Monday, January 21, 2008

Advanced Nitrox - Necessity or Luxury ?

As a normal sport diver your limits are 40 meters, no decompression diving (NDL), which gets you to most places and on most dives. The only thing is, at that depth you are at the limits of air and even on nitrox, can not spend much more than 8 minutes exploring. Now I don’t know about you, but no reef is worth the price and effort for 8 minutes, make that 25 minutes and we are starting to talk business. Which is exactly what you could be doing if you were able to do decompression.
These days most divers have a Nitrox certificate, so most of you already know what a difference nitrox and reduced END’s (equivalent narcotic depths) make to the quality of a dive - not only do you get to stay for longer before hitting NDL limits, but you physically feel better after the dive. Advanced Nitrox is a logical next step. For some it smacks too much of technical diving, which is in turn associated with danger, risk, complication and money. However, investing in an Advanced Nitrox course is not as pricy as you may think. Nor is it a choice you should only be making if you are thinking about becoming a deep or cave diver.
This a course that improves your skills and safety underwater without unnecessarily increasing your risk or requiring a hefty bank loan and spans of heavy, complicated gear. Interstingly, this course is not considered technical by the agency’s, and is classified as a ‘sport’ course.
Lets take a look at the gear requirements. You can use your existing sport set up (single cylinder and jacket bc) with one addition, an H-valve that allows you to attach two dv’s to your cylinder. You will also learn how to manage one extra cylinder for decompression. Easy, simple and very, very do’able. Or you can be more adventurous and replace your jacket bc with a wing and backplate (you can still use single cylinders). A lot of people in fact prefer this configuration as the backplate and harness system is clean, with no added bulk in front of you and lots of space to clip things. The cost ? Around R2,7 k for a Frog wing and backplate.
The course itself normally takes 4 days. At the end of it, you will know how to safely do decompression dives and manage your gas ensuring that you have more than enough to do your bottom time and your decompression and manage if something goes wrong with your buddy. I should mention at this point that as a CMAS diver, I started off on my open water one course learning decompression so for me it is completely odd for divers to have to get out of the water in order to avoid decompression. With the arrival of deco computers divers often make the mistake of thinking that they do not need a course to teach them how to do deco dives, their computers will do it all for them. But, did you know that divers still bend on computers ? And what happens when your battery goes flat, mid dive ? Do you understand how important the stops are and how much flexibility you have in maintaining your depth for those ? Do not get me wrong, decompression diving is not excessively dangerous, not at sport depths. Especially if you have had training.
There is one other important aspect of the training that is perhaps even more important than removing the no decompression limit. This course ensures that you recognize and face the real risks of diving and then ensures that by the time you are finished you have practiced managing those so many times that you can easily and quickly get yourself to safety.
This shift from a buddy to self rescue is fundamental and as far as I am concerned the biggest benefit. It worries me how easily divers place their lives in the hands of instructors and or buddies, with no proof that either are capable of managing a catastrophe underwater. And the thing about situations underwater is that you have very little time to get it sorted. How you react is critical! The calmer you are, the more practiced you are in the skills, the better your chances of making it back to the surface. Personally, I do not allow myself the luxury of having someone to blame when something goes wrong underwater (and if you dive long enough, it is always when, not if something goes wrong). It is my life and I take full responsibility for it. Besides, it is a false sense of security to have some one to blame and hardly does you (or your family) any good when you are dead, because your buddy did not come to the rescue.
Personally, I hate limits! Especially artificial ones (which the NDL certainly are). Besides, there are all those reefs out there with no other divers on them, just waiting to be explored. That is how the Coelocanth was discovered…by a diver just exploring where others did not go.

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