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Traditions and Diving: Time for Change?

By Bruce Konefe

Every time I step on the boat I look around and see how everybody assembles their equipment. I always wonder if these people ever step back and actually look at how and why they kit up the way they do. Is it because they believe it’s the best way or is it simply tradition: That’s the way they were taught and it’s the way everyone else does it.

Traditions become traditions because, in most cases, time and experience has proven them to be the best way to do something. But times changes and every once in a while it’s important to re-examine how we do things and ask again: Is this the best and safest way to gear up and dive?

Let’s start to look at some of the basics we’ve been taught about configuring our recreational dive gear:

Alternate Second Stage

Buddy BreathingThe majority of divers taking giant strides off the the boat have their second stage pulled around their right side and mounted on their chest. The chest area is an excellent place to put the mouthpiece, but why have the hose go around the right? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the safety stage on the left? Then if someone needs it underwater, they will get the octopus at its maximum length.

There is nothing worse then trying to swim side-by-side connected to someone with a short hose. Also by putting the regulator around the left will avoids the hose from crossing your face or neck while swimming with your buddy. The chance of having your regulator knocked out of your mouth is quite high when the hose is on the right. Mounting it on the left hand eliminates that problem.

High Pressure Gauges: Most divers have their high-pressure gauge coming out of the left port on their first stage and swung around their left side. Having the gauge mounted that way makes it quite difficult to monitor your depth gauge and deflate your BCD at the same time. If your high-pressure gauge was on the right, you could have the inflator/deflator in one hand and monitor your depth with the other. As you near the surface, you could drop your pressure gauge to your side and hold up your hand for protection.

Redundant Breathing Systems

Breathing with an RBSLet’s make something very clear: I strongly believe the buddy system is the best way to dive and do not advocate it be eliminated. However, I think some dive organizations rely too much on it. In addition to having a buddy, divers need to become more self-reliant.

Some organizations teach that if you run out of air at 30-40 meters you should go to your buddy. But many times, especially with good visibility, divers may swim too far from their buddy to reach them again safely. And in low visibility it is not uncommon to get separated from your buddy entirely. What happens then? Reaching the surface safely from 30 to 40 meters becomes unlikely.

Divers who carry redundant breathing systems -- small tanks with separate first stages -- don’t have these worries. Here are some recommendations for what size RBS to carry. These recommendations should allow you enough air to safely return to the surface.

Max Depth Minimum Required Volume
20 meters 400 l (13 cu ft)
30 meters 600 l (20 cu. Ft)
40 meters 900 l (30 cu. Ft)

Strangely, when I mention this to some people they say it’s too expensive. Wrong. When you start making decisions and putting money considerations first, you are decreasing safety. Safety should always be first.

Ascent Rates

Ascend safelyAs time changes, so do standards. Once it was thought safe to ascend at 18 meters per minute. Now the rule of thumb has it at 9-10 meters per minute. We also know the closer we get to the surface the greater the pressure change, so we need to slow our ascents. Here are some recommendations you could use to have a safer, more controlled ascent.

  • Stop at 10 meters to achieve neutrally buoyancy and stay with your buddy.
  • Take one minute to move from 10 to 6 meters.
  • PADI teaches that you make a 3-minute safety stop at 5 meters. However, you could additionally spend one or two minutes at the 3-meter mark and then take another minute to slowly reach the surface.

Course Length

Just as with new drivers, new divers have the most accidents. Studies show those with fewer than 20 logged dives incur a higher-than-average accident rate. Critics say this is because the dive industry has turned into a certification factory, pushing people through dive programs without enough minimum dives.

One solution to that would be to increase the length of beginner courses from 3-4 days to 5-6 days. A student who is under an instructor’s care and has more time in the water for a longer period should be safer and have fewer accidents If the student does not have enough time there is always the referral form.

My ideas and opinions expressed here are just that: mine. They should not be construed as representing the view of Aquanauts Dive Centre or PADI or ANDI. They’re also just opinions. You are free to write me and disagree. We’ll be happy to write a follow-up article with reader views on the subject.