Welcome to Arizona Diver Magazine!
Deep Diver Specialty Course
By John Flanders, Master Instructor / Instructor Trainer
As a diver peering off the side of a reef or down into the depths of a beautiful wreck, it is hard not to get lured beyond the 60 feet your Open Water Certification qualifies you for. Open Water Diver gives you the training wheels you need to start your diving in a safe and enjoyable manner. However, it won’t take long before deeper diving calls to you. Getting the advanced level training you need to safely execute recreational dives to 130 feet (40m) is an essential part of your diving journey. A great diver is always learning!
In our training system, taught by the Academy of Scuba, an open water diver is qualified to dive to 60 feet, with a buddy, without exceeding your NDLs. As you move on to Advanced Diver, your training qualifies you to dive to 100 feet, with a buddy, without exceeding your NDLs. Lastly as an Advanced Diver, when you take the deep diver specialty, your training qualifies you to dive to 130 feet, with a buddy, without exceeding your NDLs.
Training is essential at the deep diver level. Shortcuts and that "do it yourself" attitude pays homage to the old adage that you have enough knowledge to be dangerous. To truly execute a safe deep dive, you need to have the proper tools. You need to understand redundancy, fail safe procedures, true buddy system protocols, deep safety stops, equipment configuration variances, SAC rate and Gas Management, advanced dive planning, emergency procedures, rescues and assists, the panic cycle, and more.
Problem solving and basic survival skills (like Alt Air Ascent taught in the OW class) take on a whole new host of challenges and opportunities to learn. Also, when you take your Deep Diver Specialty at the Academy of Scuba, we go much more in depth about decompression theory and narcosis management (even at the recreational level) so you truly understand what is happening to your body as you dive at these depths. The recreational deep diving specialty is a great precursor for the SDI Solo Diver Course, the NAUI Master Diver Course, and Professional courses like Divemaster and even Technical Courses like Advanced Nitrox or Deco Procedures.
If you are a new diver, some of these courses may be a little far off into the future, but it is fun and informative to start researching them now. It gives you a goal to strive for. Of course, training is essential to progress your diving. You will notice, throughout my discussion, I used the term "qualification" and never mentioned the word certification. There is a difference. Many divers go through the motions, complete the course (usually in a group setting) and are issued a card. That is my definition of certification. In many cases, they will never practice those skills again (unless called on by some situation). You wouldn’t believe how many divers have never done their basic OW skills since their training dives. Back to the subject: most skills learned in a class are stored in short term memory and there is usually not enough practice to develop any long term muscle memory. So, certification is what certification is... enough said.
Qualification is a bit different. This means you have acquired skills in a certification course. You have been given time to practice on your own and under a professional instructor or Divemaster. You have repeatedly done the skills in shallow water, mid water, and at depth. Can you truly be certified to dive to 130 feet if you have never done an alt air ascent from 130 feet? Then you have to put together a workout regiment to periodically practice and refresh these skills (keep them from rusting). That is qualified. Without the practice element, you cannot say you are truly qualified... merely certified. And, with all the lakes, rivers, or even swimming pools in our backyards, we really have no excuse not to practice. These are all great training grounds.
When you are ready to take these skills to the next level, do them neutrally buoyant or in a blacked out mask. Make sure you have the proper supervision before doing this and ALWAYS stay within your training limits... of course. That is qualified.
A lot of people just jump in the water, run down a line to 130 feet, blow some bubbles, and come back up. "Certification card please?" Thankfully, they are usually safe. In my mind, this is a "bet on black or red" gamble. The more prepared you are, the more educated you are and the more your skills are refreshed, the more you are playing with the house odds (pardon the gambling analogy, I am jonesing for Vegas). Most of all, listen to your peers. They know their way around these waters.
At 100 dives, I thought I knew everything. At 1000 dives, I knew I had a lot more to learn. Still learning today!!!! A great diver is always learning. Great mentors are always diving!
Dive safe and have fun!