Keeping your dive skills fresh doesn’t mean you need a refresher course or that you must devote an entire dive to skills. Rather, you can practice one or two skills at the beginning or end of any dive. But if, like many divers, you only dive on vacation, you should enroll in a refresher course before diving. An afternoon re-familiarizing yourself with buoyancy control and fundamental skills under the guidance of a divemaster or instructor will help dust off those cobwebs.
If, on the other hand, you dive regularly, then you probably don’t need a refresher on buoyancy. But what about other diving skills? When was the last time you practiced them? If you’ve never taken a refresher, you probably last devoted time to skills practice during your Open Water course. If that was a number of years ago, are you confident that you would be able to calmly and effectively help a buddy? Or commit a successful self-rescue? Can you honestly remember what that might entail?
What You Should Know
Emergency skills include sharing air and ending your dive with a low-on-air/out-of-air buddy; dealing with an inflating BCD to prevent an uncontrolled ascent; ascending safely to the surface with a free-flowing regulator; and, if you are unable to keep air in your BCD, achieving positive buoyancy by ditching your weights. You’ll likely have to clear water from your mask during many dives, so setting aside time for practice shouldn’t be necessary, but you might want to practice mask removal and putting it back on underwater.
There’s a lot to be said for practicing skills on dry land first, but you should ultimately practice in shallow water. If you’re not sure of the process, ask a divemaster or active instructor from your training agency.
If a divemaster is leading you, tell them that you want to brush up on your skills. They’ll have other divers to look out for during the dive, but most will be willing to help you practice a skill at the end of a dive.
Suggestions for each skill include:
Have your left hand on your alternate before taking your primary out of your mouth. Try to practice while remaining horizontal. Remember to blow bubbles any time the regulator is not in your mouth.
Out of air
Practice this situation with your buddy at the end of the dive after completing the safety stop. Ensure that you have fully briefed the skill with your buddy, as different agencies teach slightly different ways of doing the skill.
It’s best to practice this at the end of your dive after the safety stop as well, with your buddy looking out for you as you slowly ascend to the surface. On the next dive you’ll do the same for them.
Inflating LPI (low-pressure inflator)
Just practice the key steps — raise the LPI high, with your finger ready on the deflate button, and disconnect the hose with your right hand. After the safety stop is a good time for this one, too. Reconnect the LPI before ending your dive.
You can practice this on the surface as long as you’re sure there are no divers below you. Let some air out of your BCD until you can remain vertical and at eye level with the surface. Feel for the weight belt in the way you were trained, then remove it and hold it out to the side away from your body. Don’t let go of it before putting it back on. If you’ve got a weight-integrated BCD, practice pulling the pouches out of the pockets. Ensure that your buddy is watching out for boat traffic.
Before the dive, you can let all of the air out of your BCD. Kick while blowing air back into it until you achieve positive buoyancy. Make this a regular habit.
Other emergency skills include the controlled emergency swimming ascent and controlled emergency buoyant ascent. Practice these skills with an instructor or divemaster in a controlled environment, such as a swimming pool.
Any other skills I’ve forgotten about? How about awareness? Good awareness will often reduce the need to use any of the skills mentioned above since you’ll already be on the lookout for problems throughout the dive. You will be able to deal with them before they become a bigger issue.
Finally, don’t just practice these skills robotically. Understand not only how to do them, but also why you might need them, as well as when you might need them. Reducing the likelihood that something will go wrong is as important as being able to effectively deal with a situation if it does. Keeping these skills fresh will allow you to not only enjoy your dives more, but also to know that you’re better prepared should something go wrong.