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Dive Like A Pro: What to check before diving

Setting off to dive
Setting off to dive
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When venturing from home for a dive, whether at your local inland site or a coastal location, certain vital considerations should precede getting wet. Having the right kit, checking on tide times and weather conditions, knowing where you’re going – all need to be processed. So what do our industry pros say?

BSAC National Diving Officer Dai Atkins: “Have you been out there in the middle of the sea, bobbing about on a RIB ahead of that long-awaited weekend fun-dive, only to have that lurking thought: ‘Did I pack my scuba equipment?’

Check everything you need to before the dive
Preparing for the dive

“We’ve all done it – I’ve forgotten my mask, my sunhat, even the keys to the boat (luckily, our club has someone who’s nifty with the old ignition bypass trick) – but how could we try to avoid it, and what sort of things might constitute ‘essential items’ when you’re preparing for the weekend?

Personal kit: Checklists are a great way to help you remember all your personal gear: mask, fins, gloves, suit, cylinder, spare cylinder, weight-belt… oh, the shame of forgetting one’s weight-belt and having to try to share one on a RIB (this is where your slick dive-management comes into play!). If you have a prescription mask like me, it’s all the more important that you try to remember these things.

“If you don’t use a checklist, build up the muscle memory of which items you normally use – mentally picture kitting up on the boat and clipping on all your dangly bits: reel, compass, DSMB, torch and spare torch (did you charge it?).

Preparing for the dive
Heading out – no one will want to turn back for forgotten kit

Boaty stuff: If you’re part of the crew getting the boat ready, perhaps you need a more comprehensive list. Did we get fuel? Is there enough oil? Do we have all the ropes, shots, buoys, flags and ships’ biscuits? Lesser thought-of items might include spare fuses for when one pops as you’re haring back from the headland off Salcombe, leaving you cast adrift. Don’t ask how I know! If something breaks, will you have the right size of spanner to fix it?

Dive Manager: The boss of the day has a very responsible job. If anything goes wrong, they’re responsible. So you need to be uber-prepared when Damocles hands you that sword of his! Did you check the weather, the tides – are you going to hit slack? Can you launch and recover the boat? Do you know where you’re going? Did you provide the cox with a route plan? Have you delegated the job of the VHF to someone. You have command of a crack team of divers, so don’t do it all yourself. You’ll burn yourself out, and you deserve a fun weekend too.

Photographs by Mark Evans and Garry Dallas
Keep thinking before leaving shore – is anything missing?

Other stuff: The Bank Holiday weekend was a gorgeous time for most branches around the coast, and a fair few lobster were seen getting off RIBs in Plymouth. So don’t forget to protect yourself – bottles of water, sunhats, shades, sun-cream, and those all-important sea-sickness pills if you need them (and take them the required hour before too, or they’re pretty much worthless).

The Weekend
After the dive

“Going diving requires a lot of preparation. It's only a quick five minutes to return home and get my shuttlecock when I pop to the leisure centre for a quick spot of badminton. However, when you‘re miles offshore and you‘ve forgotten your cylinder, it’s an expensive and long day out for nothing. And it’s often no one else’s fault, I’m afraid, so Dib Dib Dib – be prepared!

“OK, so you didn’t heed my advice and you still forget something. Don’t fret, this is where clubs come in handy – someone somewhere will have a spare. Yay! And that person can become a life-long dive-buddy.”

Preparing for the dive
Entry at an inland site

Garry Dallas, Director of Training for RAID courses UK and Malta: “Those of you who adore diving as much as I do will understand that the urge to dive at any given opportunity, even to take a day off from the mundanity of daily work, is insuppressible.

“Quarries tend to be most accessible in any conditions, except when your vehicle can’t get up that icy hill to the dive-site. However, the sea is where the adventure is at! Every dive is a lottery of what you might find under water but, unfortunately, so are the weather conditions.The Dive

“Impulsively, tomorrow is the day to go for a dive! Your last dive might have been a few weeks or months ago or only yesterday but our oceans change on an hourly basis, so we need to adapt and understand when is the right time to get wet. 

“From my army days, the seven Ps are burnt on my mind – Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents P!ss-Poor Performance! Our RAID courses offer a detailed insight into adventure diving from shores and boats. So before you go, check the weather and tide times around your dive-location first.

Exploring the greater depths
Free to enjoy the view

“You can seek more local-area knowledge from Internet reports, Coastguard and specific apps for your phones such as MET Office Weather Forecast and Windfinder. Be aware of spring and neap tides, wind direction and speed, temperature and wave height, etc, at specific times and forecasts for that day by the hour. These are all considerations in making your entry and exit safer. 

“Even then, prepare for any eventuality. Carrying signalling devices, an SMB to make other water-users aware of your position under water, and making surface cover or authorities aware of your position and how long you intend to remain submerged are all signs of a safety-conscious diver and their team. On exit, contact those people to state that you are safely back and prevent any unnecessary worry.

“The use of a compass is usually mandatory when diving. Bearings out and inbound, taking into account direction changes in current, require competency, so please don’t leave this to chance. Arriving back exactly where you began your dive is a very satisfying notion, leaving your buddies in awe at your navigation skills!”

The Dive
Dives are a balance between planning and flexibility

PADI tech guru Vikki Batten: “Planning a dive is often a balance between precision planning and flexibility. The first thing most divers want to know is the depth and water temperature. These form the basis of the type of dive you’ll be doing and the equipment you’ll need.

“Environmental conditions such as weather and tides are also key, especially here in the UK. Gaining a bit of knowledge in this area will help you optimise your dives and give you confidence in your judgment.

“A bit of research into the dive-site can make a massive difference, so check out the local currents and underwater geology plus the history, if it’s a wreck, or other wreck divers’ reports/videos, not to mention the briefing of the skipper or guide. The more info you have, the more fun the dive becomes.

“Finally, if conditions are not favourable don’t dive, even if other divers do and even if you lose the cost of your dive. If you are uncomfortable with the conditions, yours is the only opinion that matters.”

Preparing for the dive
Scoping all aspects of a dive-site

Jason Sockett from PADI’s Quality Management team: “I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to be rushed before a dive. I always like to arrive at the dive-centre with plenty of time to say hello to everyone, get my gear ready and just enjoy the day’s diving. My preparation starts the night before as I pack the dive-bag, I have a check-list in my head of what needs to go in.

“I pack the bag in reverse order so that, if I‘m on a small boat the next day, the first piece of kit I need is not at the bottom of the bag. As the kit goes in I am also checking for any wear and tear – there is nothing worse than getting to the dive-centre to find that your mouthpiece looks as if the dog has chewed it.

“I also always have a small dive-box with my own ‘save a dive kit’: various O-rings, Leatherman multi-tool, range of small spanners, Allen keys, one adjustable spanner, spare mask-strap, mouthpiece and various bits and pieces that I have collected over the year.”

GUE’s John Kendall: “One of the joys of being in the UK is that if you don’t like the current weather, you just need to wait an hour or so, but this does tend to cause issues when it comes to dive-planning. Between the winds, the tides and the rain, making decisions can be tricky. However, this should definitely not stop you from going diving.

“If I' a’m diving off the UK coast, I like to call the boat skipper a couple of days before the dive and ask about the wind. Skippers are the experts when it comes to their regions and will know what the sensible limits for diving are. If you’re shore-diving, again seek out local knowledge regarding weather and how it affects conditions.

“Find out at which state of the tide the site should be dived, and then make sure you know when that occurs. There are some sites that can be dived at any time, but many around the UK coast can be dangerous to dive when the tide is flowing.

“Always have a contingency plan in place (even if that is to simply skip the dive and head to the pub) in case you find conditions are not what were predicted. Remember, anyone can stop a dive at any time – and often the best time to do that is before even getting into the water.”

Photographs by Mark Evans and Garry Dallas

Also on Divernet: Night DivingDeveloping Core SkillsColdwater Diving, Caring For Diving EquipmentCalling A DiveConnecting On The DiveDealing With Surge & SwellsHow To Stay In Shape

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