WHEN YOU LEARN O SCUBA-DIVE, you are given a little knowledge and taught some basic skills. You take a theory test and demonstrate that you can perform the skills and that’s it – you get a licence to dive, to rent equipment, to buy air-fills and to join dive-trips.
Subsequently, as you do more diving, you improve your skills and you experience various problems. By achieving mastery of the skills and dealing with the issues you encounter, you acquire the ability to anticipate problems and avoid or manage dangerous situations.
This, as you might recognise, is similar to the process of learning to drive a car.
In diving as in driving, however, what guarantee is there that experience will teach you everything you need to know?
You regularly encounter drivers on the road and fellow-divers on the dive-boat who, despite being quite experienced, seem to have poor skills and inadequate knowledge, to the extent that they present a potential danger to themselves and others.
You too might secretly be aware that your own skills are not as finely tuned as they could be. Also, experience is often counter-balanced by overconfidence and complacency.
In the motoring world, to develop safer and more skilled drivers, there are training courses in something they call defensive driving. You can choose to take a defensive driving course, or you can be required to take one as part of a traffic-court sentence.
The concept was first introduced in the USA in the 1960s. The Safe Practices for Motor Vehicle Operations manual defines defensive driving as “driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others”.
Among other things, drivers learn how to anticipate and assess dangerous situations and make well-informed decisions. As well as being shown how to drive sensibly and safely, they are taught useful things such as how to use less fuel and save on vehicle wear and tear.
They are also given guidelines on being courteous to other road-users.
In scuba-diving, the closest we come to a defensive driving course is Rescue Diver or the equivalent, but this is usually more about emergency responses than personal skills and awareness development.
Some aspects of Divemaster training match the concept of defensive diving, but this is a professional course. Not many divers will actually experience this.
In this short series of articles, I describe strategies that I see as intrinsic to the defensive-diving concept.
I should make it clear that when I use the word defensive in a diving context,
I am copying the example of the motoring world, where defensive means safe, careful, conservative and thoughtful.
In other contexts the word “defensive” can mean negative, fearful or resistant to change. These are certainly not traits that help a scuba-diver in any way.