Dive Like A Pro: When was your last dive?

Perfect conditions for an easy dive
Perfect conditions for an easy dive

As we look forward to the start of the UK diving season, MARTIN SAMPSON urges divers to take their time getting back into their routine – perhaps by planning some easy shore dives

I have always recognised that the UK winter period represents a considerable lay-off for most divers, whatever their grade. So it has always seemed sensible to start the season by organising easy shore dives before taking the boat out for more demanding dives on wrecks and in currents. 

For more-experienced divers, the prospect of an expedition to dive deep wrecks or a liveaboard trip can galvanise their enthusiasm into planning a few work-up dives. The problems associated with narcosis, gas-management and orientation don't seem half as daunting when you have prepared for them thoroughly.

So everyone goes about their diving like this, right? Well, I’m not so sure that they do. A pre-pandemic annual report of the USA’s Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association held a few surprises for me.

It contained an estimate of 2.7-3.2 million US scuba-diving participants a year. Of this group, a whopping 68% were described as “casual” divers, doing seven dives or fewer a year. A further 14% were described as “regular” divers, doing 8-14 dives a year.

Only 18% were regarded as “frequent” divers, conducting more than 15 dives a year. I couldn’t help wondering whether these statistics might hold broadly true for all divers, not only those based in the USA.

Complete checks before dive
Complete thorough checks before your dive
Heading out for the dive
Heading out to sea

We had organised an easy early-season shore dive near Trearddur Bay on Anglesey, with eight divers taking part. The most experienced was a BSAC Advanced Diver who has been diving for about 12 years, and the least experienced was a PADI Open Water Diver who had started on scuba the previous year and had done 26 dives. It seemed an opportunity to get their views on the value of check-dives.  

“I was really looking forward to a check-dive in the UK,” said Trevor. “I’ve been diving regularly during the winter but only abroad, and I hadn’t used my drysuit in over three months.” He was also diving for the first time in three months with regular dive-buddy Nigel who, despite having dived throughout the winter in the UK, was also looking forward to a sea dive for more navigation practice.

Diver on gradual sloping seabed
Descend on a gradual gradient

“I've done 26 dives but I still feel that I need more guidance from an experienced dive leader,” remarked Carol. She was diving with Chris, who had completed 50 dives but was an unfamiliar buddy for her. “A thorough buddy-check was really important given that I had not dived with Chris before. The dive also revealed the skills that needed improving – mainly my navigation.”

For Chris, not only was Carol an unfamiliar dive-buddy, but ours was an unfamiliar dive-centre.  “I don’t have a regular dive-buddy and, although I’ve done 50 dives, I’ve only done eight in my drysuit,” he said. “I was happy that an easy shore dive had been planned based on my qualifications, experience and interests.

I also talked to Roz Lunn, to get her perspective as an experienced instructor. “When I was working in Egypt, I had a three-week lay off because I got sick, and so spent the time working as a ‘counter chick’,” she told me. “Jumping back into the water afterwards was a bit odd.

“I jumped in to tie a mooring off, and once I’d done that I sat on my own on the sand and ran through maskwork, a reg exercise, a couple of fin pivots and a brief hover. It might sound daft, but I felt just slightly insecure having been out of the water for three weeks, and I was an experienced pro who’d been diving two or three times a day for months.

“So I kind of did a mini check-out dive myself. Once I’d run through these skills I felt much happier.” 

You might have your own opinion on what constitutes a regular or frequent diver, but the bottom line is that we all get out of practice. How much time passes before that happens is not an easy question to answer but, judging by the stats, a lot of time can pass between dives – perhaps without us realising it.

10 CHECK-OUT TIPS

  1. Write out a check-list and use it to check and pack your gear.
  2. Practise assembling your gear at home, where you won’t be under any time-pressure.
  3. If you need to rent gear, don’t be inhibited about asking for help in putting it together.
  4. Open a training manual or watch a DVD to refresh your memory.
  5. Choose a site with really easy access, no currents and no waves. A beach with a gradual slope will enable you to have a very gradual exposure to depth with a tactile reference beneath you.
  6. Have someone on the shore who can easily pass you spare weights.
  7. Make sure you understand the dive-plan and do a thorough buddy-check.
  8. Book a dive with an instructor who can run you through any forgotten skills and help you get your weight right – your confidence will improve no end.
  9. Before a big trip away or an expedition, plan to do some work-up dives.
  10. If you change a major item of equipment, give yourself plenty of time to learn how to use it.

Photographs by Martin Sampson & Mark Evans

Also on Divernet: Deploying A DSMB, Which Safety Gear To CarryBuying Your Own GearPacking Gear For A Dive TripWhat To Check Before DivingNight DivingDeveloping Core SkillsColdwater Diving, Caring For Diving Equipment

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