Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Finding your Path underwater- Navigation by view

So, at the end of last year (2014), we started a blog series with regards to underwater navigation. Essentially, the concern is that instructors are training Scuba Divers to go Scuba Diving with a similarly qualified diver but, with the very limited Navigational Skills training on the initial training courses, can we really say we have given them the tools they need to dive without a guide!

We began discussing Navigation techniques that divers (of all level) can employ to find their way around a dive site and previously talked about the use of an Underwater Compass. This week we will look at using Natural Navigation to find your way around a Dive Site.

Using Natural Navigation involves looking around to get markers that can be used to find your way out to the main attraction of a dive and then back to the starting point.

Sometimes, when scuba divers use tools such as the compass, they spend a lot of time focused on the tool and miss portions of the dive. The fact that divers are required to look around when using natural navigation, means it doesn't get in the way of enjoying your dive and you still get to enjoy your surroundings fully.

To illustrate this tool, let me use a local dive site in Cyprus, The Blue Hole, where the main attraction
is a small cave at 18m.

If I were giving divers a verbal map to navigate this dive site using natural navigation, it would begin on the surface where you can see 2 big rocks that stand up out of the water and you can see that they overlap underwater, creating a little pathway.

Once in the water, divers swim along this path, coming to a shallow rocky shelf that they would swim over to find a channel that runs parallel to the diver's direction of travel that is approximately 5 metres deep.

Follow this channel to the right and you will find a big rock that looks like the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, behind which, is a little arch in the rock wall that we swim under.

Continue in the same direction of the arch, over a rocky bottom until you come to another channel with a sandy bottom and a bridge of rock crossing over it. Keep going over this and eventually you arrive at a precipice, where the depth drops.

You will also have seen a gradual increase in the depth of the bottom you have followed in the first part of this dive from around 5m to 10m.

At the precipice, it looks like a basin ahead of you full of sea grass. Drop down here and you will be at around 16 metres but to the left there is a large, flat rocky bottom that forms the side of the basin and rises up to about 13 metres and has 2 large cracks in the top.

The second crack is actually the entrance to a cave and you can drop down into this to 18m and swim through the cave to the sandy bottom.

So, as you can see, the markers that we use are fixed. There is no point using markers that can move such as; "10 minutes in you will see a big grouper"... that fish can swim away! We use big immovable rocks, tunnels, the bottom composition, depths etc. Things that remain constant day to day.

Equally, you can make use of natural phenomena, such as contours on a sandy bottom, which run parallel to shore, sun and shadows, prevailing current but your instructor or local Divers should be able to give you more information about what you can use in your area.

Don't be afraid to ask others what methods and markers they use to navigate local dive sites, we are a pretty friendly and helpful group for the most part and most divers will gladly help out.

Give it a try! Assuming you can see past the end of your nose, Natural Navigation is a great tool to use to find your way around on a dive.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Fit to Dive?

Well, it is New Year and time for those dreaded New Year Resolutions that we all make and stick to for a week if we are strong willed, two to three hours if you are more like us!!

Everyone likes to start the New Year thinking of the next holidays and strolling around on the beach looking good in their Speedos (I don't wear them... it's a Metaphor!!)
So, the obvious step is to get fit and, as scuba divers, this is even more important because, although you do not have to be an Olympian to go Scuba Diving, you do need a basic level of fitness. 

It wasn't so long ago that Scuba Diving was seen as a dangerous sport that took you into dark, deep and dangerous places only for the likes of the SAS, Navy Seals and, of course, James Bond. 

However, these days it is a sport marketed as so easy peasy that 8 year old children and dear old Granny can partake.

While it is relatively easy and accessible, making it possible for practically anyone to try Scuba Diving these days, remember that it is also a sport that requires some level of health and stamina. The problem is that identifying the level required is pretty subjective.

So how do you know if you are fit enough?

Firstly, have a read of the self certification Medical Statement that all diving agencies provide. If you answer "yes" to any of the conditions listed on there, you should visit your doctor to see if you are fit to dive. If your doctor says you can go, or if you are already certified and haven't considered fitness in a while, your next concern is whether you are truly fit to dive.

Ask yourself where will I be diving? What kind of conditions will there be? Heading out to a resort like Cyprus and Scuba Diving will be very different from diving around the coast line of the UK. You don't need the same level of fitness here because it is unlikely you will be swimming in currents (or if you do, they are very mild) and the water is lovely and warm with good visibility. It is simply less stressful on the body when you dive in relaxed conditions.

Even in "easy" conditions, you should be physically prepared for the kind of diving you want to do plus have a little bit of extra in reserve for when Murphy and his law comes calling. Be honest about it because it isn't just yourself at risk if you are not fit enough for the diving you choose to do. Those who need to assist and/ or rescue you are put into danger also including; buddy, boat crew, dive guide etc.

As instructors, we are responsible for looking after all the students under our care. For us, it is even more important to stay fit and healthy but we are only tested for fitness when we take our Instructor exams. For me, that was over 10 years ago now and I think we can all agree, a lot can change in 10 years.
Even at this level, it is up to us, individually, to make sure we are fit to do the diving we want to do.
For our part, it means trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and although it can be difficult in the summer when we are working full throttle, we try to exercise regularly and enjoy a balanced diet to ensure our bodies have the fuel they need for the hard work we do on a dive.

If you have to make New Year Resolutions, random goals like "I will get fit for Diving" is too vague. Give solid steps such as; "by the end of February I will be able to swim 200m without being out of breath" or "I will be able to walk a mile in 10 minutes", depending on your current fitness level and don't make the steps too large. You can start small and build up your stamina as you get fitter and can do it.

The moral of the story is...

Be it tropical diving, ice diving, technical diving or instructing, be honest with yourself about your ability and fitness for a dive. If you don't think you are fit enough, don't do it! Take a step back, some time and build up the fitness required. You will enjoy the dive much more and most importantly, it will be safer for yourself and everybody else diving with you!