We Don’t Just Torture Divers

What’s the point of those dreaded surface drills in entry-level dive courses that require removing and donning the BCD and weight belt, respectively?

Allow me to offer an explanation…

“You seemed so nice just a minute ago!” It’s always a disheartening description of oneself, and one that would wrench the heart of most men – particularly when spoken by a woman. And when the woman in question is a student diver that you’re instructing, that only serves to make the words all the more effective.

The reason for this dismissal of my niceness was the end of the final dive of the pool sessions during a beginner dive course I was giving. I had just asked my students to perform the final surface drills, removing and donning first their BCDs and then their weight belts. These were two drills that were to be repeated a few days later in open water wearing a thicker wetsuit and gloves – and two drills that I know many students loathe. It’s almost as if the drills were designed as a form of hazing process for prospective divers.

But even when it might seem that way, very few things are included in the dive course curricula with the sole purpose of annoying students. On the contrary, all these skills serve a purpose. And sometimes knowing that purpose can help to make a drill more tolerable. So what’s the purpose of these two drills, you may wonder?

If you’re diving from a small boat, such as a RIB – a common dive boat in many places around the world – it may not feature a ladder to climb up on after your dive. Instead, you’ll need to swim your way up into the boat, using the pushing power of your fins and the pulling strength of your arms. This is next to impossible with a BCD, tank and weights still on. So being able to quickly and efficiently remove these things in the water after a long dive is very necessary during these scenarios.

Knowing how to remove your weight belt in particular can be a life-saving skill if you suddenly find yourself with a BCD that isn’t working and unable to swim your way to the surface. Dumping the weight system can greatly assist you in swimming back up to safety, especially if you’re carrying a lot of weight.

OK, so why put everything back on in the water then? Given the scenarios just mentioned, can’t we just remove it and be done with it? We don’t usually get dressed in the water, now, do we?.

Well, usually not, no. But there are scenarios where you might need to do just that. Once, when I was in Indonesia, we cruised out in small motorboats that were really just tiny outrigger canoes with motors on them – much too small for us to wear our gear on the trip out. Instead, we’d ride out in our wetsuits and, once at the dive site, put on our fins and masks, jump in, and wait for the crew to hand us our weight belts – they need to be put on first, before you put on your BCD. Then, holding on to the boat and finning intensely so as not to sink, we’d be handed our BCDs, which we’d then put on. This was stressful indeed, but really the only way to dive this particular site (which was well worth the trouble, I might add). I gave a silent thanks to my dive instructors of past who had insisted I perfect the weight and BCD removal/re-donning exercises.

Hopefully, the student in question – and my other students that came before and after her – did eventually realize that I was actually being nice. In my own, stress-inducing way, the lessons were for her own good. I promise.