompression?

What if I over stay my bottom time?

What if I exceed my planned depth?

What contingency tables or backup do I use?

How do I plan on accomplishing decompression?

What method do I plan to use to communicate with the surface?

Where will I conduct decompression?

Have I properly padded my deep stops?

What if I have to bailout from the dive early?

Am I accelerating my deco?

What if I get bent?

Do I have sufficient oxygen for the dive and post dive?

Can I perform surface decompression?

What rate do I plan to ascend during the dive?

Can I slow down my ascent to the surface?

Can I rest at the surface?

Can I remain on oxygen at the surface?

Are my buoyancy skills good enough to conduct deco in blue water with no reference?

What algorithm do I plan to use for calculating the dive profile?

Is everyone comfortable with the profile?

How will I handle the loss of a deco gas?

How will I abort the dive early?

Can this be made easier?

Inert Gasses:

What level of narcosis have I planned for?

Am I comfortable with that level of narcosis?

Am I considering oxygen as narcotic?

Have I accounted for my CO2 production?

How do I plan to minimize CO2 issues?

Are there mission considerations that would require a different choice of gas in regard to narcosis?

Am I diving in an overhead (wreck, cave, or ice) environment?

Am I accustomed to this environment?

Is it darker, deeper, or scarier than I have experienced?

Gas Management:

Do I have enough oxygen to complete the dive?

Have I accounted for the proper reserves?

Do I have enough back gas?

Are my gas choices the best for the mission?

What intermediate gasses do I want?

Can I carry all the gas I need with proper reserves?

Should I shorten the dive to allow for more reserve?

Can I maintain the breathing parameter necessary to conduct this dive as planned?

Do I really understand that gas is time at depth?

Do I have sufficient gas if I exceed my depth or over stay my planned time?

Do I need dedicated support?

How will I inflate my drysuit?

What is my gas management plan and is it appropriate?

Thermal:

 Am I properly insulated to complete the entire dive in relative comfort? (Losing heat can be as deadly as losing gas or not completing deco.)

Is a wetsuit proper for this exposure?

How will I supply gas to my drysuit?

Do I need argon?

How will I supply argon to my suit?

What is the bottom temperature?

What is the temperature I will be decompressing in?

Do I have the thermal tolerance to complete this dive?

Have I planned for repetitive dives?

How will I rewarm after the dive?

Will I continue to lose heat after the dive?

Is there a better choice for insulation?

Should I shorten the dive to account for heat loss?

Have I dived in this temperature before?

Do I remember that the water is always colder than I think?

Mission:

Is this dive worth doing?

Should I be doing this dive?

What is the plan for the bottom?

Am I prepared for the bottom activity?

Do I have the necessary tools to be successful on the bottom?

Do I have the necessary skills and experience to do this dive with confidence?

Who is my team?

Am I comfortable with my team?

Does this dive require surface rehearsal?

Does this dive require dedicated surface support?

How am I being deployed on the dive?

How am I descending on the dive?

What is my priority list for the bottom?

What is my runtime for this dive?

When do I need to be off the bottom?

How am I ascending from the bottom?

How will I complete deco safely?

How will I communicate with the surface?

Do my support divers know how, when, and where to reach me?

Do I need to plan for any special procedures during deco?

How do I plan to handle gas switches?

How do I plan to communicate with my teammates?

Do I remember that deco is the longest part of the dive?

Do I remember that the dive is not over when I start deco and it is just beginning?

How will I handle the loss of a gas?

How do I plan to abort this dive?

How can this fail?

Logistics:

Do I have the resources to do this dive?

Do I have all the gasses I need to do all my diving?

Do I have the platform necessary to be successful on this dive?

Do I have sufficient support for this dive?

Do I feel comfortable with everyone who will be on this dive?

Do I have all the components necessary to conduct all the diving for all the days planned?

3.       Drills while diving

Conduct gas, depth, and time checks on all dives.

Always check lights, leaks, thirds, and valves on the surface.

Always conduct an S drill when diving with a new partner.

Always conduct a modified S drill on all dives.

Ensure that you are able to maintain depth at the end of the dive with minimal gas and no stages or with stages if stages are buoyant.

Be aware of unexpected buoyancy changes or noise.

Practice valve shut downs often.

Valves all open on back gas.  Stages are charged and off.

When conducting gas switches, always purge the second stage prior to attempting to breathe from it.

Always use anti-silting techniques.

Maintain a balanced and hydrodynamic profile at all times.

Communicate with your partner at all standardized times and as needed.

Remember your role as a backup brain.  Do not let yours go on vacation.

Anyone can call any dive for any reason with zero consequences.

4.       Avoid Stress

Avoid rushing into the water or rushing to put equipment on.

Time pressure will kill you!

There is always time for a buddy check, bubble check.

Avoid equipment loading, buddy pressure.

Choose a patient buddy.

5.       Are you solo diving?

Watch your buddy to make sure your buddy is watching you.

Test your buddy (If you can count to 200 between buddy eye contacts your buddy will not save you).

Don’t solo dive.  Your qualified buddy is the last chance to save you.

If you solo dive, be cautious, dive shallower than usual for less time and under more ideal conditions.

The only time you and your buddy are safe is on the boat sitting down or on land out of the water.

Use constant and consistent communications throughout the dive.

Carry extra gas.  Gas is time underwater.

If you run out of gas and it is not due to equipment failure, IT SUCKS TO BE YOU!  Your buddy’s reserve is not for you.  It is his.  He can choose to give it to you, but it is not yours’. Do not treat it like it is, plan accordingly.

There is no backup brain!

6.       Complacency

Watch for over confidence. Are you really ready for the dive?

There are old tech divers and there are bold tech divers.  There are very few old and bold tech divers.

Work up to depth slowly; baby steps will save your life.

Never let your brain talk your ass into something it cannot get you out of.

If you suck, you should know it at this level.  Get better training.

Keep training until you are totally confident in your skills.

You are never totally confident in your skills.

You are never done.  Get over it already.

You are not as good as you think you are.  No one is.

Progressive penetration is bullshit.

Other Rules

  1. After you clear your 15-fsw stop ascend slowly to the surface.  The dive is not over till over a half an hour has gone by on the surface.
  2. After you clear your 15-fsw stop ascend slowly to the surface.  The dive is not over till over a half an hour has gone by on the surface.
  3. Breathe oxygen at the surface with minimal movement for at least ten minutes after a dive, if possible.
  4. Have a portable chamber on the boat if you are 220+ miles from shore.
  5. Think carefully about when and how you switch off helium mixtures.  It might be better to keep some helium in your mixes until on oxygen.  Oxygen is your friend.
  6. Always analyze all of your gasses immediately before diving.  Label them appropriately.  Never breathe any gas unless you are absolutely certain what it is.  Have a system for gas switches, visualize them, and double check your buddy after every switch.  Monitor yourself and your buddy for signs of hyperoxia.
  7. Have necessary backups on the boat with you.  Support divers should be able to solve most problems.  Make sure your plans deal with proper logistics for support divers if they are needed.  There are no dive shops at sea.
  8. Dives below 250 feet (75M) should not be conducted if unsupported.  If the exposures are long on shallower dives, they should be supported as well.
  9. In open water operations, it is better to conduct multiple dives to depth rather than one long exposure.  The uncertain conditions in the ocean expose the diver to too much risk if decompression obligations are long.
  10. Only you can control your dive.  The only mission that matters on any dive is that all return safely.  Nothing is worth dying for on a dive, including someone else.
  11. If you are going to pad your decompression do it deep, the benefits out weigh padding stops in shallow water.  Skew decompression to deeper stops.  Be slow to get off the bottom; do not rush to get shallow.  Plan accordingly.  Deep stops are more important than shallow stops.  All stops are important.
  12. Plan the dive and actually dive the plan.  The devil is in the details. Execution is more important than accomplishment.  It is not what you do, but how well you do it.
  13. Utilize precision diving techniques and skills.  Always try to be better tomorrow than you were today, better the next dive than this one, and better on this dive than the last one.
  14. Strive to know every aspect of any dive you go on.  If there is a number, have it.  If there is a concern, answer it.  If there is a doubt, don’t dive with it.  Know where you are and all aspects of the dive at all time.  Develop super awareness to all components and activities of the dive.  You will see things before they are issues and take steps to fix them before you would have even noticed them in the past.

Conclusion: If you cannot or will not accept the risks, costs, physical demands, training requirements, and/or mental demands that technical diving requires, you should not attempt it.  There are plenty of great adventures to be had in shallow waters.  Just diving deep or going into required stops on your computer is not technical diving.  It is just stupid.  Technical diving is an adoption of a mindset, approach, and attitude as much as it is diving with the gear or taking training.  If you choose to do this, do it well.  Keep training and never dive unless you know you will be successful.  Your life is always the most important one.


Movement

I call it this because the final two foundational skills are related to movement.  Breathing and buoyancy are in play at all times when we dive.  If we are stationary, these two pillars of Precision Diving have the largest impact.  Diving being active, we do not sit still all that often and when we do it tends to be for short periods.

The final two pillars of Precision Diving are all about movement.  This is why I present them together.  Swimming and trim are the cornerstones of our movement as divers.  Swimming is how we actually create the movement.  Trim is how we control how the water moves past us.  Or how we move the water out of the way when we move through it.  Of course, breathing and buoyancy need to be ideal and are in play as well.  But, the choices we make in how we move, position ourselves, and configure our gear has big impacts on our performance while we dive.

Most divers learn to flutter kick.  There is nothing wrong with that.  I do wonder why it stops there with most new divers.  There is nothing preventing an instructor from working on more than one way to use the fins.  Well, perhaps motivation and a bit more time.  But, if you are a new diver or about to become one, demand to learn more than one way to kick/propel yourself.  It is important and it will serve you well to learn this early and have the choices be automated early for you.

Precision Diving is not about one type of gear or one style of anything.  This holds true for fins.  A good diver should be able to use any fin.  The choice of what is good is a very individual thing and should be done through trying many out and then making the choice for which fin best suits your needs and diving.  You may find that you choose more than one pair of fins for different activities.

I use different fins for daily diving then I do for cave diving.  I use another type of fins when I freedive and even sometimes use a monofin.  So, select fins that work best for the performance you need out of that tool when and where you need it.

Of course, when you are new, you need to start with something.  So, this is where is pays to have a good relationship with your instructor.  Make sure you have a good conversation about what type of diving you plan on doing and where you plan to dive.  Once your instructor fully understands your needs, then you can consider their recommendation.

Fins are important.  They are the engines by which we create our movement underwater.  Invest in something good.  Fins tend to last a very long time and most people do not buy new ones because they wear their fins out.  Usually new fins are purchased because there is a new feature someone wants.  It is important to make sure the fins suit you and your diving.  In spite of what some say, no one pair of fins works for everyone in all applications.  Those that disagree, I am very happy that you have found something that works so well for you personally.  However, this is not true for all.

A fin that is too stiff can cost you more energy and create more work for you if you are not prepared to use them.  This will take bottom time away and you will consume more breathing gas.  This is not optimized performance and not Precision Diving.

Some fins may be too negatively buoyant for your body composition.  This will cause your feet to sink and you will need to make other compensations to counteract that shift in buoyancy.  This is possible to accomplish, but at what cost?  It might be simpler and better just to consider another fin.  One that is less negative.  Perhaps simply made of another material in the same style you like.

The same holds true if your feet tend to float. A more negatively buoyant fin may be the best solution rather than adding ankle weights or making some other compensation. Make sure if you do adjust for floating feet, that you do not go too far the other direction causing you to have to fight negative buoyancy in your feet now.

It is important to consider the kicking style and learn the correct one for the fin you use.  This means it would be wise if you change fin style and that new fin requires a different technique that you request some time with an instructor comfortable in tutoring you in the finer points of this new technique.  At least get good input on what those differences in technique are.

Split fins are very different from straight bladed fins.  Other fins have very unique kick styles needed to optimize their performance.  It is important to understand what your fins require.  If you go on to use more than one style of fin, you will need to make sure you master each style’s required techniques and also create a ritual around each fins’ use to help you be able to seamlessly move from one to the other with minimal workup in between.

Just as we do not assume that breathing is something we know how to do as Precision Divers.  We do not want to assume that we should “just know” how to optimize performance in any fin.  I hear it all the time, “It is just fins.”  Um, no it is not.  Most divers that began with straight bladed fins who switch to split fins tend over kick them with far too great a length of kick.  This only blows water through the split defeating the purpose of the design.  Similar issues are faced by those making the switch the other way with under kicking.  Other designs can be equally difficult.

Fins are the engines of our diving.  So, make sure you understand how to get the best performance from your engine before you assume you “just know”.  We generally do not jump into a car we have never driven without first “figuring out where everything is”.  Make sure you do the same with your fins.  If you get resistance from your instructor about a demand to work on use of fins, then find a new instructor.  Same for a retailer.  If the shop you use does not want to help you learn how to better use the gear they sold you, then it is likely time to find one that will.  They should charge you for this service as well.  You want to make sure that the service is provided fully and not blown off.  Pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

Most shops would be surprised at the request, but more than happy to provide the education.  I find that resistance to such requests is more a reflection on the possible lack of knowledge and/or understanding of the person you are talking with rather than a lack of necessity.  Any major change in gear should automatically be followed up by time in a pool.  More on this in a future post.

So, fins are the engines.  With such a good engine on our feet, it means we should not need to use our hands to dive.  If you are diver, this is the one thing, once you are aware, that will have you looking at divers very differently.  You will begin to notice just how much even some highly experienced divers use their hands for all sorts of movements.   Newer divers tend to use their hands a lot.  Well, new divers that are not trained to not use them.  But, the use of hands for controlling our diving is a crutch and should not be happening.

I am well known for asking people in my talks, “What are your hands used for in diving?”  My answer is usually a less polite version of “for holding stuff”.  Here is the problem if you rely on your hands in any form to control yourself while diving.  The second you need to use your hands from something else; you just handcuffed your ability to dive.  So, when you need to actually hold something, now you cannot dive as well as you did before having to hold something.  Precision Diving is about being able to dive just as well either way, in fact all the time.

Let’s go back to our first post example of handing a diver a camera.  Yes, there is the distraction factor.  But, you very quickly realize that the diver with the camera had better be able to control their diving without the use of their hands.  Because they just tied them up.  It is easy to see.  Those that have good skills and have learned to not use their hands make out better than those that have not, often in dramatic fashion.

This is true of dogmatic arm and hand positions as well.  Most of which come about because the diver simply does not know what to do with their hands.  So, they ritual a swimming position that locks them up.  Well, this can work in the short term to have them looking better, but the same problem remains, when they need to perform in another way it throws the whole system into a tailspin.  Performance suffers.

Try not to get locked into any one way of where your hands should be.  In fact, get good at being able to dive the same way no matter where your hands are and in lots of places being used for lots of things.  Just not used to control our diving in any way.

I will speak about the hands in front swimming style and other issues later in this post.

We have dialed in our fins and we are not using our hands.  The next thing to do is make sure you understand swimming.  Propulsion through the water is a lot of work.  So, we want to make sure we do this as efficiently as possible with the choices in swimming we make.

I ask people all the time, “what is the most important part of swimming when we dive?”  A lot of answers come flying back.  My answer surprises most.  The glide.  Gliding is why we swim.  Not the movement of swimming, but the motion we gain after we kick.  You see a lot of divers just always finning.  They clearly do not understand this concept.

The next time you dive, ask yourself, “Self, how much glide am I getting out of my kick?”  The glide is the space between the notes on the sheet of music.  It is to swimming what breathing is to all of diving.

This is why we need to talk about movement as a whole.  Our glide is a function of swimming, but also a function of how much water we need to move out of our way as we swim and resistance as well.  More of this is a sec.

As a diver, there are four finning styles we should know: Flutter, Modified Flutter, Frog Kick, and Modified Frog Kick.  The modified version of each is simply a way to prevent the fin wash from going down to the bottom when you want to make that decision.  Which is most of the time.  Reach out to your instructor for help and if not them find one that is happy to help.

There are many other finning styles and it is fine to learn all of them.  Just make sure you master these four first.  Really, you want to get very good at each one before you add a new one to the mix even for these four.  Until you are sure your kick is the best it can be it is going to be pretty difficult to figure out if other factors are affecting your ability to glide between your kicks.

Once you are feeling good with the kick, it is good to get some video footage of you doing it.  Video analysis is the best tool to work on improving your performance.  Also, it is much easier to see what you are doing and understand than trying to hear someone’s explanation of what they think you are doing.  It is best to have both.  With the advent of inexpensive high quality video systems, this is pretty easy to accomplish without needing someone dedicated to doing the video.

Now, kick and get moving.  Once you get a few kicks in, see how long you can glide after each kick.  Begin to play with how you kick and how often you kick.  Which ways maximize your glide?  This will change with your kit, your conditions, what the water is doing, and several other factors.  Optimize and maximize your glide.  The easiest and best place for this work is in a pool.  The pool tends to minimize the impact of any factors outside of your performance.

Once you get good at moving forward, you can begin to work on flat turning.  Flat turning is a fancy way to say turning using your fins to do so without any forward movement.  If you get good at Modified Frog Kick first, then turning yourself with just the use of fins is easier.  This helps provide that control that most feel they gain with the use of their hands.  The fins will always do it better and more efficiently than your hands.  Plus, you are more likely to have control of where the wash of that movement goes.

We work on flat turns because it is more difficult to do stationary.  Once we get good at these, we can easily add slight movement in as we swim and glide to create turns.  The layers of subtly grow as you get more refined in your control.  Greater ability to control our diving is what gives us confidence.  The faster that happens the more likely we will enjoy our diving more.

Eventually, you can learn to use your fins to move backwards.  Yes, even with split fins.  Moving backward is helpful when you are unable to turn around easily and often used by photographers when they are head down and looking under reefs or ledges.

All of this is connected with breathing and buoyancy.  How and when we breathe and where our buoyancy is has profound impacts on our swimming.  As Precision Divers, we use our control over all of this to optimize our performance.  It is important we understand and have automated all our foundational skills so we can build to this level of integrating them together.  If that integration is difficult for you, then go back to the individual foundational skills and work on them.  The better the foundational skills are in basic applications the more likely it will be easy to use them in an integrated fashion.  More in a future post on this topic.

If you begin to watch divers, which you will now, you will see that often swimming is used to compensate for other issues in the foundational skills.  It is pretty common to see divers try to swim out of bad buoyancy.  Swimming creates lift and that forward movement can have it appear to the diver that they are neutral because of the forward movement creating water flow over the divers body at a different speed above the diver than below.  However, when the diver stops they immediately sink.  Not to mention what the hard kicking does to their visibility and the environment, always fun for your fellow divers as well.

We know from the post on breathing that we can use our breathing control to compensate for this in the short term.  Often, most divers try to swim out of it.  Stop being that diver.  If you feel you need to move to be neutral, do not swim more, fix the issue then swim.

Clearly, you are not going to get as much glide if you are swimming all the time because you are trying to fix the issue with your buoyancy.  In fact, I doubt glide is any where near being on your mind at that point.

When we swim we should be able to stop at any point and not move at all.  Well, unless we want to create that movement with our breathing control.  Hopefully, with some forward glide at the end of the last kick.  That is control and that should be our decision.  Not a happy accident.  So, make sure it is you making that happen at all times.

Other things like swimming backwards or backing out after looking under a ledge can be made easier by thinking about how we use our breathing as we do it.  We know if we choose to cycle our lung volume near full our head tends to raise.  So, if we cycle lung volume lower in the lung we can help to create a rise in our feet.  Or perhaps our feet are already slightly elevated.  Either way, we can use our breathing to help the backward movement out a bit.  A bit of positive buoyancy controlled by our breathing as we create some backward movement is going to help our up and away movement.  This reduces the amount of finning we need to do in order to create the desired backward movement.  Also, it allows us to use less backward kicks to make the desired movement happen.  This is a good use of lift to help desired movement.

Hands locked in front is being seen more and more these days.  For most, it is just compensation from being uncomfortable with their hands and trying to lock them up so they will not use them.  But, it also generates lift.  For most, it is compensated for slight negative buoyancy.  Subconsciously, this could have come about from feeling better about not losing control via positive buoyancy when they were newer or perhaps just a bad habit.

It is not necessarily a bad habit to have the hands locked in front, but you should be able to dive exactly the same with your hands in any other position as well.  It creates the same problem as we discussed earlier in this post.  What happens when you need to actually use your hands for something else, like holding something?  If the answer is nothing happens, perfect.  Then, this truly is a choice.  If the answer is you do not dive as well, it needs to be fixed.

Use of lift in our swimming is a very important idea.  As you progress, you are going to realize that you can use lift and buoyancy to move without swimming or to aid our swimming.  You might even be told you move too fast and you respond with I was barely kicking at all.  We can use negative lift on descents to literally fly on a down slope.  Our fins then become rutters helping to change direction.  If we want to flatten out we simply inhale a bit more, drop the tips of our fins a touch, and cycle our breathing there to stop the descent and exhale to restart it.

We can do the same on ascents, using our lung volumes and how we cycle our breathing to ascend without ever having to swim.  This minimizes work and provides a great sense of control and confidence.  All we have to do then is breathe and let bits of gas out of our BCD.  Super easy to slow the ascent when it is our breathing and lung volume doing it.  There are submarines that use changes in ballast and where it is held to move through the water without the use of propellers.

Refining finning skills and adding new tools to your performance toolkit is important.  We also need to look at how trim and hydrodynamics impacts our movement as well.

Water is heavy.  I will try to keep the math to a minimum.  If we are moving through the water, we are moving water because we are forcing it to flow around us.  Even small changes in how we make contact with that water can have real impact in the amount of work we need to do to move it.

Ideal positioning is how we optimize that.  If we are not moving, then ideal positioning is not so important.  If we are hanging out on a safety stop in blue water, it is not so important to be in any position.  There is some research that shows some positions may benefit off gassing better than others, but there is still not much data either way.  The point is; if we are not moving, how we move is not going to be in play at that time.

Ideal position is a flat position that minimizes the surface area that interacts with the water as we move.  Generally, the torso is parallel to the bottom with a slight arch in your back.   This helps you to see forward without having to crank your neck and/or not having to elevate your head, which would create more drag.  Legs inline with the torso with a slight or more bend in the knee.  This will depend on the kick you are selecting.  This position is your default position when near or close to the bottom.  It will be comfortable and easy once you get used to it.

One easy technique to help you “feel” it is to go to the bottom of the shallow end of the pool and be a bit negatively buoyant.  You should feel the pool bottom from you knees to your shoulders for the most part with a slight arch to your back.  Inhale and create some positive buoyancy and then drift back down and see if you can land in the same way feeling the same things.  It is a good exercise to help you feel it.  I find video really helps here.  Project it on to a white board and draw your horizontal line inline with where you should be.  If you match the line you are doing great.   Assuming that is the goal at the time.

If you are going to put this much work into your positioning, you want to make sure you streamline your kit to match your work in streamlining you.  So, watch your accessories.  Clip them in tight to your body.  If you are a fan of retractors, figure out how to use them without having them have what is attached to them dangle down.  Consoles and SPGs should be brought in tight to the body and clipped up.  No sense in having them create drag when they are not being looked at.  Optimize your kit by routing hoses down and in.  One small thing is not likely to make or break you, but lots of little things can add up to more than you think.

Water is heavy and having to move more of it requires more work.  More work means more gas used and less time underwater.  The goal is to minimize anything that is unnecessary work.  Seawater is 64 pounds per cubic foot.  For our metric friends, that is about a kilogram per liter.  In theory, if I present one square foot of surface to the water and I swim one foot forward, I would need 64 pounds of thrust to make that happen.  If I move the same foot with only somewhat poorer streamlining and present three square feet of surface to the water, I now have to provide 192 pounds of thrust to move a foot forward.  For our metric friends, the numbers do not matter, the message is clear, bigger surface area, much more work.

So, small things like elbows sticking out, or a console and hose, or poor swimming technique that stops glide, or a combination of all or more can quickly add up to a lot more work.  This means more gas consumed and less bottom time available.  Several small improvements in streamlining will add up.

Drag also matters.  Drag punishes speed.  You need to move a lot of water out of your way as you swim.  This takes work as we have seen.  If you want to do that while going fast, it takes a lot more work.

Drag Equation

where

FD is the force of drag, which is by definition the force component in the direction of the flow velocity,[1]

ρ is the mass density of the fluid, [2]

v is the velocity of the object relative to the fluid,

A is the reference area, and

CD is the drag coefficient — a dimensionless constant, e.g. 0.25 to 0.45 for a car.

Drag is calculated with velocity being squared.  The important take home message is that the faster you go, the more you have to work in a function of how fast you go multiplied by itself.

I like to say with diving you need to slow down to speed up.  If we move slower in the water, it requires less work.  If you have good trim and streamlining, that is even less work.  We want to give time for the heavy water to move past us.  Ironically, when we move slower we get more glide, we get more out of our glide as it is more of our movement per kick.  Also, it is likely that our technique is better when we are not rushing.  Plus, our technique does not have to be as good when we more slower.  Of course, we want to optimize our performance at all times, but there is a tipping point with work and speed where you will move faster and further by slowing down than if you try to go faster.  You want to find that point and refine even more.

Technique matters.  I have asked students to swim lane lines on the bottom of the pool and to get to the other end as fast as they can.  They go screaming out and forget all technique, gas pumping through their lungs with a stream of bubble arching up behind them.  I time the effort of course.  When they are done, I ask, “What happened to your technique?”  Oh yah.  I then tell them to repeat the swim again, this time as fast as possible, but with the very best technique you can perform and maximizing glide.  Which one do you think is faster?

The result is dramatic.  Often, the results are 20 to 30% faster even though they feel they were going much slower the second time through.  Thus, proving to them that slowing down actually speeds you up.  Literally.

If you are not able to stop at any time in your diving and stay in the position you want to be in, then you want to work on these techniques.  You can move weight higher or lower on your body to help, but it might be a better answer to look at potentially other choices in fins or other gear if the stuff you have is creating a problem that other kit will fix easily.

If you are diving dry, then learn to manage your bubble in your suit.  Trim is much easier in a drysuit because your buoyancy is spread out over your whole body.  But, you want to make sure you become intuitive with managing and breaking that bubble up into smaller pieces allowing you to feel in control of where your buoyancy is in the suit.  Bubble management, if you will.

As you progress, you will refine your awareness and techniques.  With this growth in your ability to dive well, you will work on subtler and subtler areas.  Also, you will become much more sophisticated in the techniques you can use to control your diving and have a lot more tools to do the same thing in different ways.  I will post about more subtle aspects in smaller posts in the future.

Be better this dive than the last one and better next dive than this one.


Buoyancy

As I have promised, the first post on Buoyancy has arrived.  Pretty much everyone would agree that buoyancy is one of the critical skills in diving.  What does that actually mean?  We spend a lot of time discussing the topic in pretty much every course, but do we ever do a good job truly getting the diver to understand what this means and what it looks like when we are good at it.

It is impossible to discuss buoyancy without discussing breathing.  It is why that post came first.  Buoyancy is so critically linked to how we breathe and how we change our breathing that really the two are very much linked.  It is also why we need to master and understand ideal breathing for scuba prior to trying to improve our buoyancy and the control of it.  Or use lung volume and where we build volume in our lungs to further refine buoyancy.

That is what caring about and paying attention to this results in, control.  With control comes confidence.  Ideally, each diver should be confident in their diving within appropriate development for their level of progress in training and experience.  If you do not feel confident in your diving at any level, get back to the basics.  It is the foundational skills discussed in my first post that will bring you the confidence and execution you desire.

So, now that you are working on ideal breathing, we can look at how we can dial in our buoyancy control.  Working position is tied to buoyancy, but pure buoyancy control is what needs to be mastered first.  This means that we should be able to stop at any time in our diving and not move without a change in lung volume.  So, we are neutral at all times.  Unless we choose not to be.  It should be a choice.

There are times when you will choose not to be neutral.  On the surface, we usually choose to be positively buoyant so we can rest or swim to the boat or dive site.  I find I have to remind new divers and sometimes not so new divers to use their BCD on the surface to not work once their head breaks the surface of the water.  It is all about minimizing work and making diving easier where we can.

We may choose to be negative on the bottom to stabilize ourself in a nonimpactable environment while taking pictures or during an experience that requires us to stay on the bottom.  If I am working in a strong current and hand pulling on the bottom, I usually like to be a bit negatively buoyant as well.  Most professionals while teaching use negative buoyancy to help if a new diver has a problem and the instructor needs to arrest an assent.

For the most part, as divers we want to be neutrally buoyant at all times once we leave the surface.  Being neutral is the weightless inner space experience that we all as divers crave and speak to non divers about as being magic.  It is one thing to know what is feels like.  It is another to have such possession of it that we are able to use its control to appear to be magic.

Buoyancy changes take time to happen when we dive.  This delay can be different at different times depending on depth, gear configuration and other factors.  But, for the most part when we make a change in buoyancy it takes two to four seconds to really take affect.  This means we can use our control of buoyancy to compensate for wave action, picking up a weight, or wanting to use ballast to drive movement along with so many other things.

It also means we have to be patient and plan for this delay in action.  So, we have time to work with it, but also if we do not pay attention issues can get worse over time.  This is all assuming diving open circuit scuba.  Buoyancy on a rebreather is very different and not so tied to changes in lung volume as open circuit scuba.  I will discuss rebreathers in future posts.

In our beginning scuba courses we are told on descent to equalize the pressure in our ears and sinuses.  This is a very important thing to do as it is the most common injury for most divers if not done properly.  Easily avoided if we do it early and often and before we feel anything.  More on this in a future post.

However, the corrective action prescribed if there is an issue is to kick up a bit and if negative add some air to the BCD.  Conversely, if someone begins to drift up a bit becoming slightly positively buoyant we say let some air out of your BCD as the first action to take.

Why not suggest that the rising diver first exhale and then emphasize breathing with a reduced lung volume or on the bottom of the breathing cycle first and then make the adjustment to the gear?  Additionally, on the negatively buoyant descending diver, why not tell them to inhale and then emphasize the upper portion of the lung volume and then take corrective action with their gear?

Of course, ideal breathing needs to be mastered in order to be able to chose to deviate from it in this way.  But, is it not more controllable and more intimate to use our control over our breathing first than train people to go to their gear?  Going to the gear first, as almost any instructor knows in newer divers, is not quick nor familiar.  I would bet that any new diver knows where their lungs are.

If we all build a strong connection between our breathing and our buoyancy we can effectively add five pounds of negative or positive buoyancy or more at will within seconds simply by how we choose to change our breathing and emphasize cycling breathing at the lower or upper end of lung volume.  I am suggesting this is going to help divers feel that they have more control and I think we can all agree is more accessible, intimate and quicker than fumbling for a deflation method only to have the wrong end of the BCD facing up.

Choosing to change breathing may not solve the problem completely, but it slows everything down.  It provides time for a calmer approach to finding the right item to make more adjustments to buoyancy and the perspective to think about being in the correct position to do so.  Most of us have seen the newer diver facing head down trying to dump air from their BCD while swimming down fighting positive buoyancy only to have the air in the wrong place in their BCD for their attempts to be able to do anything.

If this diver were to exhale and choose to deviate from ideal breathing by cycling on the bottom of their lung volume, they would take most of that positive buoyancy out of the situation.  It could bring them back to neutral or even slight negative buoyancy or at least immediately drop the urgency of the situation down several notches.  This gives the diver more time to think through why what they are trying to do is not working as they had hoped it to.  More time, generally means less stress and more likelihood of success in correcting the situation rather than drifting backward toward the surface.

This is only one example of how much more layered the subject of buoyancy is.  It is easier to see the results in an obvious situation with a newer diver.  As you get better, you will see that subtle changes in where you emphasize lung volume can play a role in trim and swimming.  How you release lung volume or add it can change lift and your center of buoyancy.   We can begin to use our breathing to actually help us move better through the water and also allow us to work less.

I will speak to movement and trim in future posts.  Buoyancy control and working with your breathing can allow you to change how you ascend.  We are taught to reach up, look up, and come up, swimming to help the movement.

What if we were to ascend by using our breathing to emphasize different areas of lung volume on average to create rises toward the surface or to drop down a bit on a safety stop or to slow our ascent and adjust our BCD?  When mastered, ascents can become literally almost no work.  They are also highly controlled and slow because we are intimately in touch with the movements because it all comes from our control of our breathing and our lungs.  Of course, we still need to vent excess gas from our BCD or drysuit and we do not want to hold our breath.

So, buoyancy is often talked about in diving and I know that we could fill a room with instructor trainers where “good buoyancy” would make everyone’s list of important skills to master.  We need to expand our understanding of what this means.  We need to tie the discussion intimately to breathing and how we find ideal breathing and how we choose to change from ideal breathing if we need to do so in order to affect our control over our buoyancy.

Buoyancy control is extremely important to good diving and certainly is foundational to the Precision Diver.  It just does not live in as much isolation as we have been used to dealing with it in.  In the near future, I will explore how breathing and buoyancy work together in how we swim and our trim in the water as well.

The foundational skills all work together built on top of our performance mindset to hold up the roof that is performance.  With performance comes confidence in our diving.


The Performance Mindset

Life has been busy as can be.  I promised more on the performance mindset.  I will have ongoing posts related to this topic, but I wanted to make sure that I get a post out specifically about it now.

The last two weeks I went from busy in Australia to a thirty-six hour turn around in LA to come to the Bahamas to work nonstop.  I know, rough life.  But, it reminded me of all the things that diving helps us do and actually not do.  When we are underwater, diving allows us to escape mobile phones, commutes, daily grinds, E-mails, and so much more.  It is part of why I do it and likely all of us.  It is also why how we think when we go diving can be as important as how we dive.  In fact, it may be how we think that is how we dive.  At least to some extent.  Or perhaps mostly.

Diving has changed my life for the better and forever.  The best friends I have met relate to and are around diving.  It has changed me as a human being and how I see and interact with the world.  It is part of what makes diving so beautiful, that immersion in water brings us places that almost nothing else can.  Even if we dive the same location again and again, it is never the same dive twice even if we were to staple the fish to the reef, because we are never the same person as the dive before changes us forever.  So, we cannot have the same dive twice, no matter what.  We are never the same person the next time through.

Diving is so special because it touches us so deeply.  All of us who dive understand this to our core whether we “get it” consciously or at a subconscious level.  For those who are contemplating beginning to dive, I would just say enjoy every moment as diving brings many of them.  Big transformations are part of it, but often it is the littlest of ones that ripple through our lives too.

This is why what and how we think about diving while we are diving is powerful and needs to be considered.  More than being considered, we owe it to ourselves to make sure we do the best we can with our thoughts because diving is so powerful.  We have a duty to make sure that something so important and powerful is respected.

More importantly, it is just more fun to be good.

So, how do we begin our work?

The performance mindset begins with us.  One of the things I love about diving is that we cannot hide from ourselves in the water.  We all find our moments of truth in the water.  Great circumstances bring big pleasures and change us, challenges and difficult situations tells us volumes about ourselves and further bring to our immediate awareness areas that we may have tried to hide from in ourselves.  These can also change us for the better expanding our awareness and allowing us to be more adaptable after.

If we do not train how we think about diving, the effort to learn more about diving and being better is hampered.  What I am suggesting is that our mental training is as important if not more important than skill mastery or taking another course.  How we do these things matters as much as actually doing them.  Execution is as important as accomplishment.

As I presented in my first post, we need to make sure we have a picture in our mind of what it means to be a great diver, an elite diver.  We have not been presented with a simple well thought out snapshot of what this means.

This elite diver concept is so important because we will rise to the level of the vision we have for ourselves.  If we do not have a clear picture of what is means to be good at diving, how can we have a hope to arrive at a point of something we do not understand or can easily picture?  We can put 100 of the best instructors in the world in a room and we would likely have some common threads presented as to what it means to be good at diving, but it is unlikely we even share a common language about it.  The diving industry does not paint a clear picture either.  It is not about blaming anyone.  It is about providing something that almost all other activities can easily provide.  A clear, easy, simple sound bite style quick answer or someone to point to for a clear visual.

RJ Barbaro at Bondi Beach Skate Park.

So, lacking any clear, simple, or easy answer, let’s take a look at what might be this undefined mystery diver, the elite diver.  I think we can all agree that an elite diver should be in control of their diving at all times.  This would include all that their actions impact or do not impact with all that is around them.  So, it is not just performance, but how that performance creates or does not create issues or impacts on all other factors around them.  For the most part, this level of control is automated or unconscious.  Or you might call it intuitive.

This means that the diver is able to adjust for wave action, or current, or motion acting on them and yet still appear there is no impact on their diving.  It might feel very different internally, but the outside shows no changes.  An elite diver only deviates from ideal performance because they choose to.  Rather that be because there is a need to affect control for other purposes, or to have impact on the diving environment, or to compensate for actions in the environment that will take the diver out of ideal performance.

The diver is in control as much as is possible while diving and nothing happens without a decision by the diver to do so.  So, unideal performances are a choice on the divers behalf or a mistake.  The mistake is immediately and naturally registered in the mind as out of ideal.  This is looked at and address that dive or the very next one.

If we can build a simple picture of what we would look like as an elite diver and be very candid and honest with ourselves as to where we are or how far away we are from that picture, it is the base that will help us improve rapidly.

If we can see it, we will rise to our vision of what it is we are shooting for.  That “end goal” becomes the guide and foundational image we carry forward to build our skill mastery upon.  Rather than work on skill mastery and just hope we have a “happy accident” that helps us find our way to how to make it all work together.

It is a cart before the horse problem.

So, we need to work on how we think and the vision we carry forward with our diving.  If we can internalize and clearly see what it means to be an elite diver, it will provide a road map of where we need to go next.

Joi Ito on Bahamian wall dive. Photo by Cathy Ridsdale courtesy Stuart Cove's

This can be easier to see than do, but that is the beauty of diving, you must do the milage to master the craft.  You have to dive your way into the thinking and out of bad habits.  It is the rituals and way we view where we are supposed to end up that create our diving habits.  These need to be guided with this clear vision of how it all fits together.

So, how we think matters when we dive.  We need to make sure that we establish that piece of video or vision in our head about where it is we are headed with our diving.  Once we establish that, we need to make sure we stay aware when we dive to this vision we have established.  The feedback loop continues forever, but becomes more automated with each moment of application.

More soon.