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The Importance of a Dive Debriefing

Don’t underestimate the importance of a dive debriefing — a dive isn’t really over until you’ve talked it through. Here’s what you can learn from a thorough dive debriefing.

When does a dive end? When you hit the surface? Climb on the boat? Step on to the beach? Hang up your gear? Not really. A dive ends when you’ve discussed what went right and what went wrong among all the dive participants. Only by conducting a thorough dive debriefing can we learn from our dive and avoid repeating any mistakes.

Luckily, most dives end well, with divers returning to the surface having enjoyed their time underwater. And, of course, they will talk about what they’ve seen and whether the current was strong or maybe unexpected. They will likely compare notes on how much air they came back with as well.

But what about when it took two minutes to get someone’s attention, or when one diver in the group followed a downcurrent? What if the group spent a few minutes waiting on or looking for one diver? Or, perhaps most commonly, those times when one diver is signaling something the others simply don’t understand?

Situations like these make dive debriefings invaluable. First things first: debriefings are never about appropriating blame. They are always about learning from the dive and making the next dive better. Talking through a dive is common practice on technical-diving courses, guided technical dives and recreational course dives, but it is beneficial to every diver on every recreational dive. Here’s why.

What’s in a debrief?

One school of thought suggests talking through the dive from start to finish. Beginning with equipment setup and pre-dive checks on the shore or on the boat, divers go through any problems they encountered and literally relive the dive chronologically, ending with everyone back on the boat. The idea is to avoid missing anything by talking through the way it happened.

Doing so is about more than discussing mistakes. Equally — if not more — important is highlighting what went well on a dive. On technical-diving courses, it is common to practice and fine-tune skills over several dives until they become second nature. Providing feedback to the student, positive and negative, is crucial. It’s easy to focus on the negative when it would benefit a student’s — or maybe a new diver’s — motivation to let them know how much better their back kicking was, for example, on this dive than the last.

How does it work for recreational dives?

Looking at fun dives outside of training, what’s there to debrief? A lot. Communications, for one. If divers have learned in different parts of the world, or been taught by instructors from different training agencies, they are likely using slightly different hand signals. Underwater, it’s more complicated to clarify these. So, if it didn’t happen in the pre-dive briefing, post-dive or on the surface interval would be the perfect time to ensure that everyone speaks the same underwater language.

Another consideration is positioning. Most dive guides and instructors agree that one of the worst spots for a diver to be is right above their guide. It’s the ultimate blind spot, making it hard for the guide to keep track of the diver or show them those special small creatures.

Seasoned buddy pairs often fall into a rhythm, with one person usually leading the dive and the other following. They might also have a preference about staying on each other’s left or right side, especially on wall dives. New buddies, on the other hand, might find that they naturally just enjoyed diving together, or have a chat about positioning after they finish their first dive together and establish a routine from there.

It’s a two-way street

Debriefing is a two-way street, especially in teaching situations. An instructor can’t expect a student to perform a skill correctly when he or she hasn’t seen it in the demonstration or is unsure which skill to perform. Clearing up those misunderstandings before the next dive will go a long way toward making that next dive more successful and enjoyable than the previous one.

Why are debriefs so important?

Debriefs are key because after one dive is before the next dive. This is the best time to learn from any mistakes, big or small, or to reward best practice and help turn it into a habit. Ignoring things that didn’t go well will do nothing to help avoid them next time around. Discussing them openly and looking for alternatives, however, will go a long way toward creating an environment where divers are happy to share their experiences.

Unfortunately, we gain much experience the ‘hard way,’ when something goes wrong in the first place. How much better is it, though, to share this experience with others to help them avoid the same mistake? Even better — discuss what happened on ‘that’ dive with your buddies right after it’s over and make sure it won’t happen again. A thorough, positive debrief can go a long way towards creating better, safer divers.