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Diving Fundamentals: The Dive Briefing

As an experienced diver, it’s easy to become blasé about the dive briefing, but paying attention during this 5- to 10-minute presentation is crucial.

Experienced recreational divers all too often become blasé about the dive briefing. However, during those five to 10 minutes, the instructor will share all the crucial aspects of the dive with you to make the experience both safer and more enjoyable. It’s essential, therefore, to be on time for the briefing and to pay attention. Here are some tips to get the most out of each dive briefing.

Be on time

Make a note of when the dive briefing begins and be there on time. This may seem like common courtesy, but there’s more to it than that. Most dive boats plan multiple dives each day, all depending on particular arrival/departure and travel times between sites. The captain and crew have calculated tides, water conditions and the movements of other dive boats to give you, and all the other divers on the boat, the best dive trip possible. If you’re 10 or 15 minutes late for a briefing, it doesn’t just hold up that dive; it may have a domino effect on the rest of the day for everybody onboard. Need to prepare your camera? Adjust your weight belt? Analyze your nitrox? Do it before the briefing.

Take notes

It’s often worthwhile to take a slate and pencil to a dive briefing in order to scribble down any key pieces of information that will be useful during the dive. Draw an outline of the shape of the site and note the direction you’ll be heading, or jot down any key instructions, i.e. to keep the reef on your right shoulder. Having notes about the site along with you will reduce any stress and make for a more relaxing dive. Don’t forget to write the dive site’s name for your log book later.

Pay attention to the entry requirements

When and how you enter the water can vary dramatically from site to site, and this will be covered in the dive briefing. At some sites, you may simply giant stride from the main vessel into the water. A stronger current at other sites may mean you must descend as quickly as possible. At some sites you may be required to do a negative entry and immediately leave the surface. Using the correct entry, as advised in the briefing, could make the difference between having a great dive or drifting right past the site and, embarrassingly, being picked up by the Zodiac.

Make note of the dive plan

Much like entering the water, the basic layout and style of the dive may vary. Is it a boat dive where you’ll need to turn at an agreed upon point — either gas or time limit — and head back to the main boat? Or is it a drift dive, wherein you’ll launch an SMB and a dinghy will pick you up at the end of the dive? Are you with a guide who will send you up for your safety stop in buddy pairs as you run low on gas, or are you returning as a whole group? Is there a 60-minute time limit? A depth limit? Make note of all these things, as they’ll be explained during the dive briefing.

Be aware of hazards

Some dive sites feature specific hazards; perhaps there are strong currents or you should watch for a particular type of flora or fauna.  Perhaps there are swim-throughs or small caverns where you’ll be required to pass through one at a time. This pertinent information will be shared at the briefing.

Listen for points of interest

The men and women conducting the briefings dive these waters every day. If there’s a specific type of wildlife you’re hunting for or if some aquatic life is specific to the site, they’ll know the best place to look for it. So whether you’re a critter-hunter looking for a seahorse, a wreck-head looking for the guns on a warship, or in search of the cleaning station and large pelagic life, the instructors and guides can tell you where to spend your time and gas.

Know what equipment you need

If there are any gear recommendations specific to the dive site or trip, the instructor or guide will often explain them during the briefing. Perhaps there will be a hang-tank under the boat. The divemaster may advise you to take a torch on the dive in order to pick out certain types of well-camouflaged aquatic life or to negotiate swim-throughs. You may need to deploy your SMB. All these useful pieces of information will be explained during the briefing.

Brush up on your hand signals

Most recreational divers know the common hand signals: ok, up, down, safety stop, I have a problem, etc. However, there may be site-specific signals you’ll need to know. For example, the instructor may use a signal specific to a type of wildlife that’s difficult to spot so that you know what you’re looking for, such as a pygmy seahorse or ghost pipefish. Or, they may use specific signs to tell you to launch your SMB, turn, beware of a current, to point out a swim-through or the key features of wreck.

How will you end the dive and exit the water?

Depending whether you’re returning to the main boat, the main boat is picking you up, or the dinghy is collecting you, there may be a specific procedure for ending the dive, either in terms of where to surface or how to board the dinghy. The briefing will reveal all. Also, should you require nitrox or a specific gas mix for the next dive, you should let the crew know at the end of the current dive so they have the surface interval to blend the tanks. You’ll be made aware of the procedures in the dive briefing.

And if it all goes wrong?

Thanks to modern training and technology, today’s diving is thankfully very safe. However, the divemaster will inform you what to do in the event of an emergency during the briefing. He or she will explain everything from recall procedures to where they keep the first aid kit and oxygen.

Although there are universally applicable bits to many dive briefings, listening and picking out those specific pieces of information about your dive can help you and your buddy have a happier, safer, stress-free and more enjoyable experience. So pay close attention during your next briefing: you never know what you may learn.

By guest author Marcus Knight (The Scuba Monkey)