When is comes to continuing dive education, the focus should always be on improving your skills, not racking up numbers of dives or destinations. Let’s illustrate this point with a fictional fellow named Ralph. He went on a liveaboard trip to Palau and ran into an issue with a divemaster we’ll call Julie. Julie had asked the group to follow her closely, as the dive site involved using reef hooks in a specific area to enjoy the pelagic action.
Ralph had been on multiple trips to Cozumel. He had never used a reef hook while diving in current there, so he skipped the briefing and didn’t take the hook. How different could it be? Current is current.
What did Ralph do wrong?
During the dive, Ralph ignored Julie’s instructions and went past her to get a better view of the sharks. Ralph missed hearing Julie bang on her tank to signal it was time to come up the wall and hook in. Thusly, he missed the hook-in area. In the process, Ralph scared off the sharks in the area and ruined the show for everyone.
To get back to the hook-in area he had to crawl hand-over-hand over the reef, breaking coral as he went. His buoyancy control was terrible. He kicked the reef and destroyed coral as he snapped photos. He forced mantis shrimp from their homes and kicked a turtle in the head. Ralph also got caught up in another diver’s reef hook. In the process of getting free, Ralph scratched the dome port of his camera. And finally, all the extra effort meant Ralph burned through his air and had to ascend early.
Ralph came to the surface and complained about how the dive and divemasters were terrible. Julie witnessed all the events. After the dive, she asked Ralph to attend all briefings and follow the divemasters and their instructions going forward. In response, Ralph asked Julie her age and Julie answered that she was 29. As a master scuba diver, with 900 dives executed over 30 years, Ralph wondered aloud how someone so young could help someone with his experience.
Although this example is exaggerated, this is what can happen when a diver overemphasizes his numbers and underemphasizes his training.
It’s Time for Continuing Dive Education
Let’s break down the scenario to gain some perspective and discuss why continuing dive education is critical in our world. During open-water courses, new divers learn how important it is to listen to briefings and follow a guide’s instructions. Had Ralph recalled this basic instruction, his dive would have gone infinitely smoother. Regardless of the sheer number of dives you may have under your belt, if you’re diving somewhere new especially, pay attention to the guidance and training tips offered by those who know it well.
Had Ralph taken a peak performance buoyancy course, he could have developed skills to help him avoid getting tangled in another diver’s line, saving him a dome port and precious gas in his tank. A drift-diving course could have provided valuable insight into traveling in a high-current environment, again helping him to conserve air.
Although experience does count, a diver can nonetheless execute hundreds of dives poorly over multiple years. We’re never done learning until the day we hang up our fins — and we should hang them up once we think we know everything. Experience and education go hand-in-hand when it comes to maintaining and improving your dive skills.
Setting training goals can be as easy as looking at any dive training agency’s ladder of progression, as well as expanding your focus to incorporate specialties and then progressing into more complex dive courses, such as rescue training or tec diving.
Early in my career I was lucky to serve on a ship with a crew whose dive tallies were nearing 18,000 (20 years leading liveaboard dives). I’ll never forget them telling me that they too were still learning and finding ways to improve. It’s this humility and interest in furthering our skills underwater that will keep us fresh.
Becoming a better diver comes from time in the water and continuing dive education, focusing on self-improvement. Keep diving and keep learning, and stop worrying about the numbers.