Today is the latest installment in a short series of posts on DAN’s (Divers Alert Network) latest annual diving report. (If you are curious what it’s all about, take a peek at our last blog post, DAN Publishes Annual Report.) As we said before, one of the primary themes in the list of “Ten Most Wanted Improvements in Scuba” relates to dive planning. Today we’re going to take a closer look at some of these proposed improvements and hopefully give you some ideas on how to apply them to your own diving practice.
#1: Diving More Often (or more pre-trip refresher training)
Like anything else, the more you dive the more consistent and confident you are going to be underwater. Curious on how you can keep your dive muscles flexed? Here’s some ideas:
- Join the Ohana Dive Club at KHD!
Dive clubs are an excellent way to keep you in the information loop, get generous discounts, and create a network of dive buddies. Here at KHD, just a few of the benefits our Ohana members enjoy include 50% discounts on charters, highly discounted air fills, and 15% off merchandise. For $50 a year, it’s pretty much a no-brainer.
- Buy some passes
Not ready to join a club? No problem. We still have a way to get you in the water at a highly discounted price through our ongoing 10-pack dive special. This package gets you over $500 off 10 regularly priced charters and works like any other reservation in that the dives are fully confirmable. It is for kama’aina only.
- Ask about multi-dive discounts.
Always ask a shop if they offer multi-dive discounts. At KHD, these discounts are available to visitors and locals alike, so be sure to ask when booking!
- Take a refresher
Before you get wet, it’s a good idea to consider how long it’s been since your last dive. At KHD, we offer 2 options: one-on-one refreshers and PADI ReActivate. Our refreshers are a great deal for anyone who has been out of the water between 2 and 5 years. For $225 you get a private guide, 2 dives off our boat, and a full set of year, which is a great deal. If it’s been longer than 5 years, PADI ReActivate is a great program that will get you up to speed on your dive skills and do it fast. This consists of a short academic portion and morning dive and will easily fit into even the shortest of visitor itineraries. You will walk away with a new dive card and renewed confidence.
#2: Increased Use of Checklists
For years, I thought checklists were for “organized” people. They’re not. They’re for you. Yes, YOU. Here’s a few of the important checklists that are important to keeping you safe and efficient both top and bottom side.
- The before-you-get-out-the-door list
Because getting out of the door is often a flurry of chaos, basic things tend to get left behind when you are thinking about getting your gear together. In the best-case scenario, you forget something not-so-important, like a swimsuit (can you say wetsuit chafing, anyone?). Worst-case scenario is everyday items that are easily taken for granted are forgotten and then needed. Don’t forget: your phone is essential for contacting EMS; fresh water for dehydration or to clean off wounds; towels for hypothermic divers or to provide pressure to an injury, etc.
- The Basic Gear list
Getting basic gear together sounds like it should be straightforward, but it’s easy to forget small stuff like de-fog and your mask. One way to make sure everything goes with you is to pre-pack by attaching small stuff to big stuff at the end of every dive. For example, I keep a dedicated carabiner on my BC where I automatically clip my mask at the end of every dive. I do it every.single.time. Now that I’ve developed that habit, instead of looking for my BC and mask when I’m packing, I only need to grab the BC because they are always together. In addition to making your packing much easier, grouping gear will help develop your ability to just “feel” when something is missing.
- The pre-dive list
One of the first things I see divers abandon after their training is use of a pre-dive safety check, which is a shame because when used correctly it can catch problems ranging from simply annoying to potentially life threatening. Every training agency is different, but when it comes to getting in the water you need to be generally checking the following:
-BCD: Unless you want to wait until you’ve done a giant stride off a boat to find out your BCD isn’t holding air, it’s a good idea to do that topside. Just give it a pump or two to confirm it’s holding air and you should be good to go.
-Weights: The inconspicuous nature of integrated weight systems has made them easier to wear but also easier to forget. In addition to making sure weights are loaded, it is doubly important to familiarize yourself with the quick-release function of the pockets in case you need to ditch them in an emergency. Never, ever, EVER tie or attach your weights in any way that prevents instant release.
-Releases: Check all clips, cummerbunds, and other sites of attachment to make sure they are secure. Just as important to making sure your BCD is on is making sure you can get it off. Ask yourself this: Can you list off your releases without looking at the BCD? It’s highly recommended that you develop muscle memory needed to quickly and efficiently don and remove your gear.
-Air: I hate to break it to you, but if your idea of checking your air is popping your second stage in your mouth, inhaling, and then jumping in the water, you are doing it wrong. The reality is the only thing this method does is confirm there is some amount of gas in the hose between your first and second stage. While I have no idea how to quantify this amount of air, I do know someone who found out it was exactly enough to execute a backwards roll, descend to 80 feet, and take 2 breaths before realizing he hadn’t turned on his tank. (I will forever hold that incident over his head.)
You may be wondering how something like that happens. Anytime you turn your tank on and then off without purging it, you will show positive pressure on your gauge and have at least a handful of breaths before the air in the hose between your first and second stage runs out. This means its entirely possible for it to appear as though your tank is on and full when it is actually off. In order to confirm your tank is completely open, first check to make sure it reads at or about a full tank (typically 3000 psi). Then take a breath while you read the gauge. If the needle on the gauge moves each time you breathe, that’s an indication your tank is closed or only partially open. If the needle does not move and you can take 3-5 breaths without any increasing resistance, you should be clear to dive. It’s also a good idea to make sure your secondary air source is secured before the dive and that you have at the very least visually identified our dive buddy’s alternate as well.
- Underwater lists
People use lists underwater? You bet! For example, you should have learned a series of steps for proper ascents and descents, regardless of training agency. These types of procedures in diving are important, but easy to forget, so it’s always a good idea to have them at hand, especially if you are new or don’t get in the water as often as you’d like.
- Materials for making your perfect list
The materials that are going to work best depend on how and where you are going to use your list. One of the most versatile options are Trident dive slates. They come in both full and wrist sizes and have plenty of room for writing reminders, checklists, and anything else you can think of and are great both top and bottom side.
Another great, albeit DIY, option is laminating paper. Just simply write or type out your gear list, throw it in between the laminating strips, and voila! Keep the card wherever you store your gear with a whiteboard pen to easily check off or add other items you need for your next excursion. The only downside is that while these lists are water resistant, they are not appropriate for full submersion.
Lastly, small lists can be written out and placed inside luggage tags and are a great option for managing your gear while you are traveling.
#3: More Attention to Gas Planning
Managing your air* is more than just checking your gauges early and often, though that’s definitely a good start. Good gas management means:
- Conduct a top-side run-down
Always have a discussion about how the gas supply is going to factor into the dive plan before you start your dive. Is this a shallow dive? Your remaining air will probably have a bigger impact on your turn around time than the NDL. Is it deeper? You may tack between your computer and air gauge as you proceed through the dive. Anticipate these things and you will have a much easier time.
- Review hand signals
Divers never fail to impress me with the constantly evolving set of sign language they use to communicate air supply. Whatever signs you feel like using, make sure you review them with your buddy before you get in the water. One of the oft-forgotten signs is out-of-air. Remember that if this happens, you don’t exactly have the ability to turn around and ask your buddy, so make sure you review this before you dive.
- Stay with your buddy
One of the most interesting things about the out-of-air case studies detailed in the 2016 DAN report is that it’s not necessarily running out of air that’s the problem, its running out of air and being far away from a buddy that’s the problem. Usually dive solo? Come into KHD and check out our Spare Air systems.
- Know your gear
In the unlikely event there’s an out-of-air emergency, it’s essential you and your buddy are able to locate the alternate air source quickly. A key to this is the development of muscle memory. If you think you need to dive everyday or purchase your own gear to do this, you’re wrong. Visualization techniques can be just as helpful. Just close your eyes and run through a list of your gear, like your alternate, and point to where it would be on your body. Do this often enough and you will develop your reflexes.
In addition to knowing your gear, make sure your gauges are readable. Never be embarrassed to let your dive guide and/or buddy know if you have trouble making them out.
#4: Better Ascent Rate Control
If you’re wondering how ascent rate relates to dive planning, you’re probably not alone. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve signaled the end of a dive, only to see my divers treat what should be a slow, leisurely trip up the ascent line more like a frantic rope climb in Navy Seal training. Keep reading to see what you can do to perfect your ascents.
- Get back to basics
So why do divers care about ascent rate at all? While many of us are haunted by painful memories of arduously studying dive tables during our training (memories of “the wheel” still make me shudder), much of what we are taught about nitrogen load is easily forgotten. Part of this is because dive computers are largely doing the work that used to be the responsibility of our brains. While this makes our dives easier and longer today, it also means divers often over-rely on computers. It’s important, especially if you aren’t diving often, to review these concepts. These articles here and here are great places to review some of the fundamentals of nitrogen absorption in regular no-deco dives.
- Dive by the numbers
The ideal rate for ascending is between 30 and 60 feet per minute, the slower the better. You also should be conducting a safety stop between 15 and 20 feet. This article outlines the history of the safety stop and is an interesting read even for seasoned divers.
- Treat the ascent as another stage of the dive
People often see the thumbs-up sign and think the dive is over or feel pressured to ascend quickly because they are low on air, cold, or are late for a rendezvous time. In reality, you still have quite some time from when you leave the bottom before you are on the surface, depending on the depth from which you are ascending. This needs to be factored into the dive plan before you get in the water. Even with computers, I still encourage my divers to mentally calculate how long their ascent should last before they go up. For example, if a diver is ascending from 60fsw, using a conservative estimate of the ascent rate I listed above plus a three minute safety stop should mean the ascent is at least 5 minutes (to calculate, divide the depth at beginning of ascent by 30 and add 3).
- Use an ascent line
If I had one wish for divers…it’s probably not the consistent use of the ascent line, but it’s up there. The benefits of holding on to the line as you go up are numerous: pacing the ascent, arresting the ascent, maintaining your depth and proximity to boat in current and/or bad visibility, etc.
- Enjoy the view
I’ve seen more dolphins during safety stops than any other phase of my dives, and I always recommend using your time on the way up to relax and look around. Also remember that the 3 minutes recommended for the safety stop are a minimum. If you’ve got air, it’s perfectly fine to hang out longer.
The saying “plan your dive, dive your plan,” is as apropos as ever, and is probably my favorite aphorism in SCUBA. Proficiency in planning is developed through a combination of theoretical knowledge, skills, and gear, and I hope that you will walk away with some ideas on how to apply them to your own practice today. Any comments or suggestions of your own? Please share!
*for the sake of simplicity I’m using the terms “air” and “gas” interchangeably, as this article is geared toward the non-technical diver