What is technical diving?
Most people that come to Koh Tao do so in order to learn how to dive. At the time of arrival they understandably know very little about what diving entails. The first diving qualification they can achieve is to become an open water diver consisting of 4 dives that will allow them to dive to a depth no greater than 18 metres.
Asking someone who's learning to dive what they know about technical diving is like asking a tramp which type of caviar is currently in vogue amongst the chattering classes.. but even a qualified fun diver may have a bit of a tumbleweed moment if you asked them. So what is technical diving then?
Simply put, technical diving is a type of scuba diving that exceeds the conventional limits of recreational diving, especially regarding depth and time at depth. Standard recreational scuba diving allows a person to dive with a single tank to a depth no greater than 40 metres, and that person can only spend a limited amount of time at any given depth beyond 12 metres, as dictated by their No Decompression Limit (NDL). Technical diving allows a diver to go deeper than 40 metres, and spend more time at the deeper depth by allowing them to go into decompression (beyond the NDL limits imposed on recreational divers). But this involves wearing specialised equipment, requires additional training, and incurs higher risks to the diver than recreational diving. To enable this kind of diving, different gases are also used, ata different points of the dive.
So why bother going beyond 40 metres, or going beyond the limits of your NDL? Many of the best dive sites around the world are pretty shallow, and if you want to see marine life then recreational diving will usually suffice. Why people tech dive can be summed up in 5 words; shipwrecks, caves, exploration, research, and salvage. Marine biologists often want to examine what lives beyond the photic zone and take samples of the marine life residing at such depths, or spend longer underwater at relatively shallow dive sites (the benefits of nitrox really come into play when you have two tanks worth of gas!). This all helps to increase our understanding of marine ecosystems. Ice diving is also often undertaken by marine biologists in Antarctica. This can be seen in the Werner Herzog documentary "Encounters at the end of the world". It's a bit of a no-brainer as to why people would want to dive shipwrecks or explore cave systems; they can be beautiful and mysterious places, and you may be uncovering a bit of history too- with caves, millions of years of history! Cave diving is one of the most dangerous yet exhilerating sports there is. By exploring virgin cave systems, divers can help geologists gain a better understanding of how they form and how they affect groundwater storage and movement. It also fulfills the inner explorer in all of us. For salvage diving, if a ship sinks and there is a chance it can be raised back to the surface, or the contents recovered, then the specialist salvage companies are called in. They may use a combination of commercial diving and technical diving to help them get the result they need. This was demonstrated in spectacular fashion with the recent raising of the Costa Concordia in the meditterranean.
Technical diving allows us to do all these things because the equipment and training enables a diver to go deeper, and stay longer at any given depth. It can be very challenging, but it can also be extremely rewarding. The best courses I ever did were tech courses, and the best dives I've ever done are tech dives- you get to see less common marine life too. Technical diving has historically always been marketed as being really macho, or really geeky. The reality is none of these. It simply makes you a more rounded diver, and gives you the option to really get the most out of your diving, whether that involves marine life or shipwrecks.
If you're interested to know more about technical diving, including where to start and the progression you can make, have a look on the Big Blue Tech website, like our page on facebook here, and get in touch with Big Blue Tech managers Rick and Donny. Their email address is at the top of the homepage. If you're already on Koh Tao, just pop in for a chat.