Wednesday, February 4, 2015

How to Prepare for Your First SCUBA Dive

You've got your Scuba certification, you've got your Scuba gear, and now you're itching to go on your first Scuba dive. And sure, the certification process reviewed all the basics, but there are still other practicalities that an informed diver should know. This article will outline the methods and precautions observed by safe divers around the world.

Attraction - There are many sights under the water including coral reefs, shipwrecks, caves, and any assortment of plants and animals. Coral reefs are found mainly in tropical climates. Shipwrecks and caves can be found almost anywhere.

Visibility - Under the water, visibility can vary from as little as 2ft. to over 100ft. This depends mainly on sea conditions, but can be affected by weather as well. In the Northern Pacific and Northern Atlantic, you will find visibility to be very limited, while in tropical climates, you can see the sun from over 100ft down!

Depth - Recreational divers should not dive below 130ft without advanced training and equipment. The deeper you dive, the higher the risks for injury. As you go deeper, less light can penetrate the water and the ocean becomes darker. Also, the deeper you go, your risk increases of getting Decompression Illness. These conditions may be very stressful for a beginning diver. It's recommended that you dive no deeper than 60ft until you become more comfortable with scuba diving situations. Additionally, due to the compression of air at depth, you use a greater percentage of air with each breath, thus reducing your total dive time.

Temperature - Scuba divers often wear wetsuits to protect themselves from the cold. In most parts of the ocean, there is a temperature gap where in a change of depth of 1 foot, there may exist a 10 degree decrease in temperature, this is called a Thermocline. In some circumstances, in tropical climates you will need only a bathing suit.

Water Conditions - Surf and current are the basic sea conditions you need to know. Currents can be very strong in some areas and can carry a diver away. Even many popular dive sites have very strong current areas suitable only for experienced divers. Be sure you know how strong and in which direction the current is flowing. The current can also be part of the experience; a "drift dive" is a dive that is designed to have you be carried by the current. A boat must be present and the skipper will follow you on the surface by watching for surfacing bubbles. Surf can affect the boat and how safe it is getting in and out of the water.

Wildlife - Observing the local wildlife can be the most rewarding experience of an underwater dive, but it can also be quite dangerous. Every geographical location on Earth has its own unique species. You should know the basic fish and plant life you are likely to encounter and if there are any precautions for dealing with any. Just about all of them are harmless and are more scared of you than you are of them.

Reprinted from wikiHow

Kathy Dowsett

Friday, October 24, 2014

3 Factors Ruining Your Scuba Education

I've seen a lot of good students with bad instructors and I've seen a lot of good instructors with bad students. This has as much to do with the mindsets and motivations of the individuals involved as it has to do with their actual abilities. I find the following three major factors work against both students and instructors in the dive industry:

1. Certification vs Education

When you show up for any level of scuba training, whether it is an open water certification or a technical diving course, your primary purpose is to learn. A student's primary purpose should not be to receive a little plastic certification card, nor should the instructor's primary motivation be to issue one. If it is, you should reconsider your motivation for training and pursuing diving.

A great failure in the dive industry today is that both students and instructors, whether due to irresponsible marketing or money-hungry dive centers, seem no longer to understand the difference between paying for training and paying for certification. Most open water students seem to feel that if they pay for 3-4 days of training, they are already entitled to a certification. Unfortunately, some instructors seem to agree. But what is a certification without the ability behind it?

Scuba diving students are paying for training, not for certification. Dive students should show up prepared to invest time in themselves; to improve themselves, their diving skills and techniques. Certification will follow naturally once a student has spent whatever time and effort is necessary to master the dive theory and techniques presented in the course. Keep in mind, both as a student and as an instructor, that even if a student walks away from a scuba course without a certification, neither party has necessarily failed. As long as the student has gained experience and knowledge, which is the true value of any education, a course can be considered a success.

2. Ego vs Education

I am often asked “how can you pick a good instructor?” In this regard, I know many instructors that offer great courses, some of whom have big egos. I also know bad instructors who have even bigger egos. My response is always this, "Pick instructors that will invest their time in you, not their egos."

Egos, both those of the instructor and of the student, can be a huge problem in dive training. I find that some instructors try to stroke their own egos by impressing upon their students how tough, how cool, or how great the instructors are. Similarly, students may enroll in a course simply out of peer pressure or to prove that they are hardcore. Both of these attitudes can get in the way of the ultimate goal of a dive course: education. When students enroll in courses as an ego-boost, they are less likely to take feedback from the instructor, therefore diminishing their educational opportunities and personal development. Instructors who focus on their own egos will likely care more about their own vanity and how they appear than about the education and experience of their students.

Instead, students should focus on learning skills and should be open and receptive to feedback, even if the feedback is that certain dive skills need to improve. Instructors must surpass their egos and work for the benefit of the students. Instructors should aim to provide students with safe and reliable instruction, demonstrating patience, compassion, and restraint (not acting like dancing monkeys, entertaining students with stories of their greatness or task loading the students just to prove a point.) Remember, we are simple diving instructors teaching highly specialized courses for the safety and benefit of our students, we are not movie stars or politicians. The goal of both the student and the instructor should be to make the student as good as he or she is capable of becoming during the time allotted for the course.

Again, a dive course that does not result in certification does not necessarily reflect negatively on either the instructor or the student. If a student needs more training, the student needs more training. Remember a good student invests money and time in training to improve himself, not to glorify an instructor. I grew up in the world of Marital Arts and thought that only the world of politics could contain and exhibit more ego. I was wrong. Beware: Ego is everywhere!

3. Time and Financial Pressure vs Education

Scuba education is first and foremost an investment in bettering yourself and your diving skills. Unfortunately, education takes time, and time costs money, even if it is your own time. Try to remember that not just your diving education, but any education, is something you can never lose and no one can ever take from you. Even if you lost all the money or property you own, you will always have what you've learned.

I have witnessed many dive students cramming for exams without investing the time to actually learn anything, other than how to forget so they have the space to cram for the next round of useless information. These students are sometimes awarded a certification or diploma simply because they learned how propagate a system. Often, this is done to finish a course quickly and receive the certification with as little investment in time and money as possible.

I have also witnessed scuba instructors brushing over skills and certifying students with a substandard understanding of dive theory or skills simply to finish a course quickly and receive their course fees. In cases where time constraints and financial concerns take priority over a solid base of dive theory and a mastery of dive skills, I would say that the student has wasted both his time and his money.

This is an unfortunate result of the money and the need for profit involved in any system of education, scuba diving included. Many people attain high degrees of rank, authority, certification, accreditation, influence or prominence simply because of money and ego without regard to the true education of their students or how it may affect their wellbeing in the future.

I find these factors pervasive in the dive industry and disgustingly unfortunate. I try to the very core of my being to reverse this way of thinking in not just diver and instructor level courses, but every detail of life. Unfortunately, due to this philosophy I have lost more than one job or student, but as it was well quoted in the movie Kingdom of Heaven: "Who is a man that does not try to make the world a better place."

Thanks to About Sports

Kathy Dowsett

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

6 Steps to a Controlled Descent - Make Descents Enjoyable, Not Stressful

The Goal:

Use your lungs and your buoyancy compensator (BCD) to keep yourself neutrally buoyant (or close to neutrally buoyant) during the entire descent. Keep in mind that:

• A diver should be able to control his buoyancy well enough to stop at any moment of the descent and quickly achieve neutral buoyancy.

• A diver should also be able to complete the descent without touching the bottom.
This type of descent is a required skill in PADI Open Water Course (called a controlled descent without a reference).

Why Learn to Control Your Descent?:

The ability to make a controlled descent is important for three reasons:

1. If a diver experiences ear equalization problems and he cannot arrest his descent, he risks an ear barotrauma.

2. A diver must be able to descend without landing on the bottom because even a gentle fin kick can irrevocably injure coral or other aquatic life. Landing on a shipwreck or cave floor can not only destroy delicate historical information, it can stir up sediment to the point that visibility is dangerously reduced.

3. A diver should be able to stay close to his buddy during descent. A diver who plummets to the bottom will be unable to assist a buddy making a slower descent.

Step 1: Understand the Use of the BCD:

The buoyancy compensator (BCD) is not an elevator. Do not deflate the BCD to go down and do not inflate the BCD to go up. Using the BCD for these purposes only causes loss of buoyancy control. The only reason to deflate the BCD is to compensate for excessively positive buoyancy, and the only reason to inflate the BCD is to compensate for excessively negative buoyancy (thus the name “buoyancy compensator” and not “depth control device”). Only adjust the BCD to achieve neutral buoyancy, not to move up and down in the water. To ascend and descend, use your lungs and, in rare occasions, your fins, but never, never, your BCD.

Step 2: DO NOT Dump All the Air From the BCD to Begin the Descent:

Do not deflate the BCD until you plummet downwards like an anchor. To control your descent, you must first establish neutral buoyancy at the surface. Deflate the BCD incrementally until you float at mask-level with your lungs full of air and sink a little when you breathe out. This indicates neutral buoyancy. With practice, you will learn to deflate the BCD to exactly this point in one shot, but for now, deflate the BCD a little at a time until you find neutral buoyancy.

Step 3: Exhale Fully to Begin Your Descent:

Once you are neutrally buoyant at the surface, begin your descent by exhaling fully. This takes some practice as you must exaggerate your breathing. Exhale all the air out of your lungs slowly (with the regulator mouthpiece still in your mouth) and then hold the air out of you lungs for a few seconds. Try this now: exhale, exhale, exhale, exhale more, more, and now hold the air out of your lungs, try to exhale even more. . . good! The exhalation process should take around 10 seconds. Expect to slowly sink near the end of the ten seconds, and be patient. If you find yourself back at the surface when you inhale, deflate the BCD a little more and repeat the process. When performed properly, the exhalation will move you far enough down in the water column that the air in your BCD compresses, and you begin to sink slowly.

Step 4: Reestablish Neutral Buoyancy:

Allow yourself to float downwards until you can no longer easily control your buoyancy with your lungs. Once you reach the point that you continue to sink when you inhale, you are no longer neutrally buoyant. When you are neutrally buoyant you should rise slightly when you inhale fully. Remember, the goal is to maintain neutral buoyancy throughout the descent, not negative buoyancy. Add a tiny, tiny amount of air to your BCD. You should be able to stop descending or rise slightly when you inhale. Take some time to find this point of neutral buoyancy.

Step 5: Regroup:

After descending a few feet and reestablishing neutral buoyancy, take a moment to check that your ears are properly equalized. Look at your depth gauge and notice if you are approaching or have reached your intended depth. Check on your buddy. If all is good . . .

Step 6: Descend by Exhaling Once Again:

Once you have regrouped, continue your descent by exhaling fully. The goal is to control your descent by working your way slowly and carefully down through the water column using you lungs to descend and your BCD to keep yourself neutrally buoyant. When you arrive at your desired depth, you should have to do very little to fine-tune your buoyancy.

At the beginning, yes. The first few times you attempt a truly controlled descent, you will find it time consuming. This does not mean that learning to control your descent is not valuable.

As you gain experience with controlling your descent, you will become more efficient and effective. Eventually, you will deflate exactly the correct amount of air from your BCD in one shot, exhale and float down, add air to compensate for the increased negative buoyancy at the correct moment, and continue quickly down.

Once mastered, a controlled descent is more efficient than dumping the all air from your BCD at the beginning of the dive because you do not waste time fighting with your buoyancy on the way down. You arrive at your desired depth neutrally buoyancy and ready to swim off on your adventure. Be patient. Every diver can properly control his descent with understanding and practice.

Kathy Dowsett

Reprinted from

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Scuba Diving Is A Wonderful Sport: Just Eliminate The Risks

Adventure channels and tourism channels show glorious breathtaking visuals of blue skies and crystal clear water and people scuba diving among the fishes. The question that arises is whether we are safe, amongst a vast variety of underwater life, some of which can be extremely dangerous and in territory that is alien to humans, we are not born to swim and we cannot breathe underwater, can we?

The simple answer is yes and no. It is similar to mountaineering. When Edmund Hillary was asked whether mountaineering was dangerous he said, not if you respect the mountain. Scuba diving is also not dangerous if you respect it. It is not dangerous as long as you follow security guidelines, have the right equipment, know your limitations and stay within those constraints.

A little risk is involved, the operative word being 'little.' According to the DAN Diving Fatalities Workshop Report, fatalities are extremely rare and in their 2010 survey they found that fatalities happened once in every 211,864 dives. How risky is that? More drivers die in road accidents and chances of you dying in a long distance race are higher than in scuba dying - so the likelihood of your dying in scuba diving is rather remote.

As with any extreme sport, an element of risk is always there. Divers are totally dependent on their equipment to breathe. Their journey back to the surface depends on their skills, using gear rightly and emergency training. Approach the sport with the right spirit and character. Grow into it with practice and training. Don't take undue risks. The larger fish down there may seem docile, but they are not dogs that you can pat and hug so maintain a reverential distance.

Surveys have revealed that most of the fatalities that have occurred in the sport were caused by human errors and were completely avoidable. The three prime causes were a pre-existent disease in the diver, straying beyond one's capability and descending rapidly.

People who died owing to a pre-existent disease did not declare their medical conditions in the scuba diving medical questionnaire. Had they done so they would not have been allowed in the waters. Descending rapidly makes for poor buoyancy control and makes the diver panic and make mistakes. Finally you are so pumped up and in over-confidence you stray beyond your limits and cannot alert your partners when an emergency occurs - false bravado often ends in disaster, not only in scuba diving, but in all walks of life.

To ensure that your scuba diving is a great fun-filled experience, just make certain that you plan your dive before you step into the water. Never dive deeper than your first dive. Check your dive gauges continuously and stay within the prescribed ascent and descent rates.

Carry a 3-minute safety stop halfway in the dive, to see if everything is under control and don't continuously ascend and descend when you are under the water. And never exceed the limits of your training and skills.

What if you were to suddenly encounter a shark? Don't panic, be calm and remain close to your dive buddy. Sighting one is rare and an awe inspiring sight, so enjoy it. However, maintain a respectful distance and don't swim away rapidly. You cannot out-swim it but after its curiosity is satisfied it will swim away. This is what happens almost every time - think of the great time you will have regaling your friends and family about your great shark encounter.

Article Source:

Kathy Dowsett

Friday, August 22, 2014

Can I Dive With.......

Reprinted from Scuba Diving:::::

Dive doctors and operators have long lowered their own risk by limiting yours when certain medical conditions enter the picture. Asthma? Sorry, no dice … or dives. Ditto for diabetes, heart disease and other conditions that increase the odds of something going wrong down below.

But the tide is slowly turning. For more than two decades, the Divers Alert Network has compiled information on divers from around the globe, many who continued diving despite disqualifying diseases. Likewise, dive doctors and scientists like those belonging to the Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) have conducted their own studies.

"When we first started devising prescriptive guidelines for who was fit to dive and who wasn't, we didn't have hard data, so all the axioms were based on theoretical risk," says Edmond Kay, M.D., a diving medical officer at Seattle's University of Washington. "We now have facts and figures." He has studied dive fitness for the past 20 years, and in that time, he has seen a lot of changes in the way medical professionals approach diving with certain conditions. "The thinking has turned from 'If you have this disease, you can't dive' to 'If you have this disease, you must be able to manage the symptoms, and then you may be fit to dive.'"

Kay helps us explain the newest approaches for managing some of the most common dive disqualifiers.

Diagnosis: Asthma

Back in the day, if you mentioned asthma to a dive instructor, you'd likely hear a firm "No, you can't dive." The disease affects those all-important diving organs, the airways, making them inflamed and susceptible to irritation. At its worst, asthma attacks tighten the muscles around your airway and constrict airflow to the point where you can barely breathe. Therein lies the risk. A number of factors inherent to diving can trigger an attack, including exercise and breathing cold and/or dry air, and an underwater attack can easily escalate to panic and drowning. Doctors theorized that this narrowing of the airways could also trap breathing gas in the lungs, which could expand before it could be exhaled during ascents, causing lung-expansion injuries. However, data presented during a 1995 international asthma symposium sponsored by UHMS showed no increased risk for lung injuries among asthmatic divers.

Diving with asthma: Anyone with severe asthma — meaning they have daily, chronic symptoms — should not dive. If your asthma is mild, intermittent and controllable, you may get clearance if you can show that you're functionally normal — that you manage it with medication to the point that exercise and typical asthma triggers don't cause an incident.

Today, DAN estimates about 4 to 5 percent of the diving population has asthma. To see if you qualify, take an airway challenge — a test where you exercise at increasing intensity on a treadmill, while a doctor measures your airflow to ensure you're stable even during vigorous exertion. You'll also need to show stability when exposed to triggers like cold, dry air, which is what you breathe from a scuba tank, Kay says.

Talk to your doctor about dive-friendly medications. Aminophylline, an older oral medication that opens air passages in the lungs, not only dilates the smooth muscles of the airways but also the arteries in the lungs, which decreases your lungs' ability to filter bubbles and increases your risk for DCS. Newer medicines, bronchodilators like Albuterol for example, can relax the airways for four to six hours and haven't been found to dilate the arteries in the lungs, Kay says.


Kathy Dowsett

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ask an Expert: Should Divers Reveal Their Medications?

Is the average dive professional really qualified to safeguard — never mind interpret — your personal medical history?

By Larry Lozuk

Several years ago while managing an IT project at a large health-care provider, I witnessed my team lead being a perfect gentleman.

As we returned from lunch, he held the door open for a woman who happened to be walking into the building just as we were. She introduced herself as the facility’s compliance director for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (or HIPAA), requested his badge, and asked that he accompany her.

His seemingly innocuous act of chivalry had violated a security regulation, by passing the badge-reading system and potentially allowing someone unauthorized through an employee entrance. This led to hours of retraining for the entire team, once again covering the complex tangle of rules around security and privacy of medical records. The work we were doing was only tangentially related to health care, yet we were subject to the same confidentiality and security policies as the medical professionals who dealt directly with patient-health information.

In the scuba industry, we aren’t interested in the health of our customers, or what medication they might be taking. Really, we just want them to have a good time and then go home as healthy as they were when they came in.

However, by demanding and storing medical histories and medication lists, we willingly put ourselves in the same position as doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals. We assume the responsibility to safeguard our customers’ medical information that, improperly disclosed, can affect their credit, their livelihoods and their lives.

We should all cringe to think of what is stored in those unlocked filing cabinets at countless dive shops across the world.

We also open ourselves up to liability by assuming the mantle of experts. While I can teach you all of the nuances of buoyancy, trim and different types of fins, I haven’t the slightest idea what drugs interact badly with one another, or with increased partial pressure of nitrogen or oxygen. Yet when I request a list of your medications, you probably have the expectation that I’m doing so for a reason, ostensibly to see if you have any conditions that are incompatible with scuba diving.

Would you be disappointed if I disclosed that I don’t even recognize any of the medication names?


Kathy Dowsett

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Volunteering in film re-enacting fatal shark attack a solemn memory of Shark Week for BadDiverBill

BadDiversTV is behind Bill Hill now but his love for scuba remains and two new passions -- music and promoting causes -- have been added.

When a funding deal fell through for BadDiverBill’s Quest, which was to find the most interesting DIVE sites, Dive buddies and DIVE bars, Hill's pseudonym of BadDiverBill was set aside, along with his trademark "adult beverages," hat and sunglasses. They're gone, but not forgotten. If the opportunity arose, says Bill, "BadDiverBill would don his hat and sunglasses and make a cocktail." However, exists online forever.

Still, the character he created is not what drives him now. Instead, it's his growing awareness of causes that have become important to him, namely, protecting the ocean and supporting an orphanage in Honduras. He came face to face with both causes through diving and is expressing them with music.

The song "Weightless," for which he wrote the lyrics, embraces the magic of both diving and its medium, the sea. A portion of the song’s downloads will go to The Ocean Conservancy.

It was his passion for diving that took Bill Hill to Honduras, but it was the needs of an orphanage in that country that captured his heart. He has made nine trips there, combining diving and helping out at the orphanage. There, he met Paola, a young girl who was abandoned by her mother. She is still in school there.

Hill was inspired by her and decided to make a little video and write a song about her, which he called Pequena Rosa (Little Rose).

"Dancing was her thing. She dances to forget about things. All the girls take care of each other," says Hill, who wrote all the lyrics for the song on the flight from El Salvador back home to Los Angeles. "I look forward to dancing with her to this song."

HIs friend, musician Jeff Alan Ross, wrote the music. Some of the proceeds from the song will go to the orphanage.
On the flight home, Hill came up with another idea that he called "Your cause, your anthem," which is to help others promote their cause.

Back in the water, August is the month of Shark Week, in which Hill served as a safety diver for a movie to re-enact the death in May of 2008 of a 66-year-old diver who was attacked by a Great White just north of San Diego. The shark was estimated to be about 12 to 17 feet in length. To illustrate the damage to the diver’s legs by the attack, the filmmakers wanted to cut up the legs of the wetsuit the actor playing the deceased man would wear. In choosing a wetsuit to destroy, they were looking for the one that was in the worst shape, with the promise that the donor could buy a new wetsuit at cost. They chose BadDiverBill’s wetsuit.

Bill was one of three safety divers on the "Body Glove" boat owned by Bob and Pattie Meistrell. Bob and his late twin brother, Bill, had been innovators of wet suits. "I was honoured and privileged to be on the Body Glove boat when he was the captain.

"One day we were shooting the actor stuff of them swimming when he (the victim) was hit, the panicking and the swimmers coming to the rescue. A lot of my job was just being behind the camera man about 15 feet down, or on the boat with no scuba gear."

Hill remembers "the kind of respectful feeling on the boat" because they were re-enacting a man's death.
He was told his job was finished for the day so he took off his gear. Then they decided to take one more shot on the other side of the boat. The actress swam quickly to the side where the shooting was to be, but the older actor portraying the victim of the shark attack seemed to be struggling in the water. He kept going under the surface in his attempt to get to the other side of the boat, the challenge made more difficult by wearing BadDiverBill’s damaged wetsuit. Knowing the actor had been in the water all day and was probably tired, Hill dove in, grabbed him and took him to the other side.

Another chapter had been written in the evolution of BadDiverBill.

Copyright Kathy Dowsett