How to Prepare for Class

This is the time of year that my course schedule for the upcoming summer really begins to gel.  The holidays are over, winter has set in, people start thinking about the upcoming dive season and what they would like to accomplish this year.  Some divers set their sights on getting additional training and taking their diving to a new level.

Once a person decides to participate in a course with me, the first question is usually “What should I do before class?”  Good question, thanks for asking.  Let’s talk about class prep a little bit.  We can divide it up into four areas:  academic, equipment, in-water competency, and administrative items.

Let’s talk about academic preparation.  When you think about it, we don’t have a lot of face-to-face time together given the amount, and importance, of material we have to learn.  After all, we’re talking about life support training here folks.  The work you put in before we meet will only make our time together more beneficial and meaningful.  Once a student has enrolled, I get them an eLearning access code or send them the manual, depending on the course.  You should complete the eLearning module, or read the manual and complete any workbooks or chapter reviews before class.  Make a list of questions you have so you can bring them up in class.  Personally, I don’t mind if students e-mail or text questions to me as they read through the material.  Preparing well before the class means I don’t have to spend time covering topics you understand, allowing us to spend more time on concepts you may need help with or more time in the water.

Equipment plays a big role in technical diving, especially if you’re just transitioning from recreational diving to technical diving (as in the Adv. Nitrox/Deco Procedures course).  I always provide students with a list of required equipment well in advance of the course.  You should look it over and make sure you have everything.  If you need to buy a new piece of equipment, it’s a good idea to contact the instructor and ask if there are particular brands or models of widget they prefer.  It’s no fun to show up to a class with a brand new DecoMaster 3000 dive computer and find out it’s not appropriate for the course.  Besides, sometimes if you don’t have a particular piece of equipment, your instructor will let you try some different models to help you make a sound purchasing decision.  That was the case when I did my cave diver training years ago.  The instructor told us not to buy reels before the class.  If we already owned some, he said bring them, use them, see if you like them, but he had just about every size and type of reel you can imagine.  We got to try all different kinds, saving us the trouble of buying an unfamiliar piece of kit and only then finding out we didn’t like it.

Have your equipment serviced well before the start of class and make sure everything is in good working order.  When you pack for the course dives, make sure you bring all of your gear.  Don’t let your course get derailed by the cry of “Oh s**t!  I forgot my fins!”

In-water competency, otherwise known as diving, is the most fun part of any scuba course, but can also be the most challenging.  What should your competency level be when entering the course?  If you can already perform all the course requirements perfectly, then you may not get much out of the course.  If on the other hand, your first course dive is also your first dive in a dry suit, first dive in doubles and first dive in cold water, then you’ve been set up to fail.  You should have at least some basic competency with the equipment keeping you alive.  Practice diving in a dry suit and doubles.  Get your buoyancy and trim sorted out.  Have your dive buddies watch you and critique you.  Better yet, get someone to video you so can see how you look in the water.  Try some of the skills required in the course, even if you can’t do them well.  You don’t have to show up on day one with all the skills practiced to perfection, but some practice before class will make the course dives a lot more productive.

Lastly, we have administrative items.  If you’re enrolled in a technical diving course, you’ve obviously already taken a number of scuba courses and should be familiar with the standard forms used in every scuba course, namely the liability release and the medical information form.  I prefer to deal with the liability release on the first day of class, so I don’t ask students to do anything with that prior to our meeting.  The medical form, on the other hand, should be dealt with long before the course meets.  As you are probably aware, the form lists lots of medical conditions.  If any apply to you, you need a physician’s signature on the form in order to participate in the class.  As soon as a student signs up for a course, I e-mail the form to them so they have ample time to get an appointment to see their doctor to discuss their medical readiness for the course.  It is imperative you show up to the course with a completed (correctly) medical form.  If your medical history necessitates you get a doctor’s signature, and you show up without it, you’re out of luck.  You cannot participate without a properly completed medical form.

Other paperwork I like to see students bring to class are their log books and photocopies of their c-cards that I can keep for my files.  You don’t have to dig up every single c-card you’ve ever gotten.  I don’t really need to have copies of your Underwater Pumpkin Carver or Underwater Basket Weaver card, but the main cards like Open Water Diver, Advanced Diver, Rescue Diver, Nitrox Diver, Deep Diver are nice to see.

In closing, let me give a couple final tips.  Come to class with an open mind, ready to learn. Also, learning something new can sometimes be stressful, but try to remember to relax. Remaining calm and relaxed will make the skill easier to accomplish and you’ll have a more enjoyable dive.  Hopefully, these tips will help you get ready for your course.

Good luck!

How to Prepare for Class

Boat Diving Etiquette

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Charter season has arrived once again here in the Great Lakes and wreck divers are chafing at the bit to get back out on our favorite boats.  Before we pack up and head out, let’s review a few basic courtesies that will make everyone’s trip a little bit happier.

  • Find out where the marina is located and where the boat is docked within the marina. I prefer morning charters which means I’m in town the evening before, which gives me time to reconnoiter the area and find out where I need to be the following morning.
  • On some boats, rigid containers like milk crates or plastic tubs are welcome,  but on most Great Lakes charters there is no room for these rigid containers and they just get in the way.  If you carry your gear around in these containers, find out beforehand if it’s acceptable to bring them on the boat.  Better yet, just use a gear bag.
  •  Arrive early enough to load your equipment onto the boat so the boat can depart on time.  Do not show up at departure time and start assembling your equipment in the parking lot!  Have everything ready to go, loaded on the boat before departure time.
  • Stay in your spot.  The crew will show where to stow your equipment.  Follow their instructions.  There is limited space and each diver has his or her own space:  stay in it.  Don’t spread your equipment out all over the bench, deck, cabin, or whatever.  Usually, your tanks will stand up on the back of the bench (secured in place!) and everything else should go under your bench.
  • Find out if tank fills are available at your destination.  Many charter boats are located in areas that have no dive centers, fill stations or any other support.  You may well have to bring all the gas you need with you.  That may mean several sets of doubles and loads of deco bottles.
  • The captain has final say.  In case of bad weather, you may have to change wreck sites or cancel the dive.  If the day is canceled, accept it gracefully.  The captain usually has far more experience out on the lake than you, so if he (or she) says it’s too rough to go, it probably is.
  • However, don’t feel pressured to dive if you’re not comfortable.  If the captain says it’s OK to go out but you think it may be too lumpy for your likes, stay at the dock.  You may forfeit your charter fee, but it’s worth it if you avoid a miserable experience.
  • Crew tips are not included in the charter cost.  Most boat divemasters are volunteers, not paid crew.  They work hard to make your dive day enjoyable, show them some appreciation.

This list is certainly not comprehensive, but it should get you thinking.  I’ll bet you can think of many other items to add (just think about what other people do on boats that annoy you).

Have a safe and enjoyable dive season!

Rick Kruzel

www.GreatLakesTechDiving.com

Boat Diving Etiquette

Dress for the Weather

ice swimWinter is beginning to give way to spring.  And with milder weather, thoughts turn to diving.  After a few months without a scuba fix, many divers are eager to get back into the water.  Lots of divers around here (northwest Ohio) start their dive season in March or April.  This time of year, the water is still cold even though we get some nice, warm days topside.  The water in our local quarries is currently about 38 degrees (F) from the surface all the way down to the bottom.  If you’re getting ready to begin your 2016 dive season, here are a few tips to keep you comfortable.

Stay Dry  A good drysuit is absolutely necessary to dive in cold water with any degree of comfort.  If your drysuit leaks, you get wet, and wet equals cold.  If your suit leaks, find out why and fix it.  In addition to the drysuit itself, consider adding dry gloves.  I can still remember when I switched from wet gloves to dry gloves years ago.  It was a game changer.  Having warm hands was the single biggest boost to my diving enjoyment since buying a drysuit.  Numb hands completely negate the benefit and enjoyment of a drysuit.  While not nearly as popular as dry gloves, it is possible to have your suit fitted with a dry hood as well.

Stay Warm  Drysuits keep you dry, not warm.  The undergarments you wear under your drysuit keep you warm.  If you have not looked at drysuit undergarments in the past few years, you are in for a surprise.  Years ago, the philosophy for cold water diving was to wear as thick and heavy an undergarment as possible.  Thick and heavy was thought to mean warm.  Modern technology has provided us with better insulating fabrics and better ideas.  Diving has finally caught up with other cold weather sports in embracing the layering concept.  Namely, multiple layers of different types of insulation are more effective than one big, thick undergarment.  So instead of wearing your thick “wooly bear” jumpsuit, you may be warmer in a base layer plus one or two other layers.  Several manufacturers also make electrically heated undergarments.  Some are vests, designed to keep your core warm while others heat the entire undersuit to keep your whole body warm.  All of these systems requires batteries to power them.  Some batteries go inside your drysuit.  Some use external batteries requiring a waterproof connection through your drysuit.  If you dive a drysuit but still get chilly, it’s time to check out some of the new undergarments available today.

Argon  For years some divers have insisted that using argon to inflate your drysuit will keep you warmer than using air as a suit inflation gas.  I think this is one of those practices from the early days of technical diving that sounded like it should work, but was never really tested.  The theory is that since argon is denser than air, it is a better insulator, hence keeps you warmer.  Argon is dense.  It does insulate.  But not in your drysuit.  There have been several studies and none of them indicate any advantage of using argon in your suit instead of air.  An abstract of one such study can be found here.

Adjust your bottom time  During the summer months, it’s not unusual to stay underwater a long time, even in cold water, because you know the water closer to the surface is warm.  We don’t have that advantage this time of year.  The water is cold from top to bottom.  You may want to shorten your bottom time and plan to be at your exit point before you get too cold.

Topside  Don’t forget to stay warm before and after dives this time of year.  Conserve your body heat before dives even if it seems to be a warm spring day.  Have warm, dry clothes to put on after the dive to rebuild body heat.  Don’t forget your hat and gloves either.

Life Support   While it doesn’t necessarily contribute to staying warm, I can’t end our discussion without mentioning your life support equipment.  Before jumping into near-freezing water, be sure your regulator is designed to perform well in cold water and visit your local service facility to make sure it’s in good condition.

Summary  As Great Lakes divers, we’re used to cold water.  But this time, of the year the water may be even colder than we’re used to.  But cold water doesn’t mean that diving has to be miserable, as long as you dress for the weather!

 

Dress for the Weather