Guidelines For Post-Dive Equipment Care
By Jessica Vyvyan-Robinson
If you own scuba equipment, knowing how to properly take care of it after a dive is crucial. Not only does good post-dive maintenance increase the lifespan of expensive equipment, but it also minimizes the risk of gear-related issues the next time you dive. Our equipment is our lifeline underwater, so keeping it in working order is of paramount importance. Basic rules apply to the post-dive maintenance of all scuba gear, including rinsing items thoroughly with fresh water after a dive, and allowing them to dry completely before being packed away. Dive gear should never be left in direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time, as sunlight can degrade, crack or fade materials, including neoprene and rubber. Specific considerations relate to particular pieces of equipment, most of which are listed below.
Like the rest of your scuba equipment, your regulator needs to be rinsed in fresh water at the end of the day’s diving. Make sure that no water enters the regulator’s first stage, as it’s internal components are susceptible to damage when exposed to moisture —allowing them to get wet will most likely result in an expensive trip to an equipment technician. Before rinsing, replace and securely fasten your regulator’s dust cap, first ensuring that the dust cap itself is dry. You can do this by using compressed air from your cylinder to blast excess water from the dust cap before fastening it in place, but that method’s not without detractors.
Instead of leaving your first stage to soak in fresh water, rinse it thoroughly under the tap; this will safeguard against water seeping past the dust cap. Alternatively, you can fully submerge your regulator if the first stage is still attached to a pressurized cylinder, which will prevent any water from entering the system. Do not press the purge button on either your primary second stage or your octopus while you are washing your regulator, as this will also allow water to enter the first stage. If you have hose protectors, make sure that you rinse underneath them during the cleaning process; similarly, move your low-pressure inflator connector back and forth to remove any salt, grit or sand. This way, even the least visible parts of your regulator will be kept corrosion free, and will continue to perform as they should. Once you have finished rinsing your regulator, hang it up and allow it to dry completely before packing it away.
When it comes to washing your BCD, it’s hugely important to remember the inside after having thoroughly rinsed the exterior. During a dive, salt water leaks into the BCD through the dump valves and the low-pressure inflator, and must be drained out during your post-dive maintenance routine. To do this, use a hose to flush fresh water into the BCD’s bladder via the low-pressure inflator, making sure to hold down the deflate button as you do so. Allow the water to flow into the BCD until it is approximately one quarter full, and then orally inflate it. This will allow the water to easily circulate around the inside of the BCD. Then, shake it to make sure that the water reaches every part of the jacket before allowing the water to drain through the dump valves, simultaneously rinsing them too. You can repeat this process several times before inflating the BCD partially and storing it. Ideally, you should keep your BCD hung up in a cool, dry place; the partial inflation will prevent the insides of the BCD from sticking together.
Wetsuit, booties, hoods and gloves
All of these items should be washed both on the inside and on the outside. It’s a good idea to use soap or disinfectant to eliminate any odors, but make sure that you buy one that’s appropriate for use on neoprene. Wetsuit soap is readily available at most dive centers or equipment stores; rinse it off with more fresh water once used. After cleaning your wetsuit and other neoprene items, hang them up to dry completely before packing them away. If you don’t, mildew and other bacteria will develop, degrading the quality of your equipment and causing it to smell. The best way to store a wetsuit is to hang it up, preferably on a purpose-built wetsuit hanger. Do not use wire hangers, as they will crease and mark your suit — the wider the hanger, the better. For transporting your suit or for storing it for short periods of time roll it rather than folding it. Folds can cause creases in the neoprene that may not come out, and make the suit uncomfortable to wear. It is also a good idea to lubricate the zips on your wetsuit or booties, ideally with zipper wax specifically made for this purpose.
Many divers overlook their cylinders when it comes to post-dive care, but they also need to be rinsed with fresh water. This prevents salt buildup and consequent corrosion, and also displaces grit and sand from around the tank valve; if left, these particles can make it difficult to turn your air on and off. You should never put a cylinder into storage either emptied or filled completely. When empty, the absence of pressure can make it easy for contaminants to enter the cylinder; if stored too full they can eventually crack over time. They should be stored lying horizontally, or in a secured upright position to prevent them from falling and becoming damaged.
Mask, fins and snorkel
Your soft gear is easily maintained; like everything else, it must be rinsed in fresh water, dried and put away carefully. Your mask should be packed in a hard case to protect the lenses from scratches and the mask itself from possible impact. Make sure that any other items that you store with your mask (e.g. dive computer, compass) do not bend, squish or deform the silicone; otherwise, your mask’s shape could be altered causing it to leak or become uncomfortable. Similarly, save the plastic inserts that come with your fins when you buy them, and replace during storage to retain the shape of your fins’ foot pockets. Do not store your fins by balancing them on their tips, as this can also cause distortion and diminished performance. Instead, keep them lying flat, or hung by the strap on a wide peg.
Each of your dive accessories has unique care requirements. Underwater cameras, for example, have a lengthy post-dive care regime. They must be left to soak for as long as possible in fresh water, to allow all salt to dissolve from the housing. You should gently work all of the housing’s moving parts to dislodge any salt, grit or sand stuck beneath them. Once you are satisfied that the housing is salt-free, you must dry it completely before opening it to remove your camera. You should remove your batteries and memory card from the camera, and make sure to wipe clean and lubricate all O-rings. Do not store your housing with the main body O-ring in place, as the constant pressure will eventually change the shape of the O-ring and reduce its ability to create a sufficient seal. Instead, remove the O-ring carefully, clean it and store it with the rest of your equipment in a sealed plastic bag. Strobes and underwater torches should be treated similarly — wash, dry, remove batteries, then clean and lubricate all O-ring.
When washing your dive computer, make sure to depress all the buttons while holding the computer underwater in order to flush salt deposits from beneath them. Rinsed and dry dive knives thoroughly, then apply a thin coating of silicone grease to the blade before storage to prevent rusting. All other diving equipment, including signal marker buoys, compasses, whistles and octopus attachments should be rinsed at the same time as the rest of your gear, and stored appropriately.
No matter how diligently you take care of your equipment, make sure to fully check and test your gear before use to ensure that it’s in full working order. Above all, remember that by properly looking after your dive equipment, you are allowing it to continue looking after you.
The Pros and Cons of Owing Your Own Equipment
Most divers will, at some point, have to decide whether or not to invest in their own gear; for many, the list of pros and cons can become convoluted and confusing. Dive centers, teaching organizations and retail outlets constantly extoll the value of owning one’s own equipment, but it’s sometimes difficult to know how much of their zeal has to do with improving your dive experiences versus making a profit. This article aims to explore the ins and outs of owning gear from an unbiased perspective, so that those thinking about purchasing their first mask, BCD or set of regulators can make an informed decision.
Divers considering purchasing equipment should ask themselves several questions first, including the extent of their commitment to the sport, how often they plan to go diving and whether the majority of their dives will take place at home or on vacation. A full set of gear can be expensive, and perhaps not worth the investment for someone who intends to dive only once or twice a year. However, for those who dive frequently, the costs of purchasing gear pale in comparison with the cumulative costs of repetitive equipment rental. When it comes to dive equipment, it is easy to spend huge amounts of money, but it’s also possible to buy a basic set of reliable, fully functional gear for a reasonable price. A basic set includes a mask, snorkel, fins, exposure suit, regulator and BCD, and the price for a set of mid-range equipment should total at around $1,000 to $1,500, not including a computer. If cared for properly, scuba gear can last for many years; therefore, if daily rental prices for basic scuba gear average between $25 and $60 depending on location, frequent divers can easily recoup the money spent on purchasing equipment. Additionally, the cost can be spread out — instead of buying a full set of gear all at once, start with the essentials (mask, fins, snorkel, exposure suit), and work up to the higher range items (BCD, regulators and dive computer).
Another cost of owning one’s own equipment comes into play for those who primarily dive abroad. Although luggage allowances for long haul or transatlantic flights tend to be a little more forgiving, the normal weight restriction for hold luggage is around 50 pounds, depending on the airline. An average set of dive gear will use up most of that allowance, forcing travelers to pay overweight or excess luggage fees. There are workarounds, including packing heavier items like regulators in carry-on bags and choosing airlines that offer allowances for sports equipment, but increasingly tight regulations mean that even these measures can incur additional costs. Traveling divers must weigh these additional costs against paying rental fees and reliance on unfamiliar foreign equipment, and decide which is the lesser of two evils for them personally. Some scuba manufacturers have come out with lightweight gear meant for dive travel, which can eliminate excess luggage fees. Those who opt for these models, however, should be aware that they are often only suitable for diving in tropical climates and may not be compatible with the more taxing conditions of colder, rougher seas.
Safety and Peace of Mind
Although the financial aspect of buying gear is the first concern for many divers, there are other, equally important factors to consider, including personal comfort, safety, health and convenience. Two of the biggest advantages of owning your own gear are fit and familiarity; when you buy gear, you know that it fits your shape and size, and you know exactly how it works. Often, those who rent gear have to put up with ill-fitting equipment that can seriously hinder their comfort. A mask that’s the wrong size can leak; a wetsuit that is too loose leads to rapid heat loss; a BCD that’s too small may not have sufficient lift to allow for positive buoyancy on the surface. In extreme cases, these issues not only lead to reduced enjoyment, but can also compromise a diver’s safety, particularly in the event that a diver’s movement is restricted such that he can no longer effectively perform skills. Unfamiliarity with dive gear can also be dangerous thanks to the subtle differences between different styles and brands. Knowing exactly where your dump valves are located on your BCD or how to dump your integrated weights could be the difference between diverting and exacerbating a disaster.
By owning and becoming familiar with your own gear, dealing quickly and effectively with an equipment-related emergency becomes like second nature. Similarly, good fit allows for maximum comfort and capability underwater, allowing you to focus on activities like photography or fish ID rather than gear adjustment. The peace of mind and enhanced safety you’ll feel when using your own gear is a main reason for doing so. When you rent, particularly abroad, you have no idea how the gear has been maintained, whether it has been recently serviced, whether the dive center in question has items available in your size, or who has used it before you. Uncertainties are eliminated when using your own gear, which offers heightened confidence in an environment where your safety depends largely upon your equipment. Additionally, in a sport where divers routinely spit in their masks, urinate in their wetsuits and cough through their regulators, being the first and only person to use your gear is a matter of personal hygiene.
Of course, owning your own gear involves some work that renting gear does not. Instead of emerging from the ocean and having your equipment washed, taken apart and packed away for you, you’re responsible for the day-to-day care and long-term maintenance of your gear. As well as rinsing your equipment thoroughly with fresh water after each dive, and packing, transporting and storing it in a way that will increase its longevity, you must also get your BCD and regulators serviced annually. Cylinders must be inspected visually and hydrostatically, and dive computer batteries must be changed manually or sent in to a technician for replacement after a specific amount of time or dives. Each of these inspections or services costs money, as do repairs after any damages occur. You’ll also need to allocate storage space for your equipment in your home, making gear ownership a commitment in more ways than one. However, many divers find that the time, money and effort that they put into maintaining their gear works as a good incentive to go diving more often, thereby getting the maximum use out of their investment.
Too Old To Dive?
Whether or not scuba diving has a retirement age is the source of much debate, as is the question of whether one can ever be too old to start diving. According to the Diver’s Alert Network (DAN), older divers are defined as those over the age of 50, and in recent decades, these older divers have constituted an increasingly large percentage of the global dive community. Two main factors are responsible: First, those divers who took up scuba in the first flush of its popularity 30 to 40 years ago have aged, and second, today’s older generation is typically wealthier and more active than ever before, and is adopting diving as the pastime of their golden years. I recently conducted a Discover Scuba course for a 70-year-old woman, whose other high-adrenaline goals for her 70th year included bungee jumping and sky-diving. She was enraptured by the underwater world and surfaced determined to pursue her scuba career, a goal that she was easily physically and mentally capable of attaining; indeed, she was one of the most fearless and competent first-time divers I’ve ever encountered.
Seniors who wish to continue diving, having started in their youth, may be safer than many younger divers, precisely because of their experience. Over the years, they will have encountered and learned how to deal with a wide range of problems and scenarios that younger divers have yet to encounter. For these divers, the only potential limitations on a future of diving are physical or mental age-related problems that could hinder underwater safety. Regular medical check-ups ensure a sufficient level of diving fitness, but a medical professional should immediately evaluate symptoms like chest pains, shortness of breath or blurred vision. Similar advice applies to those seniors wanting to take up diving — as long as the student in question has no existing medical conditions that could pose problems in the water, there is no reason not to take the plunge.
Dive courses are designed with a wide spectrum of prospective students in mind, regardless of age, weight, gender or disability. With age comes a higher risk of heart and lung issues, and, like all divers, older students must answer a medical questionnaire before being deemed fit to enroll in a course. These forms have specific sections for mature divers; the PADI Medical Statement, for example, asks those over 45 years old to answer questions regarding cholesterol levels, familial history of heart attack and lifestyle habits.
Whatever your age, acknowledging any of the pre-existing medical conditions detailed on these forms means that you cannot learn to dive without a physician’s written consent; conversely, upon passing the medical questionnaire, you are considered fit to dive no matter how old you are. Similarly, the swim tests that are a component of any entry-level course are designed to establish satisfactory physical fitness. Completing them indicates that an individual (whether they are 19 or 90) is capable of diving.
Many of the reasons experts once advised against diving at an advanced age have since been disproved. For example, doctors previously thought that the general decline of the lungs over time would make older divers less able to cope with pressure changes and breathing compressed air. Particularly, scientists hypothesized that elderly lungs would retain dangerous levels of carbon dioxide. However, studies conducted by Duke University Medical Center showed that older divers did not retain levels of gas that were significantly higher than those in younger test subjects. Many of the problems that once affected senior divers can now be mitigated, too; while age typically slows metabolism and creates susceptibility to hypothermia as a result, this problem can easily be solved with a thicker exposure-protection suit. Similarly, poor vision can be corrected with contact lenses or prescription masks. In fact, diving is increasingly becoming accepted as a healthy form of exercise for seniors, thanks to its low impact and the relief of painful joints granted by the weightlessness of water.
That being said, it is vitally important that all divers, but particularly older ones, maintain responsibility for their own physical fitness. Being fit at the time of certification is one thing, but for new and experienced divers alike, a lapse in physical ability is a danger not only to their own safety but to their buddy’s as well. General health tends to decrease over time, with the heart, lungs and muscles bearing the brunt of the aging process. Blood vessels become stiffer, causing increased blood pressure and a thickened heart muscle. Lungs lose their elasticity, which helps explain why dive theory teaches us that age can heighten the risk of decompression illness. Additionally, while previous heart problems, paralysis or serious surgery do not necessarily preclude a person from diving, those who have suffered such conditions must seek medical advice before enrolling in a course, and should be aware that some medication is not compatible with diving. A recent study that investigated global diving deaths found that 45 percent of fatal accidents in divers over the age of 40 were caused by cardiac problems; in many cases, the victim had been controlling a preexisting condition with medication. Obviously, any decrease in mental capacity that affects a person’s cognitive abilities also renders diving unsafe.
Ultimately, although age carries with it potential health implications that may affect a person’s ability to dive, no one rule applies to all situations. As long as a person is physically fit enough to pass the standard swim tests and medical questionnaires requested of all students, they are capable of learning to dive. Equally, as long as a person maintains the required level of fitness and goes regularly for health check-ups, there is no reason why they should not continue to dive for as long as they wish to do so.
If further proof is needed, we need look no further than the most famous diver of all time — Jacques Cousteau continued to dive until his death at the ripe old age of 87. Age affects everyone differently, which is why when it comes to diving, age really is just a number.
5 reasons why Nudibranchs aren’t boring
For some reason, Nudibranchs – also known as sea slugs – are often associated with being boring. Maybe that’s due to their land counterparts, the slug, but more than likely it’s because divers just don’t know enough about these incredible creatures.
Credit: Sami Awed Ali (2012)
Here are just five reasons why nudibranchs deserve extra appreciation:
1. There are over 3,000 species
Every new nudibranch you see on a dive will be a completely different experience. That’s because there are over 3,000 species of nudibranchs and there are still more being discovered today. Nudibranchs can be seen in a wide variety of colours, shapes and sizes, and are found in both cold and warm waters across the world.
2. Nudibranchs are toxic
Divers don’t have to worry about nudibranchs being poisonous, but predators do. Since they lack any protective shell, nudibranchs send warning signals that let other animals know they might be toxic to help keep enemies at bay.
3. They change colour based on their diet
Nudibranchs are carnivores and eat other small animals such as hydroids, sponges, anemones and barnacles. But, what makes the nudibranch unusual is that they often adopt the colour of their prey, leaving them looking brilliant, colourful and perfect for photos!
4. Nudibranchs are hermaphrodites
Although they don’t usually self-reproduce, nudibranchs possess both female and reproductive organs. This means that any nudibranch can mate with any other nudibranch of the same species, rather than being limited to male or female partners only – a nifty trait which makes it easier for them to reproduce.
5. They leave a slimy trail
As nudibranchs move across the ocean floor with their foot, they leave a trail of slime behind. This slime trail actually serves a clever purpose – it communicates messages to other nudibranchs, such as where to find a mate or that danger is nearby.
As you can see, nudibranchs are far from boring. In fact, they’re really quite interesting!
Top 5 Reasons to Try A Scuba Group Trip
Posted By Megan via PADI
If you’ve never enjoyed the experience of a group scuba diving trip, now’s the time to sign up for one. Group trips offer many advantages and opportunities that you miss out on when traveling alone. Here are five reasons why you might want to sign up for a group trip:
1. Enjoy activities and locations chosen by experienced travelers
When planning a scuba trip in unfamiliar territory, it’s difficult to know where the best dive spots and operators are located. If you go on a group trip, all of the locations, dive operators and activities are chosen by experienced, knowledgeable travelers so you can enjoy the best experience possible.
2. Save money
Traveling can be expensive, especially when you travel alone. Going on a group trip is cheaper than booking an individual flight, which means you can spend less money on the travel fees and more money on fun souvenirs and experiences.
3. Great photos and videos of the experience
If you go on a scuba trip with a group, there will be other travelers who will shoot photos and videos, which will make it easier to show others some of your memories from the trip.
4. Create long-lasting friendships
Just like the summer camp you went to as a kid, group trips allow you to meet new people and create long-lasting friendships. A group trip is one of the best ways to meet new people and find new dive buddies. We often hear about folks who live in different parts of the world and meet up once or twice a year just to go diving.
5. Network with other guests
You never know how the connections you make can affect your future. Networking with the right people can open up opportunities for you down the road, whether it’s in your personal or work life. By signing up for a group trip, you are not only making new friends, but you are also making new connections.
Scuba Wetsuit Care: Removing Odors & Extending Suit Life
By Christine Beggs
If you want your wetsuit to last as long as possible, a bit of proper wetsuit care is all you need. The difference between a wetsuit with a 1 year life and 6 year life depends, to a certain extent, on how often you are using it. But to a larger extent, how well you take care of your wetsuit is going to either quicken or slow its deterioration. Below are 13 care tips for extending wetsuit life.
1. Neoprene and Hot Water Are Not Friends
Neoprene loses some of the flexibility when soaked in hot water. So hop in a cold shower with your wetsuit on or only soak it in lukewarm water.
2. Sun & UV Rays Deteriorate Neoprene
Sun and UV rays both cause your neoprene wetsuit to age more quickly. So if you need your scuba suit to dry, don’t try to hasten the process by placing it in the sun. In the long run, the neoprene will become hard and lose flexibility.
3. Don’t Put Your Wetsuit in a Hot Trunk
If your car has been sitting in a parking lot on a hot day, then putting your wet suit into the trunk is not a great idea. This will essentially “cook” your gear, increasing smells and breeding bacteria.
4. Turn Your Wetsuit Inside Out to Dry
To dry your wetsuit, its best to first turn it inside out before hanging it up. By turning the suit inside out, flexibility will be maintained on the outer side. This means that even if the wetsuit it not 100% dry to next time you put it on, you’ll for sure be crawling into a drier side.
5. Carefully Store
Carefully store your dry wet suit on a flat surface or hang on a wide coat hanger in your closet.
6. Quickly Clean & Dry Your Suit
After a dive, don’t let your wet wetsuit sit in your dive bag, all stinky, messy and sandy. Clean the suit quickly and dry it completely before storing away. This type of regular wetsuit care will be sure to increase its lifespan.
7. Avoid “Messy Dressing”
If you’re doing a beach or shore dive, keep your wetsuit up and aware from the mud/ sand. Its not so comfortable to pull on a sandy wetsuit! Also, when you take off your wetsuit, stand on pavement, a rock, your changing bag, grass or anything besides the middle of the sandy beach.
8. Wetsuits Don’t Belong in the Washer
Neoprene wetsuits must be handled with care and can’t be put through the washer and dryer. You have to hand wash and air dry.
9. Can I Iron my Wetsuit? …. No!
It’s a no-brainer that you should not iron your wetsuit. Just look at the rubber areas around the zippers and knees. Also, if you were to iron the neoprene, that amount of excessive heat would make the suit very stiff.
10. Bleach is Off-Limits
Strong washing agents, such as bleach, are way too harsh for your neoprene wetsuit (not to mention the discoloration that will occur). There are some mild cleansing agents, such as “Sink the Stink” and “Trident Wetsuit Cleaner" that you can purchase from your local dive shop, but regular dish detergent will work just as well (read on to find out how to get rid of wetsuit smells on your own).
11. Why Does My Wetsuit Stink?
Your wetsuit can stink if it was left, wet, in a bag for a while and wasn’t rinsed. The smell comes from bacteria that begin to feed on the normal sweat and body oils and odors clinging to the wetsuit after we use it. Also, if you urinate in your wetsuit, the pee can leave an odor behind.
12. How to Get Rid of Wetsuit Smells & Odors
As I mentioned, there are special cleaning soaps and solutions for getting rid of wetsuit odors, but I personally, find that there is an easy, more economical way to erase suit smells. Here is my homemade recipe for washing smelly wetsuits:
- 1st: Fill the tub up ¼ of the way with fresh, warm (not hot) water.
- 2nd: Add a couple tablespoons of dish washing detergent, just enough to get a dilute bubbly water bath for soaking.
Note: Some people will use laundry detergent, but I think even that is too harsh for neoprene (and tougher to rinse off). The only laundry detergent to consider using is Woolite.
- 3rd: Wash your wetsuit in the tub of soap and the detergent will break down the body oils and odors. In addition, it will help wash away the bacteria that caused the smell in the first place .
- 4th: Rinse your wetsuit in fresh water in order to get all the detergent off. Then hang your wetsuit up to dry in the fresh air (away from direct sunlight).
- 5th: Every few weeks, repeat this process to keep your wetsuit completely odor-free!
Why Becoming A PADI Rescue Diver Is Seriously Fun
By Jessica Vyvyan-Robinson
Divers often describe PADI’s Rescue Diver course as the most rewarding of all their training experiences. Becoming a Rescue Diver not only teaches you how to prevent dive accidents and emergencies — and how to manage them should they arise — but it also consolidates your skills and experience from earlier courses, making you a more confident and accomplished diver. More than any other course, Rescue Diver training increases awareness of the dive environment and the factors that affect diver safety. Learning how to interpret and react to those factors makes the course both fulfilling and fun. It is designed for anyone interested in expanding on the basic rescue skills that they learned in their entry-level courses, with the goal of becoming equipped to help themselves and others in an emergency situation. It is also a mandatory step in becoming a PADI professional. There are a few prerequisites to enrolling in the course: potential Rescue Divers must be at least 12 years old, and have completed their PADI Adventure Diver certification with Underwater Navigation as a mandatory specialty. In addition, candidates must have undergone EFR Primary and Secondary training within the last 24 months, although this can be done in conjunction with the Rescue course. The Rescue course will teach you how to adapt the skills learned during EFR training to situations pertinent to diving.
Unlike previous courses, the Rescue Diver course involves relatively little time spent underwater. Instead, there are two main components, the first of which is a theory section comprised of five knowledge reviews and a final exam. Divers will explore a range of topics including the psychology of rescue, recognizing diver stress, and preparing an emergency assistance plan for a specific dive site. The second component of the course is devoted to skill mastery. While that may not sound particularly interesting, this section involves a lot of teamwork and role-play, which demands constant awareness and quick thinking. The skill sequences are challenging, adrenalin-inducing and above all, fun. The practical section of the course is divided into three sections: self-rescue skills, ten rescue exercises and two rescue scenarios. The self-rescue skills are basic and should be familiar from earlier courses; they include cramp release, establishing positive buoyancy at the surface and using an alternative air source. As simplistic as these skills may seem, they are effective ways of alleviating problems that without proper attention could become far more severe. Much of the Rescue Diver course is dedicated to preventing accidents from happening in the first place or to mitigating them in their early stages. It is always preferable to avert an emergency rather than to face one.
The ten rescue exercises are the backbone of the course, and teach individuals how to react to a variety of potential accidents or scenarios. They include learning how to appropriately assist tired and panicked divers, how to respond to distressed divers from shore and underwater, the most efficient ways to search for a missing diver, proper exiting techniques, and how to administer oxygen and in-water rescue breaths. Mastery of these skills could one day mean the difference between tragedy and survival; by knowing how to perform them effectively you become equipped to save lives. Your instructor will have assistants simulate these scenarios at any given time throughout the course, often without warning. You will be expected to react to them quickly and efficiently, as if the accident had occurred in real life. The skills that you learn as a result of this training will be put to the test in the rescue scenario section of the course, when you will be required to react to an unresponsive diver at the surface and an unresponsive diver underwater, performing the necessary steps for a rescue from start to finish.
Most divers who complete their Rescue Diver training will never have to provide assistance in the aftermath of a dive accident. Thankfully, serious dive accidents happen with a scarcity that means the most valuable skills divers take away from their training are normally preventative ones, such as recognizing and managing diver stress or eliminating vertigo before it becomes a problem. However, knowing that you are able to cope with an emergency not only makes you a better buddy, but also a generally more confident, capable diver. It is important not to let your newfound skills stagnate; keep them up to date and refreshed with frequent practice. That way, whatever situations arise, you will be sufficiently equipped to deal with them in the safest and most effective way possible.
Nitrox For Beginners
By Jessica Vyvyan-Robinson
Although nitrox has been used for recreational diving for almost 25 years, it is still often misunderstood. As an instructor, I’ve found myself correcting countless students who are under the impression that nitrox enables a person to dive deeper than normal air — just one of the common misconceptions about nitrox diving. Although specific training is required before diving nitrox for the first time, these basic facts will help to make more sense of what it is and what it can do for you.
What Is It?
Quite literally, nitrox refers to a mix of nitrogen and oxygen, regardless of the percentage of each in the mix. The nitrox we use while diving is more properly called enriched-air nitrox, and refers to any blend of nitrogen and oxygen in which the oxygen concentration is greater than that of normal air. This means an oxygen level of 22 percent or higher, although the most common enriched-air nitrox blend is 32 percent. The recreational diving limit is 40 percent oxygen.
What Does It Do?
As every entry-level diver knows, increased pressure at depth causes the nitrogen in the air we breathe to be dissolved into the bloodstream. The time that we can spend underwater is limited by this nitrogen absorption — as we dive deeper and for longer, we absorb more nitrogen at a greater rate. Our no-decompression limit correlates to the amount of nitrogen our bodies can absorb before we must perform compulsory decompression stops or suffer the consequences of decompression sickness.
Enriched-air nitrox slows down the rate at which nitrogen dissolves into our bloodstream, because there is less nitrogen available to be absorbed from the mix that we’re breathing. The higher the percentage of your enriched-air blend, the more nitrogen is replaced with extra oxygen.
There are several reasons divers use enriched-air nitrox. One of its biggest benefits is an increased no-decompression limit, which means longer bottom time. The lower percentage of nitrogen in the nitrox you’re breathing means your bloodstream is also absorbing nitrogen more slowly. For example, on normal air a diver has a no-decompression limit of 50 minutes at 60 feet; using a 36 percent enriched-air mix at the same depth will extend this limit to 130 minutes. In terms of increasing bottom time, enriched air is most useful for depths between 50 and 100 feet; any shallower and no-decompression limits are already so long that divers usually have no need to extend them.
Surface intervals are usually shorter on nitrox as well. Since there is less nitrogen to off-gas, a diver on enriched air will be able to re-enter the water sooner than a diver using normal air after completing the same profile. This also means that divers using enriched air typically have longer maximum bottom times on repetitive dives, and less off-gassing means that enriched air divers are often less tired at the end of the day than divers using normal air. Enriched air can be a valuable safety buffer for divers who choose to use it while following normal air tables, computers, profiles and procedures. Doing so creates a considerable conservative margin that further reduces the risk of decompression sickness, and may be advisable for anyone who may be susceptible to it, such as those who are tired, overweight, older, have suffered decompression sickness before, or are diving with injuries.
Myths, Considerations and Dangers
Although the benefits of diving with enriched air are significant, doing so also involves certain risks. One of the most common misconceptions about enriched air nitrox is that users can dive deeper than with normal air; in fact the opposite is true. Under pressure, oxygen becomes toxic. The percentage of oxygen in normal air (21 percent) only becomes toxic at depths greater than the recreational limit, but the increased percentages of oxygen in enriched air mean that toxicity can become a problem at much shallower depths. Toxicity causes convulsions that put a diver at risk of losing his regulator and subsequently drowning. However, enriched-air courses teach divers how to work out their maximum operating depth using the percentage and partial pressure of the oxygen in their mix. As long as the maximum operating depth is adhered to, oxygen toxicity should not be a problem.
Oxygen also requires caution in the sense that it is an exceptionally flammable gas. Although standard scuba equipment is safe to use with air blends containing up to 40 percent oxygen, the process by which an enriched-air cylinder is filled often involves much higher concentrations. Partial-pressure blending exposes the cylinder to pure oxygen that is later diluted with normal air, and cylinders that are not treated for exposure to such high levels of oxygen can explode. Therefore, any part of the cylinder that comes in to contact with pure oxygen needs to be “oxygen clean,” and cylinders used for enriched air and normal air are not interchangeable. Enriched-air cylinders require decals or stickers to differentiate them from normal ones; they should be serviced annually.
There are a few other equipment considerations to bear in mind when considering enriched-air diving. Before each dive, you are personally responsible for checking the percentage of oxygen in your cylinder. If it is even slightly off, your maximum-operating depth calculations will be too. To check, you will need an analyzer, and although you can usually borrow one from your dive center, it’s a good idea to have your own if you intend to dive nitrox regularly. If you dive with a computer, you need to make sure that yours has enriched-air settings and correlates to the details of your mix before beginning each dive. Remember that enriched air does not improve air consumption, and neither does it give immunity to decompression sickness. Continue to check your gauges, depth and time limits as often as you would when diving on normal air.
With these precautions and the necessary training, enriched-air diving is a fantastic way to get the most out of your diving experience. You’ll spend more time in the water, and less time waiting to get back in.
Beginner Tips: Buoyancy Control
By Shelley Collett
Have you ever seen those divers out there just effortlessly floating inches above the bottom, moving as if they were one with the water, expending little, if any energy to swim around? Ever wish you could do that too? Well you can. All it takes is some knowledge and practice. And in my not so humble opinion, aside from an understanding of Boyle’s Law and how it relates to scuba diving, buoyancy control is the number one thing to have down pat. I can help a wee bit with the knowledge, but the practice is all on you!
First off, why should you have good buoyancy control? Well that’s a great question! It helps to understand why you should do something in the first place. What advantages will good buoyancy control give you...
- Less air consumption (you expend less energy, so you use less air)
- Less effort - so you’re not as tired (and you use less air)
- Lower chance of harming marine life (sorry about that crater hole in the reef!)
- Lower chance of harming yourself ON marine life (like banging your face on fire coral)
- Lower chance of harming yourself on ascent (oops, blew right through that safety stop!)
- You don’t have to lug around as much weight (or pay as much in luggage fees)
- You feel more at ease and comfortable in the water (as opposed to feeling like a large bull with an air supply)
- You feel more in control
- Because of the last two, you gain confidence
- You look cool (this is, of course, the most important one)
Power inflator is NOT an elevator button
If you inflate to ascend, you run a big risk of an out of control ascent. Remember Boyle’s Law? The air you put in at depth is going to expand as you go up, and the more you go up, the more buoyant you’re going to become. At a certain point, you’re not going to be able to control your ascent any longer and you will have put yourself at risk of DCS as you rocket to the surface like a cork. I’ve been there and done that, it’s not fun!
This may seem contrary to common sense, but you should only inflate to stop a decent and then you deflate while you’re ascending. In other words, while underwater, you’re actually going to inflate on your way down and deflate on your way up. In fact, try to use your power inflator as little as possible in general, and when you do use it, make very small adjustments.
Okay, now that’s out of the way.
The Right Gear
First off, make sure your BCD fits properly. A BCD that’s too big or too small is going to make your buoyancy control that much more difficult. It should hug your body, not pinch it and not move around much independently. You want to make sure you have the right amount of lift for the diving conditions you’re going to be in, too. In colder water, you’ll need more weight and your BCD needs to be able to handle that.
Weights and Trim
Once you’re clear on how to use your power inflator, or rather now NOT to use it, weights and trim are your next step in becoming a buoyancy control expert. Lugging around too much weight underwater can increase your drag, force you to use much more air in your BCD to compensate, and will wear you out in the process. Try this test. Go to a pool or some other easily accessible body of water. Do the buoyancy check (no air in BCD, holding breath, float at eye level) starting with zero extra weight. Then keep adding a couple pounds and redoing the check until you float at eye level with an empty BCD and a normal breath held. Now, descend (remember to exhale fully!), and swim around. Come back to the surface and grab 5 - 10 lbs of weight (the average amount of extra weight divers carry that they don’t need to) and descend again and swim around. You will see how much more effort it takes to swim around with that extra weight. Just try it. It may surprise you. Remember that your descent should be slow, and also remember to put on a couple extra pounds in anticipation of a lighter tank at the end of the dive.
As much as you don’t want to be too heavy, you don’t want to be too light either. If you have to struggle to get down and you’re sure you’ve fully exhaled and fully emptied your BCD, then you’re underweighted. Don’t force yourself down because when you come back up on ascent with a lighter tank, you could end up with an out of control ascent. Another tip about difficult descents: Sometimes it’s just that the BCD isn’t completely empty. Be sure to raise the inflator hose high, lean to the right a little, and lean back just a tad. That should get it completely empty.
Everyone is different when it comes to trim. Do what makes you feel the most comfortable, but figuring that out may take some trial and error. Some folks are perfectly fine with all of their weight in their BCD front weight pockets. Personally, I like my weight distributed all over my body. I wear ankle weights, tank weights, and put weight in my BCD front and back pockets. That’s just me, though. Experiment with trim weights and see if it makes you feel more streamlined.
Look Ma, No Hands
While diving, your hands should be used to check gauges, computers, adjust your BCD, point at pretty things, and poke your buddy. What they should not be used for is swimming. Yes, sometimes you find yourself listing to one side or another. That’s where the trim weighting (see above) comes into play. Some of us have more muscle mass on one side or another and will just naturally tilt that way. Fix those problems with trim weights, not your hands.
Swimming with your hands in general is a big no-no in scuba diving. For one thing, it’s dangerous to all of the divers around you. Your flailing limbs are just unexpected obstacles they have to try to avoid so they don’t get smacked in the head, or their mask knocked off, or their regulator knocked out of their mouth. Secondly, you’re scaring all the fish away! Third, you’re risking beating your limbs on someone or something and injuring yourself. Fourth (this list just keeps getting longer the more I think about it) you’re wasting energy and if you’re wasting energy, then you’re wasting air. That’s a scuba diving party foul. Fifth, it doesn’t help anything. Your legs are your power, your arms do very little underwater (see the whole wasted energy thing). And last, you’re making it harder to feel the buoyancy adjustments you need to make. By flailing around and using your hands to try to adjust your buoyancy, you’re not learning how to do it with your lungs or BCD. You need to feel those sensations, understand them, and then compensate using your lungs, inflator, or your fins.
There are times that a rapid swimming adjustment must be made and hands must be used, but those are few and far between. If you can’t seem to stop using them, then force yourself to clasp your hands together, or grab onto your BCD somewhere comfortable. Get your hands doing something else to help keep you from immediately flailing them out.
Horizontal. That’s how you should be diving. Not only diving, but it’s how you should descend too. As you descend, you start to pick up speed as your wetsuit compresses and the atmospheres add up above you. If you make yourself horizontal as you’re descending you can more easily see the bottom you are plummeting towards, and as your body creates more drag it will naturally slow your descent. Small bursts of air will help control your body too, and help to prevent you from cratering into the sediment or reef below. If you’re not sure what cratering is, go to the bottom of a lake, quarry, etc, where a lot of new divers are being trained and just watch. You’ll see them drop like rocks to the bottom then hit the bottom with a great big POOF! as a crater is formed in the sediment around where they landed. That’s cratering. Stop doing that.
Horizontal is best while swimming around too. Not slightly angled up... not slightly angled down. Either of those positions means you’re not weighted properly. You should be horizontal for ease of movement, range of vision, and best buoyancy control. If you’re angled slightly up, each fin kick is going to move you up, vice versa for being angled down. Just like driving, people tend to go the direction they are looking. Be aware of this and try to maintain a horizontal position, and if you do look up to take in some scenery, stop kicking.
Remember a couple paragraphs up I said that you should use your power inflator as little as possible? You may have wondered how, or why. The answer to both is: use your lungs. Once you’ve used your inflator to get neutrally buoyant on your initial descent, you really should rely primarily on your lungs from there on out. Big deep breaths will cause you to rise a little in the water column, big deep exhales will make you drop a bit. Use these to your advantage while diving and you’ll find that you’ll need to kick less and spend less time fighting your buoyancy because you accidentally added too much air to your BCD. The only way to truly master this is to practice, practice, practice. You know that brief hovering skill you did for your open water cert? You should be practicing that all the time until it becomes natural for you. It’s real easy to just grab that inflator and pop some air in, but fight that urge. Try using your lungs instead. Imagine this scenario:
You’re diving along a beautiful reef when you come to an area you need to go up and over. You take a deeper than normal breath and let your natural buoyancy lift you gently upward as you continue with your normal kicking. Once you’re up a little bit, you resume breathing normally. Then, as you need to come down the other side, you exhale deeper than usual, allowing yourself to easily sink deeper in the water before resuming your normal breathing cadence.
Doesn’t that sound much better than kicking your way up and kicking your way back down? Or putting air in your BCD, only to realize that once you do go up a little bit that you’re too buoyant and must now let air back out as you fight to get back down to your desired depth?
One of the biggest problems with newer divers is that they’re very tense, with good reason. You know how you did a weight check in a pool somewhere and you know what weight you should be using, but you just can’t seem to go down right now? Chances are you’re all tensed up and are holding extra air in your lungs. You don’t even realize you’re doing it, it’s just a matter of not being relaxed and the air just isn’t coming out. I know it’s easier said than done sometimes, but relax. Take some nice deep cleansing breaths, and let them fully out. I tell people to fully exhale and they blow out a little puff. Most of us don’t realize just how much air our lungs can and do hold. Practice relaxing your muscles to allow yourself to really fully exhale. Do it on land when you are very relaxed so you can feel what it's like to fully exhale, then remember that when you’re trying to descend.
Aside from descending issue, being tensed up in general will affect your buoyancy control. Have you ever tried to float on your back on the surface of the water while tensed up? You can’t do it. You have to relax to float. Well, at least I do! Similarly, you need to relax to have good buoyancy control underwater too. This takes some time, comfort, and confidence to get there though. Speaking of which...
Practice Makes Perfect
You have to practice these things. The best divers among us weren’t born knowing how to float effortlessly while sitting in a buddha fin-holding position. It takes practice to get there. We can tell you what you need to do, we can give you pointers, we can show you, and we can tell you what works and what won’t, but to master this you need to FEEL it. And that, my friends, is a very personal thing that you have to attain on your own. Eventually, it will click. That lightbulb will go on and you’ll wonder why it seemed so hard to begin with. I promise you. Practice WILL make perfect. Every chance you get, just do it. You’ll thank me later when you’re carrying less weight, using less air, feeling less tired, and aren’t being maimed from crashing into reefs.
9 Pieces of Gear Every Diver Should Know
By Thomas Gronfeldt
Properly using these 10 items will make your dives safer and more enjoyable
1. DSMB A delayed surface marker buoy (DSMB), or safety sausage, is a long, tube-shaped balloon, usually orange, that you inflate underwater with your regulator or octopus, sending it to the surface to signal the dive boat or someone on shore of your presence. It is often used in situations of moderate to high current to let the Zodiac know where you are after a dive ends. But simple as it sounds, it can be tricky to use these properly, and divers tend to get tangled up in the line or to ascend uncontrolled along with the DSMB, so practice is important.
A jonline is a simple hook or carabiner attached to about 6 feet of webbing. If you’re stuck on a shot line during a safety stop with lots of other divers, it can be difficult for everyone to stay within the safety-stop zone. By attaching the jonline to the shot line, you can move away from the shot line without being carried off by a current, leaving more room for everyone else.
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of snorkels, but if you do bring one, make sure you know how to use it. Take the time to learn how to breathe effectively in it, how to clear it, and how to place it properly so it doesn’t get in your way. I’ve seen a number of people nearly drown from inefficient snorkel clearing.
4. Trauma shears
Knives are popular, but often trauma shears can be even more effective. They can be operated with one hand, even while cutting a line; there’s less risk of inflicting damage on yourself or others; and there is less potential for legal issues when traveling.
5. Line reel
Line reels are one of the multi-tools of scuba diving. Often used for an easy return to a specific point, such as an ascent point or an exit point in a wreck or cave, or to tether onto a surface buoy, they are inexpensive and reliable. They do tend to get into a tangled mess if you’re not vigilant, so learning proper line-handling skills is important.
6. Signaling mirror
A diver on the surface doesn’t have a very large profile, making him hard to spot even for people who are actively looking. And the ambient sounds at sea make it nearly impossible to shout loud enough to get someone’s attention. So if you need to communicate with someone, either on land or on a boat, a simple signaling mirror can do the trick, even over fairly long distances. At night, a powerful dive torch can do the same.
7. Dive computer
Most people have computers, but few take the time to get to know their functions. Nothing is more disconcerting than seeing a warning go off during a dive and having no idea what it means. Read the instruction manual thoroughly and get to know your new dive computer’s functions.
8. Reef hook
A controversial piece of equipment, the reef hook is used to hold on to a reef if you need to come to a stop in a strong current, either to wait for a potential marine life sighting, to prevent yourself from being swept away, or as part of a safety stop. If used incorrectly, they can damage sensitive coral reefs, but when used correctly they can be a lot less damaging than holding on to the reef with your hand. Place them only on the rocky part of a reef, and check for plant or animal life first.
9. Common sense
While not, strictly speaking, a piece of gear, common sense is still the single most important thing to use before, during and after a dive. Remember your training, respect your limitations and don’t do anything stupid. This, more than anything, will keep you safe.