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Deep Diving

Being a public safety diver does not prepare you for everything.

Walt Hendrick and Andrea Zaferes

The diving industry has set parameters as to how deep different levels of divers should dive. These depth levels have been set based on knowledge, ability, experience, training, and planning capabilities.

New divers are trained on the premise that they are capable of safely diving to a maximum depth of 60 feet. Some portions of the diving industry even refer to dives deeper than 60 feet as extended range diving. No matter what you call it, deeper diving requires more experience, more advanced planning, more training specific to deeper diving, and more time in the water.

Diver Descending Searching on the bottom in 50 feet of blackwater is far different than diving mid water in good visibility at 100 feet. Entanglement hazards, inability to read gauges, the inability to see at all, and the psychological effects of 50 feet of blackness above you all come into play.

We forget, though, that those parameters have been set for diving in good conditions with good visibility. Not the shallow, blackwater, debris-riddled, often frigid conditions, that public safety divers typically face. Being good divers in those conditions still does not give them the ability to conduct public safety diving operations at depths greater than the normal range of diving experience. So, what do individuals and teams need to do if they seek to extend their range to greater depths?

First, you do not belong on any dive team or in the water with scuba gear without at least basic open water training and certification.

Second, basic certification does not train you for deep diving operations or specifically for any diving deeper than 60 feet. Even then, you as a diver need to gain experience in depths of 60 feet or less before planning deeper dives.

Third, let us assume that as public safety divers we all agree that we do not belong in the water without a pony bottle.

Fourth, the standard public safety diving course trains you to dive to a given depth, typically a maximum of 50 feet. Extending those training depths by 15 to 20 feet would be reasonable.

Fifth, to extend your diving operations to depths greater than those of your training requires further dive training. In some situations, this training may require additional training in both public safety techniques and standard diving practices in planning and procedures. It also requires dive time to reasonably similar depths and conditions.

Unless the specific diving course you are participating in is for deep diving operations your training is for a limited depth capability. For the most part, sport divers who dive deep learn to dive and then proceed to dive and dive. They progress their depths slowly as they become more proficient. Their equipment is changed and modified to meet the new needs, and more often then not they seek specialty courses in extended-depth and -time diving.

The 100 foot depth should be the demarcation line between SCUBA and surface supply. Like the commercial industry, we do not believe working divers should be on SCUBA below 100 feet, especially in low or no visibility. If the community wants the body or evidence, bring in commercial divers or spend the huge expense of making the PSD capable of performing the operations with the same safety standards Diver Ready

The Lake George NY Fire Department is an excellent example of a team with the need for not only deep diving but also a series of alternate-depth and variable-visibility search techniques. They have areas where there is little or no visibility, while in another portion of their response area they may have as much as 20 to 25 feet of visibility on a given day. Their diving depths range from 15 to over 100 feet.

The Lake George dive training programs and capabilities offer a library of techniques, from blackwater, surface-tethered diving to underwater sled operations, deep diving with a bottom tender, free-swimming, minimal penetration capability, ice and deep ice diving, and minimal moving water diving. Not only have these capabilities taken years to develop, but also not every member of the team is capable or allowed to dive in each of the different types of operations. They operate in areas of their personal capabilities. Depending of the operation, some divers become tenders on surface support.

Research shows that the average dive team in the U.S. is made up of open water divers with little or no further dive education. Some teams have senior members with less than 50 total lifetime dives. No matter whose public safety diver course you have participated in, entry level is entry level. Most Level 1 public safety dive courses take place in less than 40 feet of water. Based on an extended-range capability, your team should be able to operate to depths up to 60 feet. Deeper diving requires deeper dive training and often specific training for special jobs.

If it is your team's intention or desire to sport dive to deeper depths then begin with the following steps:

1. Learn how to better understand and plan your air consumption so you can properly plan a deeper dive.

2. If you are not already diving with a pony, get one and practice using it. Using the pony not only means dive with it, but practice transfers to and from your main tank in a shallow training area. If you are wearing a pony but have never practiced the transfer to it, chances are you will forget about it in a real situation.

3. As in public safety diving, be sure you know where all of your equipment is located on your body, and that you are familiar with reaching it with either hand.

4. Reconfirm your ability to properly use the zero-decompression dive tables. If you do not remember how to use them, seek out an instructor or one of the videos that will re-train you in their use.

5. Slowly start extending your diving depths by 10 to 20 feet. Perform a couple of dives to each of these new depths and specifically practice slow ascents and descents. Do not practice bounce diving (rapid ascents followed by rapid descents) because it can lead to decompression illness.

6. When not public safety diving, practice buddy diving. Work on ascending and descending as a buddy team, practice out of air emergencies, and review and use hand signals. Practice buddy checks, similar to public safety diving. However, be sure you truly understand any new gear or signals required for sport diving. Learn how to watch for your buddy as a safe diving practice.

7. Check your weighting and ensure you are weighted properly for sport diving. Public safety divers have the tendency to dive heavy so they can search the bottom better, while sport divers seek to be neutral in the water.

8. Think about the environment change between fresh water and salt water; remember that salt water is more buoyant by 1.6 pounds per cubic foot.

9. Since the reason we go sport diving is to see the underwater world, and you will most likely not need or use a tether, you may wish to learn how to use natural navigation or even how to use a compass properly underwater.

10. When possible, get extended range or deeper dive training.

If it is your team's intention or desire to conduct public safety diving operations to deeper depths, then begin with the following steps.

1. If you are not using pony bottles (and you should be!), then get them and practice as already discussed!

2. Slowly extend your diving range in depths of 10 to 20 feet.

3. Practice ascents and descents in dirty water.

4. Get extended range or deeper public safety diver training.

5. Always dive within your personal limits. Do not ever reach beyond your capabilities for either sport or professional reasons. As an advanced sport diver or public safety diver, your most important job is to go home at the end of the day.

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For information on how you can help, or how RIPTIDE can help you, please contact us at:
P.O. Box 593
Hurley, NY 12443
tel/fax: (845) 331-3383
Created by Dolphin Diving - copyright 990901