Scuba Certification What’s The Hurry? What’s the Rush?

Scuba Certification What’s the Hurry?  What’s the Rush?


by Matthew Mandziuk
Cave, Technical, Rebreather Explorer and Instructor

Scuba Certification What’s the Hurry?  What’s the Rush?  It seems to be that an old trend coming back full circle in diving again, that one that strikes fear in the dive community who’ve seen it before, whereby the newer diver seems hungry for certification cards and not experience.For some divers it will be all about how fast to push and push and push through course after course after course without any real world experience dives in between.  Its a scary thought thinking that people would want to rush through anything, while its even more scary how stores or instructors are willing to take on students who want it as fast as possible, but to be fair many look at it as a business opportunity to sell to a captive audience striking while the iron is hot.

The other side of the coin is the group of divers who are pushing ahead after they’ve obtained a user level certification, decide “they know it all” and they begin utilizing other types of gear or gas mixes they aren’t certified to use in those environments.  Either way, there are concerns we have with this obviously and without correcting these actions people may get hurt.

There is a pride and a sense of accomplishment in anything we do in life, whether its obtaining a pilots license, completing your first ski hill successfully, jumping out of your first airplane, or taking your first step as a diver and completing Open Water Certification.

In the business of diving, we have a couple of laid out progressions for us that guide us down a list of courses and experiences that get us to our end goal.  For some its that they want to be a Master Scuba Diver, for others a Divemaster or Instructor, while other divers take a more serious path towards cave, wreck, or technical diving requiring more disciplined skill sets, better more streamlined equipment alternatives and are presented with a myriad of amazing course options after their first level of training which is a higher skills course like Intro to Tech.

Regardless of which path divers take they’re encouraged to dive to their highest level of experience, gaining some underwater hours at that level and when they feel they’re ready to start upgrading their skills and knowledge, they should aspire to take the next level of training.

In some circles, the training agencies are noted as being certification factories pushing divers through the ranks as quickly as possible, without really stopping to teach or remind divers of the importance of the small things like foundational skills, team awareness, air sharing or rescue procedures, while other agencies are more progressive, some even insist on taking a series of Specialty Courses after their initial entry level Open Water Course before they’re knighted with the title of “Advanced” Open Water Diver, which is a very interesting business model, because it encourages the divers to get out and log a lot of bottom time prior to engaging in more advanced training, but within that system, there are those few rogue divers who feel that they’re good enough to just “jump in” and try anything, and that’s where we as educators and we as divers need to step up and say something……What do we say?  “Hey, don’t do that”?  Maybe, maybe not, but its a good start in the right direction in an attempt to correct peoples poor diving choices.

The best way to learn from ones mistakes are to have a look at what needs to change, so we decided to add some things we feel can help you become a better, safer, more well rounded diver.

Mastering Your Foundation Skills

Trim – if you don’t know what this is, trim refers to your position in the water.  Progressive divers should always strive to achieve a level of balance for their entire body of within + or – 10% midline of horizontal.

Fin Technique – all divers should be able to perform a modified frog, helicopter turn and modified flutter kick.  Back fin is also a kick everyone should master.  It’s easier to ascent using a backwards kick, as well, it allows you to hold and stabilize yourself and your position running line, deploying an smb or virtually any other thing you’d do.

Buoyancy – Buoyancy, Buoyancy, Buoyancy.  If you can’t control yourself in the water without flailing with your hands you haven’t learned trim/buoyancy.  Hover there, not moving, motionless.  If you feel your body moving into a different direction, figure it out and correct it, it could be a need to redistribute weight, adjust harness tighter, crotch strap tighter, go to heavier fins if you feel your head drop, but believe us when it works, there’s no better feeling in the world.  Hover 60 seconds or more not moving hands, minimal if any skulling with fins, which stay up higher than your hands do, so they prevent silting.

2 divers swimming across an old wooden shipwreck
Tiller Wreck, Port Dalhousie

Mask Removal/replace/clear.  Done in trim, neutrally with 1 exhaled breath to clear water out.

Regulator removal/clip long hose/switch to necklace, unclip and switch back to reg in trim, neutrally.

SPG useage unclipping from left hip d-ring, bring out around from behind to front of the body from back to front in trim, neutrally.

Sharing Gas Deployment of your long hose regulator holding the hose, passing off with the mouthpiece up, second stage purge button free for diver to clear, while simultaneously switching to your necklace regulator, once obtained, release long hose to primary diver while un-tucking long hose from weight pocket or canister light on the right hip to fully deploy it.  Skill is done neutrally buoyant, in trim, staring face to face with diver in need of aid.

Ascents – Slow, max 30ft/min stopping at 30, 20, 15, 12, 9, 6, 3 for practice, staying in trim with proper neutral buoyancy and ascent speed.

Valve Manipulation Drills – Manifold shut-downs going through the sequence of isolation and switching over from failed post to backup.  Should be done fluently, with trim and buoyancy, while maintaining team communication with your light to draw attention to you.

Primary isolation and shut down/switch over should be less than 30 seconds, or just simply shutting a post and switching to another post less than 15 seconds in an emergency.

Even Recreational Divers Should be taught how to signal their dive buddies, ask for their long hose or alternate air source in a free flow situation, where the diver or their buddy can then take a corrective action by shutting down the valve and sharing air up to the safety stop.  If its a frozen regulator, it should be thawed provided the water is warmer at the 15′ stop, where the diver can then complete the safety stop on their own back gas or stay on the divers alternate.

Stage Bottle Handling – stage bottles are a fantastic addition when doing longer dives where you’d like to save back gas.  A stage allows you to consume air from the additional cylinder before breaking into your main tanks, allowing you the opportunity to extend your duration and ground covered.

Muscle Memory – doing these skills until they become habit and you’re not thinking about which valve to turn off or how to pass of the regulator to the out of air diver means that you’re gaining confidence and proficiency and doing this until its habit is key, much like a martial artist works on blocking or break falls a diver should have the same sort of muscle memory for dealing with emergencies.

Taking our Intro to Tech Course or a Solo Diver (Self Reliant Diver)course will introduce you to these basic skills with  2 different levels of skill performance and equipment configuration requirements.

Experience in as Many Environments as Possible.  

Diving is an enthusiast sport of exploration, where we go and see the world and the many amazing things beneath that worlds surface, but like anything there are new environments and new experience to be had in each of those environments, whether its mastering how to deploy an smb and be able to send it up in a challenging dive environment with a strong current, or using a flashlight and learning how to communicate with your lights to your dive buddy and not blind everyone, to how to use an underwater scooter or DPV, run a line in a shipwreck or a cave, how to take underwater photos but stay still in one position without moving up or down/front or back, there are a range of environments to gain proficiency in and diving in all of them is the only true way to master your skills.

Students working on valve drills in doubles with DDS

The best cave diver may find themselves out classed and out of options on a shipwreck trip in the Northeast Atlantic diving the Andrea Doria if they’re not used to big waves and strong surface currents on decompression, or may feel overwhelmed diving drysuit in cold water with extra bottles and dry gloves.

The warm water reef diver may be comfortable diving in a 2mm shorty wetsuit, but a 7mm wetsuit with hood and gloves can be the most intimidating thing if they’re expecting to just jump into a serious dive, and in turn have a negative experience.

The fresh water diver who gets tired of the same boring down south reefs dons a drysuit and experiences what its like to scuba dive in Les Escoumins, British Columbia, Alaska or Newfoundland and finds that there are colours there that they never knew existed.

The Niagara River drift diver or quarry dive does their first dive in Tobermory or in Lake Ontario and experiences a thermocline but also their first dive with 100-200′ visibility.

What I’m saying is that there is no 1 dive worth doing over and over and over again, there are always new and exciting environments to explore, new bodies of water with new wrecks, new caves, new cave passages, bigger, better deeper walls and wrecks, big creatures to see up close and personal, photograph, video and more.

Working Up to Bigger Dives

In doing the spirit of diving as frequently as possible and in as many environments as possible, put in the time to train up to the depths you want to hit, using and mastering to the best of your abilities the specialized gear you’ll need to get there.

Working with 1 decompression/stage/pony bottle can be easy with practice to take on and off and gas switch to and re-stow the hose, whereas a second bottle can send you out of sync and make you feel like an open water diver all over again.

Making 1 minor change to any key piece of gear can alter your trim and comfort, so its best to work out the kinks in shallow water where you can surface, re-rig or make adjustments, don’t just jump into the deepest depth you’re certified to dive, its unrealistic and unsafe.

Don’t Get Cocky

Silting Out Royal Springs
Pic courtesy of @strokeoftheday on Insta

Many Divers are Good and Many Divers are Cocky not realizing they are mortal.  No matter how many superhero movies we watch, we are not Thor, or even Batman, we may be more like Robin.

Diving beyond your certification level is a ridiculous act of overconfidence.  Yes, you might live, but what happens if a problem arises? Can you safely get yourself out of that dangerous environment?

Things to consider if you don’t have expert buoyancy, don’t go inside a shipwreck or a cave or on a dive with a sensitive bottom without running a line.

Don’t dive deep on air.  It’s out dated, its not cool anymore and people shouldn’t do it.  Get proper training in mixed gas diving with trimix on dives 100′ or deeper inside a wreck or cave and 130′ in open water.  Narcosis is called rapture of the deep for a reason.  People with way more experience than you have died diving deeper into shipwrecks or caves on air than you have.

Even at depths of 100′ divers are narc’d its manageable, most don’t notice until they’re given a task to do like writing, tying lines, communication with their buddies, any sort of mental task, but given a higher stress level or a higher work of breathing with increased CO2 build-up that level of narcosis can increase and so can the the severity of the impairment.

Factors that affect narcosis level can also include quality of sleep or lack there-of, seasickness, stress level pre-dive and on descent, as well as a number of psychological modifiers at depth ranging from cold, darkness, equipment you’re wearing, overall condition and size of the dive you’re on, visibility, etc.

Don’t think the rules don’t apply to you because they do.  Divers become statistics usually when a training limitation is breached, a line isn’t run into an overhead environment, a mandatory piece of equipment is overlooked, gases aren’t analyzed, divers get complacent.

Keep up your edge!  Maintain your skills! Stay active in diving and even if it seems silly to do a refresher at a higher level certification level, get the instructors to challenge you with more difficult tasks and skills.  If they’re a progressive dive shop offering higher end gear and training this shouldn’t be a problem.

Don’t get complacent.  Complacency kills.

Train With An Instructor Who Encourages Your Success Without a Continual Payout

As a Dive Instructor our job is to mentor divers, shape them, and encourage them to live the diving life and enjoy the greatest sport in the world.  Selling is a part of diving, selling the next big trip, charter, piece of gear, continuing education course, but if you only hear from your instructor when they need another body to fill a class, are they really looking after your best interest or theirs?

For some teaching is a part time job or a hobby and they have a “real” big person grown-up job, while others teaching is their bread and butter, so a constant revolving door of students is important, but how can we as educators fulfill both student and instructor needs?

By providing amazing training, advice, engaging them on fun dives, encouraging them to dive as much as possible, while not on a course, but of course keeping in touch with them for all their training needs when you both together feel that moving to the next level is a viable option.

Career counselling for divers can be a fun, simple and easy thing to integrate into your dive store routine, while the students should always feel they have the ability to contact you about anything big or small.

By keeping an open line of communication and diving with your divers frequently, you can also see changes in their abilities and watch them progress, so of course you can invite them to come out and take their next level of training with you too.

Continue Challenging Yourself with Dives at your Highest Level of Certification

Don’t stop your training.  If you’re comfortable in the water, keep going all the way from recreational to technical or cave.  You’ll find your hobby lasts a lifetime rather than weeks, months or years when you strive to succeed.

Divers who see the challenge and embrace diving as their sport have a lifetime of happiness underwater and the training just keeps getting more and more challenging, fun, unique and the dives continue to upstage previous ones.

Certification Doesn’t Mean Expertise

When you finish a dive course you’re basically being handed a license that says on this day you met the minimum standard or higher at the specified level.  It means you have the opportunity to explore in an environment and depth range to that of what you were trained in, nothing more.

Don’t read more into your certification course than the agencies who created the minimum standards.

They establish a safe limit for you to dive and enjoy assuming your level of proficiency is met.

You’re in no rush, there is no prize to breeze through certifications and there is no respect given or gained from rushing through courses.

The common trend these days is to jump from course to course to course, whereas this is the silliest thing you can do.

Many divers breeze through the first 400′ of Ginnie Springs Devil’s Ear/Eye Cave System to push into the back section not taking the time to admire the beauty and explore some of the other unmarked jumps around that first section, yet if you take your time and slowly gain experience you’ll see more in those dives than the divers who are trying to push as far and as fast into the caves as possible.

Taking your time and enjoying the dives are why we’re here, not to get a false title or to try to prove something to someone who really doesn’t care what your certification level is.

Given the choice of taking a diver who has been diving 3-4 years and averaged 200 dives a year and has taken the time to complete a course or two a year, or diving with a diver who has been diving 1-2 years and has 8-10 certifications and maybe 100-200 dives total, which diver do you think is going to be the better diver?  Who would you rather dive with and who would you rather be?  Lets hope in both cases 3-4 year diver because they’re taking their time, diving as much as they can and seemingly being safe about it rather than just paying for a rating.

There is no rush to become a dive professional, there is no need to fast track through courses.  There is a perceived image that dive instructors make a lot of money in diving, but what you don’t see is the cost of all the dives that instructor should be doing to gain experience and mastery of their skills and environment, the upgrade costs for equipment and additional training, as well as the instructor development course costs that are associated with each level they upgrade.

There is also the need to experience through advancing through the levels.  Rather than fast tracking from 0-hero and getting the “full meal deal” being able to teach every course, take time slowly going up the ladder teaching 25 students minimum at each level before moving on to the next level from Open Water to Advanced Specialties, from Specialties to more technical courses and at each level of technical class work at it for some time.  20-25 certifications may seem like a lot and that’s the point.  Gain years of experience, intern some courses or co-teach with other instructors.  Most agencies will even encourage you to audit another members course and teaching style with their permission.

If you don’t take your time and you rush through things you aren’t as thorough as you could be, you achieve a false sense of accomplishment and tend to have the reputation to fast track the classes you teach the way you fast tracked your learning yourself.

It takes not just time in the water, but also time perfecting your teaching style, your demonstrations, outlines, etc. There is no “fast way” to become a reputable dive instructor or dive professional, if there were everyone would do it.

The Blind Following the Blind

There’s a lot to be said for learning from a good mentor, but there are born leaders out there who have no skill or knowledge to pass on to new divers if they themselves have not had success in their training path.

Imagine a person who took part of a cave diving course trying to teach an open water diver how to run a line when they themselves didn’t succeed in their journey into cave diving?  If someone didn’t pass a cave course why are they trying to teach someone else?

Now imagine both of those Divers exploring a cave system, silting it out, becoming lost, trapped, running out of gas and dying inside that cave?

The one Diver gave his other Dive Buddy a false sense of security and accomplishment and essentially had he lived, could’ve, would’ve, should’ve been charged with manslaughter, however, in this case both men died!

There are so many lessons to learn from a Diver’s Mistake.  Books like the Last Dive help shed a lot of insight into accidents, as well as Deep Descent and the classic Blueprint For Survival by the late Sheck Exley, one of our absolute favourite books and a Free Download! CLICK HERE 

If you had a friend that was an experienced Scuba Diver, would you follow them or listen to them if they weren’t that experienced?  I guess it’s like when an Instructor who doesn’t actually dive tries to use the phrase “but I’m an Instructor”.  In reality, you’re only as good as your student level accomplishments have told you.  A Divemaster can start becoming a Master at 30 Dives, an Instructor can become an Instructor with only 102 logged dives for certification.  To put it into perspective, many of our DDS Divers yearly log over 100 dives.

I firmly believe and I firmly encourage anyone interested in being a Divemaster or Instructor to become a Tech Diver or Cave Diver First.  As a matter of fact, all of our Active DDS Instructors are certified Cave and or Technical Divers. These are true role models and experienced professionals in the industry.

The Guy who was certified in the 1980’s and decides to make a valiant comeback to Diving 30 years later and says they’ve been diving for nearly 40 years isn’t a good role model.  They’re old school and outdated and unless they take some modern diving courses and update their gear and knowledge, they’re a massive liability.

The Diver who has all the neatest toys and no certification to show for it is not a good role model to learn from.

A certified Trimix Diver who has remained active through the years who wants to show you how to fin backwards or let you test dive a set of double tanks is likely a good choice to take advise from, not some person who just got a set of doubles a few weeks ago and didn’t take training or understand how the isolator works. An old school tech diver wouldn’t be as good to take advice from because they maybe didn’t use a double tank set with isolator, in favour of independent doubles and redundant pressure gauges, which we certainly don’t endorse the use of in the 2000’s.

Trust Yourself, be smart and look after yourself and ask yourself if you feel safe diving with someone who is too eager, too excited, too pushy or too unaware of their own diving abilities and seek alternate role models.

Anyone can call a dive at any given time, don’t feel like you have to spend as much time as your dive buddy, if the No Deco Limits almost up, you should be heading up as a non-technical certified diver.

He With the Most Toys Wins?

Sometimes Divers have more money than brains.  We get people brining in Spare Air’s asking how much bottom time they’ll get off of it because they bought a crappy little air tank system that comes with a hand pump on Amazon hoping it would be enough to explore the underwater world for an hour….24 breaths later hopefully they surfaced safely.  This has happened a few times over the years and the most recent one just got an underwater scooter to go with his spare air type system.

If you were taught that it was cool to carry more tanks just because you “may need” the gas you’re an idiot!  Proper Dive Planning will help you know exactly how many cubic feet you will consume at your target depth, for your target duration.  Fact.  Depth (ata) x Time x SCR.  If you don’t know what that means make a point of learning more advanced dive planning.

There are some great courses without even going technical that will help you plan dives properly.  Find where your passion lies and find a suitable and safe way to get there.

Take the time to do it right.  Cookie cutter classes and fly by night dive shops and instructors are not ideal, and the cheapest isn’t always the best, neither is the most expensive.  You can pay a lot or a little and get the same results, what you need is to talk to the trainers you want to train with and see how much more and how much better they can be for your needs, wants and desires.

Don’t follow the herd just because someone is telling you what to do.  Find out the how’s and why’s for yourself and make a more informed decision.

For Every Toy You Purchase, You should take a course on how to use them.

Once in Lake Erie the weather kicked up as a storm was blowing in and they Divers lost their ambient light.  One of them had a light, powered it on and they lost sight of the mooring line and didn’t know which part of the wreck they were on.  One was a PADI Divemaster, One was a Rescue Diver.  They decided to do a free ascent which they’d never done before.  Horace being a Rescue Diver had an SMB that he’d never used before but carried it…Ralph the Divemaster had no idea how to use one either, but the Rescue Diver passed the bag and reel to the DM assuming a “master” should know how to do that.  I was sitting on the bow of the boat watching the bubbles going away from the wreck and knew something was happening.

When their bubbles got bigger, faster, I knew they were going up too fast and they breached the surface holding the SMB’s limp and helpless in their hands and they blew the last minute of their safety stop.  I had oxygen for them and they were fine.

Ralph became one of my best technical diving students not long after that, while Horace decided to become a PADI Instructor and faded away into obscurity.

Carrying even an additional stage cylinder requires proper procedures and the know-how how to use them.

Carrying extra stages just to be cool is excessive and embarrassing, especially if you don’t know how to use them in the first place.

Diving a DPV.  Our DPV Classes are far more in-depth and advanced than most and we offer technical programs with DPV’s also, but some people just think it looks easy and they get one.  DPV’s are no joke and they require a very disciplined and dedicated attention to buoyancy, bottom composition, trim, the trigger, other divers and of course the tow leash itself.

If you don’t have the right bcd, a DPV will be a huge liability and hinderance to you as well.  You need a crotch strap with scooter ring.

Dive Computers are a great tool, but take the time to read up on the information it’s telling you.  If you don’t know what Deco or Ceiling means, you should never see those words.  A computer is something that helps keep you on schedule but should never be relied upon, always pre-plan your dive to get a feel for the schedule and anticipate delays, issues and problems and build those factors into your dive plan.

Do Not Rely on Your Dive Computer to Decompress for You, Only You Can Decompress for you.

Buying a Drysuit and just jumping in with it is risky, especially if the suit isn’t custom fit for you.  Excessive amounts of air in the legs and rest of the suit can have very negative consequences.  Not knowing you need a drysuit hose for it or forgetting to hook it up to the suit can have very fatal outcomes, as has happened in a recent lawsuit involving a shop in the US.

Accidents happen and they happen….when you don’t expect them to happen, which is why they’re called an “ACCIDENT”!

Be a Leader, Not a Follower.   Don’t Be Like Hitler in one of our favourite Dive Spoof YouTube Videos.  CLICK HERE.

Those That Can’t Do….Buy a Rebreather!?

One thing that always puzzles us is when a diver struggles in open circuit scuba during a Foundational Skills Course like our NAUI Intro to Tech (which is the most thorough Foundational Skills Dive Course Available).  Intro teaches divers the fundamental skills such as buoyancy, trim, team diving, equipment configuration and familiarity, emergency procedures, safer ascents, descents, while refining your body position or trim in the water among many other wonderful and beneficial skills, yet we’ve had over a dozen scuba divers who couldn’t control buoyancy, or just want to fast track forward and get cards and not put fourth the effort, only to find out that after failing intro, they purchased a closed circuit rebreather and went the zero to hero route on a CCR from air diluent to normoxic trimix, yet still lacked the rudimentary elements that our divers are all taught!

If you can’t dive without silting out the bottom or ascending without being a fish on a fish hook on your safety/decompression stops, what makes you think diving a rebreather or tech diving on doubles with a homemade “deco mix” )because a shop won’t fill your deco bottles with 100% Oxygen if you’re not certified) so you home-brew some “deco gas” and bring in an un-marked cylinder to be topped with air at a dive shop to get your desired mix is safe?

Do they know that you’re putting the shop that’s filling their cylinder with “air only” at risk for liability and litigation in the event they get bent or they die!?

I remember diving the Forest City in Tobermory a few years back and a Diver who failed Intro to Tech decided it was “too much work for him”, so 6 months later he was a Normoxic Trimix Diver…..I remember watching him flutter kick down the starboard side railing getting towards the midship and he was stirring up the silt, diving by himself and was hanging vertical on the line after the dive, and I was just disgusted.

I had another student bomb Intro Skills at Sherkston Quarry, actually I told the students “Do Not Do Valve Shut-Down’s when my back is turned to you” I was working on valve shutdowns one at a time when I heard a “gulp” turned around reg out ready to donate and he was shooting to the surface, no reg in his mouth, we all grabbed his feet to slow his ascent and I got a reg in his mouth, but he was kicking as hard as he could and we all slowly ascended from 40′.  He decided open circuit was too difficult as well and got a rebreather.  We never saw him diving after that.

One of the main issues we see with rebreather divers is they don’t carry enough bail-out gas. If you’re carrying an Aluminum 40 of air bailout and you are on a decompression dive with decompression stops, you don’t have the gas or the time.

It doesn’t make sense to us that a diver who can’t hover still for 5 minutes within 10 degrees midline of horizontal or who can’t descend without hitting the bottom should be allowed to dive such a serious piece of kit as a rebreather or even doubles!

matt doing a rebreather dive on the shipwreck forest city in TobermoryWe typically recommend completing at least Trimix 1 or Cave 2 prior to going into a Rebreather and you’ll notice we backmout our bailout gas with LP50 Faber tanks or Aluminum 40’s if in a wetsuit down south with a 40 and 80 of Open Circuit Bail-out Gas or on a simple nitrox range dive like the Tiller.

Rebreather and Technical Divers need to be proficient with not only the gear on the back, but also additional stage/deco cylinders, which many inexperienced rebreather divers don’t wear as seen above in the pool pic.

Diving a Rebreather is awesome and very rewarding, although bare in mind that doing a basic Nitrox Dive at $15.00/tank, $30 for doubles is pretty cost effective vs owning a rebreather and paying for the Sofnolime as well as having to replace your 3-4 oxygen sensors yearly at over $300/yr.  You have to justify the cost of the unit, the training and the dives.  If you’re not doing deep helium diving or spending several hours shallow in the water outlasting what a set of twins or high capacity single can offer, then there’s little need for a rebreather.

Rebreathers are best suited to deep trimix cave or wreck diving, long scooter dives in deeper water and explorations.

Those That Can’t Do…..Dive Sidemount!?

The other amazing thing that we see is how non-technical divers are jumping on the the trend of Sidemount and how many shops are happy to offer an inferior technical diving class with mixed teams (Divers on Doubles/Sidemount/Rebreather) with no continuity in the equipment configuration.  If you’re not cave diver or shore diving at a site with a long walk to access the water or are diving at a site with difficult accessibility to the water, or you’re not disabled (or have limited range of motion) Sidemount is Not For You.

Sidemount with Redundant Buoyancy? Pic by @strokeoftheday via Instagram

The only reason Sidemount should be considered for technical diving is if a diver has had shoulder surgery and can’t reach their manifold or have fused their spine, bad knees, etc. and the body just can’t take the weight of the doubles.

Here at DDS we pioneered Modern Sidemount Diving. We use Sidemount as an expedition tool.

Sidemount is absolutely horrible on a dive boat.  Divers who often join us for charters on Sidemount start gearing up first and are the last one’s in the water as they struggle to put on all the extra gear.

If you’re diving Sidemount, you needs to be a mirrored image of your doubles or a rebreather, if it’s not it’s going to cause confusion and task-loading to yourself and your team as you try to remember where you backup lights are on this configuration vs your doubles kit.  On singles, doubles and rebreather your backup lights should be down your shoulders….in Sidemount they should also be down your shoulders.

In Doubles you breath off a long hose regulator…On your Rebreather you should have a long hose regulator but this is clipped to the right shoulder d-ring as you’re breathing off the loop.  In Sidemount you should be breathing off the long hose and switching (which creates multi-tasking) every 300-500psi depending on the cylinder choice from primary to secondary.  There is no guarantee that you’ll be on your long hose when an out of air situation may arise, but through practice you can prepare to deal with any situations as best to your ability as possible.

Sidemount for Tech Diving is just plain Dumb! If You’re interested in being a Sidemount Diver (or are a Sidemount Diver) or have buddies who are diving Sidemount, there is absolutely No Place for more than 1 deco cylinder on your body with this configuration (leashing additional won’t work because the oxygen is always supposed to be the bottle you have closest to you).  If you’re being taught or encouraged to carry Decompression Cylinders Split up on the left and right sides (“Lean Left, Rich Right”) Ask for a refund!  All of your deco gas should be off the left side, no exceptions and with Sidemount, life gets so much more cumbersome as the Diver gets wider with the additional cylinders….Hence the nickname “Widemount”.  There’s a right tool for the right job.

Sidemount is an Expedition Tool for Explorers, not recreational divers who are tech diving or boat diving.

Recreational Divers Should Only dive Sidemount if they already have mastered buoyancy, trim, alternate fin kicks and are exhibiting demonstration quality execution of their Foundational Skills. Unfortunately many Sidemount Students who enroll at our store do not possess the skills or even the proper BCD.

Tech Sidemount Diver with horrible bottle techniques and lean left, rich right. Doing it Wrong. Pic by @strokeoftheday via Instagram

Sidemount allows you to explore a new cave passage or a shipwreck that collapsed possibly, but there is nothing as a “New Cave Diver” that can’t be done on doubles.  If you’re past the level of Cave 2, you can definitely benefit from Sidemount, but there is nothing in Cave Training at level 1 or level 2 that is “sidemount only”.  Most passages are larger and you’ll often times see multiple teams at these sites diving through all at the same time because it’s large and open and awesome, so Sidemount is Not Needed.

Sidemount is awesome as an alternative to doubles in countries where you can’t rent doubles.

Sidemount is an awesome option when you’re repelling into a well or down a cliff to check out a lead on a new cave site, because you can have 1 tank dropped down, inspect the area and see if it’s worthy of dropping the second tank and pushing the site further, or simply just passing the bottles back up the rope and you can climb back up and out, but most divers don’t have this opportunity as a more “pedestrian Sidemount Diver”.

In Canada we find most Sidemount Divers with the exception of a couple training with friends on East or West Coast are a hot mess of hoses, accessories and danglies.

At DDS, we teach our Sidemount Divers to be as streamlined and simple as possible. All of your accessories are located in the same places as your back mounted kit, with the only difference being the location of your main breathing tanks.

We don’t permit more than 1 deco cylinder on the Divers and that bottle is often dropped and retrieved in a cave.

We don’t Sidemount off boats because it’s usually a disaster either with surface currents if the divers try to put their tanks on in the water, or they occupy so much more time on the boat gearing up because they don’t know how to do it smoothly.

Sidemount is most beneficial in shore diving situations and cave diving.

Those That Can’t Do…..Teach?

Sure you’ve heard that age old adage before, but when you think about it, could you imagine learning from someone who decided to teach Scuba Diving because they had to do something to “save face” and prove to themselves they were a great diver?  Teaching isn’t it.  Teaching is something many people are good at and naturally able to do, but what they can teach is the important thing.

Becoming a Scuba Diving Instructor is one of the absolute most beneficial and fulfilling goal a Diver can have, but we would suggest that it should be done for the right reasons.

We’ve heard several times that students who were mad they didn’t pass a class were going to get their instructors and teach for agency X, Y, or G, but if they can’t pass a specific class they think they should pass, what makes anyone think becoming an Instructor for said level of scuba classes is a viable option?

Teaching Scuba Diving isn’t a hard thing to do, minimum standards from the recreational agencies state that a person can enrol in a class for Divemaster with 30 Dives and can Certify at 60.  An Instructor can be certified as an Instructor with 102 logged dives.

What is that Diver going to be able to demonstrate to a Student?

Here at DDS, we want all of our Instructional Staff to hold at least the level of Intro to Tech, while all of our Instructors are actually Cave Divers!  This is a major reason why many of our DDS Students are more polished and better Divers than the other agencies highest qualified Divers.

If a person has a great personality and works with new Divers it’s great and we definitely encourage them to continue to mentor and to encourage the new Divers, however, if someone outright flunks out of some Technical Diving Courses, we would suggest they shouldn’t just enrol in a Leadership Level Course to save face.  Think of it as breaking up with a significant other and going into an immediate “Rebound” relationship, it often doesn’t work.

That being said Technical Diving and Advanced Level Diving isn’t necessarily for Everyone!  You Either Want to Challenge Yourself or You don’t.  They say “Nothing Good Comes Easy Without a Fight”.  While I would disagree, there is some truth to this also.

Have an accurate self image of Yourself and think things through, do what makes sense.  Don’t become a “Rebound Dive Instructor”, be an Instructor who actually Dives and can positively contribute in this amazing sport.  We are always looking to bolster our teaching staff, but we do have the highest standards.

Before a Diver becomes an Instructor, they should possess above average Diving Skills, above average Rescue Diving abilities, awareness and comfort.

The Rescue Diver Program is a wonderful Course, usually our students favourite, the Divemaster and Assistant Instructor programs are phenomenal too.  The Instructor program is a great experience with a lot of up’s and down’s and some great lessons learned, don’t try and push hard and fast through these core programs.

A Rescue Scenario is expected in every single Technical, Cave, Wreck Penetration and Rebreather Class at DDS.

Those That Can’t Do…..(Try) to Cave Dive? (Or Ice Diving?)

Diver’s often think going to Florida or Mexico is a great idea because they saw a TV show, read a magazine or did a Cenote tour maybe and thought it would be cool to dive in a cave.

The basic rules of cave diving aside (lights, thirds, gear, training, team, etc.), why do people think diving in an overhead environment is a good place for them?  Especially if all they know is diving in a jacket bcd with plastic fins, a clear skirted mask and flutter kicking?

Many Divers try and buy the right Cave or Overhead Gear…Often time making the poor choice of Sidemount Gear as is the trend lately and then they decide they want to jump into a cavern and cave class with this new gear.

Sadly most agencies don’t have a “Doubles Class” which is in poor taste, so agencies like NAUI and GUE did.

There never used to be a Sidemount Course for Recreational Diver’s, but as outlined above, sadly too many recreational instructors are teaching an inferior Sidemount Course, so the students don’t learn the basic skills that would help them move forward successfully in a cave course.

Bottom line: If You Don’t Have Horizontal Trim, Proper Gear, Frog Kick, Back Fin, or Helicopter Turn, YOU SHOULD NOT BE THINKING OF CAVE or OVERHEAD ENVIRONMENT DIVING.

Since August People have been emailing asking or Ice Diving Training.  UNLESS YOU ARE A CERTIFIED INTRO TO TECH OR TECHNICAL DIVER IN A DRYSUIT WITH DOUBLES OR SIDEMOUNT, YOU SHOULD NOT BE THINKING OF ICE DIVING.

Any Dive Store or Instructor that thinks Intro to Cave in a Single is suitable or Ice Diving with a Single is Suitable are a) breaking standards, but are also delusional.

You need a Foundational Skills Class like TDI, NAUI or GUE offer.  You Have No Business being in an overhead environment without the right gear and training.

We have seen more equipment failures in Ice Diving Courses than all levels of technical diving, recreational and cave diving courses combined.  Diving Under the Ice is just stupid without the right gear and training.

Fit And Functionality

Regardless of where you go in your diving, do it right!  Get the best fitted gear you can.  Properly fitted equipment makes diving fun, not a chore.

Many people try and save a few dollars getting a less than ideal fitted drysuit or undergarment which hinders movement and mobility.  If you don’t have full range of motion in your drysuit don’t make excuses or try and justify Sidemount or Rebreathers because the valves are at armpit-waist level vs doubles, when the issue isn’t the gear configuration, it’s the fact that you made a poor purchase buying a drysuit that doesn’t fit you properly.

Any Technical Diving Instructor should do a “Fit Clinic” as part of your technical diving path and help you fit your gear properly. If they themselves are taking shortcuts, you’re going to receive the wrong information or support.

Everything piece of gear a Diver dives with should feel like “home”.  If it feels like a chore or it’s not easy to use, it may not be the right piece of equipment.

Even something so obvious as fitting a backplate harness properly is something we see overlooked by a lot of Divers we meet or re-train.

The Right Gear Doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, it just has to work best for the end user.

Used Gear is not always good on important items like wetsuits, drysuits, garments, but a backplate and harness, a set of tanks, a dive computer, if you have to get used is a great option if it’s the right price.  We often do find though that people online are often selling used gear for more than we sell new gear for in some cases and of course we sell our rentals off frequently too.

The correct shape of the doubles wing the Diver chooses, the right length bungees on a Sidemount harness, how snug or how loose a Diver’s harness is, how streamlined the drysuit is cut will prevent set-backs and promote fun!

Fit and Functionality is everything. Don’t Rush Into Making an Impulse Purchase just to get gear that gets you in the water, as it will cost you thousands of dollars to correct some of these mistakes.  The Drysuit obviously being the most important piece of gear.

Think it through and do it right.

Get Back to Basics

Need Additional Skills? Photo courtesy of @strokeoftheday via Instagram

Go Back to Basics, get proficient in Doubles once you’re ready to graduate from singles.  Take a proper Doubles NTEC Primer with us.  NTEC is a great pre-requisite to the Intro program and it gives you a preview of where your level of proficiency needs to be before trying to enrol in the next course.

When over 50-75% of our Divers don’t successfully complete Intro to Tech, it should make you wonder why?  The answer?  They don’t have the trim, buoyancy, fin kicks, awareness or experience and are trying to put the cart before the horse.  Sometimes it’s not until they get held back that they have an awakening, but more of then not, the Divers are clueless or argue in disbelief and start getting into situations beyond their training.

If all Divers took advantage of our mentorship program and did Ntec, got good and they prepped and trained and dove with like-minded DDS Divers who could grow together and become a proper team, they could then enrol in the next level with our approval and not hold up the rest of the class or be a hindrance in training the competent Diver’s who are ready to progress forward.  Don’t be the Diver who Hold’s Them Back!

Our Homegrown DDS Divers have never failed Intro to Tech.  That being said when we share videos of our Newer Advanced Open Water Level Divers diving with Tech Divers from other agencies they’re often as good or better in the water.

Put the time and effort in, take it seriously, log your hours and keep diving.

Start with Singles, Get a Drysuit and Dive Doubles, Get Experience in Doubles.  Train Up in Tech or Cave and go Rebreather, consider DPV Technical or Cave applications if you want more bottom time once you’re proficient with at least 2 deco bottles, then consider Sidemount for Advanced or Expedition Type Diving, but respect the hierarchy because it’s the path of least resistance.

We Generally recommend taking 1 major core course a year.  An example of this would be: Open Water and Advanced (maybe some easy Specialties) Year 1, Rescue year 2 (and maybe some easy Specialties), Divemaster (and specialities) Year 3 or later.  When you’re ready to make the jump into the more challenging Technical Programs, do Intro to Tech Year one year, Tech 1 and Cave 1 Year 2 and 3, Trimix Year 3, Rebreather Year 4 or 5. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither were great Scuba Divers.

We typically like 25-50 Dives to the students highest level of certification minimum before they move onto the next level and some agencies even mandate that, which fits with our mindset also.  There may also be some exceptional exceptions, but we rarely see them because Good, Realistic Scuba Divers aren’t in a rush to prove anything.

There is no substitute for experience!

Get out and get your practice in.  We teach Diver’s from all over Canada, the US and other Countries, let’s make You the Best Diver You can be.  It’ll take time, but you’ll love every minute of it. Sign up for some classes with us.  It doesn’t matter where you reside, we can come to you or youc an come to us, or we can meet your somewhere else awesome.

See you underwater,

Matt