Scuba Diving

Animals, Aqua, Blue, Deep, Dive, Diver

Georgetown Wildlife Removal was on my bucket list, and since I was close to retirement in the summer of 2013, I believed it was time to cross it off. As I took my first scuba lessons, I quickly learned it is true what many scuba teachers say – water isn’t man’s natural environment. So, I was a little anxious about completing this certification.
After some simple research in local opportunities for scuba education, I had chosen a dive shop in Salt Lake City, a brief 20-minute drive from my home. The reason I selected them is because of the calming influence the owner, Lori, had on my nervousness. She also suggested an instructor that was almost my age, further diminishing my fears.
I aggressively completed the academic work and finished the pool training in good order. The open water certification was accomplished in a salt water”inland ocean” west of Salt Lake City. I had learned the basics and was now a certified, yet still uneasy, scuba diver.
I knew I had to master these skills to be a safe and competent diver. Although addressed in my training, I was hardly able to control my buoyancy and even though I spent most of my adult life as a professional pilot navigating around the western United States, my underwater navigation skills were almost nonexistent. Moreover, I was certified at a depth of 23 feet, and I knew I needed to go deeper. And to top it off, I never jumped from my sailboat with 50 pounds of gear on me, so boat diving would be a new adventure. By the way, since we live at around 4,200 feet MSL, altitude diving was part of the training I received.
I embraced a 3-step approach to this challenge. First, I committed to joining the dive-a-longs the dive shop offered every month to local lakes. Secondly, I signed up for several specialty courses, such as buoyancy, navigation, deep diving, nitrox diving, and boat diving. Since I really do believe that knowledge is power, I signed up for a course titled Diver Stress and Rescue, to further allay my submerged fears. I also signed up for the Evening and Limited Visibility course, along with the First Aid, CPR, AED, and O2 training. The Science of Diving course was not far behind. And lastly, I devoted time to improve my physical condition.
Whew! I know, that’s a lot of study and effort. But it was worth it for me. I learned not only the specific academic substance, but I also learned something about the way to be a better diver in each course. I practiced, watched, and learned.
And then one day, I suddenly realized I had not been paying attention to the little things that could help me be a better diver.
Here are a few examples.
Buoyancy and the BC (Buoyancy Compensator) and Weights
We’d used weights in the practice environment in the pool and I never questioned their need. One of the first things I discovered afterward was that I really needed no weights to descend in the pool. This translated to no weights in fresh water (unless I was wearing a wet suit). In the buoyancy class, I learned I had been doing the buoyancy check incorrectly. This resulted in me being overweight for every dive to there. After I corrected my misunderstanding, I used less air in the BC, resulting in more air for me.
The buoyancy compensator (BC), sometimes called a buoyancy control device (BCD), is the piece of gear that produces recreation diving possible and popular. Its job is to establish neutral buoyancy underwater and positive buoyancy on the surface. But it is the diver who controls the BC. I had to learn to utilize shorter bursts of air and also to wait for neutral buoyancy to become apparent.
I look back now and chuckle as I remember how fast my air seemed to disappear on a dive. Next to buoyancy, this is, in my opinion, the most important skill for a diver to master.
I learned that my nervousness, which caused poor breathing habits submerged, might be offset and eventually eliminated by my increased knowledge and increasing experience.
As soon as I really paid attention to my breathing, I relaxed. The result was twofold – I was not just more relaxed, but I also had sufficient air to completely explore more of our underwater world.
The worth of a Computer
Every scuba diver should learn to use dive tables. That way we understand the essentials of gas compression and decompression better. We understand why off-gassing is so important and how to accomplish this by obeying the tables. Having said that, diving with a computer is so much better than diving on tables.
But here’s a caveat – learn to use your computer before you dive. Then do an easy dive next and utilize all of the underwater features of your computer.
I recently purchased a new computer and practiced all of its attributes at my kitchen table. All but one, that is. Guess which feature I accidentally triggered in my next dive? It turns out I can accidentally turn the light off while in the water, which makes the computer nearly impossible to see. Partially in my defense, I had been wearing thick gloves and couldn’t feel when I pressed a button. Nonetheless, I should have learned about this feature ahead, and I should have practiced at home with my gloves on.
Personal Fitness
The last 5 years of my career were spent sitting at a chair in front of a computer. To put it differently, I allow my physical condition deteriorate. I found this to be a distinct disadvantage while studying to be a skillful scuba diver. What a difference this made! Now I could carry my equipment from the parking lot to the shoreline without being winded to the point of resting for 20 minutes before I could dive.
Knowledge About the Dive Site
I discovered that if I did a little research about the upcoming dive site, I was more at ease throughout the dive. Research can be anything from an Internet search to remarks from divers who have been there. This lowered anxiety about the dip resulted in being more relaxed during the dive – again leading in using less air throughout the dive.
Dive Briefing
This goes right along with the last topic. The more you know about the dive, the more relaxed you can be in the water. The Divemaster or Captain can make every dip more interesting and enjoyable. Be sure you attend their briefing for each dip; they will have seasonal updates on the website, including what you can expect to see.
Like most new divers, I used rental equipment for my early dives. Although the equipment was appropriate, it just wasn’t quite right. I made it work, but I knew there had to be a better way. I eventually invested in a better BC and an upgraded regulator. Both of these purchases made diving less taxing and more pleasurable. Because I do a lot of diving in cold water, I decided to invest in a best – better, but all the way to best – 7 mm wetsuit that fit my body form just right. This, along with proper boots and hood, made diving in cold water more comfortable.
By the way, I purchased the wetsuit after speaking to the dive shop owner. Her years of experience led to me getting an excellent wetsuit that works flawlessly for me. The tip here is, don’t neglect to speak to more experienced divers for recommendations when you’ve got a question.
I recently had a student ask me if I had ever lost my mask or routine; she wondered why we stressed these abilities so much during training. It turns out that on one dive I wasn’t paying attention when my friend, who was in front of me, stopped and I swam to his moving fins. My mask was lopsided and full of water and my regulator was drifting in front of me. So, yes, the skills learned in training could be something you will need daily, so practice them occasionally. If you dip a few times in the summer annually, consider an update class before the next year’s diving starts.
My point is, we will need to pay close attention to the teachers and other divers we dive with so we can learn from their expertise. And we need to make a point of learning something new on each dive. If there’s nothing new, then we can practice something we heard years ago, but have not used lately.
Another useful, and possibly lifesaving, skill is the determination to make a safety stop on every dive. I know, computers may indicate no stop is necessary, but if you are making multiple dives each day, or over several days, the advantage of a safety stop outweighs the minor delay in getting to the surface. Plus, it lets you practice buoyancy skills.
Remember, follow the rules, don’t dive beyond your training or expertise, and look for the little things that will help you be a better diver.

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