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DDS Diver Grace doing a CCR Trimix Dive in Bon Echo Park

When Should You Get a Rebreather

When Should You Get a Rebreather
by
Matthew Mandziuk

Lately people have been asking us about rebreathers and when they should consider going that direction…So I figured “When Should You Get a Rebreather” would be a fun topic to write about.

Rebreathers are a simple concept.  A rebreather is in essence like breathing from a “sealed bag” is filled with a breathable gas mixture.  As you breath each breath, you deplete the oxygen in the “bag” through the process of metabolizing the oxygen and putting back in the lung exhaled breath with a lesser partial pressure of oxygen until the “sealed bag” or “lung” would go hypoxic (think of breathing in and out of a paper bag as a concept), meaning not enough oxygen is in the gas you’re breathing to sustain life.

You would have to replace the depleted oxygen with more oxygen, but in addition to this, you’ll also have make sure that carbon dioxide is also being absorbed/eliminated from your rebreathed gas, so we need to “scrub” the CO2 out with a CO2 “scrubber”….Sound simple?  It is overall.

Below we will discuss who should dive a rebreather, the different basic designs and features, key elements, dive planning and more.

There are 2 types of rebreather concepts.  Semi-Closed and Fully Closed.

fathom rebreather rigged up as the tech version with faber LP50 tanks, Lola valves, atomic regulators, custom black camo halcyon evolve jj wing with maroon center, spg on left hip with diluent injection through the left hip d-ring
Fathom MK2.5 CCR Tech Rigged

Semi-Closed is less popular for the vast majority because it’s a glorified gas extender with an efficiency ranging from 8:1 to as high as 10:1 efficiency.  They can use the same lung that a life-support patient breaths from which passively allows excess gas to vent from the bottom of the unit while the lung is refilled.

The Passive Semi-Closed Rebreather is very popular for depths where open and closed circuit scuba are less reliable.  PSCR Divers often use larger cylinders.

Fully Closed Rebreathers utilize smaller tanks, a greater degree of efficiency as high as 40:1 that of open circuit because when the efficiency is met, the diver recycles the entire exhaled breath and only has to inject the oxygen when the PO2 drops.  They can be more complicated but are more popular at the time of this writing

Rebreathers ARE NOT For Everyone

With the Cost of Helium increasing, more and more people are looking to breath more efficiently, however, diving a rebreather requires a higher level of awareness, technique, buoyancy, trim, knowledge of the machine and what can go wrong and how to troubleshoot problems.

It’s only a matter of time until Rebreathers become more common practice to the masses, however, now is not the time for most people because they don’t have the training or the experience.

Helium keeps going up and up, but that doesn’t mean unqualified Divers should be jumping in blind and bypassing all the experience and fun that is had learning and logging the experience dives that makes a person a better Diver.

Here are illustrations of a basic rebreather design and semi-closed rebreather design courtesy of the NAUI Rebreather Instructor Guide.

SCR Rebreather
SCR Rebreather
Closed Circuit Rebreather Diagram
CCR

Types of Closed Circuit Rebreathers

Choosing the right rebreather for the individual is key.  There is no perfect one rebreather of everybody.

Automatic: Some Divers prefer an automatic rebreather than much like a dive computer, runs the dive for them setting a constant PO2 (oxygen set point) for them on descent and maximum depth injecting oxygen using a solenoid .

Unless the Diver remembers to set the computer to a lower set point on ascent, this can cause problems for the Diver as the unit will continue to inject oxygen as the depth reduces because as the diver goes shallower, the Po2 will drop, so if the Diver ascends from depth at a PO2 set point of 1.2ata the rebreather will try to keep filling the lung with oxygen, whereas, the diver needs to set their set point lower to 0.6ata and they can ascend without worrying about an out of control ascent and manually adjust their set point to their desired level.

Continuous Mass Flow and Needle Valves: Some rebreathers use what’s called a needle valve which uses a “Mass Flow” orifice on the regulator of the O2 tank. The Diver can set their oxygen set point based on their metabolic oxygen rate by adjusting the Needle Valve.

The needle valve will gently flow oxygen into the counterlung so if the diver becomes task loaded and isn’t watching their Po2 (which should never happen), they needle valve will prevent the Diver from going Hypoxic.

You’ll find the Mass Flow a great option which is why the original KISS Rebreathers are still one of the simplest designs, while the updated Needle Valve design of Fathom CCR  is becoming so popular.

The Continuous Mass Flow system is limited by depth.  The intermediate pressure of the regulator first stage can reach the same as ambient pressure meaning an intermediate pressure in the first stage of 10BAR/145psi will not put out any more gas past 81msw/260fsw.

The Fathom System corrects the by modifying a diaphragm sealed first stage with a stronger spring which allows for safe boosting of the intermediate pressure up to as high as 205psi/14BAR which is capable of diving to depths of 120msw/395fsw.  The pressure can also be increased up to 290psi/20bar for up to 585fsw or 177msw!!!

Excerp from the Fathom Page: “Smaller fixed-orifices can also be used for deeper depths with higher intermediate pressures but the risk of a blockage is increased and the options are limited by orifice availability. A fixed-orifice requires that the first stage intermediate pressure be adjusted to achieve a flow rate that corresponds to the diver’s metabolic needs, typically around 0.6 to 0.8 L/min. Conversely, the needle valve allows the first-stage intermediate pressure to be set to any pressure since the needle valve handles the flow adjustments. More importantly, the needle valve minimizes the risk of a blockage from debris since it can be opened up to allow small particles to pass. The oxygen MAV, which contains the needle-valve, is ported directly into the exhaust side of the head so oxygen must travel through the scrubber and mix with loop gas before reaching the diver.

1 (145 psi/14.7 psi/ata – 2 ata) x 33 fsw/ata = 260 fsw  (Note: always subtract 2 ata when calculating the maximum operational depth of a CMF system.)”

Diving the Bell Island Mine with Explorer and Rebreather Instructor Matt Mandziuk

Manual CCR: Manual Rebreathers are simple, easy to use, but require more attention to the instrumentation and require the operator to constantly inject oxygen based on their needs depressing an oxygen injection button allowing the Diver to adjust the oxygen as slowly or quickly as needed, in a similar fashion to how a diver would inflate their bcd.

When Diving a Manual CCR, the Diver will have to remember to monitor their Po2 and maintain the desired set point.

One of the more fun skills is “Volume Drop” which the CCR Diver will do in their initial training course to see how long it can take their mix to go near hypoxic from their targeted set point.

Keeping a consistent set point that mirrors a backup computer if there isn’t a second computer handset or NERD on the unit is a desired option.

Being diligent with keeping the oxygen level consistent is a must.

Simplicity and Reliability Should Favour Bells and Whistles

The more high tech of a rebreather, the more complacent some Divers get.  Whether you’re flying an automatic or manual system you should always be aware of your set point and Do Your Pre-Dive Checklist!

A Rebreather is a very Serious Piece of Equipment.

PSCR Rebreather
Semi Closed Rebreather Rigged and Ready to Dive with double 80’s in Mexico

A rebreather is essentially a nitrox or trimix gas mixing system that is designed to deliver a constant oxygen set point that acts as a gas extender to you diving more efficient.

With each exhaled breath you make on open circuit scuba, there is no way to get that exhaled gas back.

A rebreather recycles your exhaled air, which is typically 5-6% less oxygen than you inhaled.

When you exhale into a rebreather, you’re exhaling into a scrubber canister, which is essentially a “filter cartridge” that is filled with a carbon dioxide absorbent, a granual that traps the CO2 on granules that resemble kitty litter called Soda lime, which is used to remove CO2 from breathing gases to prevent CO2 retention and CO2 Poisoning.

The filtered gas enters a counterlung that allows you re-breath this recycled gas and as it continues to be re-breathed, oxygen has to be added on occasion to prevent hypoxia (not enough oxygen)….Some have said that a rebreather is “essentially slowly trying to kill you, so maintaining the oxygen levels is essential.”

With each breath in we drop our oxygen PO2 so as the levels drop, we need to add oxygen to “bump” up the levels or the oxygen percentage you’re breathing can go hypoxic meaning you don’t have enough oxygen to sustain life and can go unconscious and die.

White Arrow Axial Rebreather Scrubber Canister
White Arrow Axial Rebreather Scrubber
fathom rebreather scrubber regular and large size canisters
Fathom Radial Rebreather Scrubber by Golem Gear

Think of the Scrubber and counterlung as your cardiovascular system.

Radial vs Axial Scrubber

Radial Scrubber allows the gas to pass through he canister body and provides a lower work of breathing, but is more difficult to pack than Axial Scrubber canister.

As the Co2 Absorbent becomes wet through moisture/condensation, the absorbent can clump, which can make it more difficult for the gas to pass through it, thus increasing the work of breathing.

Axial scrubber size/length needs to be long enough to prevent channelling of gas and short enough to keep the work of breathing low enough.  A longer Axial scrubber will increase work of breathing.

For longer dives, a longer radial canister is much preferred as the work of breathing remains excellent on most designs.

There are also pre-packed scrubber cartridges available for some models of rebreather for the Diver who doesn’t want the responsibility or liability of packing a scrubber canister.  These are more costly, but effective.

Rebreather Fatalities are (approximately) 10 Times More Common than Open Circuit Scuba Fatalities

Diving a Rebreather is very different than diving traditional Scuba. You can’t control buoyancy the same way and they don’t deliver gas the same way. Some even have a very complicated bunch of electronics or bulky, dangling bits everywhere and a huge, bulky counterlung.

Many CCR Divers can’t do a “try dive” on the unit they think they want to buy, so unfortunately, we see many people making Very Poor Choices in their Selection.

Your best rebreather is ultimately the one you think you want, but honestly, the simplest, most reliable and mores streamlined rebreather is the one for you.

Avoid Bells and Whistle’s, and run the unit in “manual” mode instead of an automatic rebreather. Be In Control of Your Oxygen Levels, don’t trust the machine to do it all for you.

Get as polished as you can be and as experienced as you can be before you jump into a rebreather.

Who Should Dive a Rebreather?

If the CCR Diver is wanting to dive the a pair of shipwrecks within recreational limits and dump their scrubber after the dives are completed, the cost of absorbent and gas fills will cost more than Nitrox fill in doubles would, so unless that Diver is planning a longer than “No Stop” recreational time limits, or saving the absorbent after the days diving wraps up for another day of diving, there is no benefit to using a rebreather on those dives, other than practice.

Cave Divers can spend hours underwater just on a single dive, as can shipwreck divers, technical divers and research divers.  This is who a rebreather is best suited for.

NEVER ABANDON HOGARTHIAN/DIR/NTEC PRINCIPLES AND VALUES

Your rebreather configuration should be as streamlined as your doubles setup. Simple, Streamlined, Reliable, Familiar. Long hose is always off the right post, necklace (or BOV)  is always off the left post so they don’t roll closed when swimming through a restriction like a cave or shipwreck.

Most CCR Divers Don’t Mirror Open Circuit (Long Hose, Backmounted Diluent, SPG Left Hip, etc.), which makes the system more complicated and in a situation where task loading can become a problem, that’s never good.

200′ Trimix Dive with LP50’s, argon, Nitrox 50 and Oxygen

You should NEVER have to re-orient your stage bottle rigging (Always Valves Up Not Valves Down), positioning of your stages (Always Left Side). Running your valves “Valves Down” means your regulators are going to hit first when you do a stage drop.  Those diving in the Great Lakes also have to worry about Zebra Muscles slicing into your hoses.  It’s also easier to do a bubble check when your stage bottle valves are facing you.

Valves Up? or Valves Down on the Main Cylinders?  Diving 3L Cylinders you will trim out better with the valves upright like a standard K Valve, but the Valves Down is acceptable for some configurations too.

When Diving CCR with Aluminum 40’s or Faber LP50’s Valves Up is the Most Modern and Most Reasonable Option.

Diving PSCR Valves Up is the Only Option as well, since the cylinders are larger and your’re mirroring your Open Circuit Doubles Configuration.

You can also get a Sidemount Rebreather in PSCR or CCR.  Many of them do not breath well.

Remember the DIR…NTEC Principles are based around the concept of “Doing it Right”.

Not Enough Bailout Gas

One of the most common problems with rebreather divers is that they do not carry enough bailout gas!

You’ll sometimes see a cave or trimix diver doing a technical dive with 1-2 aluminum 40 cylinders.  In the unlikely event the diver is equipped with 3L (FX23 cubic foot) tanks, they should have a minimum of 2 stages.

Some Divers are also starting to use a Sidemount Rebreather as a bailout option.

Cave 1 Divers require a minimum of 140ft3 of bailout, while a Cave 2 level Diver requires a minimum volume of 225ft3.

This means that the average CCR Diver doing a cave dive with an aluminum 40 or a pair of 40’s isn’t carrying enough bailout in the event of a full failure of the unit where they’d be required to swim their bailout from the deepest point in the cave.

Even an AL80, AL40 and the 3L tanks aren’t generally enough for a cave 2 level dive, 2 80’s and bailout in fact aren’t either as that + the 3L cylinders is only 200ft3 of gas.

A recreational diver doing No Stop Diving can use a single AL40 from 40msw/130fsw.

A Technical Level 1 Diver 50msw/150fsw would require an AL80 and an AL40 to ensure they can hit the obligated deco stops ascending from max depth to first deco stops and in the second bottle should have at least a 50% nitrox mix to breath.

A Trimix 1 Diver (2 deco bottles in Open Circuit) generally certified to 60-72msw/200′-240′ should have at least 1 AL80 worth of bottom gas to ascent from max depth to first deco stops. A second AL80 to ascend form the 150-70′ range and then enough gas to get from 70′ to the surface.

A Trimix 2 Diver diving beyond 70msw/240fsw requires enough bailout to ascend from max depth to first deco stop, and then each additional phase of decompression.

A 91msw/300fsw would require roughly 150ft3 of open circuit bailout to the first required deco stop, which would be a trimix of a 21/35 or 23/25.  That would have to last the OC Diver up to the next required deco phase which should be 70′ and 50% Nitrox or a hyperopic trimix like 50/25, while others may opt for a 30/30 trimix breathed up to 20′ which would require yet another AL80 for the decompression phase.

You’ll start to see why the little 3L tanks aren’t enough for deeper trimix dives unless you split the bailout cylinders with your team member(s) to minimize what you’d have to carry.

For “Light” recreational dives, double Aluminum 40’s are a wonderful option offering 80 ft3 of bailout on the back.

SCR Rebreather
Try and Discover Rebreather Experience Today

A pair of Faber LP50’s filled “Florida Style” with a bottom trimix is more preferred for experienced rebreather divers.

For the Same Dive the LP50’s would bring the diver into the 55msw/180fsw range easily, switching to the 21/35, then up to the next deco phase at either 21msw/70fsw or 30msw/100′ and up to the 9m/20fsw phase where another AL80 of oxygen would be required.

It’s so important to plan ahead and plan for the worst, as you don’t want to be left with any surprises, and while a flooded rebreather or a total loss of your PO2 monitoring equipment is rare, which can happen, as can regulator failures, burst disc ruptures and more, but that’s why they call them a failure.  They’re unplanned.

Being Proficient in at minimum of 2 AL80 Stages is why I always encourage Divers to get to at least the Cave 2 or Trimix 1 level.

Maintenance

The pre-dive setup and post dive teardown of a rebreather could take far longer than the planned dive. Some units are easier to assemble and teardown than others, which should be a consideration.

Maintenance, pre-diving evaluation of all components which should be frequently inspected, as well as changing of the oxygen sensors every 6-12 months, servicing the regulators, fittings, o-rings, injection equipment should all be factored in.

If a leak is detected in the unit, it can cause more problems in the event of an emergency, as a flooded rebreather can have an unfavourable effect if the scrubber becomes wet, causing a “caustic cocktail” which can be an instant retching action that can cause the diver to go into a choking reflex as you ingest this corrosive, alkaline cocktail.  If a Diver tries to bail out to open circuit on a separate regulator they may involuntarily inhale more water, while simultaneously retching and possibly drown, this is where a Bail Out Valve or BOV is a very smart piece of equipment.  The BOV has a switch on the rebreather that allows you to open the breathing loop from closed circuit to an open circuit regulator.

The diver will then be able to breath or barf and breath through the second stage as they take sanity breaths for a couple of minutes.  Students are taught to purge empty the rebreather from water on their CCR Course.

Instead of a BOV, some rebreather divers use a DSV (Dive Surface Valve) to allow them to breath surface air topside.  This could be more risky in a caustic environment as the diver doesn’t have the ability to switch off closed circuit to open circuit in the even of a caustic cocktail, so utilizing a necklace under the chin reminiscent of how modern divers dive with a long hose/short hose configuration is the only reasonable option to get breathable gas if the unit is flooded.

People love the “Cool Factor”, but I wholeheartedly caution those who don’t cut it at the recreational or entry-level technical diving level to wake up and seriously ask yourself if you’re ready for all that CCR Diving entails.

A friend of ours who passed away recently ago used to say he never dove a rebreather because he had friends who were Doctors or Lawyers with more letters that were in front of their names who died on them.

Diving a Rebreather is more commonplace now, but unless the dives are super deep (below 150’ or more) or super long like those maybe a Marine Research Diver would be participating in, the reality is that diving Open Circuit is the more efficient choice for the average person.

Rebreathers require a much higher degree of attention, diligence and understanding of how the unit works.  The simpler the unit, the easier it may be to fix on the fly in the event of an equipment related issue.  You should always have multiple ways to receive breathable gas in an emergency, so always do your positive and negative checks, and test out the mushroom valves, regulators, fittings and practice drills regularly to keep your problem solving skills sharp.

Have a well stocked rebreather Save a Dive Kit of spare o-rings, regulator parts, breathing hoses and sensor(s).

Keeping Your Rebreather in “Dive Ready Condition” is a Must.

Pre-Dive Checks, Calibrating the Instruments, verifying flow rates (if applicable), packing your scrubber, then cleaning and disinfecting the unit is all part of rebreather diving.  Don’t be lazy and don’t be complacent.

Diving a Rebreather requires diligence and being familiar with all the inner workings of the unit.

Things to Consider.

Which Side does the oxygen inject in from?  Before or after the gas is analyzed? Does it have an ADV or a T-Block Piece?  How many different ways can you get breathable gas if you need it?  How does the unit breath flooded? Is the unit reliable?  Does it work in cold water or just warm water?  Is it lightweight for travel? Do you need to wear weights with it and how much?  Is the cost of the unit agreeable?

What are the entry requirements to training on a Rebreather?  Agencies who make it “too easy” don’t get the big picture.  Train harder, skill up and then go to a rebreather.  Don’t Take Short cuts.  See my previous blog post What’s The Hurry, What’s The Rush?.

You’re making a decision that can cost you over $10’000.00USD.  Do Your Research, but more importantly talk Us.  We do get Demo Units as well sometimes as trade-in’s.  We currently have a Sentinel CCR up for grabs.

Book a Try Dive with Us and see why our way is the best way.

All too often Divers go blindly into purchasing a rebreather and it’s not until they start putting the hours on their units do they realize they purchased the wrong one.

In Closing

Rebreathers are a lot of fun, as you can extend your dive times, see more creatures up close and more personal, it buys you time in an emergency if you’re trapped in a shipwreck or a cave to find an exit in the event of a collapse making them a safer choice for extreme cave diving and the deepest shipwreck diving.

50-100 Trimix Dives will more than pay for the rebreather and the training, so get your hours up in Open Circuit, get proficient with multiple stage bottles and let’s help you become a Rebreather Explorer.

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 when it comes to Scuba Diving Certification is when a group of divers start pushing ahead after they’ve obtained a user level certification, and decide “they know it all”, then 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 book 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

 

 

Cave Explorer Matt Mandziuk retrieving line in a Florida Cave

Cave Diving – How I Got Into Diving Caves

Cave Diving – How I Got Into Diving Caves
by
Matthew Mandziuk

A lot of people ask me about Cave Diving – How I Got Into Diving Caves, and the truth is that it wasn’t on purpose. It was once upon a time when I was in Mexico doing some instructor updates for TDI. I’ve been a Technical Diving Instructor with them for over 20 years and I was looking for a trainer that could teach me more than the people I had met or worked with here in North America were able to offer. 

The Internet was relatively new to me…well most of us 20 years ago, but I had found a few trainers who kept coming up on WebCrawler and whatever other search engines I used…I think AOL. What drew me to Mexico was that the Instructor was seemingly offering something different in concept. His emails were more detailed even though English wasn’t his first language and the pictures looked like the gear was a lot tidier than my setup, which in those days was a very old school New Jersey Wreck Diving configuration, so I took a chance, hopped on a plane and went to Mexico.

We reconfigured my gear, as I was fascinated by how much cleaner and more streamlined the setup we were training new students on was and I embraced it all 100%.

It was knowledge that made sense and it made the diving so much more functional. (See the example of how my gear may or may not have looked at one point further down the post).

The Seasickness Day

One day we were out in the ocean boat diving in 14′ waves, when I got thrown from the boat by with all my gear on. Here was as good of a spot as any to drop on the wall, so we decided to drop right were I did and we conducted a nice 300’ trimix dive. As we entered the decompression phase of the dive shallower, the surge was very strong and I started getting a little queasy. After the stops were clear, we got tossed back onto the boat by the waves and we powered back to shore, I crawled tanks and all up the sandy beach on all 4’s and and kissed that unmoving ground. I likely even told it I loved it.

When my face wasn’t green anymore my Trainer started thinking about other less windy options and one of the ideas that popped into his mind was to do a deep sink hole, something I’d never seen before. I was in.

An Inland Road Trip

I remember the site well, Cenote Angelita. We drove into the jungle and parked a car, walked down a dirt pathway through the jungle of beautiful big trees, and we happened upon what looked like a tropical oasis in paradise. There were some tree roots we could use to walk down to the water way a little more safety and you could see down quite a ways into the water as the sun was peaking high in the sky just before noon.

When discussing the dive plan, we were briefed on the site and I got to discuss the dive with the dives I was diving with.  

We walked our decompression cylinders down to the water and tied a line off a series of strangler fig tree roots to clip the tanks to so they didn’t slip off the ledge down to over 200’.

We put our suits and double tanks on and on the surface we conducted our s-drill and bubble checks, clipped our additional cylinders on and away we went.

I remember looking into the air clear water and I could see all the way down to the bottom at 90’ where there was a hydrogen sulphur cloud and a beautiful reddish coloured rock in spots around the basin.

We explored the sink which was very reminiscent of Yoda’s planet Dagobah with the steam on the surface unearthing the trees sticking through the cloud, except this was now happening underwater and was one of the most mind-blowing and interesting things I’d ever seen in my life.

After taking in my new favourite site above the cloud, we decided to go in through the cloud. As we descended through the hydrogen sulphur cloud, I could actually taste through my regulator a flavour of sulphuric “rotten egg” which is a flavour everyone talks about. As I descended, I came into the darkness 40’ deeper and into a night dive like environment environment. HID Lights were just starting to come onto the market and it was my first time seeing a Halcyon 18w HID light in action. the blue light was so amazing. I was still using a 2 section car battery pack powering a 50w Halogen lamp, so my beam was yellow.

As I took the time to take in this new environment, I noticed a lot of branches, roots, a massive hour glass shaped debris cone, just like I’d read about in the many books I’d read on the Yucatan Peninsula and the water was even clearer below the cloud that above, which we could easily see the entire length of the basin above and below over 300’ of clarity on this day.

We kept following the debris cone downward towards the bottom which I could see getting closer and closer and we stopped at a cavern entrance with a beautiful speleothem hanging and all of the divers lit up the entrance with their high tech HID lights and my halogen lamp.

I Was Mind Blown…

I was mind blown and the entire dive had eclipsed all of my best dives in quality, uniqueness, clarity of water, cool things to see. I’d gone from never diving a sink hole to never seeing spelotherms, to being thrown into a new world of let’s discover what else is out here and a trip that was only supposed to be 1-2 weeks lasted a month, as I so excitedly and enthusiastically ascended after our decompression ended and smiling ear to ear they asked how I liked that site!? My reply was that it was the best dive ever. They later replied, if you like that we have some even bigger and better treats for you “Farmer” (in response to being seasick and kissing the sand the day before).

We did a second dive at Angelita was just as good, but a bit shallower as we broke 200′ of depth on the first dive. We had even more time to swim around and play in and out of the hydrogen sulphur cloud. It was very memorable.

An Example of full columns in a Cave
Photo by Matt Mandziuk

Upon feeling renewed and excited, we did a bunch of other fun dives in the area and all these big deep sink holes just made me more curious about what else was inside them.

One day I was asked to teach a decompression lecture for a bunch of cave students and was convinced to join on the open water skills dive on day 1 of these students working on their cavern skills. It was pitched to me that I could learn how to use a reel better and it would help make the best wreck diving class in the world.

The day we did the class, then we started working on dry land drills and having never actually been taught to run line and only reading from the old NSS-CDS and NACD cave books, I was excited to see how they did things, so I sat and watched and when the students were done, I too had a chance to play with the reels and line following and then I joined the group during the simulated air sharing while blindfolded and communicating during “touch contact” and I thoroughly enjoyed being blind and feeling the way the line in my hands moved left and right and up and down and how I could use the sense of touch to feel the plastic navigational markers as a way of knowing roughly where I was and what direction was out.

I was done all of my TDI Technical Instructor upgrades and lectures by this point and it was time to immerse myself into something new. Cavern Diver Training!

My first cavern training dive was in 20’ of open water at a cent called Car Wash. It was the most intense dive of my life because I was taking everything so seriously. We have a great Cave 2 Skills Video summary of some of the skills online if you’re interested CLICK HERE.

For those who know me, I’m a pretty OCD and very thorough person when it comes to diving. I’m hypersensitive to things and usually very very aware and I liked this because it was challenging me in a new and different way.

For those who have done a Wreck Penetration, Intro to Tech, Cavern or Cave class with me, I’m sure you’ll remember our 20-30’ dives too. The shallow skills development dives set the bar for things to come.

On my Cavern Training it was not different. We spent 1.5 hours in 20’ of water doing air shares with and without visibility, with and without a buddy, we simulated a lost guideline deploying a safety/backup reel and had to relocate the line, tie-off our safety line and follow the mainline until we found an arrow marking our exit and make an exit in the proper direction. 

DDS Divers Working on Line Handling and Awareness

Don’t Be Intimidated….

While many people find a dive like serious training dive to be intense or intimidating, it just made me want more. As a matter of fact, I took the next dives so seriously that it took me 20 minutes to even realize we were in a cavern because I was so focussed on the team, the communication, the line placements and etiquette, among the other pre-dive rituals we had ahead of the penetration into the cavern, that it felt more organized diving this way.

Once we tied into the main guideline I was able to break a sigh of relief that we found it and then I was able to stop and take it all in and this cavern became something that allowed my body and mind to slow down and take it all in as the stillness was enhanced, my breathing rate lower than the last 20 minutes had been and and I heard every heart beat, the sound of every breath flowing through my long hose towards my mouth and the lights all cascading a beautiful array of light patterns around this magical limestone paradise that were created millions of years ago.

As the divers began to signal the turn and exit and somehow one at a time had “equipment failures” with masks being removed, primary lights failing, people running out of gas, etc., I was watching and waiting for my time to exit and don’t really remember if/what the problems I would’ve encountered were, but again after sorting our gear back out when the scenarios were over, and our safety stop completed, we ascended into another monumental emotional diving bliss moment as we were all smiles and ready for the next challenges.

True Beauty…

The thing I loved most about the cave diving training were the beautiful caves we were training in. Seeing the ice-age looking formations that resemble the frozen icicles at a waterfall were hypnotic, as were the stalactites and full columns (once I was able to start enjoying them and paying less attention to the main guideline or the equipment that I knew was going to “fail” on the exit).

The skills that we had to do on the class were addictive and I even “died” on my lost line drill, which is a survival skill we do as we simulate losing the primary line and having to tie off our safety spool on a rock and blindly feeling for the primary line, hoping to hook it with our reel, or even our equipment or body. 

Skills that like were very sobering and they drove home the importance of paying attention to the team and surroundings at all times.

Learning to navigate a jump from one line to another cave line was another wonderful skill too, as it extended our range into these cave passages.

What I loved most about cave diving were the rules and how organized cave diving made me feel. I used to always say Wreck Divers used brawn and Cave Divers used brains. I’m a big advocate of diving smarter, not harder and Cave Diving was something that just made sense.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Mexican cave sites was the haloclines, a phenomena of waters of different density and temperature that can create a visual disturbance like mixing fresh water into a glass of saltwater resembling how a road shimmers in the hot summer heat.
Here you’ll notice the fresh water layer on top pushing, mixed water in the middle with the salt layer along the bottom.

Halocline Formation in a Mexican Cave During NAUI Cave 2 Class

A thermocline can get more brackish as your pass through the layer and it creates a greater mix of the salt and fresh water which can obscure view of the main guideline. Learning how to dive in Halocline Formation is important.

I learned some valuable lessons on the cave class as well and helped reconfigure my equipment, as I maybe had some “wreck diving” equipment, but not stuff gear that was as streamlined or as functional as the gear I ultimately embraced. Even a little think like the importance of a good pair of fins. I was an advocate of Mares Quattro’s for years, they were a fantastic pair of fins, but couldn’t figure out why I was having to kick to keep up with some of the other divers, given I was running 5 km’s/day, my friend Nick said to me straight up “it’s your fins. They’re too big, bulk and too inefficient”. I switched to Jet fins after I got to try them minutes later and never looked back.

Technical Diving at DDS Looked Reminiscent of this in the ’80’s and ’90’s. Lots of Gear and Task Loading with hoses ,tanks and gauges galore. Be Blessed You’re Learning the Right Way from Open Water On. This is Why Divers Come From All Over North America to Train with DDS.

The importance of the right equipment that suits the team’s mission and members best is very important and another favourite aspect of cave diving, as those team members can help with the line tension, retrieving arrows or cookies if asked, while having their gear rigged the same way in the same location always.

I remember on one of my first cave trips back to Mexico, I got to dive in one of my favourite Mexican cave, where we navigated through 3 different cave systems on 1 dive! Now of course each cave once it’s connected becomes part of the biggest cave system, but once upon a time they were 3 separate cave systems.

With proper dive planning, great gas consumption and the right safety gear, cave diving can be one of the most enjoyable and stimulating styles of diving ever.

Cave Diving is Not Dangerous. Breaking the rules, exceeding your level of training or experience is. The caves have been here for thousands and millions of years before divers started exploring them, they’re not the hazard, human error is.

In Cave Diving they use the expression “There are Old Cave Divers and There are Bold Cave Divers, but No Old Bold Cave Divers”. Having lost friends diving, it’s not fun, but at some point a rule was broken or a training limitation in the majority of the losses I’ve had to endure. Thinking of your friends and family first will act as insurance in wanting to return home safely, so that you don’t make unnecessary risks and you can keep your mind in the game.

Don’t Make Unnecessary Risks, it’s not worth it.

Diving at the Cenote El Pat (The Pit) a Deep Sinkhole with several
caves including one over 300′ deep we were diving in 2015.
Sun lit Jungle in Mexico on the trail topside to the world's largest underwater cave system. Sun light beaming like subtle lasers through the tree branches
The Sun light beams gently kiss the jungle as we make our way to the dive camp during the World’s Longest Underwater Cave Expedition in Mexico.

From Student to Teacher and Explorer


My cave training opened me up to a lot of amazing adventures, but the faster approach to the training was something I wasn’t as keen on. 

Many divers do a “zero to hero” cave class in certain places, it’s not to say it can’t be done, I did it, however, I was the only diver who knew how to frog kick, turn or fin backwards along with 2 students who’d done open water and advanced with the same instructor in a backplate/wing, but reverse frog wasn’t a required skill, nor was any previous experience in doubles and this is still the case in a lot of the more mainstream agencies.

I really felt like the other students could’ve benefited from a foundational skills class which really was just starting to become a thing 20 years ago. It was rare that divers would have learned the foundational skills and have proper horizontal trim. A Cave Instructor in Florida one day told me they are there to teach a student as much as they can in a week so they don’t die in a cave. Many have never worn doubles, been horizontal or frog kicked, so they do the best they can and they offer them the opportunity to re-take the course within 6-12 months of they practice and get the diving in, but what they really should do is teach them the foundational skills first and then focus on the cave skills/training next. On my cave class the others were new to all the gear and techniques and the open water dives we had done prior to the cavern dives were designed to try and teach them the basics of modern diving.

Cave diving was a lot more mental for me than physical, having to think of the procedures to lay a clothes pin (now we use cookies) or when to arrow and where, as I felt we were hit with a series of navigational decisions and there was a lot of additional gear thrown in like stages and so on.

Complex Navigation involves multiple navigational decisions, entering and exiting in different places, doing circuits, T’s, traverses, set-up and clean-up dives to execute the dive properly.

It wasn’t until I got out on my own exploring new caves, some known, some undiscovered cave sites that I started to gain or retain the knowledge and apply it. I had the skills, I could do the drills, but putting them to practical use was really what made me feel like a cave diver and made me a better diver.

Many divers are quite content just following the main guideline in and out, it’s enough for some people and definitely how you’d want to start off if you haven’t done a cave dive for a while. Ease yourself into the dives doing easy navigation or what I often call diving like a “pedestrian cave diver”, as the simple tour is a nice way to reacquaint yourself with the caves and running the reel and tying into the main guideline, you can assess the conditions and note the navigational jumps or places of interest for future dives.

When it came time for me to be teaching Cavern Diving, I had no interest in teaching Cave Diving. I had a few friends in Florida and Mexico who I’d send friends to dive with and train and that was good enough, but none of them really stuck with it and my local divers were getting more and more keen to go to see these amazing springs and cenotes.

All of the years I spent in Florida and Mexico started mounting up, I started seeing the masses who were cave diving and they were destroying the fragile stalactites in Mexico or breaking the limestone features of the Florida caves.  My favourite decoration in Ginnie Springs got destroyed last year I named it “Scooby Doo” Rock and one day someone decapitated Scooby likely with Doubles or a Run Away Scooter.

scooby-doo-rock
Scooby-Doo Rock before some ass decapitated him. Below is the after math of a beheaded Scooby

As more years went by, I started seeing people flutter kicking even in a no flow cave in Split Fins destroying the visibility, hand swimming and vertical diving habits, along with people pulling hard on the cave guidelines which should never be pulled or heaved on, and only held with caution letting the line slip effortlessly through your fist as you grip it in a touch contact hand position. Most divers didn’t know how to run line properly or at all, while some people were just running a single long line for 200’ into the caves and tying in to the main line with no regard for the other lines, divers, teams or anything.

During those days, it was our Divers loved ones who were telling me that they didn’t trust anyone random person to train their loved one’s and they insisted when their loved one was ready to step it to the next level that I’d be teaching them because if I was the only one they trusted 100%, which was flattering and I accepted eventually, which turned out to be a great move.

For the last 13 years I’ve enjoyed teaching caverns and caves, but finding a cave agency I could relate to and enjoy working with was a serious decision too. I teach for 5 different agencies, but what I wanted out of an agency was a brand that suggested divers get more diving in between each level, much like I had wished I’d done vs the “Zero to Hero” approach, so I looked at all the agency standards and all of the prerequisites that each agency insisted on and none of them were requiring experience in doubles, or a foundational skills series of skills such as fin kicks or horizontal trim, posture, buoyancy, which is why I looked at NAUI as my preferred Cave Diving agency. Seeing the NAUI Standards was a game changer for me.

NAUI allowed divers to dive a 1/3 of their gas in, out and exiting with 1/3 for reserve, while the majority were doing 1/6th in/out and 2/3 let for exit. No jumps off the mainline, or 1 at best. Being able to participate in multiple navigational decisions was also a great offering, as was the depth limit of 100’ max, no stop limits and insisting certified Cave 1 Divers had to log 20 logged Cave 1 dives after their certification above and beyond their cave training dives, obtain a technical certification before engaging in Cave 2.

There were gaps left in my basic cave training that I saw as a bit of a short coming with some of my dive buddies on my cave class not knowing how to fin using a modified frog kick, not having experience in doubles, trim, reel handling or line awareness prior to a NAUI Intro to Tech Class, no experience with stage/deco/ bottles prior to being handed them in a cavern/cave setting, lack of familiarity with canister lights and back-up lights, rescue diving scenarios dealing with oxygen toxicity and more.

Cave Diving has given our Canadian Divers another way to keep their skills sharp during the winter months and while most divers fade in and out of the recreational diving spectrum, I do find that those who commit to an Intro to Tech/Cavern course and actually pass, never stop diving, as Cave 1 and Cave 2 become their next classes and then as it’s been now 11 years later many of those Cave 1 and 2 divers are still joining us on our trips today.

Cave Diving offers some amazing exploration opportunities, some great personal challenges and some different opportunities for photography and other offerings too.

Cave Diving Explorers Nick and Matt Mandziuk assemble a decompression habitat on a deep cave diving expedition on Cenote el Pat in Mexico
Setting up a Decompression Habitat as part of a Trimix Cave Diving Expedition in Mexico

Avoid Rushing Through Basic Training and Into The “Trendy Toys”


There is never a substitute for experience.  Getting your skills in place and your hours up are the only true way to become a proficient diver.  It doesn’t happen easily or overnight.

Surround yourself with a group of Divers you can learn from.  We use a mentorship mentality that helps prepare new DDS Divers who aren’t trained in the DDS philosophies and we encourage our “home grown” Divers to stay as active as they can and to get involved as much as they can.

We are trend setters and people that were responsible for helping establish many of the protocols and procedures now taken as the bible of diving.

We innovated the most modern Sidemount Configuration before anyone started diving long hoses and embraced the most modern CCR Rebreather Configuration with back mounted diluent and off-board O2 before it was the norm.

A lot of divers jump into certain concepts because the wrong people are promoting the wrong progressions, maybe it’s because they themselves couldn’t dive the right gear for a physical reason like shoulder surgery or bad back, but nothing is better off a boat or driving a scooter than doubles.

Sidemount is a tool to get you into a place you can’t fit on singles or doubles or for shore diving. It is better suited after Cave 2 when the divers have extensive cave experience, the ability or desire to do tighter passages or “no mount” passages even. Sometimes caves are not accessible on doubles, so Sidemount is the Correct Tool Here.

There are many caves that are simply too tight to get into with doubles, so once you’re familiar with all the cave diving has to offer, Sidemount becomes another tool you can use for expeditions where you don’t know if the cave will widen or narrow further.

Sidemount is Not for Mixed Gas Diving and is a horrible choice when diving off a boat, especially if people are diving an unrefined Sidemount configuration which is typically what we see locally from most shops/instructors/divers who are not cave divers.

Sidemount is amazing in places where doubles aren’t available for rent, because you can maintain the redundancy.  Sometimes on shipwrecks or in caves, doubles don’t fit, so Sidemount is the tool of choice as well as for those who medically can’t reach their valves due to spinal or shoulder injuries (having an ill-fitting drysuit/undergarment are no excuse).

Rebreathers with small little 2-3 litre cylinders are also an issue we have. Most Cave Divers Do Not Carry Enough Bailout Gas. A Cave Level 1 Dive = 140ft3 bailout minimum. A Cave Level 2 Dive = 225ft3 bailout Minimum. This means said Cave Diver Needs to be excellent with multiple Decompression Cylinders. In NAUI Cave 2 Divers Learn to use 3-4 additional bottles plus doubles.

Get Good on Stages and Doubles Before Venturing into Sidemount or Rebreather. Once you’re proficient in those styles of diving You can do DPV Overhead/Cave Course which may be safer on a CCR for gas time and efficiency as you’re travelling further back in the cave, but you should always swim it first on Open Circuit First and See how many cylinders it takes for if/when the DPV fails and you may swim on out of it for real.

Taking the right training, buying the right gear, putting in the right amount of time practicing is essential for any divers success. Don’t Rush into caves, technical diving, rebreathers, sidemount diving.  Don’t Take Shortcuts in Your Training.

There are so many amazing dives sites at every depth level and ever training level you succeed at. There is always a next deepest, and next best as well.

Don’t even attempt to dive a Rebreather in a Cave unless you can hover motionless for 5 minutes no skulling horizontally, Knees Up, Fins Up, Arms Out in Trim and complete all the Foundational Skills with 2 Stage Bottles On. I say this because several people have been unsuccessful in Intro to Tech with us and jumped into a Rebreather and somehow got Normoxic Trimix certified standing and kneeling on the bottom, ascending holding the anchor mooring lines and flutter kicking silting out the ships just like their Instructors do.

Your Best Option for a Rebreather is Manual not electronic, so you’re in charge of your PO2 and can control your ascents easier without the set point screaming at your as the PO2 reduces on an automatic unit as it goes shallower while still trying to achieve it’s constant PO2. Run it at a .6 PO2 on ascent or manually. On Deep Cave Exploration a constant mass flow valve or needle valve modified from the original KISS Rebreather design is another great option.

Matt Cave Diving in Mexico with the White Arrow Explorer CCR Rebreather
Matt after a CCR Cave Dive in Taj Ma Ha Puerto Adventuras, MX

Cave Diving is for Divers Who Have Elite Skills and Discipline and a Desire to be the Most Polished Divers They Can Be.

Spending a lot of time in Florida, Dominican, Mexico and enjoying the recreational and exploration aspects of cave diving have been very fulfilling. I throughly enjoy expedition style diving, having been featured in magazines, YouTube videos, agency and personal expedition projects, including helping friends map the largest cave system in the world, just a couple of years ago, in a land so far away from this Covid pandemic are what keep me motivated and keep me going forward.

If Cave Diving Interests You, Do it Right. Take a Foundational Skills Class with DDS. If you’re curious about doubles, take a NAUI NTEC Doubles Workshop with Us, which will start you down the right path in equipment configuration basic foundational skills, while our NAUI Intro to Tech Course is the best Foundational Skills Class there is. It offers the right skills, information and adventure. Intro to Tech dovetails seamlessly into Cavern/Cave 1 too, so do it right and take the best training path. Don’t leave gaps in your training. Don’t Rush and Never Accept a Certification Card You Yourself Do Not Feel You Earned.

Our Cave, Wreck, Overhead and Technical Diving Courses are The Best in the industry! No other training agency offers a more through and complete Cave Diving Education and having such a small number of Cave Instructors keeps the quality high and the demand high.

Going from a Left Post Breathing Hose Stuffer to one of the First DIR Based Diving Instructors was the best move we made as a shop. Divers come for the best training offerings from around the Canada, the USA and other countries. I’ve been a Top Certifying Technical Diving Instructor over the last 20+ years and with your help will continue to offer the Highest Calibre of Recreational, Cave, Technical, Sidemount and Rebreather Training Possible.

Seeing the benefits of Divers learning in backplate/wing from open water, encouraging continuity in gear configuration, improving team diving communication and functionality and being able to up the game whenever possible are just some of the ways we’ve helped set the standard higher.

I am frequently involved in cave and shipwreck and other random dive expeditions of known and unknown entities and we continue to challenge myself and others through new environments and equipment whenever possible.

empty_spools_of_cave_line
There is nothing more fulfilling than running new line through a virgin cave emptying your spools Sistema Sac Aktun Expedition 2017

If You Want to Learn More About our Modern and Progressive Training Offerings, CLICK HERE

Thanks For Reading, Let’s Go Diving Soon!

Matt Mandziuk

Follow Me On Instagram @divesith and @dansdiveshop

 

Vertical Diving SeaHorses Sucking it Up

Diving Dry with Doubles

Diving Dry with Doubles
by
Matthew Mandziuk

Diving Dry with Doubles.  Have you ever noticed that the most active divers on the dive site are the one’s who are Diving  Drysuit with Doubles?  Quite often its the same 10-12 divers who sign up for a lot of the same trips and who often prefer diving together with the group.  The reason for that is comfort, with their kit, with the group, with themselves in the water, whereas the other 10-12 guests are a revolving door of divers with a ranged diving background.

In this blog we are going to talk a little about the benefits of diving Diving a Drysuit with Double Tanks.

By the end of this reading you should have a clearer understanding of the partnership between diving with a drysuit and doubles, the benefits of diving with a drysuit and doubles, some of the training offerings with divers in a drysuit and doubles and where diving in a drysuit and doubles can take you.

Why should you start Diving Dry with Doubles? 

At first it sounds a little much, diving a nylon or neoprene full body suit, hood, gloves and then more weight than we even used in a wetsuit?  Drysuit divers wear approximately 6-8lbs minimum in fresh water (more in salt because of the added buoyancy)  more weight than a diver in a single piece 7mm jumpsuit (or about the same weight as they’d wear with an old school farmer John and Jacket).

That added weight can be inconvenient at best.

Where does one put that extra weight?

Most of our DDS Divers utilize a backplate and harness system which promotes better horizontal trim, posture and streamlining , it’s expandable and fully adjustable to accommodate the drysuit much easier than a jacket bcd can and is far more comfortable.

To learn more about backplates in general, please click the hyperlink above.

Divers diving in Canada with a single tank often times use a stainless steel backplate with a weighted single tank adapter, that system has a total negative buoyancy weighting of approximately 10lbs.  Nearly enough to sink anyone in a 7mm wetsuit with 2-3lbs maximum per side additional, however a drysuit diver is going to require an additional 6-8lbs minimum depending on the undergarments they wear.

In an attempt to  promote proper horizontal trim, the diver will want to re-distribute the weight evenly around the body with a maximum of 4-5lbs per hip pocket and up to that much weight on each of the single tank straps for a total of up to approximately 20lbs of weight plus the backplate system = 30lbs. Doesn’t that seem like a little much?

In an attempt to minimize the weight the diver wears, many will go to a single steel tank which can be 2-8lbs negatively buoyant by todays standards diving with a Faber steel cylinder.

A few years ago Worthington cylinders were preferred for their additional negative buoyancy characteristics with the X7-100 and X8-130 being the 2 most popular options.  In Faber the FX100, FX133 and LP85 are our most popular sizes.  Strangely enough the 100’s and 130’s were also the most suitable tanks for doubling up for deeper dives.

Faber FX100 swings from -8.41lbs full to -0.59lbs empty.
Faber FX133 swings from -9.08 full to +1.45lbs empty
Faber DVB85 swings from -3.8 full to + 2.32 empty

Worthington X7-100 had a swing of -10lbs to -2.5lbs
Worthington X8-130 had a swing of -11.7 to -2lbs

Having a tank that is negatively buoyant allows divers to reduce overall weight required and keeps some of that negative buoyancy behind you which helps improve your trim rather than having all that weight on the hips, but you don’t want to overweight yourself with tanks too heavy and underwear too thin.  Try and find the balance.  Many divers will even favour aluminum tanks for shallow shore diving with thin garments.

Adding an extra tank minimizes or eliminates the need for additional weight while adding a safer configuration that builds on our progressive single tank system utilizing a long hose/short hose and spg on 24″-26″ HP hose and it gives divers  the ability to solve a catastrophic failure thanks to redundant regulators.

Aluminum twins are popular option for divers looking for a great wetsuit set that can be used with a drysuit, however, they are more suitable for use on shallow dives.  When worn with a drysuit the diver will have to wear a heavier steel plate, a v-weight with lead down the centre of the tanks and a compact and streamlined wing.  They are easy to dive with little learning curve.

Steel tanks will take the diver further through deeper dives, caves, wreck penetration and offer more reserve gas on the divers back to deal with emergencies.

Vertical Divers with all the weight on the waist in a jacket bcd with dangling everything

DDS Diver John displaying perfection with great trim, buoyancy, control and style as he swims around the Tugs in Tobermory, ON

Many divers prefer the additional gas capacity of the steel tanks as well as the larger sized tanks allow divers to dive deeper and stay longer in comparison to the standard aluminum 80 tank which is still the most popular scuba diving tank on the market.

 

Drysuit Divers and DDS Divers have better trim because a drysuit surrounds the entire body with a little bit of air (less is better).

Redistribute weight, minimize weight and enjoy easier diving.

 

As divers tend to dive more off the dive boats and spend more time on their favourite dive sites, divers start looking at how to get more bottom time.

Diving Nitrox allows divers to gain up to 50% more bottom time on sites around 100′ and deeper, while yielding even more bottom time shallower, however, the limiting factor at that point tends to be their breathing rates and the sizes of tank they use, so a steel tank will in fact increase their bottom time an allow them to achieve their dive plans up to the Nitrox NDL most dives.

For divers who find even on Nitrox, the NDL isn’t always long enough, extending their range into decompression diving often is the trick, as a diver learns how to properly and safely plan their dives with a little bit of decompression utilizing advanced nitrox mixes to accelerate decompression times.  This is where doubles are most beneficial.

DDS Divers practicing bottle handling

When a diver combines the drysuit for maximum exposure protection and comfort along with a set of twin tanks, they no longer have to worry about switching out their tanks on that rocking dive boat in between dives, they no longer have to worry about adding weight to their hips or anywhere usually on their body, and they can certainly benefit from the increased balance and comfort that doubles offer.

You’ll also find divers enjoy just going out and working on foundational skills is easy to observe as our divers are always out in open water honing their skills.

Diving Dry with Doubles allows for more even balance in the water as the tanks are placed over top of each lung rater than down the spine like a single tank, while giving the diver a more comfortable suit to don and doff.

Drysuits are easier to put on than a 5-7mm wetsuit.

Drysuits are more effective for warmth retention.

Crushed neoprene or trilaminate Drysuits don’t compress with depth like wetsuits which get thinner with each atmosphere making the diver heavier because of the initial weight they start the dive with, as well as making the diver colder because those thick suits become much thinner every 30ft/10meters they descend.

Are Doubles For You?

If you can carry them on your back, reach your valves and dive with them comfortably, the answer is yes!

 

Look at the number of  accidents that have happened in recreational diving situations with single tanks, especially on deeper dives.  Most recreational diving accidents occur in a single tank with no redundancy (pony bottle, sidemount, h-valve, doubles) or lack of training.

A diver breaths their tank empty, their buddy runs out of air and they didn’t reserve enough gas for them and their buddy to ascend, they went in cold water and the regulator froze up, they hit the regulator or tank valve off a shipwreck or overhead environment creating a catastrophic failure, the BCD freezes, their dive computer blows off the end of their high pressure hose (another reason to wrist mount your computer) so they panic seeing bubbles streaming out of the high pressure hose, etc….

Minimize the risk, Increase the Fun and Learning and be more mentally and physically prepared with more advanced training.

If you’re interested in diving deeper than 80′, cavern or cave diving, technical diving, ice diving, mixed gas diving or wreck penetration, you should do it on doubles.  To many people did it wrong and it cost them their lives.

Be the best diver you can be.  Get involved with DDS and we’ll make you the best diver you can be with our training, experience dives, trips, charters and exploration offerings.

We’ve found these factors to be some of the most beneficial tools to extend your diving into a more fun and exciting world:

Dive Planning: Plan Your Dive, Follow Your Plan, Have an overplan, bailout plan, but don’t deviate from the main dive plan

Gas Management: 1/3 down and around, 1/3 back, exiting water with 1/3 of your gas supply 

Redundancy: Doubles allow the ability to shut down your regulator in the event of a failure, free flow, freeze-up, burst disc failure etc. Isolation manifold allows to shut down and switch over by isolating and shutting down the offending post or just shutting down the offending post.

Narcosis Management: Don’t Dive Deep On Air.  You’re narc’d at 130ft/40meters whether you know it or not.  Don’t dive deep on air, it’s silly, outdated and unsafe with education and helium training available now.

Team Diving: Serious Diving requires divers you can trust in an emergency and in an pinch. Don’t just dive with the randoms you find on a boat down south, they’re usually once a year divers with horrible habits and inferior training.  Dive with divers you have a positive history with or as ask us and we can refer you to more progressively minded shops

No Solo Diving on Deep Dives: Solo Diving is popular now, we’d likely choose this option if diving south with random divers instead of having to buddy up with people that we don’t feel comfortable diving with, however, deeper dives require piece of mind, extra equipment and a proper plan with lots of “what-if’s” to be safe guarded against.  It’s not worth solo cave, solo deep (exceeding NDL) or solo overhead environment without buddies

Analyze Your Mixes: Always, Always, Always analyze your mixes when you pick your tanks up, make sure they’re labelled and if diving with a fill that was “just filled” and you have to grab and go, analyze it again before your day of diving begins.

Practice , Practice, Practice: Complacency Kills.  Work on trim, buoyancy, bottle handling, dealing with simulated emergencies, smb deployment, alternate fin kicks, etc.  Be the most polished and best diver you can be.

Fit is Everything

Don’t just jump into drysuits and doubles blindly.  It requires the right fitting suit and undergarments first and foremost.  Many brands of drysuits are inferior in fit and quality, even the brands offering “custom fit”.

You’ll notice most shops try and pedal the cheaper suits that are like garbage bags or garbage bags wrapped in lycra to cover up the garbage bag look. This is like buying a drysuit from McDonald’s!  Don’t Waste Your Money

If you truly want to LOVE your drysuit and want to enjoy using it, take the time to get properly measured and properly fit.  Don’t just let the dive store hand you a suit off the rack and tell you that it’ll fit you perfectly, we’ve had that happen to several students from out of town that couldn’t complete their required skills during Intro to Tech Training and ended up renting suits from us to finish the class, then ultimately buy a brand new suit from us.

Do it Right.

We are partial to Diving Unlimited International because they offer the best quality, service, workmanship and there is an actual after sales service with them.  They are our top choice for hard to fit people too.  It’s all about comfort and fit with them.

DUI have great value priced suits with their Coronado, San Diego and Yukon II suits and the new Cortez (2019) suits obliterate most brands “top of the line suit” for quality, features, performance, as well as coming with user replaceable quick change ZipSeals, meaning you don’t have to send the suits away for service unless you damage the suit or zipper!  No brand can compete with that!

Santi offers a great quality and great looking suit.  We do their stock and modified stock suits.  You’re allowed up to 4 alterations at no extra cost with them and they do offer custom too.  Suits are very tough and stylish with a beautiful Euro look of elegance and colour.  They do take some time 2-3 months typically (sometimes less sometimes more).

Fourth Element offers the most flexible drysuit on the market.  It’s durable and looks great and they’re using technology to their advantage instead of dive stores who can miss measure someone by using BIOMAP technology to digitally create an image of the person to cut the suit for.  Great suits for a great price with great service…it might just take a bit more time to get the suits made 2-3 months typically.

BARE offers a great stock suit at a good price depending on what you get with the suit from your LDS.  Just but it from DDS and you’ll be happiest.

The Drysuit Underwear is as important for fit and mobility as the drysuit itself.  Santi offers modified stock and custom underwear, DUI offers DuoTherm ultra stretch polartec suits for custom fit as well as a great selection of stock sizes in up to an XM450 material which is exceptional underwear for cold water.  Fourth Element offers an amazing range of suits for a range of conditions made with some of the nicest feeling and fitting materials.

Learn more about diving doubles by stopping in or sign up for a Discover Doubles NTEC night with us.  

NTEC will introduce you to the doubles configuration, foundational skills you should master, emergency drills and more. It’s a perfect prep-workshop that introduces divers to the principles that will help lay the groundwork moving forward towards more regimented training with the right guidance, education, exercises and more to help ready you for our NAUI Intro Class.

Our NAUI Intro to Tech Course is a Rudimentary Elements of Diving Course that will highlight the foundational skills and develop them from a recreational perspective that will dovetail into more advanced and technical diving activities and show recreational divers a preview of what their diving can be like by testing and honing a divers finesse, comfort, trim, buoyancy, effortless skills, problem identification and reactions, team diving, smb deployments, buoyancy refinement, fin techniques and so much more.

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

NTEC and Intro are the 2 most exciting, modern, challenging classes that will help improve your skills and enjoyment in the drysuit the most. Tie in NTEC and your PADI Drysuit Specialty Course together and see diving with a  different mindset than what you’d hear/see/learn in a traditional PADI system of diving education.

Diving Dry allows for longer bottom time in cooler water or more dives per day. A more comfortable gear up experience from a boat.

When you look at our DDS dive trip pics on Facebook or Instagram you’ll notice aside from a pool or an open water course weekend, the majority of the divers you see on our trips and con-ed classes are all in drysuits and you’ll notice that a lot of the same divers come out year after year on our charters and trips because their level of enjoyment is substantially higher than a wetsuit divers.

A friend of ours had a shop in Massachusetts and they trained their divers exclusively in drysuits.  They offered by far the most expensive open water course from NY-Maine and everywhere in between, yet their continuing education rates were 400% vs a national industry average of about 25% of divers who go diving and train after open waters.

So they found enormous success training their divers and promoting colder water diving trips because like DDS, they realized the best diving in the world was around the Great Lakes, Atlantic wrecks, Florida and surrounding areas. They were right.

In Closing

Drysuits will last you longer than a wetsuit, will give a diver buoyancy control that is easier to maintain when you where a little “squeeze” on the suit vs a wetsuit which compresses and changes depth the deeper or shallower you go.

Drysuits will allow for colder water immersion and more dives per day, while in between dives the divers will warm up faster, so the energy that is rejuvenated is much higher, especially with todays’ warmer Thinsulate’s and heated systems.

Combining a drysuit with a set of doubles sets a diver up for a lifetime hobby where anything is achievable.

The divers can spend more time under the water enjoying their hobby.  They don’t have to change tanks awkwardly on the boat in between dives like single tank divers do.  They add a larger gas source to deal with emergencies such as low on air or an equipment failure, while also adding redundancy in the event of a regulator or valve failure.

Aside from a little extra weight on land, there isn’t much difference between a single tank and a lot of lead to sink a recreational diver and a set of doubles.

For divers who can’t wear a set of doubles, try Sidemount!  Sidemount is a great option for divers who don’t have the ability to reach back to shut a valve down or who have had back surgery or a physical limitation that negates the ability the wear doubles on their back.

At Dan’s we believe in a more fun progression, so training our divers the right way from the very beginning is so imperative and gives them so many more options moving forward beyond Open Water, Advanced, Drysuit, Rescue, Divemaster and Instructor.  Don’t get caught in the boring progressions that the recreational agencies endorse, there is a much more fun, challenging and enjoyable progression ahead.

Experience more in the world of scuba diving instruction with Dan’s and let us show you a better way to do things that makes more sense and creates better divers.

Dan’s is an innovator of progressive recreational and technical diving, bringing the most modern skills and philosophies forwards before anyone in Canada as we continue to lead and offer the highest standards and most exceptional dive training for recreational and technical diving and have helped shaped some of the finest explorers in the world of scuba diving too.  Train with Dan’s and see a brighter diving future.