When are you ready for a rebreather?
The purchase of a Closed Circuit Rebreather (CCR) might be one of the most stressed over decisions in diving. For the uninitiated the process can be daunting. Questions such as; “Which one?” “How much?” "Which features?" “Are they safe?” (“What’s a good place to hide it from my significant other?”) always come up in usual conversation. These, however, are easily answered by whatever instructor or manufacturer representative you ask. These questions are generally pretty straightforward and aren’t dependant upon the diver themselves in most cases. Everyone has their opinions on which rebreather is best and you’ll likely settle into something that you were sold on by these opinions and who shared them with you.
The question that can cause the most contention, however, is “Am I ready?”
My goal with this article is not to talk about prices or the general benefits of closed circuit. My intentions lean a bit more on the introspection side of the gamut. We’re done looking at rebreathers at this point. Now we’re looking at ourselves.
For a long time I’ve heard people comment about the prerequisites set before moving to closed circuit. The biggest issue of contention has long been whether or not a potential rebreather diver comes from an open circuit technical diving background. I’ve heard people say that a new rebreather diver should be an open circuit trimix diver before they even consider a rebreather. Here’s where my opinion comes in (love it or hate it).
To start lets look at what the training agency IANTD has as prerequisites for their CCR Diver course.
1. Must be an IANTD Advanced EANx or Advanced Recreational Trimix Diver or equivalent. (may be taken in conjunction)
2. Must be a minimum of 17 years of age
With this in mind we see that a diver doesn’t even need to be a technical open circuit diver before pursuing CCR training. You can begin your technical diving path on closed circuit.
No two divers are the same. I’ve had rebreather students who are trimix open circuit divers and i've had students who are just taking their first steps into the technical diving world.
Who makes a better rebreather diver? I can’t tell you. I’ve had very experienced trimix divers who have struggled to break old habits and I’ve had technical diving newbies who look like they’ve been diving CCR for a decade by their second dive. Both have succeeded in converting to CCR. Neither go back to open circuit.
I find that whether or not a a diver entering training is proficient generally boils down to two things. Experience and being naturally gifted. One isn't better or worse than the other.
A trimix certification can be a bellwether for determining experience and proficiency without ever seeing a person in the water (in theory). But lets dig deeper. How much experience is needed? Or for that matter, what specifically are we hoping that the diver in question is bringing to the table with said experience?
Moving to a rebreather can be a daunting task at first. Longer pre and post dive routines requiring complete concentration, an additional air space to manage, continuous monitoring throughout all stages of a dive, and a new set of emergency skills to practice and learn. It can be a bit overwhelming at first to even the most seasoned open circuit converts. I need to stop and mention that while all this sounds daunting it will become second nature after you leave your class and begin building your hours on closed circuit.
Now imagine trying to learn all of this while still trying to get your bearings on everything normal to an open circuit dive. It’s the familiarity with your non-rebreather specific aspects of diving that will determine how successful you are in your new endeavor. For example, if you’re still struggling with your routines putting on exposure protection it’s probably not a good idea to put a rebreather into the mix as well.
So here are the questions divers wanting to move directly into rebreather diving should be asking themselves that I often see as the biggest issues for new students…
Are you familiar with the environment you’ll be learning in?
Are you 100% comfortable with the exposure protection you’ll be using?
Do you struggle in any way during open circuit dives that you’ll now be conducting on a rebreather?
Like all learned things in life, proficiency in a new task is a combination of personal experience and natural ability. Does this mean a person who takes longer to learn shouldn’t dive a rebreather? Not at all.
Any instructor worth their title will never let a student proceed into the real world without first witnessing them complete their skills satisfactorily. Personally, I will work with someone as long as it takes for him or her to get it. We all learn at different speeds.
At the end of the day ask yourself this basic question to get started…
“Do I feel comfortable enough in my current open circuit diving that I am fully capable of adding another task into the mix?”
If the answer is no then it’s probably best to continue to practice and gain confidence before moving to closed circuit. The truth is that you’ll never really be able to understand the level of task loading a rebreather brings until you dive one. If you can’t answer yes to this simple question then you probably shouldn’t even begin to dive one.
If it’s yes… Then maybe it’s time to try it out and see what the big deal is. Our phone number is at the bottom of the page.
Live here. Dive Here
-Capt Tom McCarthy
Tempest Dive Boat
rEvo | SF2 CCR Instructor