Archive for the ‘Instruction’ Category

Notes on Diver Etiquette

Monday, November 15th, 2010

The other day, I found myself in a discussion with a group of instructors and experienced divers over the issue of diver etiquette.  Everyone agreed that this varies wildly from diver to diver, and shop to shop.  While there is no explicit place for this discussion in the training curriculum, it is a subject that should be brought up.   We all agreed the best time to teach this is as part of the Open Water class (teach good habits before divers learn bad ones).  Many of us do include a few minutes to discuss this in class, then try to reinforce the concept during the open water dives.

Unfortunately, there are other instructors that do not understand the need, do not have the time, or just have bad etiquette themselves.

Ultimately, a diver’s etiquette will reflect their own personality.   A diver that only thinks of them self, will never follow good etiquette.   Someone that is considerate of others will try their best to be considerate while diving.  However, many of the latter do not know how to do this as new divers.  Here are some points to consider.

  1. On the surface:
    In many dive locations, gear space is limited.  This is especially true on dive boats.  Being conscience of this and trying to minimize the space we use is good etiquette.  Here are some points to consider on a dive boat.  These points also apply to other dive sites, but boats are usually the most space limited.

    • Gear boxes and bags. Try to keep gear containers no larger than necessary.   Try to bring containers that fit neatly under benches.  Divers showing up to a boat with over sized bags or too many bags are being inconsiderate of others, and will often get glares or rebuke from the crew. I recommend three containers:
      1. One for the BC and dry / wet suit
      2. A small one for dry gear.  A backpack works for me  (phone, towel, snacks, a few spare parts …),
      3. A small crate (about the size of a milk crate) for misc Scuba gear (reel, lift bags, lights… with fins on top)
    • This configuration works well in most environments of the North East.  On a boat, the crate  should fit well under the bench where you are setting up your tanks.  The drysuit goes in a dry location until needed.  The backpack is always in a dry location.
    • Put gear away promptly. Once your gear is loaded, set up your tank and stow your gear neatly out of the way.  The same is true after a dive.   As you take your gear off put it back into your crate and stow it neatly out of the way.  Not only is this good etiquette, but it can prevent gear damage or loss on a busy deck.
    • Dive Planning: Keep in mind that your not the only one on the boat. I recall several occasions where the entire boat was waiting over half and hour for one customer to finish his dive. If you plan on doing longer dives, then try to get into the water quickly.
    • Clean up after yourself: It’s amazing to see how much debris is left after the divers remove their gear from a dive boat. Half empty water bottles, cans, partially eaten bags of food … Yes, the crew will clean the boat, but all of this is in everyone’s way during the trip too.
  2. Gearing Up This is a process that takes up both space, and time. Here are some items to consider when working to don our gear in limited space.
    • Timing: If you know that you take longer than others to gear up, then either start gearing up early, or wait for others to go first.
    • Lend a hand: If you decide to wait for the diver next to you, then give them a hand.  That way they are out of your way quicker.
    • Be self sufficient:  This takes some time to learn, and practice. Most boat crews are eager to help in any way they can. However, there are often a lot of divers gearing up at once. Before strapping on tanks, prep the gear so that it is in reach as you don your kit. Watch an experienced crewmen.  Most can gear up with no assistance.   Again, it’s not that assistance is unavailable, but if you need lots of help, then you’re preventing other divers from getting any.
  3. Underwater: This can be difficult, since it’s not easy to know where other divers are in relation to yourself.  However, here are a few items to keep in mind.
    • Look around you. There may be other divers near you that you’re not expecting.   This is especially true on or near the up-line.  Be careful of your finning when you know other divers are near.  Fin slowly until you know your not going to kick a fellow divers.
    • Steer clear of classes. If you see an instructor working with a class, try to keep a reasonable distance.  Otherwise, you may confuse and distract the students from following their instruction.   Also, additional divers in close proximity makes it difficult for the instructor trying to keep watch over his students.
    • Photo ops: This is more of an issue in warm water diving, but keep in mind that other divers may want to take a picture also.  I’ve had video footage ruined by a diver sticking his fin in view while recording.  On the other hand, I try not to take too long, and let the next photographer get a chance.
    • Reels: Keep your line reel low and secure.  On several dives, the wreck looked like spider web with lines draped here and there.  Near the up-line it’s important to tie your reel low and put wraps close to the wreck.  A line 10 ft off the wreck can become an entanglement hazard as it is out of an approaching divers view.  When passing across another line, pass your line underneath.   Assuming your on your way out, the other diver should be on his way back before you, and will not be delayed by your line.


Again, many of these points apply anywhere, not just to dive boats.  Any time space is limited, we need to work to make maximum use of it.

These were some of the points our group discussed.  Let me know if you have others.

Cave 2010

Sunday, February 7th, 2010
Cave 2010

Cave 2010

This year, I finally broke down and decided to try cave diving.   Back in the dark ages, I tried a cavern dive in Mexico.  While I enjoyed the dive, it was too early in my diving to fully understand the nuance of the dives.

This year, Becky invited us on a Manatee dive down in Florida, and figured I’d stay in the area and take a cave class.   After many discussions on cave instructors, I settled on Paul Heinerth.  I wanted an instructor that would challenge me rather than let me coast through the class. My Trimix instructor (Corey Mearns) introduced me to Paul at a social gathering last fall.   Others echoed the recommendations, so I made plans to stick around and take the class.

Diver Bubbles

Little Devil

The cavern portion of the class involved a number of new of skills.  Many were familiar, some were not.  Much of the class pushed me to the limits of my comfort zone.  However, after it was all done, I felt much more comfortable diving in this environment.   I guess that’s the point.   I want to thank Paul, for suffering with me.  I’m sure he’s dealt with worse, but I know I was a handful. After the class, Becky and Dave were kind enough to take their time to dive with a cave newbie.   I’m sure it can be a bit annoying to dive with a novice.   I appreciate them taking the time to dive with me.  Given all the flooding in Florida, we ended up in Ginnie Springs.  Two days of our class was spent at Ginnie, so I knew a little bit about of the layout.  Diving after the class removed much of the “stress” involved, and we had a lot of fun.  Becky took a lot of photos.   I’ve posted a few here, but check out her website for more great shots.

I returned to the scene of the crime for some more shots of the cavern and caves.  The weather up North (NJ/PA) was not good, so my lovely wife (Val) suggest that I stay in Florida.   Did I mention that I love my wife?!   I spent the next two days practicing my skills, and taking pictures.   I’m not sure if I’m a died in the wool cave diver, but I did have a good time diving with some good friends.

40 Fathoms Grotto

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

40 Fathoms Grotto used to be a great place for training.  As the name implies it is 40 fathoms deep, or 240 ft for you landlubbers.   Located in Crystal River Florida, the facility provides a controlled environment for deep TRIMIX training. It’s my understanding that the facility has been purchased by a commercial diver training agency, and is no longer available to recreational divers.   This is a shame as it was one of the few training locations with the depth necessary to perform this training.

I hope they reopen to the recreational market, but in the mean time here are a few shots we took on a training trip during the renovations.

October on the Resor

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

It certainly has been difficult to get out diving this fall. However, the few times we were able sneak out, the diving was fantastic. This Sunday we headed out to the Resor with a jam packed boat. Clearing the inlet we had nearly flat seas, and just a breath of a breeze. With the early start, the sun was just rising. We all kept our fingers crossed that the conditions would hold, since NOAA was calling for the wind to pick up a bit in the afternoon.

By the time we reached the wreck, the sun was a bit higher in the sky, and the conditions were still flat. The surface water was a nice Caribbean blue. Dropping down the line it was clear that there was a good current to the east. This made going a bit slow, but we were soon tied in.

While working with the line, shadowy figures kept appearing in the distance. At first I thought the dogfish were back, but it turned out to be bluefish. We saw them inshore last week. Now there was a school buzzing around us on the Resor. Ever few minutes a few of them would dart by. Down on the sand, there were large fluke and flounder almost side by side. Normally we see one or the other, but here the flounder were hunting while the fluke were resting. Both scurried off when approached. Large tog are always around this wreck, and this was no exception. I spotted a few small lobsters, and one good size one with eggs.

I was nearing my turn time when I spotted a nice new Danforth with a long chain. At least I was not going up empty handed. It turns out that the current and the wind were not aligned, and I spent my deco holding my reel in one hand (attached to the Danforth and lift bag) and the shot line in the other. I was just hoping other divers would not get caught in the line.

My hunting efforts had been thwarted, but many others came up with lobster, tog and some nice size pollack. There were various reports of giant lobsters, deep in the wreck, well out of reach. A few folks had ventured out into the sand for scallops, with varying degrees of success.

All in all it was a great day of diving with 30-40 ft of vis and 65 degrees top to bottom. The wind had picked up as we started to head in, but it was still a comfortable ride home.

What’s worse than seeing a 20 ft shark?

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009
Independence II

The short answer is: not having your camera, but that’s a story in it self. Today’s dive was to the U-869 AKA the U-who. The Independence was filled with quality NJ divers, but most of them had never been on this wreck. I was diving with a student, Tom, who was also visiting the wreck for the first time.

We headed out early in the flat calm seas left in the wake of Hurricane Bill. We made good time to the wreck. Bill and Brandon went into tie in. It often takes a few minutes since you never do anything fast in 230 fsw. I helped the first group of divers get in, then we geared up. After buddy checks, we reviewed the plan one more time, then splashed.

The surface temp was high 70s, no current, and the water was very clear. Brandon and Bill were hanging, and Brandon took the opportunity to snap off a few of his great shots. If I were not with a student, I would have paused a few moments to give him a model, but Tom was dropping fast, and I wanted to catch up. We passed other groups of divers on the way. Many had lobsters in their bags.

The line was completely slack all the way down to the wreck. No current at any level. This is unusual out here. Often the current changes directions at different levels. There was nothing, anywhere. It was obvious that there were many layers. You could see them as you passed through. The vis would change, and you could see the water go from cloudy to clear to cloudy. Some of the layers were thermoclines, and the temp started dropping. Below 120ft we felt the drop down to 46 degrees. After a few minutes it started to get dark, and I switched on my light. Now I could easily signal my position, and could see my buddy. Tom started slowing his decent. I’m not sure if he was waiting for me, or if he just needed more time to clear his ears. Either way, I caught up.

My gauges indicated that we were within 50 ft of the wreck, but nothing was coming into view. We continued to drop. The faint glow of a strobe lit up the area. The vis had dropped to 10 ft, and the wreck suddenly appeared below us. The chain was wrapped around a cylinder on top of the wreck.

With the short vis, I immediately reached from my reel. I’ve never run a reel on this wreck before, but I did not want to miss the line with a student in tow. Given the depth and conditions, I was concerned that Tom might be nervous. This proved completely unfounded, as he soon grabbed a lobster and put it in his bag. Not that we were here for lobster, but when they are right there, what do you do?

Given the conditions, we swam slowly along the wreck trying to identify anything we could. We reached the Bow, and dropped down the side to the sand 230ft. This was perfect timing for our dive plan as it was time to turn around. We returned slowly to the line and arrived ahead of schedule. With a few minutes left we continued aft, and found that we were tied in just ahead of the break. We quickly inspected the blast area, which contains a jumble of ripped and torn steal, then doubled back to the line.

At this point, I was happy I had run the line. The strobes on the anchor were no longer visible. We were only a few feet away, but could see nothing. For a few seconds your heart skips. Replay your steps. Ok, there it is. I was not so concerned for myself, as my gas plan left me lots of reserve. I never know how conservative a student is with there gas estimates. We reached the line with a minute or two to spare, and signaled UP.

The long slow assent starts. The initial stops are still cold, and now that we are not swimming, the cold can be felt. Clearing the 100 ft stop brought the temp up to 55. That’s a huge change and it felt great. Soon we could see other divers above us. Those we passed on the way down the line, were now hanging at their shallower stops. Above 50 ft the temp jumped back into the 70s and vis was fantastic.

Tom had run his numbers with the VR3, while I was running V-planner. As we discussed, I would have longer deeper stops, and shorter shallow stops. This was more evident that I realized. Most of my early stops, I was 10-20 feet below him. At 40 ft we matched up, then at 20 ft he indicated 10 minutes as I was cleared for the surface.

At some point in this evolution, we were hanging with another four divers around the 20 ft stop. Two divers had ascended the anchor line, while the rest of use went up the Caroline line. Time passes slowly, and we were just hanging there for our stops to clear. I looked down and noticed a very large object moving in the water below us In the clear water, I could easily make out the features of a very large shark. The nose had the distinct features of a basking shark. From above we could not see the mouth, but the snout was unmistakable. I looked to my fellow divers who were transfixed on their gauges. I got their attention, and pointed out the shark. It swam slowly around the Caroline line below us, then doubled back to the anchor line. It swam around the lines in a figure eight, then swam slowly off into the distance. Since it swam between the lines, we knew it was only about 20 ft below us. Comparing its size to the divers on the bow line, I estimate it was a minimum of 20ft. I’ve seen Basking sharks before, but never this clearly. It was an awe inspiring sight!

While we were really psyched at the incredibly cool experience, I was chastising myself for not bringing my camera. Given I was with a student, on a deep dive, I did not want the extra task loading. I was planning on grabbing it after the dive, and snapping a few shots of the other divers entering and leaving the water. Well, I did not have it now, and was quite disappointed! We spent the rest of our decompression looking around for the shark to return, or perhaps one of its school (as Basking sharks are know to swim in schools). No such luck.

Once on the surface, we did talk about the shark, and some asked what type it was.  I’m sure it would have been a much more heart pounding experience for those that did not know. I did grab the camera, and swam around the boat taking a few shots. Captain Dan, and Danny jumped in for a dive and to pull the hook. The sea was flat calm, with no current. It was an enjoyable wait just floating in the water.

Before long we were underway for the long trip home. It was a great day, and many will tell the story of seeing a huge basking shark.