Technical diving courses
Technical diving courses
Any dive that goes beyond recreational limits is considered to be technical diving. Cave diving and decompression diving are both great examples. Additional training is required to do these types of diving. Divers must learn a wide range of skills and procedures so that the more significant inherent risks can be managed effectively. This does not mean eliminating risk, that would not be possible. Instead, technical diving courses involve learning better decision-making so that if any failures occur during a dive, they will be managed effectively. This page provides an overview of the courses you can do, along with a description of how I teach my courses. For more information on each of the technical diving courses, click here.
Until the 1990s, tech diving (as it’s commonly known) was undertaken by a small percentage of divers. It didn’t even have a name, they just called it diving. But in the early 90s, the first technical-specific agencies were born, namely IANTD and TDI. They developed distinct programs that went beyond the level of diving as taught by PADI and SSI. Since then tech diving has grown steadily to become a widely recognised and increasingly practised form of diving. In the last 5 years, sidemount has played a significant role in this.
More divers than ever are getting involved in tech diving. This is fantastic for those of us that are passionate about it. Advances in technology and in particular rebreather technology, have opened up diving that was reserved for only hardcore technical divers even as recently as 10 years ago.
There are many avenues available for training. Numerous dive agencies offer technical diving courses at every level and offer training in different equipment configurations such as sidemount, backmount and CCR. With the exception of the DIR agencies (GUE, UTD and ISE), tech diving agencies recognise each other’s qualifications so you can choose the training that suits your needs. E.g. you may be a TDI extended range diver and wish to do trimix.
You may decide that the 70m depth limit of IANTD’s Normoxic diver plus is a better option than the 60m certification you will get from TDI’s trimix diver course.
My opinion on tech training
My approach to tech diver training can be summed up in one simple short sentence- “This person is my future dive buddy”. What kind of diver do you want the people that you dive with to be? I want to dive with people who have a good level of control in terms of the fundamentals (buoyancy, trim, positioning, communication), without any of it taking up much of their brain power. They must be familiar with their equipment and able to interact with it efficiently. They have a high level of awareness at all times, and understand that they are part of a team, whos main goal is to get back safely. I’m not a big fan of the phrase “thinking diver”, but I agree with the sentiment.
Length of technical diving courses
In my opinion, technical diver training is too short and doesn’t include enough dives. Students often feel rushed to get through the required skills and are put under pressure before they have really got their head around the essence of a skill or dive procedure. By the time they get back home, it was all a bit of a blur, and there may be crucial steps that they just can’t remember.
Agency standards may require at least 4 dives to complete a course. But that does not mean that 4 dives should become the norm. My classes are longer and include more dives than dive agency standards. Moreover, interaction with a student is much more than just talking at them in theory sessions, or explaining a skill and then getting them to do it repeatedly during practical training. There are more effective learning methods to apply so that students leave with both competence and confidence.
Technical diver training should be based on simplicity and practicality. When things go wrong, solutions need to be simple. Otherwise, additional task loading will make a bad situation much worse.
Training for the sake of more training
I have always discouraged training simply as a means to be eligible to start the next course. It’s great to have goals, i.e. you want to be a trimix diver, but if you’ve only done 5 or 6 decompression dives after your deco training, you will not be ready for a trimix course.
Going out and diving is what all the training is for, not training for the sake of the next training. Below is a general overview of the progression of tech training, including what each course covers:
The intro to tech/sidemount courses cover the equipment, approach, and diving procedures for technical diving.
This includes harness and equipment set up and use, buoyancy, trim, awareness, positioning, communication, and gas management. These are the foundations you will need for all of your technical diving. One area that I spent a lot of time on during my intro to tech courses is ascents. More specifically, ascending as a team whilst maintaining position, communicating effectively, and moving shallower at a consistent speed.
You will quickly see how essential everything you learned in the entry-level training was. Decompression theory is more detailed, and we spend a lot of time on dive planning and gas management.
You will practice following a dive plan, undertaking variable ascent rates, gas switching, maintaining position during decompression stops, and good communication. Contingency situations and emergency procedures are also discussed and practised.
Advanced decompression courses
Extended range and trimix courses involve learning and understanding the increased complexity that comes with diving deeper. Dive planning is more intricate, as is stage handling, gas management and risk management.
It’s all about working as a team to reduce your risk and get home safe.
Speciality technical diving courses
Technical diving doesn’t have many separate speciality courses as with recreational diving. But Dive Propulsion Vehicle (DPV) and solo diver complement your technical diving perfectly.
DPVs can be used on most technical dives to help cover large distances or assist with currents. Solo diver is useful to any diver, and not necessarily so they can dive alone. The course highlights how the buddy system is fallible. This is even more so when a ccr diver is with open circuit divers.
Outline of technical diving courses with the technical diver
With my technical dive training, expect a lot of in-water time, interactive theory, very hands-on equipment and skills workshops, and very nice diving in terms of marine life and interesting underwater topography.
Without going into specific detail about what theory you will do on which day for example, there is a general structure that my tech courses follow:
We have to spend some time to make sure that you understand the paperwork, and that it’s done correctly. They are legal documents, so it’s important to fill them in correctly. Also, be honest on the medical form, there may be factors that can affect your safety on a dive, such as side effects of any medication you might be taking. If you answer yes to a question on the medical form, you’ll need to consult a diving doctor before diving. You will also need to have dive insurance before undertaking a course.
2- Expectation management
This is the part where we sit down and talk about diving at the level that you will be training for. You should not expect a certification card at the end of your course. I have a responsibility to not certify you if I feel that you would not be safe to dive independently at the level you were trained at.
If you haven’t met the required standards for a course, for most people this usually means that they will need more dives, which comes at an extra cost. It’s obviously better that you know this before we start. There is also no refund if you don’t achieve certification. You’ll have paid for my time regardless of whether you achieved certification or not.
Expectation management is also about what you should expect from me. I need to be looking out for your safety at all times, and not pushing you into doing something you are not yet ready for or capable of. You should expect detailed explanations on every aspect of your course, and have my undivided attention throughout. That’s what you are paying for.
3- Theory sessions
Don’t expect to just turn up, listen to me talk at you for a few hours, and then do your exam. I need to know that you understand what i’m telling you, otherwise what’s the point. My theory sessions are not lectures. They are interactive discussions, and a big part of it is you giving me presentations on something we already went through. The best way to learn and retain something is when you have to present it to other people.
4- Equipment workshops
These are informal and similar to the theory sessions in terms of being interactive and discussion-based. I will show you my way of doing things and other methods. I will explain why I do what I do, and why I don’t do it the other way. It’s all hands-on with the gear you will be using, such as your sidemount harness, tanks, and regulators. You will present to me how you do this or that.
5- Land drills
It’s not just a case of “this is the skill and this is why and how”. Of course, we do that. But we also put it all into the context of an actual dive. When is the most likely time this will occur? What can you do to prevent the likelihood of it occurring? What are the human factors that come into it? Bias, drift, complacency, shortcutting, systemic failures… there is so much to it. We can’t just talk about risk management and then not apply and periodically remeasure it.
6- Pre-dive briefings
The clue is in the name; brief. A briefing should not be a sub-category of your land drills and skills discussions. If it goes on and on, your eyes will glaze over and your brain will be thinking about your favourite cheese. A briefing is: this is the dive site, these are the conditions, this is what we will be doing, and this will be the rough chronological order, starting at getting into the gear, and ending with getting out of the water. It should end with a summary of items to do, agreement of hand signals and checks, and an overview of safety protocols (lost diver etc).
7- In-water time
As long as possible on every dive. We need to ensure that the foundations are there, buoyancy and trim. Then we work on skills and procedures. You have to learn the steps that we will have gone through on land. Then you do them slowly, ensuring that awareness, positioning, and communication are also considered and achieved. You are not mindlessly copying what I do, you are adding layers to your own understanding in incremental steps. Big difference. We don’t drill the same thing over and over.
Although we will do this or that on each dive, they are being added to what you have already done, and it all needs to work together. Some dives focus on skills and scenarios, others on procedures such as ascent rates. I’ve heard that some instructors leave the bottom early because they find that students have trouble ascending fast enough (9m/min). This is insane. How about just practising going up fast enough, AND THEN moving on to actual deco? If they don’t get it they’re not ready to move to deco diving. It’s that simple.
To maximise the in-water time, we will often do for example a deco dive; once the deco is cleared, we will stay at 6m (20ft) and practise something. Again we can do this because we don’t need to get back on board a boat by a certain time. Our limit is our gas. You will often find that if we have 20 minutes of deco at 6m, we will actually do 40 or more minutes. It has the added bonus of also being beneficial from an off-gassing point of view
8- Post-dive debriefs
The single most effective in-water teaching tool is a GoPro. It’s welded to my hand underwater. Video doesn’t lie, and there is nothing like seeing yourself do something right or wrong, to help you to see what you need to work on. We always go through the dive in chronological order. The video is for training purposes. I do not give students copies of any of the footage. This is so it does not find itself on social media. But I do occasionally post something intentionally unless the student requests that I don’t.
If you need any more information on technical diving courses that is not outlined here, please contact us.