In the Diving world and particularly the Technical Diving world there are many emergency skills practiced and mastered during training, only to be almost never used again. Ask yourself this; ‘If my manifold on my twinset has a catastrophic malfunction and starts rapidly losing gas while my buddy is far ahead of me and cannot see my signal, would I firstly, remember the somewhat complicated emergency procedure and secondly, have the muscle memory to act and execute the procedure under stress before it was too late? Unless you are an Instructor teaching these skills on a regular basis it is quite likely you may not remember an emergency skill if one day it was needed in a real emergency! This is why, along with a few good diving habits, attending skills practice dives on a regular basis is a strongly recommended practice.
Every year both the Divers Alert Network (DAN) and the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) release an Annual Diving Report highlighting diving incidents resulting in serious injury or death. Although diving is a relatively safe sport where injury or death is extremely rare, just like any sporting activity there are risks involved. The findings conclude that the main causes of diving related incidents range from the following.
1. Poor health – medically unfit divers with existing injuries or disease, unrelated medical emergencies while diving, like cardiac arrest etc.
2. Equipment problems – malfunctioning equipment leading to stress on the diver, leading to panic.
3. Environmental issues – nasty currents, swell, waves and dangerous entry/exits.
And last but not least….
4. Diver error - breathing wrong gases, not analysing gases, misusing and poor maintenance of equipment such as rebreathers, not servicing equipment, running out of gas, getting lost/entrapped etc. The list goes on.
There are a small amount of potential incidents in diving that would simply be out of our control (this is not the topic of today’s blog and will be discussed in future blogs). However, any good diver and especially any good technical diver knows that the diver themself needs to be in control of as many aspects of the dive as possible and ready to act upon any reasonably foreseeable emergency.
So with the huge amount of skills and emergency procedures learned along the way during training, it is fair to say that to be able to do all these skills effectively, and under stress, regular practice of these skills are needed. I know of at least a few qualified divers, some recreational and sorry to admit, some technical, which absolutely hate one of the most basic, yet important skills, being underwater without your mask on. And the reason for this? They have just not spent enough time underwater conditioning themselves so that not having a mask on does not bother them.
The solution? On every dive, yes every single dive they should be removing their mask and replacing it with their back up at least a few times until they are completely comfortable with it.
So what about more complex emergency skills like locating, isolating and shutting down a catastrophic gas loss on a twin set? Along with a thorough predive check, an excellent procedure that myself, and quite a lot of Tech Divers do is a full valve shutdown (not to be confused with an emergency valve shutdown), S-drill and bubble check at 5m before the descent. This is done on every dive and takes about 1-½ minutes. During this procedure all valves in turn have been shutdown and opened up as quickly as possible then the long hose is deployed and bubbles are checked. This keeps the diver aware of which way the valves should be turned in an emergency and also builds very fast muscle memory. Every now and then on the dive itself, it’s good practice to perform a simulated emergency valve shutdown while finning around. In the unlikely event the diver has this emergency for real, they can deal with it easily as they will have done it countless times before. This can be done on Twinset, Sidemount and CCR.
There are many emergency procedures learnt as you progress through Technical Dive training such as Gas Hemorrhage, Out of Gas, Loss of Buoyancy, Malfunctioning Inflator Button, Toxing Diver, Unconscious Diver Tow and Ascent, Buddy Breathing, Regulator Feathering, Loss of Visibility, Loss of Light, Lost Diver, Lost Line, Flooded Loop, Bailout and the dreaded No Mask Ascent. Then add to this, two or more of these emergencies happening at the same time, with no visibility. This is where panic can set in if you’re not adequately conditioned to deal with these emergencies. Everyone has a breaking point; the idea is to have that breaking point as high as possible.
So what can we do? If you’re not instructing regularly, a great way to keep skills fresh is to attend a skills practice dive at your local dive club. Practicing a single emergency skill after its been demonstrated to you, and you know its coming is great for learning the skill, although you need more than that to truly master the skill. Practicing multiple simultaneous emergency skills with no demonstration, no warnings, and limited or no visibility in a controlled environment is a much more realistic and effective way of boosting the breaking point and mastering the skills under stress. Donny McFadden and Richard Devanney at Big Blue Tech offer Technical Stress Test Dives for their customers, in a realistic fashion, using surprise simulated emergencies to raise the level of the breaking point in emergency situations. Donny and Rich cover all the emergency skills involved at all levels from beginner skills in TDI’s Intro to Tech, through to Advanced Wreck Diving, Advanced Technical Sidemount and all the way up to Mixed Gas Decompression Diving. In addition to this the ability to follow run times and decompression schedules whilst being task loaded with emergency procedures is essential to any competent Technical Diver. Both of us at Big Blue Tech are dedicated to producing divers of this calibre. So if you think you may need to get a bit of practice in then come in for a chat or get in touch for more information on Big Blue Tech’s Technical Stress Test Dives.