By James Sanderson
As a technical and cave diver and an instructor who makes a living (of sorts) from teaching scuba diving courses, my students are sometimes surprised when I suggest that, before starting a class with me, they make small changes in their technique or equipment that cost nothing, don’t need an instructor and can be made before even taking a course. Although scuba diving courses are the best way to learn new and important dive skills, here are three easy (and free) ways to improve your diving forever.
1) Lace up your running shoes
When I’m asked what’s the best piece of dive equipment I’ve ever bought, my answer is always the same — a good pair of good running shoes. No one needs to be a superstar athlete to have more fun diving, but time to exercise regularly can only be a good thing. Good cardiovascular health will promote good circulation and improve gas transport from the tissues to the lungs during ascent. This means that you are more efficiently off-gassing the excess nitrogen from your body tissues during ascent, as well as the waste carbon dioxide. This last function is particularly important, as it’s increased levels of carbon dioxide dissolved in the blood that triggers the breathing reflex. So if your CO2 levels rise, so too will your rate of respiration, and you’ll find yourself burning through your gas a little (or sometimes a lot) faster than you would like. In my opinion, excess CO2 (or hypercapnia) is overlooked by recreational scuba divers and is responsible for a whole host of common troubles, from high gas consumption to post-dive headaches, nausea, dive stress and narcosis (CO2 is several times more narcotic than nitrogen.)
I would of course recommend consulting a health and fitness professional before starting any exercise regime but you can start small right away. Set some small goals and rewards; for example, aim for a really good time on the swim tests that are part of most scuba diving courses. Use it as an incentive to start gentle training. Although not a solution by itself, better physical health will make diving a whole lot easier. Just remember that something as simple as a good walk will cost you nothing, and you can get started as soon as you’re done reading.
2) Sort out your dangles
Here in the U.K. we describe divers with all sorts of gear hanging off of them Christmas trees. As divers, we are mindful of impacting delicate coral and damaging the environment, but are often unaware of our own loose equipment causing a little train of havoc. A loose SPG can badly impact sensitive environments but a loose octopus is the worst culprit because apart from possible environmental damage, it may be gently bubbling, wasting precious gas and limiting your dive time. Worse still it may not be in a convenient location if needed. Finally, it may have collected debris that an out-of-air diver will inhale on his first breath from it. Not a nice prospect. A simple silicon snorkel keeper looped back on itself through a shoulder d-ring is the best and cheapest option I have ever seen for securing an octopus. With no kit dangles, not only will you find that you can get closer to critters without surprising or stunning them with your SPG, but you will also use less air, as your drag through the water will diminish. And you’ll probably be able to respond to a buddy better as well.
It will cost you nothing to take some time to properly secure your gauges and hoses and to look at all the potentially loose elements on your dive rig. So right after reading this, go get your gear from the garage and tidy it all up. After you go for a walk.
3) Lose some weight (lead, that is).
The simple truth is that you probably dive over-weighted; most divers I have trained wear too much lead (at the start of a course anyway). Diving heavy is a bad habit that you’re taught during your first scuba classes, and it’s a very one difficult to break. Keep in mind that every pound of extra weight you have means more mass you’ve got to carry, as well as a bigger volume of gas to manage in your BCD or suit.
But what is properly weighted? You’re aiming for neutral buoyancy, with almost no air in your BCD, with your exposure suit compressed a little and with nearly empty tanks, simulating the end of a dive at a safety stop having shared air. Before your next course do a proper weight check at the end of your diving day. If you can still easily descend with only a little air in your tanks then don’t be afraid to start removing weight in small increments over your upcoming dives until you are neutral with your minimum amount of tank pressure. Don’t forget to adjust your weight as you move from saltwater to freshwater, or move to a larger or higher-pressure tank. Every lump of lead you can remove is less weight you’ve got to move around on a dive, Remove the weight and you’ll use less air, thus increasing your bottom time.
I hope these three simple changes find their way into your diving regimen. Do you have any free advice for us?