Monday, September 22, 2008

Getting Started - Kit!

One of the bigger challenges with starting technical diving is the kit! Gone are the days when a dive required a single cylinder with any dv and a any jacket bc. Technical diving is about leveraging science and equipment to safely extend your limits and that means a whole new look at equipment.
One of the first things we tell people is, do not buy your equipment before the course without chatting to us first. And the reason is not because we want the gear sales, but rather we find that people often arrive having spent a small fortune on kit that is simply wrong. Within a few dives (if not during the course), they find themselves hastily putting their kit onto the second hand market so they can get something more appropriate.

Getting the Basics in Place
This is kit that you should be acquired before anything else.
- At least one dv (there really are only two brands that compete, Scubapro (my preference) or Poseidon which is Nuno Gomes’s preference).
- Two SMB’s (one red, one yellow)
- A long hose for your dv (this means 2.0 meters)
- A wing and a Backplate (try Frog for value for money).
Total additional outlay (excluding the dv) is in the region of 4.5k. Some of this can be rented, such as the wing and backplate, but as harness sizes can be quite specific it is often best to put that on your priority list of things to acquire.
At this stage the dv is not critical, so you can re-use what you had for sport diving. If you did not get around to acquiring a dv, then you can rent until such time as you do get there.

Filling in the Blanks!
Once you have the basics, then you can start to make additional purchases. Obviously the order of purchase is going to depend on your budget as well as your depth goals. Here is mine (in order of purchase)
- Dry suit ( there is no point in having all the gadgets but freezing your butt off doing long dives) (+/- 10k)
- Your own torch/ light (something along the Sartek line, i.e. canister light with 10W HID light head) (+/- 6k)
- Another dv (secondary) and if you do not have a high end dv (yes, I am going to say the word Scubapro here), this must be high end (+/- 7.5k).
- Your Own Twin set with isolation manifold (new +/- 9k)
- Trimix Computer (+/- 16k)
- Better secondary lights
- Proper Fins
- At least two stage dv’s (+/-4k each)
- At least two stage cylinders (+/- 2.5k)
- More cylinders, more dv’s
- Another computer (you should have two)
- A booster for filling helium
Some of this list is easier to rent and most people only add stage cylinders after they have acquired everything else. The most important aspects in my mind are having proper, reliable dv’s (my favourite is the Scubapro MK25 with S600 or X650 second stage, for stages I have the MK2 with the R380’s) and a decent dry suit. These take care of providing you with gas under any conditions and keeping you warm. Dive computers are really nice to have, but…you can (and should) be doing your dives on paper and not relying totally on your computer. I certainly would by a dry suit before I bought a computer.

Many people get put off technical diving because of the long list of kit that you seem to need. However, most of us acquired our kit over time and not all in one go. The bad news is, you never seem to have enough kit, especially if you start to push your limits and do more exploration. The good news….it is totally worth it

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Diving seriously!

The biggest complaint that most divers have in technical diving (well, in diving actually) is when will we all grow up ? To put it is a single word, Politics! This instructor is not speaking to that instructor, this agencies is not speaking to that agency, this one is slagging that one off! What is a poor diver to do ?

This came home to both Gerhard and myself with the current AED initiative we are trying to get off the ground! Now, we thought (naively it turns out), that the diving community might all pull together when it comes to safety! Well, yes and no!

First there was the argument from the coastal contingent, ‘Why should they support the inland dive sites ? They do not dive there ! (completely forgetting that the divers that come and dive with them at the sea are predominantly trained inland)’. We weathered that storm and bravely went on, to meet the next issue, ‘Why should I help out, the dive sites should manage safety, they should buy the AED’! Well, that one just blind sided us! Umm, because you are going to look really silly at a funeral blaming the dive site when all it took was one raffle ticket (or 5 if you are feeling generous) and 3 hrs to learn how to use the AED, but hey, maybe it is just me ? Maybe I am the only one that thinks that something’s in life are just to important to leave to institiutions and that you should just get off your butt and take responsibility!

Then it got even worse! Then we all (DAN included) got accused of playing politics! Questions were thrown around about whose name gets to go on the AED’s ? Why are we (Liquid Edge) behind this ? What do we want to get out of it ? Why should money be given to us ? How does he know where the money is going ? What if we steal it ? That one had us stumped! How do you deal with that level of paranoia ? What was even funnier is that the only person who seemed to have an agenda was the individual preventing us from finding a way forward (and I still do not have a clue what that agenda was).

So I got to thinking, what is it about the diving industry that seems to promote petty politics ? Is it because it is perceived to be small and price sensitive, so that means every individual is in a dog eat dog world and has to fight for his piece of the pie ?

Is it a South African thing ? What do I mean ? Well, we all are quite comfortable sitting back complaining about how the crime is intolerable and why does the government not do anything about it, never even thinking that maybe we should let the government be incompetent all on their own.! Why not go around them and fix the problems ourselves ?
In fact, I have this sneaky suspicion that the country dynamics we live in are totally reflected in the smaller communities like diving. Anyone who is part of the scuba list will attest to the amount of cynicism and ‘fight’ that is part of the community! We just seem to be intolerant in general! And it all is personal!

As an individual I believe that who I support should reflect my personal value system, so there are individuals and companies that I simply will not associate with (Zimbabwe is a big one and yes, I know, how does me NOT going to dive Sinoi make Mughabe sod off ?). I have only one real vote and that is where I spend my money and time, so I use it! But here is the thing, that is my choice and I do not expect you to make the same choices! You have the same freedom of association!

Are we really so small and insecure as individuals that we can not see behind the names to the benefits that could be obtained if we just Got Off It! I am now going to get off my soap box! The point really is this, you don’t have to like me to agree that something is worth doing, and supporting a cause is not always about supporting the individuals behind it! We will never get rid of individuals, but we can get over politics! And as individuals we can start to be responsible for creating the communities we would like to live in! We can make a difference. It always starts small!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

How Much is Your Life Worth ?

This weeks blog is rather a sober one. A week ago Gerhard was involved in a resuscitation of a fellow instructor who suffered what appeared to be a massive heart attack. For those of you who do not know, Gerhard is an active paramedic, so the instructor was in good hands. The resuscitation was not successful and we lost a fellow instructor. We would like to send our sympathies to his family and friends as well as the divers who were there with him at the time.
The incident did drive one thing home for both Gerhard and myself - how unprepared we are as divers for a medical emergency. You see, there is a device especially designed for lay people to use to restart a person’s heart. The site did not have one. No-one on site had one and it took the paramedics around 20 minutes to arrive on the scene with one. It is called an AED and it costs R16,500. My question to you all is, when some-one you love or even just know dies, would you not be prepared to pay that price to get them back ? I know I would!
We are now trying to get the diving community involved in ensuring that all dive sites (starting with the inland sites) have an AED on site. You do not need to be a paramedic to use it, that is the point. As a diver it will take only 3 hours to learn on the DAN AED course. Me thinks it is time the diving community got involved and started to look after its own, rather than waiting for the government or some gracious donor to do it for us. So please watch this space. We are putting together a fund driving initiative with Underwater Africa, DAN, Scubapro and Submerge to raise funds to get one of these at Miracle, Bass and Wondergat. If you are interested in finding out more or becoming involved/ donating to the cause please e-mail me at

For those of you who are still undecided - here are some sobering facts from Gerhard:

Cardiac arrest is the most common way for divers to die. The most immediate "rhythm" post cardiac arrest is 90% of the time "ventricular fibrillation". The ONLY medicine for it is to defibrillate the patient. In CPR the only real purpose is to help maintain oxygenated blood to the brain to try and keep it alive in anticipation of a defibrillator becoming available. You have to use a defib to cure the patient.
The effect of delaying defibrillation is significant as a positive outcome is DECREASED by approx 7-10% plus for every minute lost. So every minute that passes on cpr we loose approx 10% viability… and that is with PROPER CPR in progress.
What is proper CPR ? Well even paramedics battle to get this to the level’ proper’. Properly performed, CPR has an approx positive bloodflow result of 8-12% in patients. So we are basically 8-12% as effective in moving oxygenated blood around the body as the heart is. Not a great number but very effective in maintaining oxygen to the vital organs. Here is the thing though, a rescue diver’s chances of giving ‘proper’ CPR are not good. In fact, most paramedics arriving at a scene where a patient is being resuscitated do not hold out much hope of a successful outcome (it is not a nice thing to say, but it is the reality, why rush ? the patient hardly ever recovers in these instances). A patient’s best chance is if he has a witnessed arrest (which is what happened in this case) as he then receives immediate professional attention. But without a defib or AED the chances decline rapidly.
The AED or Auto External Defibrillator was designed specifically for laymen where professional help is not immediately available and the patient has suffered a heart attack. The AED can identify some "shock able" rhythms and apply the necessary steps with voice guidance to the operator. It has been used extensively in the US on airports in a massive campaign and they are claiming very good survival rates. It is a course that almost any DAN instructor can do. The AED is virtually "Idiot proof" and has VERY low maintenance - the battery is non rechargeable (in some units) with a shelf life of 4-5 years and an operating time of roughly 50 shocks or 20 plus hours. Once the unit is used, the battery can be replaced at around R300. It comes with single use pads and a bag.
Personally, I am getting one for myself…for my family, for weekends away! We are already carrying Gerhard’s crash bag every where we go! So please, please, please, join us and get involved! Every diver makes a difference.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Getting Started - Which Course ?

So, assuming you now have picked an agency, how do you pick course and what do you need to get started ?

What do You Need Experience Wise?
Most technical courses require the following when it comes to certification and dives : at least 50 dives, a nitrox certification AND your advanced diver with deep specialty.
In essence technical courses are designed to create stepping stones that take you from the limits of sport to no limits. This means you need to learn:
- Decompression
- How to use gases to optimise decompression
- How to use twin sets
- How to use stages
- How to use a smb (surface marker buoy)
Once these basic skills are under your belt, you can add more advanced skills like cave skills (which really perfect your buoyancy not to mention add a whole new level of task loading….you now have a reel to manage and a light) and of course the planning and extra kit involved in Trimix diving.

The Starting Point – Advanced Nitrox
Technical courses all start from a single building block, Advanced Nitrox - however, whilst a number of agencies have this course, not all courses are equal and by signing up for an Advanced Nitrox you may not be able to proceed to the next level without an additional course. What do I mean ? TDI’s Advanced Nitrox does not include Deco Procedures (which is a separate course). So to be at the same place as the IANTD course you will need to make sure you also include Deco Procedures. To make it more complicated, not all courses have the same name (and as we just saw, the same name does not mean the same thing).

Adding Skills - Overhead
Once you have the basics under control (decompression, twin sets and stages) you can look at either progressing deeper or into cave systems or both.
Cave courses generally come in nice, easy to learn modules and you have the choice of cavern (where you just get used to being in the dark and can still see the light), intro cave or full cave. These courses are not sequential, ie. You can go straight from advanced nitrox to full cave (in fact, one of our more popular courses is the combination of advanced nitrox and full cave). Incidentally, if you are a sea diver and not so much interested in caves, the cave course is the best way to become a wreck diver, giving you the skills to tackle any wreck.

Adding Skills - Deeper
Courses that extend your depth will introduce Helium and may take you in steps from a Normoxic level (where you need a single helium mix that you can breathe from the surface) to Trimix (where you use a number of mixes during your dive). These courses introduce more detailed dive planning and gas management and of course, get you deep enough to find that elusive Coelocanth or explore that wreck(

When to Combine a Course!
In most instances you are able to combine courses and so optimise your time (and of course your money). The one course you can not do in comination is nitrox, that is a pre-requisite that must be in place. However, if you do not have your deep speciality, that can be integrated into the course you are doing.
Depending on your starting point and comfort you can combine:
- Advanced Nitrox with Normoxic
- Advanced Nitrox with Full Cave
- Full Cave and Normoxic

So, when you going to come over to the ‘dark’ side ?

· Advanced Nitrox (Depth to 40m) (NAUI = Technical Nitrox plus Deco, TDI = Advanced Nitrox plus Deco, IANTD = Advanced Nitrox, ANDI = Level 2)
Note: For Naui you need 25 Nitrox dives to start and 75 dives to do deco

· Normoxic Trimix [Depth to 60m] (NAUI = Trimix Level 1, TDI = Trimix, IANTD = Normoxic Trimix, ANDI = Level 4)
Note: For IANTD and NAUI you need 100 dives (for IANTD this is a discretionary requirement)

· Trimix [Depth to 100 m] (NAUI = Trimix Level 2, TDI = Advanced Trimix, IANTD = Trimix, ANDI = Level 5)
Note: For TDI and NAUI you need 150 dives of which 30 are deco, For IANTD, 200 but (for IANTD this is a discretionary requirement)