Sunday, December 29, 2013

Diving in the Working Opportunities

Happy Sunday!

I have been gathering my gear in preparation for my trip to Curacao in January, and it got me thinking about all the great people I have met on dive trips; the 70 year old guy who digs up wooly mammoths in Alberta, the trauma surgeon with hundreds of stories, the nuclear engineer working for NOAA, to name a few.   In fact, meeting new and interesting people are one thing I really look forward to when traveling. Well, I got an email from one of our former students that tops my encounters.

Some of you may remember Sarah Barrett who dove with us this past summer.  She came to us as an open water diver looking to advance to dive instructor and work in the dive industry.  She took Advanced Open Water and Rescue Diver courses with us and then spent the rest of the summer racking up dives so she could start her Divemaster course. At the end of the summer, she moved down to Florida and started her training.  She sends Mike and me periodic updates and we are very interested to hear of her progress. She shared with us that she had earned her divemaster and was already hard at work to become an instructor, but she also shared an encounter that is bound to set her life on end!

While practicing skills with the other instructor candidates, she realized that the woman who is working with her class and going for IDC staff was none other than Christina Zenato.  Christina is known the world over for her work to protect the cave systems on Grand Bahama Island, but for most of us, she is known as the “shark whisperer.”  She helps scientist to take DNA samples and collect data by putting the shark into a state called, “tonic immobility,” a trance-like state.  She also does this with sharks so she can rid them of fishing hooks and parasites.

Sarah a wasted no time in introducing herself to this woman: her idol. She shared her desire to work with Ms. Zenato, and Christina, no doubt impressed with Sarah, has agreed to help her get the necessary visas to allow her to work in the Bahamas. This chance encounter is leading to a chance of a lifetime for our young friend.  We are so excited for her! Before any of this can happen, of course, Sarah has to complete her instructor training and earn her Master Scuba Diver Trainer rating, so, “Get to your studies, Sarah!” 

I guess one never knows to what other adventures diving travels may lead, but one thing is certain, it will never be boring!

You can check out Christina's diving here.  Until next time, cheers.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Pebble Cast Into a Pond Creates Ever Expanding Ripples

Recently I heard a radio show in which the hosts were talking about how an event or activity can change the course of one’s future.  By extension, these changes also impact one’s family and circle of friends. It got me thinking about how scuba diving has affected me and my family.

It all started with a family vacation to the Bahamas. Our son, then 9yrs.old, was interested in marine biology and the ocean, so we thought the Bahamas would be a great spot to expose him to the ocean in a much more intimate way.  We purchased snorkeling gear and took a short class to learn how to use it all before we left. Arriving at Stuart Cove’s Dive Shop in South Ocean Bahamas, we signed up for a couple of boat snorkeling trips. One of the spots we snorkeled was the remnants of the airplane prop from the James Bond movie, Thunderball.  When we got to the wreck, the certified divers dropped down before we got into the water to snorkel. The whole time I was in the water I watched the divers exploring the wreck and knew that that is where I wanted to be. 
As soon as we got back home, I was looking into diving lessons.

Lisa and I were certified the following October in time for a trip to Aruba for the production awards for the company that I was working for. Though our first ocean dive was somewhat terrifying, it was wonderful as well. The first thing Lisa said to me after we surfaced from that first dive was, “We have to get the boys into this”.  I signed Dylan and Boomer up for classes as soon as Boomer was old enough to be certified. The boys were certified on their first dive trip to Bayman Bay Club in Honduras.  Little did I know that that trip would be beginning of our sons’ training for international travel.

We were fortunate enough to be able to take the boys on several dive trips throughout their teen years. By the time they went off to college both of our boys seasoned travelers.  I think that it also opened the door to other adventures.  When our older son, Dylan married Dominique, we of course pushed for her to learn to dive. She had no problem with that as she is adventurous as Dylan, so we taught her to dive one summer that they were home.  They were living in Taiwan at the time, and with the couple now both certified, they took the opportunity to dive in the Philippines and Thailand as well as the Sea south of Taiwan. They also traveled to Cambodia and Viet Nam. Our younger boy, Boomer, has also headed out to other adventures and travel. His career as a geologist takes him to some very remote and beautiful locations in the US and Canada. He spent 10 months on Admiralty Island in Alaska, where, unfortunately, he never got the chance to dive during crabbing season.

Diving in Cayman Brac with family and new friends
As for Lisa and I, diving turned to a passion that led to becoming Instructors, having a dive shop and of course more dive travel, expanding our destination list to many local diving venues we had never hear of. Who knew a trip to the Bahamas would set into motion the events that would influence all of our lives? It has for you too because you just read this blog.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Six Things: Non-diving Stuff to Bring

When packing for a dive trip, I tend to really stress over my gear: Is everything is functioning? Are the weight pockets are in place? Do I have all the retractors and clips I need, etc.  The diving, of course is my focus, but I also do not want to forget the non-diving items that are essential to the enjoyment of the trip.  Here are my top six non-diving items to add to your checklist for a dive trip.

Number 1
Lip Balm, preferably one with sunscreen:  Anyone who knows me will smirk at this suggestion since they know that I am almost unable to go out to get the paper without chapstick, however, even those who do not share my addiction need chapstick on a dive trip.  Breathing dry air through one’s mouth coupled with wind and sun on the tender tissues of the lips can make for some ugly blistering and serious discomfort.

Number 2
Meclizine:  This is an over the counter medication to prevent sea sickness.  This should always be on a dive trip because even if you do not usually experience sea sickness, if the water is rough enough, you will run the risk of experiencing this terrible scourge.   Meclizine should be taken an hour before boarding the boat in order to be effective.  If you’ve never used this medication before, it is a good idea to try it before your trip to see how it affects you. (In fact, any new medication should be tried at home before taking it on vacation.) Tiredness, a common side effect of meclizine, may be mitigated by taking half the dose.  For many, this decrease does not prevent the medicine from doing the trick.

Number 3
Jolly Ranchers (Team Manta’s favorite) or other individually wrapped hard candy:  After a dive, it is nice to get the saliva going and get the salt taste out of your mouth.  Hard candies work well for this.  You want to have the individually wrapped candies so they do not get soaked when everyone is grabbing their favorite flavor.  (Be careful not to toss the wrapper in the water, though!) I put an aliquot of the candies in a Ziplock box so I don’t have to take the whole bag on the boat each day.

Number 4
Hand held scale:  Even if your stuff was under 50lbs. when you traveled to your destination, and you did your best to dry everything before repacking it for the journey home, it may weigh slightly more at the end of your trip. Weigh your packed luggage prior to departing for the airport so you can avoid having to redistribute your stuff while in line at the airport, or worse face an “overweight” charge.

Number 5
ID/Credit Card case on a lanyard: You will doubtless want to bring some cash or a credit card for incidental purchases, but you will not want to have your entire wallet or purse with you.  Get a small, waterproof case that can be worn around your neck while touring around, or walking the beach.  This is a good place for your room key as well.  Most of these are not adequate for diving depths, but if you are strictly diving from a boat, it should be safe tucked in your drybag while you are underwater.  If you are shore diving, get a container that is rated to be waterproof at dive depths.  These are a bit more expensive, but what will it cost you if you lose those items?

Number 6
Spare glasses/sunglasses: This is especially important if you have a fairly strong prescription.  Stuff happens and glasses can be misplaced, or destroyed by carelessness, so if you do not want to walk around the island for a week wearing your scuba mask, it is a good idea to bring a spare pair of glasses.

Are these on your list of non-diving essentials?  Can you think of any items I forgot?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Going Up

It’s 50 minutes into Sandy’s dive and she is noodling around under the boat, snapping shots of corals, macro creatures and her fellow divers.  Checking her pressure gauge, Sandy sees it’s time to go up.  Sandy cannot wait to share her dive experience with everyone on the boat during the surface interval, and before she knows it, she’s at the surface.  The mistake here is that Sandy stopped diving before she got out of the water.  Just as important to the safety of a dive as gear, buoyancy, and attention to gauges is the ascent, and sadly, many divers never give it a thought.

At the end of the dive, the first thing that should happen is that the diver communicates with his dive buddy.  Compare gauges for NDL and tank pressure.  Even though you dived together, it is always possible for one member of a buddy team to require more deco/safety stop time than the other.  Air allowing, buddy teams should ascend and make those stops together.  This is important so each person has nearby help if an emergency should occur.

After agreeing to make the ascent, dump a little air from your BC. This allows proactive control of the ascent, allowing more time to respond to increased buoyancy due to expanding air.  Remember that you want to remain neutral or a little negative throughout your ascent to make sure you do not blow through your safety stop at 15 ft.  While 30ft./min is generally recommended as the rate for safe ascents, it is preferred, if you have one, to allow your computer to guide you.  As you ascend, keep a hand on your dump cord and a hand on your gauges.

Be aware of what is overhead and around you.  Nothing spoils a dive experience like doing a header into the bottom of the boat, coming up underneath another diver, or passing through a swarm of stinging jellies.  Again, control of the rate of your ascent along with attention to your surroundings, will go far to help avoid mishaps.

Once the safety stop depth is reached, make yourself neutral and relax.  You are still diving, so look around! Many times bigger animals vacate dive sites when groups of divers are around, but return when the divers are on their safety stops.  The safety stop has gone from optional to a routine part of a dive.  The usual safety stop, three minutes in length, allows the diver’s blood to circulate through his body three times.  This is important because it is easier to exhale the gas than to deal with it once it forms a bubble.  The small amount of pressure at 15ft. is enough to keep the nitrogen in circulation so it can be safely exchanged for oxygen in the lungs.

At the end of your safety stop, again check that your buddy is ready to make the final ascent to the surface.  Ascend close to the boat, but not under it or the swim ladder. If other divers are on the swim ladder, get over to the current line so you will not be pushed away from the boat by surface current. Inflate your BC so you can float comfortably and switch to your snorkel. When it is your turn to exit the water, get yourself over to the boat, but again, never directly below a diver climbing the boat ladder! To make sure that you are not separated from the boat, hold onto a line or the rung of the swim ladder when taking off your fins. Lengthen the straps and hang them on your wrists, or hand them up to a boat crew member, then make your way up the ladder.

 If your exit point is at the shore, swim in to a depth a little over your waist.  Remove your fins, enlisting your buddy’s help to stabilize you in the surf. If there are big waves, it is a good idea to keep your regulator in your mouth, so if you are knocked down, you are not in danger of drowning before you can make yourself upright again.

In a novel, the middle part is the most memorable, but without the set up in the beginning and the conclusion tying up all the details in the end, it will never make a best seller. Dives are like that.  A diver must pay attention to all the parts of the dive; descent, exploration and ascent to make the experience a great one.

SIDE NOTE:  Tis the season for gifts and giving and Manta Divers has just thing for that scuba divers on your list.  During the months of December, we a number of great deals so stop on into the shop and check them out.  What if the people on your list don't dive?  Perhaps your could sign them up for a class!  What better gift could you give than the world of scuba?  It is the gift that keeps on giving.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Decent Descent

I spend a lot of time talking to divers about neutral buoyancy, but what about negative and positive buoyancy?  These two states are equally important to the diver yet I feel that their value is often underestimated, so allow me to post a two part blog.  This week let’s dissect a descent.

Obviously, at the start of a dive, a diver wants to be negatively buoyant.  That means a diver must change his volume by deflating his buoyancy compensator.   Before he does anything, though, if you are in a wetsuit, you want to let water into your suit.  You have to warm up that layer of water anyway and doing this at the beginning of your dive will force out any air trapped in the suit.  Next, vent air from our BC’s and exhale. It is important to know where the BC dump valves are.  If they are at the shoulder, the diver should start upright in the water, thereby forcing all the air to the shoulders of the BC, near the dump valves.  He pulls his dump cords, holding them open long enough to vent all the air, and then as he starts to go underwater, he hugs himself to make a streamlined silhouette.  Some BC’s are made with the dumps farther down the back of the vest so the diver can dump in a more horizontal position, but air can be dispelled from these BC’s even if the diver is upright, by holding the inflator hose above the head and depressing the vent at the end.  As with all equipment, it is the diver’s responsibility to figure out how everything works.   

After venting air from the BC and exhaling and assuming the diver’s weights are correct, he should float slowly beneath the water’s surface like a leaf, not a cannonball.  At this point, only a foot or so underwater, if the diver takes in a big breath of air, he will pop right to the surface.  This is where many divers start demanding added weight, which is only a mask covering poor technique.    As we learned in our open water course while trying to perfect our fin pivot, good buoyancy can only be achieved with patience, so the key here is to slow down.   Once a foot underwater, with his entire breath expelled, the diver should take a small breath in and then expel it as though blowing out birthday candles. To facilitate the descent, the diver should also keep his fins still.  Remember that fins are powerful and if they are beneath you and in motion, they will work against the descent.   I like to start with my fins pointing straight down (toes pointed), so I am like a pencil pointing to the bottom.  The diver should also keep his arms at his side, or crossed in front of him, to stream line his profile and reduce drag.

As the weight of the water crushes the exposure suit and any air remaining in the BC, the rate of descent increases.    This is the point where some divers are rolled onto their backs by the weight of their tanks.  They start finning and flailing until they either work themselves to the surface or crash to the bottom, destroying the visibility.  If the diver finds himself falling to his back, one solution is what Mike calls “Stop, drop and roll” (though  the steps are not really in that order).  Stretch out your legs and stop moving.  Do a “log roll” so your tank is on top of you again and you are in a more horizontal position.  The horizontal position will produce drag and therefore slow your descent.  Then continue your “drop,” finning to the planned depth. 

Another way to manage the this phase of the descent, is to start from the “pencil” orientation, then once the descent is underway, slowly bend your knees while leaning slightly forward and flair your fins wide and to the side.  This creates some drag to slow the descent and gives me more stability.  If you sense continued increase in descent speed, add a quick blast of air to the BC.  Wait a beat or two, and if the descent is still too rapid, add another blast, and so on until you are descending at the rate you desire.  The goal is to arrive at the planned depth neutrally buoyant.

The descent seems like it should be the easiest skill to master in the open water course, but to do it correctly, a diver must put some effort into perfecting it. It is really worth the effort to make your diving as enjoyable as possible.  It will also go a long way to help a diver to conserve his air.  As with all sports, however, the key is practice, practice, practice!

Tune in next week when I will be dissecting the ascent!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

What is stopping you?

Since I have my winter and spring trips just about finalized, I am diligently researching where I want to be diving in summer 2014 and winter and spring 2015.  I feel like I live from dive to dive sometimes!   Of course my family, job and other land activities do keep me busy, but I don’t let my busyness get in the way of my favorite leisure activity/stress reliever. While I recognize that not everyone will be as passionate about the sport as I am, I still wonder how it is that other divers aren’t making more of an effort to dive at least often enough to their skills sharp?

Is it lack of gear?  Minimally, every student diver should invest scuba quality mask, fins and snorkel.  When I have a student who does not purchase these basic pieces of gear, or buys a cut rate set, I know that that person will not dive after the course is finished.  I wonder then why they invested the money and time in the course in the first place.  Beyond those items, scuba gear can be rented.  In fact, renting gear can give a diver a good idea of the style gear they prefer, and what feels the best while diving.  If they really like something they’ve rented several times, they can usually purchase the item at a substantial discount compared to new.  In addition, if they buy from a reputable dive shop, they will know what the maintenance record of the item and whether parts are still available for future repairs and maintenance, thus avoiding the hidden pitfalls of eBay or other online “bargains”.

Is it cost of gear?  I know that when people stop in the shop to inquire about diving, they often are shocked at the cost of a full set-up, BC, Reg, wetsuit, etc., but why?  If a person was to get into hunting, for example, they would most likely buy a rifle with a scope for $400-$1000, and at least one box of ammo, $40(or two if they would like to practice before actually going out into the wild).  A blaze orange coat and bibs would go for about $250, not to mention boots, gear for gutting the deer and many other items: all that for a once-a-year activity.  Learning to play a musical instrument is another example.  Instruments can be rented for $35 per month and a student usually pays $45 for a 30 minute lesson weekly, not to mention, music.  The true cost of that pursuit adds quickly!  Don’t even get me started on the cost of golf!   Many worthwhile hobbies require an upfront investment in gear, but scuba is certainly not the most cost intensive.

Is it the cost of outings?  Can’t be!  For a little gas money and $20 a person can have a fun filled day exploring any number of inland quarries in the area.  Lake Michigan is home to a number of famous wrecks that can be explored by even relatively new divers.  If you are used to diving in the ocean, freshwater diving may not seem as exciting, but with a little research on local destinations, a diver can find plenty to keep his interest.  The fun in activities can also come from the people you are with.  Outings with Team Manta are about having laughs, helping one another, sharing ideas and experiences and learning new things.  After the dives, it is about ice cream or a dinner with friends.  Group travel to tropical destinations can be fun, too, without the stress of having to investigate and coordinate the details of getting there, where to stay and who to dive with.

Is it the lack of a dive buddy?  That is another good reason to go with a dive group.  We usually think of a buddy team as being two divers, but it can just as easily be a trio.  In a group, you are very likely to find someone who matches your level of expertise or shares your interests and who knows?  You may find a regular dive buddy. 

Is it lack of time? That is a frequently used excuse, but in reality it does not hold water!  The tropical trips are planned and advertised nearly a year in advance, giving plenty of time to plan vacation and save up money.  Summer outings are published on the Manta Divers web calendar at least in March, of not earlier.  What it takes is for the diver to make a commitment.  Take out a pen and write it down: “I am diving this weekend.” (And this one and this one…) 

When Mike and I were first certified, we invested in gear to give us the freedom to dive when we wanted.  We made a commitment to do at least a full week of diving every year and have been rewarded with some wonderful experiences, and a vastly varied group of friends.  At the time, we were in the dark about all the wonderful diving opportunities right here in our back yard, so I made it my mission as a dive instructor and shop owner to promote both distant and local dive spot.  I do whatever I can to get my divers out there using their skills.  I doubt I will ever be setting around at the home wishing that I had spent less time diving.  Rather, I believe that I will always bemoan the fact that I started diving too late and never got enough dives in!  How about you?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Math: The Diving Edition

Everyone enjoys playing volleyball with bowling balls at Haigh, so I thought it would be fun to find something like that but soft to play with in the pool.  The trouble is, finding something that will be negatively buoyant, but not too negative, so when I came across a small 10lb. medicine ball on clearance at Dick’s, I wondered if it would fit the bill.
Lift Bag by Sheryl

In chapter one of the open water manual, we all learned that things are neutrally buoyant if they displace an amount of water that equals the weight of the object.  So if I figure out the volume of the ball, I would be able to find out if it will sink and the degree of negativity.

I measured the circumference: 23in. 
Volume Sphere =  π *diameter3 ÷ 6    
Diameter = circumference ÷ π, so 23in. ÷ 3.14= 7.32 in. diameter.  
THEN,   π*7.323/6=205.6 in3 is the volume of my medicine ball. 
Converting to ft3=205.6/1728= 0.12ft3
A cubic ft. of freshwater weighs 62.4lbs. 

So: 62.4lbs./1ft3 =  X/0.12ft3 = 7.49lbs. displaced. 

Then, 10lbs.(weight of ball)-7.49lbs.(weight of water it displaces) = 2.51lb negative buoyancy for my ball.

Now, I know that I could have just put it in the water to see if it floated, but this was a good exercise.  When doing underwater recovery, or just a job in which we need to move a heavy object underwater, knowing how to calculate displacement saves a bunch of trial and error.  It also helps when you want to sink something.  You need to figure out how much positive buoyancy the object has in order to know how much weight to add.  It is kind of like what I go through with new divers to estimate the amount of lead they will need to sink.

So now you have an idea what I am doing in the off season!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Six Things: Six Scuba Movies (Say that five times fast!)

Wisconsinites know that winter can be an awfully cruel season, but divers, unless they are into ice diving, or have unlimited funds for dive travel, take the long cold stretch of the season harder than most. One thing that helps me get through the cold nights is curling up with a good (or campy or bad) scuba movie.  So, here are six selections I like(in no particular order):

Sanctum: Scary in its realism.
For me, this one fits in nicely with other horror films, in addition to being one of the few diving movies that does not use sharks as their instrument of fear.  It taps into the fear of extreme overhead environments and exploring them.  Cave diving is a highly specialized skill and when in an unexplored cave, let alone underwater in an unexplored cave, there are many ways to die, and Sanctum touches several of them.   In this film, which was inspired by actual events, a world renowned cave explorer is looking for the way to get from the opening of Esa’ala cave in New Guinea, to its exit into the sea.  It teaches lessons such as, “It is not good to take short cuts,( like neglecting to bring bail out bottles)”, and “Don’t dive if you are not fully up to the task,” and remember all your training, even stuff like “free flow regulator breathing.”  I think this one is technically pretty authentic. 

Thunderball: James Bond thriller
Seeing the remnant of the sunken plane used in this film is what inspired Mike and me to learn to dive.  In addition, if you were wondering where they came up with all the crazy characters in the first Austin Powers movie, viewing Thunderball will make it all clear.  In this classic James Bond film starring Sean Connery, the dashing Bond must outwit  Spectre’s Number 1 in a race to retrieve two atomic bombs somewhere under the Bahamian waters.  Among the cool Bond gadgets is a tiny mouth held scuba tank, and a jetpack.  Again, plenty of bikini clad women and brushes with sharks keep the plot moving.

The Abyss: Science fiction with aliens.
During the cold war, an American nuclear sub mysteriously goes on the fritz and sinks several hundred feet into the ocean and on the edge of the abyss.  Believing that the Reds must be involved in this mishap, a Navy SEALS team is deployed to salvage the sub’s missiles, but that they must get help from the diving crew on a deep water oil drilling rig nearby.  The intrepid crew soon realizes that the Reds are the least of their worries as they find themselves in a fight to stop WWIII.  At one point though, Ed Harris and the crew are trying to revive a drowned Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio using breaths and defibrillation only techniques.  So no one on this mission has proper first aid training? Lots of scary special effects in this Sci-Fi thriller.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou : Comedy
Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is sort of a Jacque Cousteau character, but grief stricken and on a quest to avenge his best friend’s death by killing a fluorescent shark.  It has its funny moments.  Also starring in this film are Angelica Houston, Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe.  This movie inspired the Team Manta tuque.  I am still looking for the right speedo, though!  

The Deep Blue Sea  : Science fiction without aliens.
  (clip about the making of this film)

This movie can’t miss with the like of Samuel L. Jackson, LLCool J, Saffron Burrows and Michael Rappaport.  In this film, a group of scientists are working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, using shark brains.  The bad thing is that in the process, they made the sharks smarter, and are they teed off that someone’s been fooling with their brains!  Lots of great special effects, but it is fun to look for mistakes.

See if you can spot these!

Lady in Cement: Campy detective movie
This is a great one with Frank Sinatra, Rachel Welch and DAN BLOCKER (Jeeze, he looks huge next to Sinatra!).  I love these movies from the day when scuba was new and the sea so dangerous and full of mystery.  Back then, scuba was for only those interested in an early death. Everyone wore shiny black neoprene and giant coffee can size masks.  Sharks were everywhere: impossible to avoid, but no worries.  The diver need only stab him with his knife and that shark is history!  This is a fun one for it’s classic detective vibe. 

What are your favorite scuba movies?  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? Into the Blue with Jessica Alba? The deep with Nick Nolte?  Finding Nemo?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Air Depletion

This month’s scuba class just got to the part about out of air emergencies.  I think that this was a particularly compelling topic, as the air depletion exercises in confined water were fresh in their minds.  In The Complete Diver, Alex Brylske cites a DAN study of 1000 diving fatalities, in which 41% were the result of the diver running out of air.  DAN reported that 70% of the accidents occurred at depths shallower than 100ft, 40% in the range of 60-99ft, and 30% shallower than 60ft.  One third of the fatalities occurred in depths in which even the newest of divers would feel safe.  So what gives?

Where were these divers’ buddies?  I tell my divers that their buddy should always be visible (don’t get too far apart, especially in low visibility) and in clear water should never be farther than you can swim on one breath of air.  It is easy to address an out of air situation if your buddy is near and equipped with an alternate air source.

What if your buddy is not near?  We are all taught the CESA (or CSA, controlled swimming ascent), controlled emergency ascent in open water class.  In case any of you do not remember, it is one in which when the diver realizes that his air is depleted, and his buddy is not near.  The diver then looks up (who wouldn’t), opening his airway.  He lifts his inflator hose in the air to vent air from his BC to control the ascent, and starts swimming for the surface (duh) saying “AHHHHHH”, or humming, or in some way letting a continuous stream of bubbles escape his lungs.  Allowing the air out seems counterintuitive, but this is the part that keeps someone who is out of air from becoming a fatality.  Boyle’s law applies even if you are out of air. As the diver ascends, any gas in his system starts to expand.  Air that remains in your lungs or body spaces will expand as well.  If the expanding air in the diver’s lungs (alveoli) is not allowed to escape through the airway, the expanding gas will eventually rupture the lung.  Since the gas will find a way out of your body one way or the other, it is in the diver’s best interest to do it the easy way and allow the gas to simply exit his mouth.  Now it is important to note, that through this process, the regulator STAYS IN THE DIVER’S MOUTH.  This is key for two reasons.  First, if the regulator is in the diver’s mouth, water cannot get into his lungs.  This is a good thing.  Second, it is important to remember that when the diver failed to get air when he inhaled, there was likely SOME air left, but it was at such a low psi that he could not draw it into his lungs.  As he makes his ascent, that air, like the air in the diver’s lungs, expands, perhaps providing the diver with another breath.  If a diver is practiced at this procedure and is able to remain composed in the face of an out of air emergency, he should be able to manage a safe ascent and save himself.  Do you practice, even mentally, for out of air situations?

I suppose that this is a skill that many divers simply forget about after certification with a vow to never forget to check their pressure gauges, but here’s the kicker: In DAN’s study, there were two groups of divers who had the most accidents; as one would expect, divers with less than 30 dives and unexpectedly, divers with many (hundreds) dives.  In the less experienced group, I would assume that the diver found himself out of air due to poor planning, poor decision making or inattention to gauges.  When the diver discovers his error, either he forgets his training or panics.  In the experienced group, however, I would bet that at least some of the situations arose out of a laissez faire attitude, or out and out arrogance. The first few moments of the emergency are taken up with the diver thinking, “I can’t believe this is happening to me!” The rules of supply and demand apply to all divers without regard to experience.  An equipment problem such as a leaking high pressure hose is just as dangerous for an experienced diver as it is for a new diver.  Experienced divers should return to the boat with a reserve the same as a new diver because unexpected events, such as reverse squeeze, can happen to anyone and one never knows when that reserve will change from a cushion to a life saver.

I guess the take away is this: It is possible for any diver to find himself in an out of air emergency, but preparing oneself for this can be the difference between life and death.  Follow these rules and you will increase your safety tremendously:

1.) Check your SPG often.

2.) Stay close to your buddy. Alternate air source ascents are easy and will allow you the best chance to complete your safety stop.

3.) Pay close attention to your gear’s maintenance. Address even small repairs as soon as you discover them.

4.) Rehearse out of air scenarios during pool reviews, in shallow open water or at least in your mind.  

5.) Review your open water video, or search Youtube for some demonstrations.

Here and here are two videos I found useful.  Enjoy!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Go figure!

Go figure!  We learned something again on a recent dive outing!  This time the lesson was on equipment.
We had a new diver join our group.  Ken hadn’t been diving for quite a while and wanted to get back into the sport so he met up with us at Pearl Lake to check out his gear. One look at his gear and there was no doubt that he got certified a long time ago, about 1973, and was still using his original gear.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Gear, when well maintained, can last 20+ years, but let that same gear sit idly for any length of time and the fabric and anything rubber will start to become brittle and subject to breaking down. Ken was diving a Scubapro MARC VII  regulator and a WATER GILL/AT PAC BCD. As Ken was finishing his first dive, we could see bubbles coming from his BCD.  Upon further investigation Ken found that the inner bladder of the BCD had deteriorated and was actually crumbling in his hands.   Can you imagine the danger had the bladder come apart while he was underwater?  I let Ken use my BALANCE so he was able to get another dive in, so his trip to Pearl was still worth it. 

Another equipment issue was a dry suit purchased on E-BAY.  While Nikki bought a new BARE Trilam Tech Dry dry suit from Manta Divers, her husband, John, got a “deal” on a used one through E-bay. Online, it looked like a pretty good deal; a DUI with newly replaced valves.  When the suit arrived in the mail, however, the bargain started looking a little suspect. The valves looked brand new, but the rest of the suit was well worn, with evidence of several repairs due to leaks. The proof was in the dive. At the start of the dive, John thought that there “might be” a small leak in the suit, but he did not think it was bad enough to abort the dive, so he went on.  When John came out of the lake, however, he bought about 10 gallons of fresh lake water in the suit with him.  Needless to say, John is looking at a new dry suit for next season.  It was an expensive lesson he learned! 

Anyway, we all still had fun and enjoyed yet another day of diving with phenomenal visibility at Pear Lake!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Six-ish Things About Gear Storage

On October 6th I will do my last dive of the season. Getting my new hip on Monday October 7th and my next dive will be in Curacao on January 12th,2014.  Generally, as an instructor, the dive season may end but with try scuba and confined water classes my gear never really dries out. It gets used year round. I realize that for the first time in years my season really will end, or at least take a short break. So, like others that end the season I have to store my gear.  It brings me around to the six things that I must do with my gear to ensure it will be good to go when we head off to Curacao in January.

Number 1
Give your wetsuit, hood, gloves and booties a good washing with wetsuit cleaner and extended rinse in fresh water. As a last step, I recommend a 5 minute dip in Mirazyme to kill any residual bacteria that will cause it to develop a stink in storage. After it all is totally dry, inspect the gear inside and out. Look for loose stitching at the seams or tiny tears that could spell trouble down the road. As I teach in my Equipment Specialist class, I like to use Aqua Seal for these repairs. As they say a stitch in time saves nine. Hang your wetsuit on a wet suit hanger in a cool/warm dry place. The rest of the gear can be stored on a flat surface if you don’t have a gear hanger. Put the inserts in your booties.

Number 2
Give your regulator a total wash and rinse. Pour a little Listerine into your second stages to kill bacteria. Make sure to rinse the second stages well. Inspect the mouth pieces and replace if necessary.  Lastly, look at you hoses for cracks, splitting or kinking. Replace if necessary. I like to wipe the hoses with  UV TECH to keep them in shape and extend their life. If it’s time to have your regulator serviced bring it in. Don’t wait until 2 days before your leaving for your trip.

Number 3
Give your mask a good look. Check the straps, frame and lenses. Wash well with warm soapy water using a soft paint brush to get into the folds of the silicone skirt. Dry well and store in the box that it came in.

Number 4
Inspect your fins. Check the straps and clips. After washing in soap and water, wipe them down with UV TECH. It extends the life and color. Store your fins flat with the inserts in the foot pocket.

Number 5
Go over your BCD. Look at the stitching, clips, d-rings and straps. Check out the low pressure inflator. Give the mouth piece the same treatment as your second stages. Give the BCD a good wash and rinse inside and out. I use BC Cleaner on the inside of the bladder and rinse with clear water. To check if the bladder has any leaking problems fully inflate and set aside overnight. If it’s flat in the morning you should bring it in for service. After adding a little air hang your BCD on a BCD hanger next to your wetsuit.

Number 6
Don’t forget flashlights, knifes and computer. They should be washed, rinsed and hand dried with a soft cloth. Wipe the flashlight case with UV TECH and remove the batteries for storage. Nothing kills a night dive like exploded batteries in you flashlight. Pay attention to the knife sheath, making sure it is thoroughly clean. Oil the knife’s blade before storing. Make sure that your computer contacts are dry before storing. More computer battery life is lost by damp active contacts on land the diving underwater. Check your battery in your computer or replace before you travel or start a new season. Batteries usually last about two years, but replacing your battery before leaving for your trip, even if it has not been two years, is cheaper than losing a day of diving.  Remember that batteries discharge over time even when not in use.

Number 7?
OK , I said six things but it’s really seven: Check your travel gear bag. Look for tears, wear and broken straps.  Clean wheels and zippers to ensure smooth operation.  It’s also good to lube the zippers and wheels. WD40 works well on the wheels and we have Zipper Tech available at the shop.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pearls of Buoyancy

As our local season winds down, we are taking quick day trips to dive.  Surprisingly, at Pearl Lake, the vis has been great, as long as you are the first diver to any given attraction.

If you’ve had the chance to dive local lakes throughout the dive season here, you know that the visibility is best at the beginning of the season because the long winter and snow cover on the lakes causes the algae to die off.  As the season progresses, with days lengthening and the temperature rising, the algae in the lakes blooms until sometime at the end of July or the beginning of August, there is a distinct green cast to the water and the visibility decreases to 5-10ft.  Heading into the fall, the algae starts to die down again and the visibility improves, so generally divers can expect improved visibility in September and October.  Divers cannot, of course, do much about the inherent properties of the bodies of water that they dive in. However, they do have the ability to preserve visibility while they are diving by staying off the bottom and being careful not to disturb the thin layer of silt and algae that covers the sunken items.  Unfortunately, some divers never learn to control their buoyancy.

This last weekend is a case in point.   We parked on the west side of Pearl Lake by the digger.  There was only one other group of diving students parked near us and we shared the training platform.  The visibility was great, 20+ ft. or so.  On the last of the training dives, I wanted to do a little tour that would include exploration of the airplane, just a short swim to the south.  I thought it would be great since neither our group nor the other group of students had gone down there.  After completing their final skills to earn their certification, my students followed Mike in the direction of the plane.  Since my divers had just shown their good neutral buoyancy, I was sure that they would not be disturbing the visibility. 

I swam along behind my divers, observing their technique, when suddenly, there was a huge, dense cloud of sediment billowing in front of us.  Then I spotted one wing of the plane.  What the heck?  To my dismay, I realized that two other divers had not only beaten us to the plane, but they were apparently unfamiliar with the concept of neutral buoyancy.  They were literally dragging themselves along the surface of the plane, eventually all but obscuring it from view!  Mike and I quickly beat a retreat from this mess, as there was nothing to be seen there anyway!

Buoyancy is one of the most important skills a diver must have and yet there are so many divers who never bother to practice and perfect it.  It is something that requires work to achieve and to make part of how you dive, but once you can float through the water without waving your arms around or bouncing off the bottom of the lake, you will have a completely different diving experience.  It is when you are floating, moving effortlessly, that you truly feel the peace and freedom that makes diving such a wonderful sport.  It is when you can hover inches from the top of a wreck or silty lake bottom that you feel the power of your control over the elements and your own body. It is when you are neutrally buoyant you finally feel most like a resident of the underwater realm rather than a visitor.

So again I am on my soapbox.  Work on your buoyancy on every dive!  Take the Peak Performance Buoyancy course or participate in the buoyancy workshop we offer each winter.  Become one with the water, not an underwater “Pig Pen.”