Updated: Mar 13
Most weeks we have included a “tip of the week” in our regular members email. Here we have collected them together – worth a read through in a dark winter evening?
Are you “in test”
Don't miss your first dive of the season. Take a moment as check your cylinders, nothing worse than being rejected from the filling station because your cylinder is out of date and having to miss your dive. Diving cylinders need to be visually inspected every TWO and a HALF years and subjected to a hydraulic test every FIVE years.
Divers should calculate their gas requirements based on their cylinder configuration for the planned dive demonstrating that they have an adequate reserve of gas should an incident occur. The amount of gas deemed to be an adequate ‘reserve’ will obviously depend on a number of factors including the size and working pressure of your main cylinder(s) together with the depth and type of the dive. The recommended practice is to have a reserve of one third of the primary cylinder’s or cylinders’ capacity on surfacing. When a single or small capacity cylinder or a deeper dive is anticipated a greater pressure reserve than one third may be more appropriate. The reserve should be sufficient for an ascent, accounting for the increased breathing rate that is likely to occur during an incident (note: rates greater than 50 litres per minute have been observed) from the beginning of the incident to the first point of safety, plus any decompression stops, allowing adequate amounts for surface swimming and allowing for the potential need for the buddy to use the diver’s alternate gas source throughout the ascent.
Rates of gas consumption can vary enormously with the effects of exertion, anxiety, cold, fitness, experience and depth, and you should monitor your own and your buddy’s gas supply regularly and consider terminating the dive early if a diver’s gas consumption rate is higher than predicted.
Divers should ensure they are fit and healthy to dive and diving must not be undertaken until the diver has completed an annual medical self-declaration form on renewal of membership. Here are some interesting additional facts you should be aware of
If a medical condition arises after your annual completion of the medical self-declaration form, it is necessary to recomplete the medical form. Remember, you need medical clearance to dive from a UK Sports Diving Medical Committee approved referee. where:
you are taking prescribed medication of any kind (excluding the contraceptive pill);
you are receiving medical care or have to consult a doctor other than for trivial issues e.g. common cold, infection or minor injury; and
you have been the subject of a decompression accident.
If you sign the self certification form and do not make a disclosure, you should be aware that the form is a legal declaration. If you are found to have been untruthful and an accident occurs then you will be uninsured and may be held liable for the consequences.
This is a really essential skill for all sports divers and above whether diving in the UK or abroad. Your boat (and other boats!) needs to know where you are. Make sure you are confident in putting one up. Don’t rely on your buddy. Practice makes perfect and don’t wait until you need to put one up in anger.
Rusty Dive knife?
Monofilament netting, is a real hazard to divers around our coast, especially on wreck sites, because it is difficult to spot According to BSAC, experiments have shown that the average diver’s knife is very ineffective in cutting it. . Trauma shears, a line cutter, or a curved blade ‘dinghy’ knife, with a blunt end, are probably the most effective They should to be worn on the arm or on the BC so they are accessible. A knife with a sharp point is an obvious stab hazard.
So, what do you do if you are caught in the net? Consider partially inflating your BC, so you rise inside the net, putting it under tension and making it easier to cut. The positive buoyancy will also help to ‘tear’ you away. Your buddy, if free of the netting, may find it easier to cut you away from the bulk of the netting.
So, as the dive season starts to ramp up, take a look at your dive computer and check both that the battery has enough power in it and you remember how to work it. Cannot find the manual? – then Google will no doubt be able to help you or bring it down on a Monday evening and I am sure another diver will show you which buttons to press. BSAC recommend that you learn how to use the planning function on your own computer and apply this practice prior to every dive. Do you?
Remember, the use of a dive computer during a dive is no substitute for proper dive planning, including proper attention to gas requirements and dive time
The nirvana of neutral buoyancy
This is achieved when you are able to rise or fall about a static position in the water as a result of breathing in and out. Safe and comfortable diving means the achievement of neutral buoyancy - Finning to stay at a fixed depth on a safety stop or worse, a long deco stop is not good. Statistics show that buoyancy problems are a frequent cause of incidents, with over-weighting being a major contributor. Correct weighting is critical to gaining neutral buoyancy easily; you should carry just enough weight to hold a 6m decompression stop with a nearly empty cylinder.
Diver recall systems
So, you are on a dive and the skipper needs you to end your dive early and get back on the surface. For example, there has been an incident with a diver in another buddy pair and the skipper needs to get them to shore to get help asap. Given your mobile is unlikely to work at 25m, do you know how the skipper will recall you? The widely recognised signal is four pulls on your dsmb. Another option is a note or coloured tab on a karabiner sent down your dsmb line – but that assumes the skipper has them available.
If you think you are being recalled, commence your ascent immediately. Be calm, no rapids ascents and don’t miss any deco nor your safety stop – the skipper doesn’t want more hurt divers to deal with.
Are you in (the right) gear?
A reminder to all boat drivers who are about to drop divers in the water that the engine must be in neutral BEFORE you start the countdown to the command GO. The reason is that if for any reason a diver goes early (and they often do) there is no risk of encountering a moving prop. When recovering divers, the engine must be switched off as soon as contact has been established. This is to prevent the accidental engagement of gear, followed by disastrous consequences.
Things to remember on a the first rib trip of the year- don’t forget your undersuit, - get drysuit mended before going diving, - plans always change,- follow the skippers checklist word for word and British diving is great!
Also, mid-water DSMB deployment is an important skill, especially when divers get separated on ascent, with boat traffic overhead.
Build up dives
Planning an exciting dive trip? Remember, when you've had a lay-off from diving for a period of time, or are planning a dive to a depth significantly deeper than that to which you have recently dived, a planned program of dives progressively building up to the target depth is recommended. You must be physically and (very importantly) mentally dive fit for the depth you plan to dive. Think about your self and buddy rescue skills, dsmb use, etc etc. Diving should be fun, not stressful - this is in your hands.
Look around you
When we start out, our diving is focused on learning to simply get underwater and survive! Once you have achieved that, look around you. Even in the murky depths of Wraysbury, there are things to see. Once you progress to the open sea there are even more surprises waiting for you. Check out the Facebook Group “UK VIZ REPORTS” where you will find lots of photos and videos of UK diving. As the name suggests, you can also find out what the underwater visibility is like around the UK.
Progress your training at your own pace, but don’t let it dominate your diving. Look around you for
Exploring new places
The fun of a strong drift dive
Getting away from work
Silence, except of the noise of bubbles
So, after pouring the sea water out of my drysuit at Scubafest, I decided that maybe it is time to get a new drysuit. Apart from the trauma of being measured (although I am sure it was much worse for the measurer!), it made me think about whether I would need to alter the amount of lead I carry to avoid being one of those divers who is seen stuffing pockets with rocks as the dive progresses, or nailed to the bottom.. Given this, I thought I would share BSAC’s method to perfecting your weighting:
Initially guess the weight and set up a belt accordingly
Kit up in full diving equipment – including your undersuit if using a drysuit
Enter water with spare weights within reach, submerge vertically (this removes air from the drysuit if worn).
Attempt buoyancy check – breathe out, sink, breathe in, float up.
Adjust weight on the belt to achieve neutral buoyancy within the span of breathing, with no air in the suit.
Now add sufficient weight to the weight belt to allow for the buoyancy change due to air consumption as if the cylinders were almost emptied. (This is about 2-3 kg for a steel 12 liter – or see here https://www.subaqua.co.uk/cylinder-buoyancy.php.)
Don’t forget you need 2-3 Kg more in seawater than in fresh
They are very useful for holding your glasses on your face, hearing your buddy tell you how awesome your trim is or wiggling them to entertain a crowd. However, underwater, they can be troublesome. Equalisation issues and ear infections can be awful.
Equalisation – there are a few common techniques which you all should know – ask you instructor if you need help. Don’t forget that if you are having trouble equalising, the only way to resolve this is to ascend a little to relieve the discomfort and try ear clearing again. Call the dive if you can't.
Ear infections – My Mum always told me never to stick anything in your ear other than your elbow… Good advice. However, something I think is worth putting in your ear prior to diving that I know a number of us use are preventative ear drops prior to diving, such as Swim-Ear, SwimSeal or Earol Swim. Ear Calm from a pharmacy can also help.
Give it a go! It's great to have a permanent record of your dive, impress your friends with the simply amazing underwater world and help identify weird sea life. Of course, managing your diving equipment and plan need to be second nature. The distraction the camera means that you will not be focused 100% on your diving. If an issue does occur, you need to be confident in your ability to respond quickly and correctly. Buoyancy first, and take care not to get so preoccupied that you endanger yourself or others or risk damaging the marine environment. And remember, you don't need to spend millions on fancy kit. It is you that makes the picture great, not the camera - you never have an amazing meal and put it down to the expensive pans used rather than the chef's skill!.
Can you hear me?
Always good practice to call the coastguard before starting an offshore dive. You get a chance to practice using the radio, and a chance to check it is working at the same time. The coastguard always asks you to call them back when your divers are safely back on board, or sometimes when you get back to shore. Don’t forget. On Saturday couple of weeks’ ago, the coastguard asked for a call back when our boat returned to shore – in this case to Castletown. When Dave tried to call – no answer. The beach at Castletown is a marine radio dead zone!
Moral - next time, call them while still out in the harbour. They were contacted them by phone – always a good idea to have their number which is 02392552100. Put it in your phone now!
After a more than unsuccessful attempt to put my dry gloves back onto my drysuit (which led to the drysuit being a wetsuit!) I thought I would share the things I’ve learnt about gloves over the years.
Cold hands are miserable and painful
Stiff thick gloves are a nightmare to put on cold damp hands. The stretchier the better – I like the Northern Diver Superstretch ones.
First putting on thin plastic gloves (like those given away in petrol stations) can help you put on wet gloves. .
Thin gloves when wreck diving prevent nasty cuts as you squeeze through gaps.
Test your dry gloves are dry before going on a big dive
Your buddy cannot signal easily to you when wearing three finger mitts
Practice using your dive computer and putting up a dsmb etc with your gloves on
If you have two pairs, you can treat yourself to a lovely dry pair on your second dive.
Getting dry gloves to work with neoprene cuffs is like rocket science. (actually harder than rocket science)
Now for those of you who have dived with Chris, our DO, you might see that there are holes either side of his hood where his ears are. He thinks these were cut out so he could hear Fiona nagging him underwater, but actually, they are there so that he can hear his computer when the alarm goes off. (very important to react fast to such an alert on a rebreather). Can you hear your computer alarm?
Also for those of you with a UK dive coming up, I know the top-side weather has been very hot, but you really do still need to wear a hood under the water. If you try without, you are likely to have to call the dive and miss out on the great viz we have been having.
Many of us have a tendency to go lime green at the sight of a white horse and are considered total landlubbers by those fortunate enough to not mind the horizon flying all over the place. To stop this ruining your diving day, there are a number of things you can do:
Eat breakfast (carbs are good), but not acidic and greasy foods. Some people also swear by ginger based snacks too, be it crystallised, snaps etc
Medicate, but first, work out which ones to take. Some sea-sickness tablets can make you drowsy so check yours don’t by trying out on dry land first.
Watch the horizon - so your eyes see what you ears feel. Try to face the direction the boat is travelling too.
Avoid fumes - fresh air helps lots.
Minimize movement and stay topside, close to the centre of the vessel.
Keep hydrated and cool.
Of course, if the worst happens and the fish need feeding, then my top tip is to use the side of the boat where the wind is on your back.
Or you could try the Training Officer’s cure. Place a £2 coin between your teeth and hang over the side.....If that fails, try a £5 note.............
You learn something new on every dive
Picture the scene – Instructor and student kneeling on the 6m platform at Wraysbury, ready to go through some drills. Instructor begins to demonstrate regulator ditch & retrieve in the approved manner. Brings arm forward. No regulator. Does it again – no reg. And again. Student looks puzzled. Instructor gives the “what the f.....” signal and starts to reach for his AAS. Student Melissa (first open water dive for 20 years) calmly reaches up and retrieves instructor’s regulator which is floating vertically above his head. Why? After it was removed and thrown away, it started to freeflow, and that presumably caused it to become buoyant, and up it went Your training Officer learnt something new on dive number 640.
Drysuits?...... More like Damp Suits
In reality they are never dry. 100% humidity is reached inside your suit within minutes and you will produce between 60ml-1500ml of sweat during a 40 minute dive. Most will be held in your undersuit, but your drysuit will be damp at least. So, two rules,
always turn your drysuit inside out after diving to let it fully dry. You often see divers pointless drying off the outside of their suits between dives, when drying the inside would be more useful
always hold your breath when unzipping other people's suits...
How to solve pointy head syndrome under water
The scene: First dive with a new hood which is a nice comfortable fit, not too tight. Not long into the dive, 10m down on the Portland Dredger, our hero develops a pointy head – some of his exhaled gas bubbles, instead of making their way to the surface, have collected inside the nice new hood, and the air bubble is affecting buoyancy & trim. Solution? Take out scissors – hand them to buddy (who happens to be on his first UK sea dive) and get him to cut a snip on top. Out comes a big bubble, and normal buoyancy is restored.
Moral 1 – always carry a cutting tool – preferably scissors because they do less collateral damage
Moral 2 – if you buy a new piece of kit – try it in the pool first!
Is it on? Or off?
The Dive Manager is responsible for ensuring the conditions are safe for diving. Whilst you can do all the excellent planning in world, risk assessments, pep talks etc, most of us cannot control the weather. So in the week running up to the dive, you need to start looking at the forecast to start to build the picture of you might face. But how you decide whether you call the dive or not? BSAC state, “A wind of over Beaufort Force 4 (with the consequential sea state) can affect diving comfort and safety on unprotected sites”. But it is not that easy, and you certainly don’t always need to call it off when the wind gets to force 4. Here are some things to consider:
Look at the wind direction to find some shelter.
It won’t be a force 4 if you are behind a big cliff (or Portland Harbour Wall).
The height of the waves and swell depend on the wind direction – Bigger if coming over sea rather than land.
What is the tide doing?
When the wind is blowing in the opposite direction to the flow of the tide the wave will be bigger.
You can be more confident in the forecast if it has been consistent all week
Don’t forget your Risk Assessment
It is all too easy to just think 'I have done this so many times so let’s just jump in the water'. A risk assessment doesn't have to be formal but you must think about the site and conditions. Case in point:
Diving under Swanage Pier – separated from my buddy – looked round for a minute then surfaced just like you should. No buddy! Where was she? Behind one of the other pillars which support the structure of course. Had we done a risk assessment, we might have realised that with all the wooden beams and cross members, if we surfaced on opposite sides, we would not see each other, and agreed on a course of action.
Why use Nitrox?
Given it costs more and you need an O2 cleaned cylinder (at more expense) you might think it is not worth it. Well, I think you are wrong. Here are some scenarios:
You are on a dive holiday doing multiple dives – Compared to an air diver doing the same dive profiles, you will be taking on less nitrogen and therefore decreases the risk of DCI. Also, this means that as you will be building up less nitrogen in your system, you won’t reach your no-deco limit when they do – maybe get that third dive of day in! Nitrox is more readily available abroad, often at no extra cost and has become the norm on liveaboards.
Diving with another nitrox diver – Compared to an air diving buddy pair, you can benefit from more bottom time before you get into deco.
You like to be as safe as you can – Using nitrox on a dive but following air tables or computer set on air, means you have built in a real margin of safety by reducing the probability of experiencing an incident of DCI.
Of course, you need to be careful about your MOD to avoid oxygen toxicity - make sure you analyse the gas so you know what you're breathing. So, plan your dive, and dive the plan!
Anyone with a few dives under their belt will no doubt have a tale to tell about utterly failing to understand what their buddy was trying to tell them underwater (I once spent a dive perplexed as to why my buddy was insistently calling me a ‘loser’ half way through a dive, only to find out that they had seen a shark…). Not understanding, or being understood, can be annoying, to scary, to even being dangerous. So, think about the signals you use other than the standard ones we all know - If you dive with a new buddy, show them before you dive. (Alternatively, dive on a rebreather where you can shout at your buddy underwater!)
Shore dives can be great, usually with no dawn-cracking start or limits on bottom time, but there are few tips worth remembering:
Protect and secure your kit – Secure everything to you as you may get bashed around in the waves and get tangled on loose hoses
Don’t lose your fins - loop them over your wrists so if you slip and stick out your hand to stop your fall, you won’t lose them
Tides – make sure you plan. At best, an outgoing tide can lead to a very long beach walk back to the car
Navigation is key – use your compass to avoid surfacing in the wrong bay
Graceful exits are hard - In the event you do fall and can’t get up, keep your regulator in your mouth and crawl out. It won’t look graceful or cool, but you’ll get out safely.
Keep it Clean
Even if you always rinse your kit after a sea dive, salt still seems to build up. If you can, use warm water – it dissolves the salt better. An ultrasonic jewellery cleaner is an amazing thing, especially on hose endings. Doesn't cost a lot, but can make metal bits look just like new! (ordinary mortals can use white vinegar – takes a bit longer.)
First dive trip for a while?
Hopefully all you Cyprus buddies did a shake-down dive in Vobster on Saturday, so you know your kit works (or you have time to fix it!). Next problem is packing. Remember to check luggage weight limits, luggage size limits and what you can carry in hand luggage and what must go in the hold.. Good advice is regs and dive computer in the overhead locker. Check your torches and batteries are in the right place too! If you are up against weight limits, suggest making a list of what went where so you can pack easily for the way home!
Mind your back
During the Cyprus trip, Fiona had a horribly bad back. Diving involves lifting lots of heavy stuff, especially tanks and rebreathers. Here are a few of her tips to save your back:
Hug it. A tank is almost designed for back injury because it has a "handle" at only one end, prompting you to carry it with one hand, putting unbalanced stress on your back. Instead, carry a tank across your chest in both arms like a giant baby. (or carry one in each arm!)
Wear it. To carry your gear, wear it on BOTH shoulders
Get help. Carry stuff together.
Bend ze knees . Bend from the knees when lifting, not from the waist.
Pivot from your feet. When passing gear bucket-brigade-style, pivot on the balls of your feet, not your waist.
Exercise. Yes yes, I know...
Climb slowly. A particular moment of back danger is when you climb the ladder to reboard the boat. The boat is probably moving, you're top-heavy and not too steady. Go very slowly and careful
And of course, get a nice back massage from a friendly buddy 😀
PS – a decent Folding trolley will cost about £50
Autumn is with us
Soon, it will be winter but not all of us hang up our fins but insteadand keep diving in ever increasing cold water, here are some tips so you join us:
Cold water diving often requires extra lead: Don’t forget, if you are adding layers under your drysuit, you may need extra weight – but not too much please.
Cold water can be a shock: Following that frosty giant stride, you might find it harder to breathe easily as you as get the initial surprise of cold water on your face. I suggest you float on the surface with your face in the water until you get used to it.
Gear up for cold water: Thicker hood, thicker gloves, or even dry gloves will be needed. Put your kit on in order, masks are hard to adjust once you have thick gloves on. Make sure your regs are suitable for cold water and try to avoid free flows – Ask if you don’t know.
Cold water guzzles air: When your body becomes cold, you will burn more calories to keep warm. You will use more oxygen and your breathing rate will increase. Watch your gauges.
Mask Clearing in Cold Water – Brrr: The shock of cold water on the face makes exhaling to clear a mask difficult in cold water. This reaction can be overcome with practice. Yes I know it is not fun!
(top tip – rub some cold water on you face & forehead – it reduces the chance of an “ice cream head”)
Après Dive: Make sure you have warm dry clothes to put on afterwards and a flask of hot soup is marvellous!
But don’t give up just yet – the water remains reasonably warm until mid December
Look Behind You
Most people seem to only alter their finning to alter their speed, but have you thought about using different finning techniques for different circumstances? The frog kick technique is a great way of avoiding kicking up the bottom. (next time you’re diving, look behind you and see if you are causing bad viz for others). The back fin is a great to move away from other divers without risking getting your fins in other divers faces. The helicopter turn is also a way to avoid ruining the viz which tends to happen when you turn using your arms to rotate you. Plenty of videos on line to help you or speak to an RSAC buddy to show you. Your challenge is to get in the pool and see if you can master the backward fin!
And – remember – no arm flapping!
Might not be as cold as you think!
Many divers consider that the “Off” dive season lies between the end of September and Easter, but water temperatures tell a different story. In the UK, peak water temperature is in late August / early September, and although it has started to decline, it is still very diveable until the end of November. Water temperatures are at their lowest in March, and don’t get back up to November levels until late June. So don’t waste the last few weeks of warm(ish) water. Look on our website for a chart showing average UK sea temperatures by month. It’s not what you might expect.
Write it down
How can keeping a logbook can help you be a better diver?
Always know how much weight you need - Nearly everytime I go on repeat dive trips, I hear people say, “I wish I could remember what weight I used last year”. A record of the amount of weight you need with various combinations of gear makes your first dive of any trip much easier.
Record your milestones - Some dive locations and dive courses require a certain amount of logged dives. Record your dives in your logbook because you might need proof later.
Remember your dive trip - A completed logbook is a present to your future self – write down, the good, the bad and the funny. It is amazing how you can remember a dive from a prompt of a few words. .
Still need convincing? If you find updating your log book a chore, then try a ‘motivational’ beer post diving to assist you. I promise you – it works!
But it looks cool and matches....
Some jump into the water looking like they’ve been styled by the Versaces and Pradas of the underwater world. Others, more like styled by their Nan following a most successful jumble sale. Both are absolutely fine, but before you go all colour coordinated, remember, some colours are hard to see underwater. Fiona’s tale: “I once had to bail out from my rebreather whilst I was practising mask drills. With no mask on, in gloomy UK waters, the pink hose on my bail out regulator shone out and meant I could find air.” Something to think about, especially as some of you will be asking Santa for Miflex hoses. Check out this video. https://youtu.be/AAJjdA6b4Ts
Read the .....ing manual
How thick is the dust on your BSAC training manual(s)? Think you still remember it all? Why don’t you test yourself and see if you are as clever as you think https://www.bsac.com/advice-and-support/online-training-support/ No prizes for getting 100% in every test, but if you fail them all, you might benefit from a quiet word with our Training Officer, and some revision..
Are you fit for it?
The winter months tend to be when many of us stop diving but it is an ideal time for you to get your fitness levels up ready for the new season. Diving is quite a demanding physical sport so it is important to not only produce a diving medical but be confident that you are fit enough for the demands of diving. Remember that current which you didn’t expect or that ladder which was tough to climb with the kit on? A brisk walk a few times a week will help, go for a run, go to the gym and watch the waistline, especially after the indulgence of Christmas.
I do love a list
I have a number of them that are diving related. From what weights goes with which kit set up (which I think I've mentioned before) to my rebreather start up check list, which, being risk adverse, I never fail to follow. However, probably the most useful are my kit lists. (Yes, I have a number of these too). From a simple one listing kit to take on a day trip, to a complete list of every I need to take overseas when closed circuit diving with each item's weight. (It is almost a hobby in its own right trying to get everything into your luggage with breaching airline allowances...) On a day trip, remembering to take your undersuit, flask of hot coffee, a hair brush and dive computer are all essentially to me. Okay not all of these are essential, but some things are. Dry suit for example. But other things make you safer. What if you forgot your dive knife - would you still dive? Yes/ - A decision you might regret if you got tangled. So, make your life easier and safer and write a list- and don’t forget the biscuits.....
Many of you have already hung your fins up until the water starts to warm up, but can you use your scuba gear above water so you don’t get rusty? Yes! Wear your mask whilst chopping onions. Wear your fins to walk around to re-experience that late walk home from office Christmas party without a hangover the next day. Use your snorkel whilst in the bath so you can completely immerse in the hot bubbly water. Wear your undersuit to keep warm on that bracing Christmas Day walk. Wear your hood to lessen the din of granny’s TV during the Soaps Christmas specials. And of course, a fully zipped up drysuit will prevent others suffering from your sprout intake. (If you keep the vent valve closed.
Alternatively, don’t risk getting rusty in the first place by coming on the Christmas RSAC dive!