Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring is such a cruel season!

Spring is such a cruel season. It teases us with bright sunny days that are 20F, then turns up the heat, but only on days that are cloudy and raining. I know there are plenty of divers out there who have keep active all year with travel or ice diving, but most are just waiting hopefully for the warm days to come.

Given that we’ve had one of the longest and coldest winters in years, the lakes will certainly take their sweet time warming up.  I guess that is why so many people are pulling the pin and purchasing a drysuit this year.  I’ve written about drysuits and drysuit diving before, but if you missed it, a drysuit acts like a big ziplock bag that has seals around the diver’s neck and wrist to keep water out.  Boots are attached as well, so the diver’s feet do not get wet. Under the suit, the diver wears his regular clothes and an undergarment that is like a snowmobile suit or a thick fleece. Underwater, air is added to the suit for buoyancy, to counteract the squeeze from the water and to keep the diver warm.  The only parts of the body that are exposed, then, are the head, usually covered with a hood, the face and hands, either in neoprene or dry gloves.  The whole get up makes for a pretty toasty dive!

If you don’t have a drysuit, though, it does not mean you can’t dive early or late in the season.  It just means you will prepare differently.  Of course a thick wetsuit, 7-8mm, as well as thick hood, gloves and set of boots are a must. If these items fit properly, the diver need only suffer an initial shock as the cold water seeps into the suit.  Once in there, the body warms the water and there should be little exchange of water after that.  One technique that also can help is starting with warm water in your suit.  Bring a cooler with warm water to the dive site and pour a cup or so into your suit. This will keep some of the cold water out.  Be sure that the water is not too hot, or you will be colder in the long run.  It is nice to use the warm water at least on your hood.  I usually keep my hood in the warm water between dives, then my head always stays warm. Between dives, be sure that you can warm up.  Bring a thick coat or windbreaker and a hat.  Hydrating with something warm is also a good strategy. Peal your suit down and get dry. Stay out of the wind.

I am anxiously looking forward to diving this year.  I hope you are too. Now is the time to get ready.  Check out your gear, order that drysuit and maybe get time to practice in the pool. Spring is in swing and summer is not that far off!

Sunday, March 23, 2014


When Mike was taking his tank inspection course, he met a woman who had a truly dream job.  She was the dive shop manager, repair technician, medical officer, divemaster and instructor on a 220 ft. private luxury yacht. As he was relating her story, I was thinking about how cool it would be to just tour around in a boat, diving all day long and being rocked gently to sleep nightly by the waves. In April, 2015, will be doing exactly that!  We are planning a shop trip to the northern Caribbean, spending a week aboard the Caribbean Explorer II.

We will either fly into St. Kitts or St. Maarten, depending on the liveaboard’s schedule at the time we arrange our air flights.  We will set sail the afternoon that we arrive, making our way to the first island. We will enjoy up to 5 dives per day, truly living the diving lifestyle.  We need only don our gear, which will remain assembled in our spots the whole week, and stride into the ocean.  The crew will refill our tanks with air or nitrox right in place between dives, so no lugging gear to a locker, no assembly and disassembly. Meals and snacks are prepared and ready for us each day by the crew, so no debating where to go for meals, or hassle of cooking something.  In other words, just the fun stuff of diving with none of the work! 

The cabins, air conditioned and clean, are compact but there is no need for many outfits on this trip because we will mainly be on the boat, barefooted in our shorts or swim cover-ups. I have 4 cabins on the main deck and 2 below reserved for all those who sign up before August 1.  After that, choice of cabin will depend on what has not been sold by the Caribbean Explorer themselves. There is a deck for sunning and relaxing between dives and star gazing at night.  Best of all, there are no bugs! (At last, I will not have to douse myself with bug repellent between dives!

Named the Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean, Saba, is breath taking; a volcanic island rising steeply out of the ocean to touch the wispy clouds. Saba’s volcanic history is evidenced by underwater lava flows and hot springs. Reefs are home to schools of tropical fish and deep water sea mounts attract pelagic creatures that are not often seen by divers. They have year round diving on Saba, with water temperatures varying between 77F-84F.  Visibility, which of course can be influenced by weather and rainfall, but it typically clears quickly.  The typical vis ranges from 60ft to 100ft.

Due to its steep topography, Saba has resisted development, so liveaboard divers willing to give up a dive, would do well to explore this spot on land. Exploring either on foot or in a car, you will be treated to spectacular views from the peaks of the island and get a glimpse of what life was like in the very early history of the Caribbean islands. 

Our other destination is St. Kitts. With a quarter of its land set aside as a national forest, and a rainforest that is actually EXPANDING, this island is also worth missing a dive to check out.  (Again, with 5 dives per day, there will be plenty of underwater time.) The diving here is spectacular as well, and somewhat shallower on average than the Saba sites.  The volcanic formations here make fun swim-throughs and underwater mazes with something to discover at every turn.  There are several wrecks, such as M.V. Talata, which was sunk 15 yrs. ago and St. Kitt’s signature dive, the River Taw, sunk by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.   

I am always looking forward to my next dive, wherever that may be, but I must confess that I am particularly excited about this trip.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rescue Diver

Hopefully, since we are now getting short glimpses of spring, divers are starting to plan for outings and courses for the summer.  Open water divers will want to schedule their adventure dives for Advanced Open Water. For those who want to delve more deeply into a particular dive experience, specialty courses, such as Underwater Navigator, Peak Performance Buoyancy, Wreck diver and Night Diver are your ticket.  But if you are a diver who really wants to stretch his skills and expand from caring just for himself to caring for others, then Rescue Diver is the course you want.

There are many reasons people give for wanting to take the Rescue Diver course beyond just a stepping stone to Divemaster or instructor.  For example, a diver may have a child or loved one as a dive buddy, or they are the most experienced diver in their group.  These divers feel that others are relying on them to be ready to help if there is an emergency, so they want to prepare themselves.  Sometimes, the diver was a witness to an emergency and didn’t like having to stand around not knowing how to help and have vowed to be ready the next time.  Whatever the reason a person takes the Rescue Diver course, they always come away saying that it was the most challenging and rewarding course they have taken.  As an instructor, it is so rewarding when a former student shares a story of how their training kicked in at the appropriate time. 

Here is an excerpt from an e-mail we received from Sarah Barrett, a student of ours who has recently earned her dive instructor certification in Florida:

“Two days before our divemaster course was over, we were teaching an open water class with two open water students: Sam, who was 67, and actually his dad who was probably in his 80's. We had done some of their confined water skills in the morning, and then in the afternoon we took them both out for the open water dives. On the second dive towards the end, I looked over upon ascent, and Sam was signaling to another kid in my class that he was out of air, although you could see he was still breathing from his primary. Aaron, the kid in my class, gave Sam his alternate anyway, and they ascended together. Once we all got to the surface, Sam spit his regulator out of his mouth and started yelling "It felt like I wasn't getting any air!" over and over again, so we calmed him down a little and said it was time to swim over to the boat. While on our way to the boat, we were holding onto the mooring line, and Sam tried to grab a piece of it, but over and over again would grab the air-we immediately knew something wasn't right. Claude, my divemaster instructor, said "Sam are you ok?" and Sam kept saying "No." Before we knew it Sam had put his head back in the water and fell unconscious. Me and Aaron immediately started towing Sam back to the boat as fast as we could, while Claude removed his weight belt, and we unclipped his gear as we got closer to the boat. Claude yelled to the captain that we had a REAL emergency, and I yelled at the first mate to get the O2. This was the scary part-Sam's face was so blue it scared the living crap out of me. I had never seen anyone look that blue before. As I kept Sam's airway open, we all lifted him onto the back of the boat (and he was probably 250 so it wasn't as easy as it sounds.) We then got him onto the boat and gave him oxygen right away, and within a minute or two he was able to open his eyes and tell us that he was ok. After we got back to the canal obviously we had to meet the ambulance and the coast guard, and Sam was taken to the nearest hospital. He is ok and his dad, Jim, actually came back the next day to finish his open water.
             Needless to say I was blessed to have had my rescue training with you guys, because right when Sam went unconscious, I didn't think, I just acted. It felt amazing to have helped actually save someone's life, and I just wanted you two to know that you did an amazing job in preparing me for a situation like that. I'm also glad it had such a good ending and that Sam was okay!”

The course starts with the prerequisite Emergency First Response course.  In the EFR course, the student learns first aid, CPR, AED and oxygen use.  During this course we start to introduce some diving scenarios in order to start participants thinking how these skills apply in a diving situation.  Moving into the actual Rescue Diver course, we spend a couple of nights in the classroom working our way through the manual. Then the fun begins! We spend an entire day practicing rescue skills and playing out some situations with the help of volunteer “victims” in open water.  The next day, we return to the open water where the instructor and volunteers set up real life scenarios that the Rescue Diver candidates must react to and act upon. Scenarios are played out until each candidate responds appropriately and with confidence.  It is exhausting and exhilarating at the same time! Best of all, successful candidates earn not only the certification card, but the coveted Manta Divers’ red touque.

Emergency First Response course is scheduled for April 1 & 3 at 6:30 at the shop

Rescue Diver course is scheduled for May 20 & 22, classroom, June 6 & 7 open water training.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Six Things of Regulator Maintenance

Recently my repair area has been really busy. Good divers want to make sure their gear is well maintained and working well when you need it. The number one piece of equipment divers want to keep well maintained is your regulator for obvious life support reasons. It amazes me that from time to time I will get a regulator in that hasn’t been serviced in years yet the diver has been diving with it right along. The “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” idea just doesn’t fit with regulators.  Even if it hasn’t been used for a couple of years your regulator should be serviced as o-rings, seats and poppets can dry out and fail when you’re diving. Not the surprise that I want at 60 ft. So her it goes:

Six things you need to know about regulator maintenance.

Number 1
Have your regulator inspected every other year and rebuilt in the years between inspection years. This is the schedule recommended by most regulator manufacturers. If a regulator if in a high use situation it’s recommended that the regulator is serviced more frequently. There are exceptions such as the Atomic T3 regulator, which requires rebuilding every 3 years or 300 dives. When your regulator is serviced make sure that the tech uses only manufacturers parts kits AND that they change all the hose O-rings as well.

Number 2
Manufacturers don’t require that the tech replace the exhaust vales as part of the  rebuild of the second stage and octo. It’s recommended that the tech inspect them and replace them only if they show signs of wear or they are leaking. I replace them every time I rebuild, since as with O-rings, they are made of silicone or rubber and dry out with time.

Number 3
Although the manufacturers mostly call for the second stage diaphragm to be replaced only when they are torn or deformed, I replace the diaphragm on every third rebuild. Again, like the O-rings and the exhaust valve it’s made of silicone rubber and can dry out and fail. They cost about $12 and I don’t charge anything to install. That’s $2 a year for peace of mind.

Number 4
More and more of our divers are using comfort swivels on their second stages and HP Quick disconnects for their computers. Both of these upgrades have O-rings and need to be serviced at the same time as your regulator. It shortens your dive if there is steady stream of bubbles coming from your swivel or QD.

Number 5
What’s an HP air-spool and why should you be concerned about it?  An air spool is a tiny pin between your High Pressure gauge and your HP hose. It has two little O-rings that seal the connection. It’s not typically part of the regulator rebuild or the rebuild kit I change them N/C with every rebuild. It adds security that you won’t have a blow out and have to miss a dive.

Number 6
Even if you haven’t done a lot of dives during the year you should change the battery in your computer at least once a year. Every year and absolutely before a dive trip. The cost before the trip is less than having to rent a computer during the trip.

These are the six things to think about on servicing your regulator. If there was a seventh, I would say don’t wait until the week before your trip or the beginning of the season to get your regulator in shape.

Mike (mook)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

PADI Revised Course Part

Last week I shared a few of the changes in the PADI open water course.  My goal was to highlight a few of the added skills and encourage all divers to think about their own dive experiences to see if practicing these would make them better and safer divers.  This week, I am sharing a few more.

PADI, and in fact all scuba training companies, place high importance on good buoyancy.  It is the heart of the art of scuba diving.  After open water certification, continuing to work on buoyancy will improve a diver’s confidence while going a long way to help preserve the environment.  In addition to having students do more of their skills at neutral buoyancy rather than at the bottom of the pool or on a training platform, special attention is paid to trim for scuba diving.  Trim is a diver’s orientation and balance in the water. Ideally, a diver should swim comfortably in a horizontal position in the water.  Even a properly weighted diver can have poor trim.  In the revised course, we will spend a bit more time addressing trim and helping the divers learn optimal distribution as well as the amount of weight they need.  One way to work on this is to hover in a horizontal position, without swimming or sculling.  If you roll to one side, legs drop, or fins rise, you will have a clue as to how your weight should be redistributed. Make small adjustments until your trim is perfect.

One thing I always harp about is keeping the mask on and an air source in your mouth at the surface. This is habit is given renewed emphasis in the revised course. This is a simple and obvious thing that goes miles to prevent panic at the surface.  A case in point was on our recent trip to Curacao.  During the entire week, the seas were rough.  If we had to wait at the surface for any length of time pre or post dive, we were splashed and sloshed in the waves. Divers who did not keep their snorkel or regulator in their mouths drank a quite a bit of seawater, which can make for a very upset stomach. Worse, if divers took their masks off, their eyes were soon stinging from salt.  This discomfort can be the tipping point for a diver who is feeling nervous and can lead to panic. Remember the good habits you learned in open water class and keep your mask and air source in your mouth until you are on the boat or safely on the shore.

The last thing I want to blog about is use of a surface marker buoy (SMB). I ask every customer who is purchasing gear if they have a “noodle,” an inflatable tube that can be used to make you a bigger target for any nearby boat.  There are many situations in which an SMB is key to a diver’s safety. For example, if a diver fails to navigate accurately and surfaces far from the boat, an inflated surface buoy will make it easier for boat personnel to keep track of him until they can come a pick him up.  In addition, while waiting at the surface, the SMB will help to make the diver visible to other boats that may be passing by, sometimes at a great rate of speed, not expecting to see a diver at the surface. If a diver is swept away in a current, he can inflate his SMB so that the end of it is at the surface, allowing the boat to track him more easily. Anyone who’s seen the movie Open Water or read in horror any of the stories of diver’s left at the surface for any length of time needs to know the small purchase and use of an SMB can mean the difference between death and survival.  In the revised PADI course, divers will practice deploying the SMB.  If you don’t already have an SMB, buy one for yourself and your dive buddy before your next dive.