What, if anything, has so called "technical diving" contributed to
recreational scuba? My automatic response to this question would be the
following: Technical diving has contributed nothing to recreational diving,
except to raise the amplitude of risk for those in sport diving who wish to
pursue additional avenues of training. In the same way that the armed services
seductively draw in new recruits through the imagery of high technology and
personal challenge, sport divers are enticed to experience the "new
frontiers" afforded by technical dive training. |
For the most part, those who promote "technical dive training" are legitimate, honest, well meaning people who believe that with the "right" equipment and "right" training you can reduce or immunize yourself against the high risks of extended range diving. For those who might still argue that technical diving carries few if any additional risks, I can only call your attention to this past years epidemic of fatalities directly associated with diving activities beyond the range of conventional sport diving. For the most part these deaths fall into two basic categories. The worst and most dangerous of the lot is "deep air" (high nitrogen partial pressure) and the second and more insidious is gross instructor negligence and incompetence. This nightmare imagery only confirms the basic premises and range limitations upon which recreational scuba is based. For years these proscriptions have contributed to the outstanding safety record of sport diving and the consequent robust growth of this industry. It is not coincidental that PADI has recently reduced the maximum allowable depth for air diving to 100 fsw down from 130 fsw. These actions are a subtle recognition that dive related problems are much harder to resolve under the influence of elevated nitrogen partial pressures. Even small problems can cascade into fatal catastrophes under conditions of extreme diving. The best solution is to anticipate and avoid problems well before they occur. This simple statement applies to all forms of diving, from recreational to extreme technical.
There is, however; a subtle genre within technical diving, of gear configuration and practice methodology, which has contributed significantly to improving the safety and accomplishment record of certain groups engaged in complex, extended range technical diving. This "theory" of gear configuration and dive practice has been variously termed "Hogarthian" or more appropriately the "Doing it Right" WKPP (click here for more on WKPP) system. These methodologies were developed by the founding members of the Woodville Karst Plain Project (WKPP) in response to the particular challenges posed by long range exploration mixed gas diving in submerged caves. The WKPP actively employs these methods in its dive operations and has a safety and accomplishment record which is second to none. In particular the WKPP is known for its exploration of the Leon Sinks cave system and the Wakulla Springs system. All of the systems currently under the exploration aegis of the WKPP are deep and long. Certain caves, such as Wakulla Springs attain depths of 300fsw or more for great distances and the challenges of survival posed by this form of exploration are formidable. In the WKPP all dives, regardless of depth or range, are regarded as "technical dives" and there is zero tolerance for those who fail to abide by the policies and procedures delineated within the charter of the project. As a result of these inflexible attitudes, the WKPP is often regarded derisively by certain technical certification agencies.
The commonly held view is that personal preference and accommodation in dive gear and practice are inalienable rights. We in the WKPP feel strongly that there is no room for personal preference when it comes to safety. In the WKPP, the "Doing it Right" credo at its simplest, is nothing more than a synthesis of the venerable "buddy system" with a streamlined, highly functional gear configuration. The configuration and disposition of every element of dive gear is derived from its relationship to the well being of the diver and his buddy and vice versa. In the same way that a regulator is essential to life support underwater, within the WKPP, your team member is regarded as a fundamental part of your life support system. You are always thinking ahead and watching out for your buddy. If you notice something amiss with your buddys gear you either fix it for your buddy on the spot or alert them to the situation. In the area of gas management you should be especially aware of your dive partners gas pressure because this might be the gas you personally need in an emergency. Under this system, you are equally guilty and to blame for a buddy running low or out of gas prior to the end of a dive.
Perhaps, one of the most important concepts that forms the backbone of the WKPP credo is the following: Absolutely, do not dive with individuals who do not share the same philosophy about buddy awareness, gear configuration and gas management that you do. This concept is often referred to as "Rule Number One". Most accidents and problems encountered in diving can be directly traced to a "violation of Rule Number One".
The WKPP principles apply equally to shallow water single tank recreational scuba. We have determined that the identical back plate and harness system used for dual tank technical diving is highly suitable when used with a streamlined, low profile buoyancy compensator and single tank securing strap. A diver wearing this type harness and backplate will appear, when viewed from a frontal perspective, to have no dive gear on at all! This setup is bilaterally symmetrical with a set of D-Rings positioned above the left and right breast. A D-ring on the lower left belt is used to hold the pressure gauge and additional stage bottles. A conformal weight is mounted on the same strap used to secure the tank in place. The disposition of this weight is very effective in adjusting overall lateral trim and helps significantly during scootering. A crotch strap, which loops over the main waist belt on the harness, secures the tank from riding up on the divers back and provides an excellent means for securing the diver to the tow cord on a tow behind style dpv (diver propulsion vehicle). A D-Ring, mounted on the upper section of the crotch strap, can be used for dpv attachment or reel attachment when towing a drift float. The dive knife is a small, blunt bladed serrated device and is mounted in a small holster located on the front of the belt. In this position the knife can always be reached, by feel if necessary, even if the diver is completely blinded or physically restricted.
The above described harness/backplate system can easily be attached to doubly banded tanks when the gas demands of the dive require more than the standard 80cf aluminum tank. This means that you will never have to purchase another harness/BC system ever again and the only thing that may ever require replacement is the webbing in the harness. The buoyancy compensating wings are a separate assembly which can easily be removed for repair or replacement with a higher displacement (lift) unit when larger capacity tanks are attached to the backplate/harness.
For single tank diving a reliable non air balanced regulator is generally more than adequate. The operative word here is reliable and "reliable" does not necessarily mean more expensive. There are many excellent first and second stage combinations out there which will do the job, but the most important issue is the length and rigging of the hoses.
For open water diving the primary hose should be 4 ft or longer and routed under the right arm. The primary hose should always be the hose used for air sharing. During early scuba diving instruction a diver always shared his primary regulator (only one) with his buddy. Since you are already breathing the primary you know that it works and the easiest place for your buddy to find your gas is in your mouth. Your backup regulator should hang under your chin via a chin strap and be easily and rapidly accessible to you in the event of an emergency. Should you feel as though you might lose consciousness you or your buddy can position the chin strap over the back of your head thus holding the regulator in your mouth. Located below your chin, there is never any doubt as to where your backup reg is as opposed to stuffing it willy nilly in some pocket on a bc.