Thursday, March 12, 2015

An "Advanced Open Water Diver" is More Than Just a Certification Card

When scuba diving is just one of many activities that one can occupy with their time, commitment to the sport and training can take on many forms. Some students will take their beginning
certification and just dive for a while. Learning to become proficient takes time and being able to master those skills may take many years. Realistically, a new student is given very little to
learn in order to receive a scuba diver certification. Diving often and regulary, getting feedback from peers, and taking specialty classes will add to the diver's knowledge and skill base. Those
new skills will open their eyes to other diving opportunities (deep, night, search & recovery, wrecks, nitrox, drysuit, etc.).

As to the number of dives required to become an advanced diver, this is somewhat of a misconception. Some agencies will award their advanced certification with as little as five additional dives (nine in total) while others make their divers wait until twenty-five logged dives. More dives has a practical benenfit. The more you dive, the easier it gets.

As like in other sports, as your skills improve a divers will need gear tailored to specific diving environments. Attitude, ability, and confidence is important, too. While it's impossible to
quantify attitude and confidence, that is where an experienced instructor can evaluate how the diver is doing, how far they've come, and what they still have to work on. Continuing to need work
also doesn't mean that a certification can't be awarded, because like one's initial scuba diving certification, skills will improve over time and with ongoing practice.

I've chosen to make six specialties the foundation of becoming an Advanced Open Water Diver. The specialties I start my students out with and require as a prerequisite: Night Diving, Deep
Diving, EAN Nitrox, Drysuit Diving, Navigation, and Search & Recovery. These specialties will prepare the diver for incredible and diverse diving opportunities. While each specialty requires a
minimum of a couple dives, often, specialty dives will be combined and skills will start to overlap to help the diver to learn to task many activities at once and for many of those skills to become second nature. Twelve dives is the foundation required to complete the course requirements but should not be a guarantee of an advanced diver certification.

What kind of equipment is required for these specialties? While I don't sell equipment, and I believe that owning one's own equipment fosters continued diving and confidence in that equipment.
Just because a diver can't afford to purchase all the equipment at once, is not a valid reason to not start an advanced diving program. Very often rental equipment is available yet when not,
inexpensive yet quality alternatives are easy to find. When I dive, I carry all of the equipment necessary if not have it at my disposal to use on subsequent dives.

My primary equipment, includes my regulator system, plate and harness, wing, drysuit, dive computer, compass, dive light, reel with line, signal marker buoy, whistle, and scissors. I have a dive slate and pencil but don't always bring it with me. I also can carry an extra mask and a redundent breathing system when diving alone or in advanced diving conditions. My fins attach with spring straps. Not only does it make donning them easier, but reduces the chance of breaking a strap. If I dive with a redundant breathing system, the regulator hangs round my neck on surgical tubing that is fashioned around the mouthpiece of the regulator. Easy enough to cut off if necessary and flexible enough not to constrict my breathing. If in the event of an emergecy, the attachment points can be pulled off (not attached so tight that I could get caught by something else).

My regulator system includes my first stage, a primary second stage and an alternate second stage. This is standard to the industry although configuaration may change and routing and positioning
is flexible and can vary. I use to dive with an integrated alternate second stage, but I don't anymore to be consistent with how new students learn and typical rental equipment. My alternate
second stage is on a longer hose and is attached to me with a quick release that will stay fastened and conveniently available, but can be deployed immediately and conveniently. I use an analog
pressure guage which is attached in a location that is visible without having to seek it out, move it, or disconnect it. Attachment options vary with all equipment but everything is attached in a
manner that it is out of the way and free from possible entanglement but can be disconnected easily in the event of an emergency.

I wear a dive computer on bungee cord and it is on my arm and sits a little above my left wrist. The bungees make it easy to put on even with thick gloves and I don't have to worry about a buckle
coming undone and losing it. My compass is also on bungee cord and I wear it on top of my right hand. I've found that this position keeps it always available and when I hold my hand out in front
of me, I have the proper perspective to see it and the numbers indicating the direction I'm going but also keeps my field of view facing forward and in the direction I'm going. Having to look down
at a compass is like texting and driving -- don't take your eyes off the road! I always take a dive light with me. It doesn't matter if I'm diving in the daytime, a dive light helps one look into those cracks and crevices where all the critters are and it is a great tool to communicate with. It too is attached in a manner that can be removed and used but if necessary can be let go without worry of loss. A bungee cord is used to keep it stowed and out of the way when not in use.

A reel with enough line for at least twice the depth of any planned dive and a signal marker buoy hang from my right hip. Each is attached separately so each can be used independently. While
leaning forward or when in diver position, the signal marker buoy and reel don't hang below my stomach to prevent touching the sea floor or entanglement. A whistle is attached on my right shoulder
but can be removed if necessary. I always leave it attached to avoid dropping it. It can even work underwater. It is close enough to my mouth that if I do not remove it, I can still use it.

Scissors are brought on every dive as well. It lays flat on the top of the corregated airway of the low pressure inflator system attached with a couple bungee cords. It is easy to deploy and use
if necessary. The dive slate would go high on my left arm (if brought, as I'm right handed) and is usually turned down to be out of the way. The dive computer could be set opposite of the slate if
both are being used and both can be rotated at the same time.

I use a stainless steel plate as this reduces the amount of extra weight I have to carry and offers lots of attachment points. Being metal, I also don't have to worry about wear. During recreational dives, I use a harness system that is fashioned from two inch wide nylon webbing and allows various positioning of d-rings and buckles. I have metal buckles that can release the shoulders if needed. I have two large loops for my arms and one that comes around for my waist. Around the two pieces that come around my waist are two integrated weight pockets with a quick release in order to ditch the weight.

Everyone always tells me how much equipment I have, but I look at them and tell them how much equipment they are missing. An easy entry to this gear would include and in the order of what I
believe should be bought (even if everything else is preliminarily rented:

10ft bungee cord ($3)
2 snorkel keepers ($6)
1 scissors ($5)
2 brass ($5)
1 storm whistle ($10)

NIGHT (most dives shops don't rent lights)
3 dive lights ($100)

SEARCH & RECOVERY and DEEP
1 wrist slate ($10)
1 signal marker buoy ($20)
1 finger spool with 150ft line ($25)

NAVIGATION (some rental systems have compasses)
1 compass ($50)

(prices can go up from here)


Divers take for granted that a dive light is necessary during a night dive, but most don't think about lights during the day. Light technology has come quite far in the last few years and with advancements in this technology, the prices have dropped considerably. I've bought lights that cost over $700, but now lights with that kind of power can start under $100. Light kits with a primary light, backup, and a tank light can start around $100, too.

A signal marker buoy and line is not only indispensable for drift dives, but doing mid-water ascents. Doing a mid-water ascents takes a lot of practice, and until that point in time, deploying an SMB at depth can make it a little easier and safer. Spools are made from PVC and are virtually indestructible. Reel quality varies, but if you are going to invest in one, don't buy a cheap one. Not only can cheap ones break a lot easier, they also get fouled more often. Make sure you reel has at least 150ft of line and that the line is braided, not twisted.

Invest in a pair of EMT sheers or scissors. They are inexpensive and will cut through anything. Most divers spend too much on knives and most of the time cut themselves rather than use them as an effective tool.

Bungee cord can be your friend if used properly. It takes a little of the tension off the items it's holding on to, but gives a little as to prevent breaking. Buy a long length and keep it in your save-a-dive kit for all occasions.

Bolts snaps made of brass can be purchased at hardware stores. Stainless steel bolt snaps are marine grade and quality ones are easily found at marine specialty stores.

Compass quality can vary incredibly. I am partial to the Suunto SK-7, but will have to look at the SK-8 as it is brand new for this year. A good compass should be able to glow in the dark, have a viewing window, two lubber lines, a rotating bezel, and fine azimuth delineation.

Snorkel keepers make great ways to attach equipment to a d-ring and are easy to pull the equipment out and away or just break clean off in the event of an emergency. An inexpensive addition to any save-a-dive kit, as well.