If your kids dive, you likely spend more of your time underwater watching them than you do the reef. This is no surprise, as diving can be inherently dangerous. One of the greatest concerns for kids is depth management. Kids may ascend or descend too fast. They may want to head deep to see something after being shallow on the second half of the dive, or ascend too shallow around boat traffic. There are a few ways parents can teach and model good depth management techniques for children.
Repeat and remind.
I’ve said this before, but I can’t reiterate it enough. Just as with anything else, parents must cover the rules of diving again and again with kids. Talk about the buddy system — staying close to each other, getting your buddy’s attention before going off to look at something, checking on each other’s air, etc. If you are managing your depth appropriately and your child is following the buddy-system rules, they should be managing their depth as well.
I have found this effective trick extremely easy to implement. When you reach your desired depth, look in front of you and aim for a landmark. This is especially effective on a wall, but it can be a sandy patch in the distance, a coral head on a sloping wall, a barrel sponge jutting out from the wall, etc. Once you reach that landmark, look ahead for the next one and so on throughout the dive.
Show them the boats.
Often, dive sites are below significant boat traffic or boat lanes. One of the most meaningful things I ever showed my son on a dive was a boat directly overhead. I had told him that we needed to stay below 15 feet until we could ascend over the top of the wall and into the shallows as we headed to shore. Shortly after dropping over the wall’s ledge, however, I was able to show him a small speedboat going right over the top of us. We were safe at about 30 feet, but it demonstrated how fast the boat traffic was moving, and the danger of being shallow in the wrong place.
Plan the dive and follow the plan.
It can be hard to stay calm when you see something new or really cool. You want to follow it to get a better look or picture, but that can result in significant and quick depth changes, with serious consequences. Aside from reminding your child to stay close to you as your dive buddy, you should always have and follow a dive plan. Decide in advance what to do if you see something cool below or above you, especially late in the dive. Think about how much air you have left, how deep you are, how close you are from the exit point, and if you’ve still got to make a safety stop.
If your answers to all of these variables indicate that you can stay for a while, then you must have a plan for safely observing whatever has your attention. Hover your current depth and remain still, and you’ll typically get a good look at whatever has caught your eye. If it’s an animal, it may even come closer to check you out. Chasing the creature out into the deep or up to the surface is never acceptable. Teach your kids that this is always a no-no.
When diving on a wall or on a deeper site, talk about additional hazards.
Kids may not notice significant depth changes on a wall, especially in very clear water, so parents must discuss staying cognizant of depth before beginning the dive. Explain that they can go a lot deeper (or shallower) than they intended to very quickly, and that they must monitor their gauges more than they typically do. Mom or dad can also do air checks more often than normal to keep kids focused on their gauges.
Make them log it.
If your child has a dive computer, he or she will likely see warnings when they’ve ascended too quickly. If that’s is the case, have them add that information to their logbooks and discuss it with them. They will quickly notice if it’s a repetitive issue.
Make it a habit to dump halfway through.
Typically, at about half a tank or at the turnaround point on a dive, you begin to ascend quite a bit higher than you were on the first part of the dive. Kids can pop up higher than they should, since they are lighter and their tanks are half empty. Make it part of the dive plan to dump BCs completely at this point and then add a puff or two of air at a time as needed to achieve appropriate buoyancy for the new depth with a half-empty tank.
Depth management techniques for children really aren’t that different than those for adults. There’s a lot to keep in mind, especially for kids, but proper depth management is essential if they’re going to stay safe. While it will take time to help them make this second nature, practicing these techniques will make your kids safer divers. And will mean that you can spend some time looking at the coral instead of them.