When you finish a technical diving course your instructor may tell you to get some more experience, but how do you build it up? Is it simply a case of going diving, or should you take more courses? We’ve looked at the pros and cons of both when it comes to progressing as a tech diver.
Skills training vs. course work
Gaining experience as a tech diver means spending a lot of time underwater, yes, but building skills is not as simple as racking up bottom time — it’s about making those hours count.
As an example: to progress between rebreather diving levels, divers must log 50 hours underwater as well as 50 dives. Why? Because, generally speaking, cruising at a set depth is fairly easy, whereas descents and ascents are the potentially trickier parts of the dive. To progress beyond what you need for certification and to keep up that skill level, you must not only spend time at depth, but also safely negotiate your down and back to the surface.
So, how do you make the underwater hours count? There are plenty of ways to gain meaningful experience and to work on skills while having fun. Choose dive buddies or teammates that are more experienced than you are and — crucially — are happy to share their knowledge. Ask them for feedback. How does your trim look? Do they have any thoughts on your gear configuration? What about your movement underwater?
This is not to suggest that everyone knows better than you do. After all, if you learned from a reputable tech instructor you will, at the very least, have a solid foundation to build upon. However, four eyes see more than two, and it is worth hearing out other points of view. Leading technical divers will tell you that they never stop learning and are always keen to improve something.
Why not take more courses?
So, if you are learning from others, why not simply take more courses? In technical diving, taking another course often means adding complexity to your diving. For example, when you move from TDI’s advanced nitrox and decompression procedures combination to normoxic trimix, you are not only gaining depth, you are also learning to handle a different bottom gas and two deco gases rather than one.
That’s a lot of new material to take in — especially if you are still cementing all the skills you learned during the previous course. There may not be a minimum number of dives between completing the two levels – although the pre-requisite dive numbers are very different – but it’s worth consolidating skills and knowledge of one level before signing up for the next course.
This consolidation is even more important if you haven’t tech dived for a while. Muscle memory fades. Motor skills deteriorate over time. However, the more dialled in they were before your diving break, the easier it is to ‘dust them off’.
Ideally, you hone these skills to avoid losing them. If you are keen for instructor-led diving or professional feedback as part of this process, look for workshops. You don’t need to jump to the next level of tech diving to have professional feedback. In fact, technical fun dives involve planning a full-on dive, reviewing procedures as a team and they often allow for skills practice and review to some degree. These dives, whilst not part of a certification course, still require the same level of preparation and planning as course dives would.
Workshops are another good option offered by many tech instructors or shops. They tread the line between certification course and fun tech dive by providing more of a structure to the review or training process and often building up to more complex dives. Depending on how many people there are in your workshop, you will have the chance to focus on areas you want to improve on or progress further.
Which way is right for you depends a lot and when, where and how you dive. For those tech divers who tech dive regularly where they live, becoming part of a team of divers or even building that team of divers is realistic. With a regular group of techies it becomes easier to make those dives count and improve whilst you dive.
For those tech divers, who are ‘restricted’ to diving a few times or even only once a year, building time to review skills into their tech diving schedule is key to dive safely.
Simply racking up hours underwater without feedback or structure will lead to experience on paper, but it’s unlikely to help keep skills sharp – and that’s what they need to be in case of an emergency. At the same time, taking course after course without consolidation leads to a high number of certification cards, but not necessarily true, applicable experience.
As is often the case, there is a middle ground – enjoying time tech diving whilst adding skills practice and asking for feedback; improving and perfecting skills before moving to the next certification level will go a long way towards becoming a safe, experienced technical diver.