Walk Before You Run: Technical Diver Training In Unique Environments
I often have divers call me up asking about getting out on one of our technical dive trips. Great! We have some of the best wrecks in the world off the coast of Long Island and New Jersey.
It's at this point that any good Captain will ask a few questions to perspective divers who they aren't familiar with.
Personally, if I don't know you and you're calling up for a deep trip, i'm going to try to get to know you by the end of your call.
Who do you normally dive with?
What boats do you dive off?
Are you trimix certified?
With whom and where did you do your training?
(Photo: Capt Pat Rooney on the prop of the RMS Oregon ©Tom McCarthy)
These are qualifiers. Technical divers in the North East United States are a small group. If I don't know you, someone I know does. If nobody knows you, well, red flag.
Why do we do this? Is it to be cruel? Is it because we're an elitist club trying to protect our ranks from outsiders?
Nah. It's because we know what happens if we don't.
Diving, like many things, is a blanket term. There's Recreational Diving, Technical Diving, Rebreather Diving, Cave Diving, Wreck Diving, Trimix Diving, etc. Unfortunately, what some people don't understand is that there are subcategories of all of these types of diving as well.
Let me elaborate.
Technical Diving has become a word used more and more commonly. What was once looked at by many as a lunatic's game has become accepted by even the largest training organizations. This has been a double edged sword. While increased popularity has led to wonderful advances in diver education, technology and the ability for some to make a living teaching; it has had the inevitable side effect of creating a profit driven business model from what was long regarded as a labor of love. There's nothing inherently wrong with profits, however when there's a profit to be made those of lesser character will often cut corners.
We see technical "instructors" being created who have little to no practical experience and who are certainly not qualified to teach students in the environment they live around.
True story, I once had a person contact me who informed me they were a local technical diving instructor with a large following and then proceeded to ask me what the water temp is for a 130' dive they would be bringing technical students on. For an instructor, a "technical diving instructor" at that, to be so unfamiliar with the general local diving conditions that they are unsure of the water temperatures is mind boggling to me.
This brings me to the point. I truly believe that you should try to take your dive training in the environment that you intend to dive in. If you are a North East shipwreck diver, take your training in the Northeast. If you are a cave diver, do it in the caves. If you plan on hot dropping the wrecks of South Florida, you should take your training there.
(Photo: North East Wreck Diver Capt Andy Favata cave diving in North Florida ©Tom McCarthy)
I want to be clear, this doesn't mean that if you train in South Florida you can't dive in New York. This doesn't mean that if you train in Cave Country you can't dive in South Florida. What i'm trying to get at is that you will benefit most from the tutelage of an instructor with local diving experience. An instructor intimately familiar with the local diving will lessen the learning curve for you on certain things unique to where you dive. Sometimes these things are as simple as dive boat etiquette or something as important as how to properly run a cave reel.
This is also my opportunity to rant a bit. A quarry is not a replacement for true open water training! Yes a quarry has its purpose. For early dives in training where skills may be introduced for the first time, a controlled environment such as a quarry may make it easier for both instructors and students alike. I'm a rEvo rebreather instructor, it would be madness to throw a student off the boat in the North East for their first non-pool dive. However, it's when I see entire technical diving courses conducted there it's a different story.
Let me make an analogy, doing all your training at a quarry with the intent of becoming an ocean capable technical diver would be like doing your entire pilot training on a simulator. Yes it teaches you the basics in wonderful controlled environments but at some point you need to actually get into the environment you intend to dive in. Wouldn't you rather do it with your instructor at your side than the less than comforting feeling of "well I could do this in the fresh water quarry so I should be fine in the ocean."
Similarly I see countless instructors doing "wreck diver" specialty training there as well. Again, yes the skills can be done but you aren't doing anyone a favor. You aren't instilling confidence in new divers or holding their hands while they get their first taste of a true awe inspiring shipwreck. Some will even be hesitant to go off and try it on their own. Besides, an underwater scrap yard is not a shipwreck. What you are doing is making money the easiest way possible without having to do the work of molding an actual wreck diver.
If this annoys you then, to be blunt, you are part of the problem. You don't create strong passionate local divers by coddling them. You do it by challenging them. You do it by giving them a true sense of accomplishment and having them earn it through dedication and hard work.
So this is why we ask questions. This is why doing your trimix training in Bonaire does not instantly qualify you to hop on the next trip to the Andrea Doria. In any new environment you must pay your dues. You may be one of the best divers around in any of these environments but if you've never been to any other you should start off small until you get the lay of the land. Actually in the case of Cave Diving you can't start off at all unless you train there.
Want to be a great cold water shipwreck diver? Train and practice in the North East, Great Lakes, UK, etc.
Want to gain skill and confidence in free drifting decompression? Go do some live boat diving off South Florida.
Want to really hone your trim and buoyancy skills? Go take a Cave course.
The skills earned in these different environments can greatly benefit your diving in each of them. So get out there and mix it up.
Live Here. Dive Here.
-Capt Tom McCarthy