Guest Writer: Mike S. Shea
You have seen photos of these scuba divers. You might have even seen them walking around at your local dive site. They have a plethora of gear on, most of it looks heavy. They have hoses running in different directions. Extra bottles hanging off the side of them. You think to yourself; they have to be nuts to ever enjoy scuba diving that way. You also re-affirm to yourself that you don't have what it takes to be a Technical Scuba Diver. Still, you start to wonder how much more you could see if you could stay down longer. What else is out there for you to explore if you had that extra air...
Now, at this point in time I will point out that Technical Scuba Diving is a choice that you have to make. Reason for that; specifically is MINDSET! If you are serious about becoming a Technical Diver (Tec Diver), you have to accept the mental requirements that go along with being a Tec Diver. This is not a "next logical step" in scuba diving. As a recreational scuba diver, you have plenty of opportunities to explore your boundaries and what King Neptune and Mother Nature have to offer you. Still, this article is about dispelling a couple of myths out there about becoming a Tec Diver.
Technical Scuba Diving is an equipment intensive sport. Because of what you are planning and what your desires are, you need to have extra equipment with you. You don't need to go out and spend ten thousand on new equipment and gear. We will talk a little later about training programs. AS a PADI Instructor, using the PADI system, you I don't have my students purchase everything at once. You should try a couple of things first, and see what you like before just opening the wallet up and spending money (By the way, if you feel that you must do that, please contact me. I can help you spend it). Let's talk about how to get into Technical Diving without breaking open a new mortgage.
Many training organizations have an Intro to Technical Diving class, or a step program into Technical Diving. PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) broke their Technical Diving program into multiple phases. The first 3 phases, you become a technical diver and certify in the areas before you get to Trimix or other technical diving gas mixtures. Their system is broken down into Tec40; Tec45; and Tec50 (Broken down into the meters a technical diver is certified too). For the basis of this conversation, we are going to stay in the Tec40 certification. Reason being is that Tec40 has a max depth of 130 feet. Sounds familiar doesn't it? Tec40 keeps you within Recreational Scuba diving limits. Our focus with Tec40 is to start learning how to plan, build skills and extend our bottom time for the same depth that we should already be certified for.
Which makes Tec40 an ideal place for someone to start out in Technical diving. Equipment wise, you might be able to use the same equipment that you are currently using right now. Tec40 requires that you have 2 independent breathing sources. This can be accomplished by putting an "H" Valve on your current scuba diving cylinder (this allows you the ability to shut one source of air off while breathing from the other regulator). Or you could carry an additional Deco or Pony bottle. NO, a Spare Air will not work for this. I would recommend at least a 40cuft cylinder as your additional bottle. There is your second breathing source. No requirement for doubles right here. You probably will have to purchase an additional cylinder and another regulator set up. Other benefit here, if you choose to continue on with Tec Diving, you now have equipment purchased for future certifications. You have just spread the cost of equipment out a little bit.
I do want to caution you here: Make sure your BCD is capable of holding the weight and extra equipment. If your BCD has plastic hooks and clips, it will not last under the stress of tec diving. If your BCD is not capable of lifting at least 40 pounds, then it too will not suffice under tec diving. I have seen divers try to make a current BCD work but because of the amount of gear they have on, their BCD bladder is filled to capacity and when they go to add more air it just purges out. Not a safe way to be technical diving. If you are in need of picking up another BCD, you have a couple of different options to look at. Let's take a look at them:
First option, you know that you are not going to continue on to other tec diving courses. You are just going to purchase a BCD that will be able to meet the needs of Tec40 diving. I would recommend that you purchase a BCD to meet one need. I know that there are BCD's other that make these statements that you can use them with single and double tanks. Just a simple attachment and you can expand the BCD to Tec diving. I have one BCD for my single tank diving. Yes, it has the ability to carry extra bottles with ease and has the lift requirements that I need. I also use if for my recreational diving. For my doubles, I have another wing and harness for that rig. No way am I going to try and use one BCD to meet all the requirements of Tec diving and Recreational diving.
Second option, don't be afraid of trying out sidemount scuba diving. You might be really, pleasantly surprised and continue doing it all the time. Sidemount diving has the cylinders slung under your arms, along your sides. Your valves are there for you to see, no complicated procedure to shutdown a cylinder if you had too. Most scuba divers trim out really well with a sidemount rig. Better body position in the water than if they had their own recreational gear on. It is also easier on your body. If you have lower back pain, or struggle to carry your single tank around in the current BCD configuration, give sidemount diving a try. I think you might fall in love with it right there.
Lastly, if you are looking at going the traditional doubles on the back. Try a couple of configurations out first. There are multiple harnesses, backplates, wings and manifolds. Each one of these things are going to affect how you trim out underwater. So experiment a little bit and hopefully your instructor has a couple things to try out and see if you like it.
These options are for if you need to purchase a BCD to make your tec diving safe. You can also use some of these keys to think about what to purchase in the future if you need too. Other equipment that you are going to need?
Regulators! You are going to need to have a couple of dependable regulators that can handle extended durations under water, might have to withstand cooler temperatures and possibly debris. If you have regulators that only are good for diving in the South Pacific or Caribbean you might want to look at upgrading. Unless you are only tec diving in those areas. Still, I would put it on your Christmas list to upgrade them. You will need one regulator for each cylinder. So plan accordingly.
Other item that I would strongly recommend is a dry suit. You're going to be underwater for longer periods of time. Even in the Caribbean waters that are 80 degrees, you are going to get cold by the end of the dive because water is removing your body heat. Dry suits limit this heat loss. It is not fun to have hypothermia. Besides, it can also lead to a rescue class that we don't need to accomplish right then.
Those are the major items that I would recommend that you look at and make a serious determination about if they can meet the requirements. If you aren't sure, ask your course instructor. They are there to help you out as well as teach you how to become a tec diver.
Can women be tec divers? Yes, they can! Sometimes they are better tec divers than what men are. For some reason men think that they have to do something no matter what. That attitude usually gets someone in trouble sooner or later. Women on the other hand are a little more cautious and are willing to make the right determination about what is transpiring. Besides, some of the best tec divers I know are women. So don't let gender be an issue.
We have talked about equipment, about if women can be tec divers, now we have to talk about you! AS I eluded too earlier, your MINDSET plays the most important factor in being a safe and successful tec diver. While there are inherent risks in any type of scuba diving (yes, even on the recreational side), you have come to accept those risks. In tec diving, those risks start to compound themselves more because you are going beyond the recreational scuba diving limits. If something goes wrong now, you don't have that immediate access to the surface. You do have to come up with the solution underwater. This is THE reason you as a tec diver have to be willing to take the responsibility for maintaining a tec diver mindset and adhere to protocols that you will be taught. You will also need to practice those protocols so that they are second nature to you. Along with that, you don't just practice while you are in your classes. You should practice them almost every time you are in the water on a dive. You don't know when something can go wrong. So being prepared to respond correctly if that issue should rear its ugly head underwater is critical.
Having a tec diver mindset means that you don't just strap the gear on and jump in the water and figure out your exploration. You should have a plan that you talked about before getting into the water. Who is going to be where, who is doing what? How long you're underwater, what your deco stops are and what other procedures you are going to accomplish while underwater. Plan your tec fun dives like your real tec dives to ensure you keep the mindset proper on the dive.
This is another reason I tell people don't be a tec diver just because it is the next logical step. There are going to be times that a tec dive is humbling to you. I know, I have been tec diving for years and every once in a while I have a dive that nothing goes right and I just want to pull the plug. It is frustrating and can be humiliating if you let it. Then again, that is why we practice and go through all the steps from putting our rig together to stepping into the water. The conduct of the dive should be the same all the time. Those tec dives where it feels nothing is going right, most of the time they are a dive where I have not been in the water with tec gear on for a couple of months. So I need to get the rust knocked off and focus on being a tec diver and not on a bunch of other things. See, to be a proficient tec diver, you need to practice and dive!
Everything about tec diving has a special significance. From maintaining a hover underwater to how your gear goes together. Each thing plays a crucial role in your dive. So develop good habits early and you can keep building on them throughout your tec dive career.
Most scuba divers look at the equipment required for being a technical scuba diver and think people are nuts just from that aspect. As you can see, you don't need a bunch of fancy gear to be a technical scuba diver, it actually is more important that you have the correct mindset. Doesn't matter, woman or man, you need to have the correct mindset to be a successful technical diver. Equipment is just something you need to be there. Mindset is what is going to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable tec dive. So maybe, you are thinking now that a tec diver doesn't have to be insane. Instead, they need to be disciplined...
Article by: Mike S. Shea
Mike is a PADI Master Scuba Instructor with Scuba Shea LLC outside of Chicago in Northwest Indiana. He has been a scuba diver since the 1992 and a diving professional since 1994. As a diving professional, he brings many unique perspectives to the classroom to help divers achieve their dreams and goals. Mike can be contacted directly through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find out more about Mike and what Scuba Shea can offer you at [http://www.scubashea.com].
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