Cave/Wreck Diving Techniques for the Rest of Us
Like the auto industry, much of the skills, equipment and techniques for scuba diving come from the extreme side of the sport. Honda and others test out their technology and learn new things about auto tech from Stock, Indy and Formula 1 racing, then apply that to the consumer level.
On the scuba side, there is wreck and cave diving where divers penetrate deeply into areas where swimming to the surface is not an option if things were to go wrong. These divers have developed a few skills and techniques that all open-water divers would benefit greatly from, not to mention in our everyday activities and lives.
Secure Your Equipment
Nothing shouts out “new/bad diver” like a pressure gauge or an octopus dragging along behind you. Most of us know this, but what else do you have sticking out, trying to latch onto things? In cave and wreck diving absolutely nothing can be hanging off including the plastic balls on the end of your dump valves (could get stuck between two rocks or pieces of metal), straps on your BCD and straps on your fins (tech divers use metal springs instead of rubber straps). The more streamlined your gear, the more professional you look and the fewer accidents you’ll run into. Plus, when you know your gear is secured, you don’t need to worry about it.
Back Up, Back Up, Back Up
We all know we should have backups for our personal computers and files, and we all know we should have back ups for our dive gear, but most of us don’t. A general rule of cave divers is always have two backups. In the unlikely event that you need to use your backup equipment, your backup has a backup. Cave divers generally have an extra mask, for example, that collapses to fit into their pocket. It’s extremely easy to lose a mask in silt that’s kicked up deep within a dark cave. While Open Water divers can get away with not having redundant backups, most don’t even have a single back up. Some of the easiest backup items include a pony bottle of air, because even though we have a dive buddy, that buddy might not be immediately aware of your situation nor able to get to you in time. If you run out of air, can you hold your breath long enough for someone to notice and come to your aid? Think about the things you need the most (air, sight, computer/bottom time), and make sure you have a backup to those important things.
Plan for the Worst
Cave divers plan on using just 1/3rd of their air so that at the farthest point into the cave, they still have 2/3rd to travel back on: 1/3rd for themselves and 1/3rd for their buddy if needed. So at any given point, they’re both ensured of having enough air. So on your next dive, don’t just plan as if you’re the only one diving, make decisions that’ll also keep your dive buddies safe and plan for the worst thing to happen at any given point of your dive.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings at All Times
People who lock their keys in the car or leave their headlights on would not make good cave divers. You need to be fully aware of the state of your gear, where your gear is, how to get to your gear and what to do should something happen to your gear, and it needs to be second nature. One way cave divers accomplish this is having the same gear configuration for every single dive they do, for the hundreds of dives they do. Not only will they have the same gear configuration, but their buddy will have the same gear configuration as they do, so if something goes wrong, they know exactly what their dive buddy’s configuration is. This might be a little extreme for Open Water divers, but what you can do, is ensure you know the gear configuration of your buddy before you dive, namely where they stow their extra 2nd stage regulator and other gear you might need in an emergency. And they should know your setup too.
Something that should stressed more in the introduction to open water is buoyancy control. Too many divers flail with their arms, crash into things with their tanks, kick and kick up things below them and generally have no control of themselves underwater. The best divers can stay within a range of one foot for any period of time, without looking at their depth gauge and without reference to an object. They feel how deep they are. While this is again a bit extreme for the average Open Water diver, being able to float above a reef without kicking it or destroying it is a skill all divers need to learn. And the less you flail along, the less air you’ll consume and the more professional you’ll be. Next time you go diving, be 100% aware of your buoyancy and how much you’re flailing. Hint: you shouldn’t use your arms or hands at all.
Know Where Your Gold Line Is
In cave diving, there is a gold line that leads out of the cave. It’s always there, ready to guide out the divers. For the rest of us, we always need to have our own metaphoric gold lines out of the situation we’re in. At any given point of your dive, you need to know how to get out and most importantly how to get your buddy out.