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

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wood off Shipwrecks

Reprinted with permission from Dr Lee Spence

WOOD OFF SHIPWRECKS: People are always asking me whether wood survives on shipwrecks. The answer that I always give them is "it depends" (meaning there is no easy answer). Preservation of wood depends on a wide variety of factors. They range from whether the wood is buried or exposed on the wreck, to what type of woods are involved, and even whether the wood was treated or painted before it was lost.

These two pieces of wood came off the wreck of the Civil War blockade runner Georgiana, and I brought them to surface over 40 years ago. I photographed them (earlier today) to help shown the wide range of natural preservation in wooden artifacts recovered from wrecks (and in this particular case from the same wreck).

The piece on the left is one of the handles from the captain’s wheel or helm of the steamer Georgiana. If you look carefully, you will note that one end of the handle is charred (burnt), while the rest is almost perfect. This matches with contemporary accounts, which say that after the Georgiana was wrecked she was set afire while her decks were awash. This part of the ship's wheel was obviously protected from the fire by the water.

The piece on the right is part of a crate found in the forward cargo hold of the Georgiana. It was of a softer wood and has suffered more damage.

Both pieces had been covered by mud & sand, and were thus protected from damage by sea worms (teredo navalis), which quickly destroy most exposed wood on shipwrecks.

Photo © Copyright 2014 by Dr. E. Lee Spence

You can read more about the Georgiana at

Kathy Dowsett

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Too Old To Learn Scuba Diving?

Reprinted from Enzine Articles

We are always told we should learn sports when we are young, when our bodies are more resilient to the bruises and bumps which can be afflicted on us when we learn a new sport. This is true to a certain extent.

Take for example, my experience learning wind surfing. I learnt the sport when I was 26. If I were to learn this sport now at age 42, chances are I would not go far and would probably give up after 1 or 2 tries. Learning wind surfing was like battling with all the forces at the same time! We're talking about trying to balance on choppy waves on a slippery wet board, at the same time maneuvering a sail which weighs more than you in the correct direction that you want to go.In the process, I contributed blood and flesh from cuts on barnacles and bruises from hitting the surf board more than once before falling into the waters.

But there is a huge difference with scuba diving. YOU ARE NEVER TOO OLD TO LEARN SCUBA DIVING. I can never say this enough. I learnt scuba diving when I was 38. Now I'm not saying that 38 is a ripe old age but still, the body does feel somewhat less strong and less resilient. Added to that, as we get older, we also seem to have more fears. Perhaps we feel we have more to lose if something should happen to us.

I say middle age and beyond should never be a factor in learning scuba diving BUT you do need to have these:

1) an intense love for the sea

2) a willingness to learn from someone younger than you

3) relatively good health and lastly but very important

4) time and money

Now I'm assuming that you are thinking of learning scuba diving because you want to make this a sport that you can enjoy every other weekend if time and money permits and not just learning for education's sake.

An Intense Love for the Sea

To enjoy a scuba diving trip, you will have to love the sea and I mean really really love it with all its wonderful creatures large and small. You will know what I mean on your first ever scuba diving trip after you have cleared your Open Water tests.

It is unlikely that your scuba diving buddies on your first dive trip will be the same classmates in your scuba diving course. Because of time and money constraints, you will find that you may be the only one keen enough to join a scuba diving trip soon after your certification.

More often than not, your dive buddies will be a dive-crazy bunch who will do at least 4 dives a day plus another at night. This means that on a scuba diving trip, most times you will not do anything but dive, talk about the sea creatures and encounters of each dive, before suiting up for the next dive. For someone who only wants to do one dive a day and then go shopping, he/she may be disappointed as many great scuba diving spots have few of these shopping and entertainment facilities.

In case you are already getting stressed just thinking about this, don't be. Every scuba diving newbie goes through this. Just have an attitude of a newbie, be humble and you will find that the seasoned divers are more than willing to share tips and may even help you to gear up before a dive.

A Willingness to Learn from Someone Younger than You

Your scuba diving instructor is likely to be someone much younger than you. Some dive instructors have an attitude and are cocky so you may have to live with it for at least 3 weekends before you become certified - 1st weekend for classroom and theory, 2nd weekend for pool sessions and a 3rd weekend for the actual open water tests. Put aside your ego and just bear with it, it'll be worth it in the end.

Having said that, that's not to say that there are no good and kind scuba diving instructors around. I was fortunate to receive dive instruction from PC, a very kind and patient man, without whom my dive learning experience would not be as smooth and enjoyable.

Relatively Good Health

It's not necessary to be in peak fitness before you can take up scuba diving. However, you would need some strength to be able to walk with full scuba diving gear strapped on you. Once you enter the waters with all your gear, you are almost weightless. But it's the few steps you have to make to get into the boat or to cross the beach into the water that may be a challenge for a person who is not used to carrying heavy loads on them.

Having said that, some scuba diving resorts have fantastic dive staff who can help to overcome this by carrying the tanks and gear to the boat for you to suit up inside the boat. And of course if you are on a live-a-board (live, eat, dive, sleep, on board a boat throughout the dive trip), then this may not be relevant.

Time and Money

This is probably the 2 most deciding factors of whether someone continues to enjoy scuba diving after passing the Open Water tests. Getting certified through a scuba diving course is very fast, just 3 weekends basically. And not too expensive, probably about $300 to $400, including an out-of-the country dive trip for the open water tests. But unless you live near a scuba diving area, you are most likely going to have to travel a distance or even out of the country to do a good dive.

Now just think how much each trip is going to cost you and multiply that by how many times you would love to do scuba diving in a year. When you do the sums, it can be staggering. So you cut down the number of dives you want to do in a year, and then calculate and cut down some more.

In our scuba diving class, my husband and I were the only ones who continued to dive after the class was over. Even then, we did not manage to do the number of dives we would really have loved to do in a year. That's how it finally ends up that we are doing an average of 1 dive a year. This more or less ensures that we will always be diving as a "scuba diving newbie" (hence the blog's name). A scuba diver gets "rusty" when the interval is too long between each dive trip. Ideally, we should dive at least once each quarter.

I have not even gone on to calculate the other "investments" to personalise your gear such as your own BC (buoyancy control), your own octopus (breathing appartus) and your wet suit.

Having said all this, I still believe it's never too old to learn and enjoy scuba diving. Even with our limited dives since we were certified and diving as scuba diving newbies, we enjoy each and every one of our dive trips. Find the right people to dive with, find a fantastic dive spot that suits your preferences (whether macro, to check out small sea creatures, or see bigger fish) and nearby spa facilities to sooth your body aches after a dive - it's a wonderful combination that will almost always ensure a great scuba diving experience!

A scuba diving newbie can still enjoy happy diving!

Kathy Dowsett

Article Source:

Monday, June 23, 2014

Wanted :: Adventurers and Explorers for Shipwreck School

Shipwreck School Graduates its First Class

World renowned side scan sonar expert, Garry Kozak recently completed the first “Side Scan Sonar Operators Course” this past May for Shipwreck School. The Five participants received 3 days of comprehensive training on the school’s new EdgeTech model 4125 Dual Frequency Side Scan Sonar System. The course consisted of 8 hours of classroom and 8 hours of hands on sea time over a 3 day weekend. Shipwreck Schools offers professional training courses anywhere in the world on various side scan sonar systems, marine magnetometers, ROV’s and more?

Have you ever watched the Jacque Cousteau TV Specials or any number of shipwreck TV documentaries about searching for shipwrecks on the Discovery or the History Channel? Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be a part of one and actually get to experience one of the last greatest adventures on earth?

Welcome to Shipwreck School!

The idea for this venture was born out of a desire to offer an opportunity where one could learn about shipwrecks, including exploration methodology, hands-on training, historical significance, current political climate surrounding shipwreck exploration, and the list goes on. Furthermore, the vision for the school has always been to be a place open and of interest to both scuba divers and non-divers alike. Finally, the ultimate goal of the school is to promote and foster private exploration of shipwrecks. To date, it seems there is no other institution in the world specializing in shipwreck education.

Shipwreck School has been designed to offer information and instruction to people anywhere in the world. It offers a unique opportunity in the form of a diverse selection of courses and seminars designed to train, educate and inform. Given that the topic of shipwreck exploration is so broad and diverse and can be both complicated and controversial, Shipwreck School offers a balanced and well-rounded approach. It achieves this by offering training from a variety of perspectives, including that of marine archaeologists, seasoned explorers, and exploration technology gurus. What’s more, instructors at “Shipwreck School” are well-equipped to provide training based on experience versus opinion or policy. In fact, each one is a respected professional in their respective fields and has a minimum of a thousand hours or more of actual “field experience”.

Shipwreck School is pioneering new and unique, yet convenient and ultra flexible Seminars and Courses ranging from a basic entry level “Shipwreck Hunting” seminar to a 3 day hands on “Side Scan Sonar Operator” course.

Terry Dwyer

An adventurer, entrepreneur, wreck diver and explorer who has been studying shipwrecks for the past 35 years. He published his first book; Wreck Hunter – The Quest for Lost Shipwrecks in 2005. That book went to a second printing in 2008 and he is currently working on volume two, Wreck Hunter 2– The Adventure Continues, which is due out this Fall. Terry has authored and published numerous articles on scuba tourism, shipwrecks, shipwreck diving and exploration in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and is considered to be one of the foremost authorities on shipwrecks in Eastern Canada. His fascinating presentations include information about scuba diving, scuba tourism, shipwreck hunting, and shipwreck projects that he has worked on in Nova Scotia and in Newfoundland over the past 35 years. Terry is the primary host and coordinator for Shipwreck School and will organize, schedule and coordinate the courses, seminars and expeditions. To learn more about Terry, please visit his website:

Kathy Dowsett

Friday, June 20, 2014

Recognition is Essential

Reprinted from AlertDiverOnline

The Diver

The diver was an experienced 48-year-old female with more than 300 lifetime dives. Her medical history included hypertension that was well controlled with a single medication. She also took a prescription drug to manage her cholesterol. Her general health and fitness were otherwise good.

The Dives

The diver was on a trip at a popular Caribbean island. The first four days of diving consisted of two morning dives each day. None of these dives was deeper than 80 feet, and all bottom times were within her computer's no-decompression limits. Her second dive each day was to 60 feet or shallower, and she breathed air on all the dives. On the fifth day, her first dive was a multilevel one to a maximum depth of 85 feet for a total time of 40 minutes. The dive was uneventful, and she exited the water at approximately 11:30 a.m.

Within five minutes of surfacing, the diver began to feel slightly short of breath while she was removing her equipment. This was followed by soreness in her middle and upper back. As she was moving her equipment she noticed reduced strength in her right arm. Almost simultaneously both of her feet began to tingle, and the sensation progressed up both legs to her waist. Fatigue accompanied all these symptoms.

She reported the situation to the dive boat crew. They did not act alarmed and suggested that oxygen was not necessary because the reported weakness in her right arm resolved on its own within 15 minutes. The diver chose not to participate in a second dive. The other divers were in the water for an hour. During that time her symptoms seemed to resolve, except for the tingling in her feet.


Kathy Dowsett

Picture is From Stephen Frink

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Mixing sun, sand, sailing, scuba helps travel agent serve divers

As a travel agent and a diver with about 10,000 dives under his belt, Bryan Cunningham knows the scuba travel business well. But he also knows it is an industry that is changing all the time.

Dive shops change. The condition of their dive boats can change. So do dive sites. That's why Bryan will leave his desk at Travelpath in Burlington, Ontario and relocate to the Caribbean. "I already know quite a few -- probably 40 different dive operators in the Caribbean," he says. "But things change all the time. You have to keep up to date."

In late June he will leave Hamilton, Ontario, in his Grampian 30 sailboat and begin his relocation trip to the Caribbean and its rich assortment of quality dive sites. He plans to settle in Antigua (in the Eastern Caribbean), where his ex wife and daughter live.

"I will island hop around the Caribbean and visit dive shops, which increases my knowledge (of good options for his scuba travel customers). Most the islands are no more than 60 miles apart."

He will continue to book the dive trips through Travelpath, but his "office" will be his sailboat.

His decision to buy the sailboat was based on both frugality and safety. The cost of diesel fuel to power a boat to Antigua is prohibitive. He can save a lot of money by sailing in the open seas, while using the engine to get in and out of ports. Rough seas can come up quickly in the Caribbean and the sailboat handles it better than power boats. The fact that the Grampian has a four-foot keel and a three-foot centre board that can protrude below the keel, also helps.
"It's a nice lifestyle. Your expenses are minimal.," Bryan says of life on a boat in the Caribbean.

But the bottom line is the opportunity to better serve his customers, not only from his knowledge of dive boats and dive sites but also of the quality of hotels where they will stay. He says most dive operators offer a commission to him as travel agent but he will pass that on to his customers as a discount, giving them a cheaper diving option if they book their hotels and flights through Travelpath.

"We will put them in the right hotels for diving," he says, adding that in booking through an Ontario company such as Travelpath, customers are protected by the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO).

Geographically, the area he envisions serving runs from the Bahamas down the eastern Caribbean to the ABC Islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. The advantage of this trio of islands is that they are below the hurricane belt. The last major hurricane to directly hit Aruba was in 1877. He also offers trips to other destinations worldwide.

NB:::::Bryan will keep kirkscubagear updated on his travels when he can. Watch for further articles on his trip.

Kathy Dowsett

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Descent Checks - Vital on Every Dive

Periodic checks with your dive buddies while diving is always a good thing. Things can start to develop in a negative way, and fast. Just because you met your dive buddies on the hang line from the boat, or the edge of the cliff before descending into the abyss, does not mean something did not change. Things can happen at a moments notice. Descent checks are vital to the success and enjoyment of every dive.

Every now and then I'm on a road trip with my family where we are caravanning with other people. Prior to departure for the trip, we will plan out our schedule and where we are stopping, especially if we are separated. Fortunately, today's technology allows us to get up-to-date information with our phones by calls, text messages, or someone posting a status update on social media.

Scuba diving, on the other hand, does not have the luxury of technology while diving. Although some manufactures have created underwater housings for smartphones, most tech divers will not be bringing this along for a few obvious reasons. We do not have the luxury of saying "hey buddy, I need a little help" before you reach your final destination, such as a shipwreck at 150 feet. In a perfect world, maybe things will go just fine. The slightest problems can still happen between the surface and 100 feet while descending. I can list at least a dozen issues that have actually occurred on tech dives.

This is why descent checks are so important. To complete a descent check, you would perform the following tasks.

Check dive buddy for any bubbles from leaks in:

hoses and
tank valve or manifold (double tanks).
Make sure the hoses are properly routed, especially on a tech diving set up

Perform a simulated out of air and donate your long hose to make sure it is free from deco tanks and other hoses.
Ensure the canister light wire is free and clear for easy use when needed.
Ensure the deco tanks are in the right spot:
stacked in right order, or
tanks are on the correct side to prevent switching to wrong gas.
Check to make sure everyone is OK for the dive:

Someone may need to catch their breath from currents/task loading
A diver may be disorientated for a moment and need a few seconds to regain the missions focus.
There could be a chance a diver is having a bad day.
Aborting a dive at shallower depths increases the safety of the entire dive team.
Going deeper with this 'bad day' on your back will only accelerate problems when it is more difficult at depth to handle (cold, dark, enclosures, narcosis, etc).
The general rule I have used is to have at least two check points of any dive, regardless of depth. Typically, the first stop is done around 20 feet. The second spot will be a midpoint of the dive. For example, if you were going to 100 feet, you would stop at 20 feet and then 50 feet and then a final check once we reach 100 feet. You can modify this based on landmarks or turn points in the dive, such as a cliff or an actual turn. A check once you reach the bottom or destination adds a safety buffer. Especially when you are diving in cold, dark and arduous environments.

In a perfect world, these things should not happen to experienced tech divers, but they do. Why?

Murphy's Law

We are human

The descent check should also be done on recreational dives. If you are planning a 40 foot dive, you can do a check just below the surface around 10 feet and a check at the 40 foot mark. You may not do all the things a tech diver would do, such as a simulated out of air with a long hose. However, the principles are still the same by adding a safety margin to the dive.

The purpose of a descent check is to increase the safety of each dive, recreational or technical. By adding this safety margin to the dive, it brings more confidence in scuba divers and the dive team. Everyone knows if you increase your confidence the enjoyment of the dive goes way up. This is the reason we dive. Go enjoy the underwater world.

Article Source:

Kathy Dowsett

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How to Do SCUBA Dive Calculations

By Edwin Thomas, eHow Contributor

One of the dangers of scuba diving is the absorption of nitrogen into the bloodstream, as too much nitrogen causes decompression sickness. For this reason, dive table calculations are taught in any basic scuba diving course. Through these calculations, a diver can track how much nitrogen her/his body has absorbed on a given dive, and therefore plan her/his time on the surface and her next dive within the bounds of safety.


Monitor your bottom time on your first dive, taking note of both the deepest depth and the time spent there. Either you or your dive buddy needs a dive watch to do this.

Round up the depth and time figures to the nearest 5 for safety and utilize these numbers to determine your nitrogen class on the dive table. A dive with 18 minutes of bottom time at 95 feet should be rounded up to 20 minutes and 100 feet, yielding a class of "F."

Monitor your surface interval, or the time spent between the first dive and the second dive of the day. Utilize this number to determine your new, reduced class. After two hours on the surface, you should have dropped to class "D."

Inquire about the maximum depth of the day's second dive and utilize this figure (rounded up for safety) to determine how much bottom time is safe for the second dive. If you spent two hours on the surface and the next dive bottoms at 65 feet, round up to 70 feet. In this example, the table indicates a maximum safe bottom time is 25 minutes and a residual nitrogen time of 20 minutes.

Add your residual nitrogen time to your actual bottom time to determine your new nitrogen class. With 20 minutes of residual nitrogen time and all 25 minutes spent on the bottom, your total nitrogen time is 45 minutes. Fed back into the table, this indicates a new nitrogen class of "I."

Repeat the procedure in Steps 3 and 4 to determine the safe diving parameters for a third dive.

Tips & Warnings

This guide is tailored to match the tables used by the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI). Other organizations, such as the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) or Scuba Schools International (SSI) have their own tables, but all are based on almost identical principles. Adaptation to another organization's dive table should only require studying how the table is organized and not changing the calculation method.

Dive computers perform the same calculations and with greater accuracy. However, a given dive computer might use a more liberal margin of safety than others. Check a new dive computer's algorithm by comparing its results against those of your dive table calculations for the first few dives, just to see where the dive computer stands.

Thanks to Edwin Thomas, eHow Contributor

Kathy Dowsett

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hydration and Dive Safety

While you were taking your open water or other course(s), I'm sure the importance of hydration while diving was mentioned. But how much was it stressed? Everyone knows that being dehydrated is bad in general, but was the significance of hydration during scuba diving explained to you? Do you know why it's important to scuba diving specifically? Do you know how scuba diving itself dehydrates you faster than many other activities? Do you know the symptoms and what to do about it? If you do, great! If you're still unsure, then this article is for you.

How Does Dehydration Affect Scuba Diving?

To put it simply, dehydration predisposes divers to decompression sickness. (DCS) When the body is dehydrated, the blood thickens. The slower, thicker fluid makes it hard to transport necessary nutrients and exchange gasses. This diminished capacity for gas exchange is what directly affects scuba divers and increases risks for DCS. If the thickened blood can't adequately exchange gasses, then it can't adequately off-gas nitrogen. So even when diving within the limits of the tables or a computer, the dehydrated diver is at a greater risk. This isn't the only issue for scuba divers, though. Dehydration causes other physical side effects that can directly contribute to diver safety: muscle cramping and fatigue, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and confusion. None of those things are helpful to divers and all of them can lead to exhaustion, reduced air consumption, and poor decision making.

How Does Dehydration Happen?

Most of us know how dehydration happens at a basic level: You lose more water than you put in and you end up dehydrated. Simple, right? People think about hydration when they're heavily exerting themselves and sweating profusely. But those things don't happen all that often while scuba diving, so what makes divers dehydrate quicker than normal? How does it sneak up on you? Let's understand that hydration doesn't have to do with just water. Hydration involves a balance of water and electrolytes and it's surprisingly easy to throw off that balance. Let's look at some of the ways that are specific to scuba diving.


That sweating contributes to dehydration is no surprise. But people don't often realize how much they're actually sweating inside their wetsuits. Even if you're not roasting, if you're sweating at all outside the suit, you're sweating all over underneath it. Why? Because the suit doesn't allow for the body to cool by air evaporation, so it just keeps trying and trying. The longer you have that suit on out of the water, the more water and electrolytes you're losing due to sweat and you may not even realize it. Try to keep the suit off until right before you're getting ready to dive.


Yes, breathing dehydrates you. It especially dehydrates us as scuba divers. On land, we naturally lose some water during exhalation. Go breathe on a piece of glass if you're not sure what I mean. That condensation you see is water coming from your body. So if that happens to everyone, why is scuba diving special? Many people don't realize it, but one of the big jobs the lungs have is to humidify and warm up the air we breathe. The drier that air is, the more our lungs have to work to humidify it and as we all know, compressed air is extremely dry. On top of that, the colder the diving conditions are the more the lungs have to work to warm that same dry air, nearly doubling the effort and moisture loss. So every single breath we take from a compressed air tank, we lose water from our bodies, so much so that nearly a cup can be lost on a 30 minute dive just by the absolutely necessary task of breathing. Score one for the rebreathers on this issue because their air is warmer and more moist.


If you're like most people, you're diving somewhere warm and sunny. And if you're like most people, you don't get enough sun normally so you're probably getting sunburned on your dive vacation. Fluid loss occurs when the skin is burned and the body immediately sends fluid to the skin. The warm sun then evaporates that moisture and fluid is completely lost. Wear sunscreen and keep covered!


Another issue with scuba diving out on a boat in the middle of the ocean is wind. Generally riding in a boat involves wind of some sort, as does the ocean in general. Sweat and other moisture is evaporated by this wind and increases dehydration Salt Chances are the diving you're doing is in saltwater. The boat ride out to the dive site mists salt onto your skin, then you jump into the salty water, and afterwards you sit around with the dried saltwater on your skin. This water evaporates (thanks to the sun and wind) leaving behind salt crystals that leech the moisture directly out of our skin. Try to rinse off if fresh water is available.

Immersion Diuresis, aka Peeing in Your Wetsuit

Have you noticed that when you're diving you tend to pee a lot? This may erroneously lead you to believe that you're well hydrated when that may not actually be the case. When we jump into cooler water, blood is shunted from our limbs to our core in an effort to keep warm. In response to the inevitable increase in blood pressure, the body then starts flushing fluids. In addition to the cold, the water pressure also increases blood pressure, doubling the effect of the cold water. Both of these things directly affect scuba divers and result in divers urinating much more often than they should and losing fluids and salt. Obviously, this is a contributor to dehydration.


Whether it's from sea-sickness or partying, vomiting will severely dehydrate you from direct fluid and electrolyte loss. Try to manage sea-sickness if you can, and continue to try and drink water or sports drinks in between bouts. And even though you may be on vacation, if you're scuba diving try to minimize your drinking at the very least enough to keep yourself from praying to the porcelain god nightly.


Yes, you're on vacation. But if it's a dive vacation, drinking should be minimized. I'm not saying you can't have a couple cocktails once you're done diving for day, but too much alcohol is a very bad thing when diving. For one thing, alcohol is a diuretic which means it's going to make you pee more and we've already established that can be a bad thing. It also has a lot of sugar in it and when you drink things high in sugar, the body has to dilute them with water.

A good rule is for every drink you have, drink a glass of water. What I generally do is have an alcoholic drink, then a glass of water, then alcohol, so on and so forth. What this means is I don't get hungover and I don't get dehydrated because of the alcohol. Just an idea!

Symptoms of Dehydration

Now we've gone over the various ways divers get dehydrated, so how do you know if you are dehydrated? Some symptoms are very obvious, others maybe not so much.

Thirst (this is generally the first symptom)
Dark urine (ideally urine should be nearly clear - unless you're on certain medication, have specific medical conditions, or have eaten beets)
What Do You Do?

Well first off, what you do NOT do is drink gallons of water before or during your dive vacation. Too much water can have just as many hazards as too little. The key is just to remain habitually hydrated by drinking normal amounts of water at regular intervals prior to and during your vacation. And yes, water is your best choice.

Some sports drinks are good too, but remember they do have high sugar content which can counter some of the hydration you get. The bonus with sports drinks is that they help with replenishing electrolytes. But don't drink them in place of water, drink them in addition to water. Energy drinks contain a lot of sugar and caffeine, both of which are going to act against your hydration efforts, so best to stay away from them. Water, water, water.

Eating helps with hydration too. If the boat you're on offers you fruit wedges during the day, eat them because they contain water, vitamins and fructose. Some salty snacks will replenish electrolytes too.

Basically, if you do anything that causes fluid loss then you need to replace those fluids. If you get sunburned, you need to drink more water. If you're drinking a lot of alcohol, you need to drink more water. If you're vomiting, you need to drink more water. Get the idea?

Hopefully now you understand the reason that divers need to stay hydrated, how fluid loss occurs for divers, and how to fix it. We all want to have safe and healthy dive trips and vacations and proper hydration is part of that. Incorporate it into your next dive plan!

Shelley Collett ~ Freelance Writer ~ PADI Scuba Instructor

Kathy Dowsett

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Canadian Shipwrecks

Sunken Ships/Shipwrecks

As long as man has gone to sea, there have been shipwrecks. A frequent cause in earlier times was simply losing one's way and running aground; but the failure of man's technology when pitted against the unforgiving sea also accounts for some of history's most infamous shipwrecks. The best-known example of this was the sinking on its maiden voyage of the SS TITANIC, the greatest technological achievement of its day. It went to the bottom after a brief encounter with an iceberg on a foggy April night in 1912, 320 nautical miles (600 km) off Newfoundland, with a loss of over 1500 lives.

Spectacular Wrecks

Canada has also had its share of spectacular shipwrecks including, most notably, the Canadian Pacific passenger liner SS EMPRESS OF IRELAND, which sank in 14 minutes in the GULF OF ST LAWRENCE after a collision off Rimouski on 29 May 1914. Of the 1477 passengers and crew, 1014 perished, a death toll exceeded to that point only by the Titanic incident. However, both the passenger list and the ship itself lacked the glamour of the SS Titanic, and the incident was soon forgotten in a world about to be engulfed in war.

SABLE ISLAND, a crescent-shaped sandbar 300 km east-southeast (160 nautical miles) of Halifax, is also infamous for its shipwrecks, and is known as "the Graveyard of the Atlantic," as its shifting sands have been the site of over 350 such incidents.

The sudden loss in 1975 of the modern US bulk carrier Edmund Fitzgerald, which went down in LAKE SUPERIOR with all 29 crew members during a November storm, was a more recent Canadian tragedy, again reminding us that modern ships are not unsinkable. Fortunately, shipwrecks are now infrequent, though, as the size and complexity of ships increase, a single wreck (and the resulting pollution clean-up in the case of tankers or chemical carriers) can be very costly. Just over 250 ships were reported lost from all causes in 1992, but this was out of a world fleet of over 80 000 merchant ships over 100 t.

Marine Archaeologists

Shipwrecks have long held a special fascination for many, including a new breed of MARINE ARCHAEOLOGISTS. The easy availability of scuba-DIVING apparatus has caused an enormous resurgence of interest in shipwrecks over the past 2 decades but serious archaeologists worry about the damage that amateur explorers and treasure hunters can cause to older fragile wrecks. Nonetheless, archaeologists and hobby divers are now finding many wrecks of historic interest in Canadian waters.

The remains of the vessels of Admiral Walker's British fleet, which was sunk in 1711, have been found off of Scatari Island, NS, and near English Point in the ST LAWRENCE RIVER. In LAKE ONTARIO, the British warships Hamilton and Scourge, which sank in a fierce storm during the War of 1812, have been found in 1973 and are now being protected. And in arctic waters are the remains of the BREADALBANE, which sank while involved in the FRANKLIN SEARCH.

Flotsam and Derelicts

In addition to a complete vessel which has sunk, run aground or burned usually being referred to as a "shipwreck," the terms "flotsam,""jetsam" and "derelict" are still used on occasion. "Flotsam" refers to the material or goods left floating on the sea as a result of a wreck, while "jetsam" is material intentionally jettisoned in an attempt to lighten the load of a sinking vessel. "Derelict" refers to any property, whether vessel or cargo, abandoned at sea without hope or intention of recovery. The term "wreck" also includes any part of a ship or boat, its equipment or cargo. In Canada, the laws governing the treatment of shipwrecks and marine salvage are embodied in the Canada Shipping Act, administered by the CANADIAN COAST GUARD.

Courtesy Historica Canada

Kathy Dowsett

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Diving in Rough Seas – When and how to dive in bad weather


First, just to make sure there are no misunderstandings: diving should be both fun and safe. If you’re ever in doubt as to whether a dive will be either, due to rough conditions, always err on the side of conservatism and cancel the dive. Never dive in a situation where you feel you’re outside of your dive skill range.

That being said, as you increase dive experience, the definition on non-divable conditions will change, as your increased skill and experience will make it possible for you to dive in conditions a newbie would not. To make diving safe in situations where the conditions are less than optimal, there are a few precautions you can take.


If the conditions are rough, the first thing you should do, unless you know your dive very, very well. Is to check with local divers and dive shops to get an idea of what conditions you can expect.

One thing is what the conditions are above the surface, but what you need to find out is what to expect below. Some places are less susceptible to rough conditions, and while the surface may see waves and strong wind, the dive site can be perfectly tranquil at only a few feet of water.

So find out by consulting the locals. What will it likely be like out there? Currents? Swells? When is the area non-diveable? What are you backup and exit options? If in doubt, ask a local divemaster to join you as a precaution.


Kathy Dowsett

Diving in rough seas, Great Inagua Island, Bahamas from YouTube

Monday, April 7, 2014

4 Beginner Tips for Good Scuba Diving Etiquette

Thanks to Joshua Teh @ Enzine articles

No matter what type of hobby you may have and what extracurricular activities you participate in on your free time, every activity has a certain set of rules that must be followed in order to maintain good relations with those you are participating with during the activity. In that regard, scuba diving is no different. There are certain rules for practicing good etiquette as a scuba diver that you need to know before you get into the boat and strap on your oxygen tank.

These unspoken rules of behavior are followed not only to help you get along with your fellow divers, but to also make it easier on your instructors and guides as well. So if you are planning on taking a trip into tropical territory to try out scuba diving, here are four rules to follow when it comes to scuba diving etiquette.

Avoid complaining

The number one rule of scuba diving etiquette for first timers is to try and avoid complaining. Complaining not only bothers other divers, it also makes it seem like you are giving the instructors a hard time as well. If you are going to try scuba diving, you should know that it's a pretty difficult activity to master and that it's not a walk in the park. If you want to simply look at fish swimming in comfort, then you can always go to an aquarium. There is a chance that the water might be cold, your wetsuit will probably be damp and cold, the weather might not be ideal, you might not have enough room on the boat. However, these are all things that you need to overcome. Most scuba divers will tell you the rewards of diving are so plentiful that they easily outweigh all of the discomforts and potential things that one could complain about.

Keep your wetsuit clean

There really is no nicer way to say it, so it's best to get right to the point. Please, do not urinate in your wetsuit if you want to respect your diving instructors and diving colleagues. The wetsuits are thick and they are meant to preserve warmth. That means that they will also preserve the smell of your urine. Even if you are not going to the bathroom in your suit, it will get smelly in a couple of days. If you want to be courteous to everyone, yourself included, clean your wetsuit every two or three days. You can simply put it into your shower or bath and give it a quick once-over with some soap and warm water.

Be courteous under water

It's easy to get overly excited when you are under water, because it can be a very exhilarating experience. However, remember to be courteous to the people who are diving with you and respect their space. You should know where you are at all times and try to avoid bumping into others who are trying to enjoy the sights just as much as you are enjoying them. Also, don't go too fast. Moving quickly under water scares away fish and it can lead to accidents. Go slow, and be aware of your surroundings to avoid injury and disrupting others. If you are diving with people who like to take pictures underwater, respect their passion and try not to scare away fish while they are trying to get a nice shot.

Respect your instructors

These people who are teaching you to dive are not your servants. Just because you are paying them does not mean that they are obligated to bend over backwards in order to please you. Even if the instructor is younger than you are, they have probably had hundreds of more dives than you have and are very qualified. Respect them and remember that they are there to keep you safe and teach you how to have the best diving experience possible, not to grant your every wish.

Kathy Dowsett

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dispelling the Myths Surrounding Why You Shouldn't Scuba Dive

Reprinted from Enzine Articles c/o Mike S Shea

I have been a scuba diver for almost 20 years and a scuba instructor for more than 5 years. Still, it shocks me to hear some of the myths on why people don't want to dive. Some of the most common myths include: scuba diving is too hard; there is nowhere around here to go diving; scuba equipment costs too much; or my favorite is that scuba diving is too extreme or dangerous.

Let's start with the last one, scuba diving is too extreme for the common person or that it is dangerous. First, we have to understand that being human has inherent risks that we can't control (As a current commercial says, "It could be other humans"). Yes, scuba diving does have some inherent risks to it. If you are properly trained and follow safety protocols that almost every certifying agency (i.e. PADI, NAUI, SSI) prescribes to, your chances of injury is dramatically reduced. We still believe that your instructor is the main influencer to your future safety. IF they are poor, most likely your experience is going to be poor too (please note, if you had a poor experience with an instructor, don't give up diving, find a different professional to dive with).

As for being an extreme sport, I haven't seen scuba diving sponsored by Mountain Dew or advertised on the X Games, so it can't be that extreme! Humor aside, the reason diving received the rap about being an extreme sport was because original scuba equipment did not promote the feeling of being comfortable and confident in the water. I know this because I started out diving with much of this equipment. Looking back on it, if I was to choose diving over another activity, I would have stayed with the other activities. Those days being long in the rearview mirror, scuba equipment has lent itself to you being safer in the water, more comfortable in the water and thus more confident in the water. Properly configured equipment will do wonders on your abilities. That scuba equipment takes the extreme nature out of scuba diving.

So is the cost or your scuba equipment too much? Remember what I just said, proper equipment does wonders on your abilities to dive with confidence and comfort. With that being said, if you're looking to completely outfit yourself, a complete scuba equipment kit; it could cost anywhere from $500 to holy garbanzo beans! Scuba equipment should be looked at as lifesaving equipment, so cheap is not always the answer here. What you plan on doing with your diving adventures is what you should be basing your buying decisions on. Your locations of diving are going to influence more of what you should buy then just cost. This is where you need to trust a professional to help guide you along in your buying process. They should have the knowledge and be willing to listen to you about what you are looking to do with your diving, then help you make the correct decisions on equipment.

Remember, you don't have to purchase everything at once. You can purchase items here and there as money becomes available. Otherwise, you are going to be renting the required equipment until you get to the point of purchasing. No matter where you live, you are probably going to find a dive shop to help you make those decisions.

So if there are scuba dive shops almost anywhere, does that mean you can go diving almost anywhere? Why yes you can. I will let you in on a little known fact: the founders of PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) were originally from the Chicago area. If they could figure out a way to go diving there, you can probably go scuba diving where you are too. You don't have to live within an hour of the Florida Keys, or the Gulf of Mexico. Or, you don't have to live within an hour of the Catalina Islands in California. While those places do lend themselves to the diving lifestyle, you can dive in the Great Lakes or even those lakes near your house. There are quarries scattered all across the country that dive shops use to certify people. Along with that, there are multiple lakes that lend themselves to scuba diving too. I live in the Midwest, outside of Chicago, in Northwest Indiana. Weather permitting, I can be diving on shipwrecks within about an hour or two of my house.

So if you want to find out where the locals dive, go to the dive shop and find out where they dive. More chances than not, it is within the local area. If they really want you to dive, then they are going to offer trips to go to other places to scuba dive. Doesn't that sound easy enough?

So we have not talked yet about scuba diving being too hard. Reference the conversation earlier about equipment and perception. Diving has gotten easier. With any certifying agency, we are asking what your current state of health is. If there is a question, then we have a doctor give the thumbs up on your ability to dive. If they clear you, then we are good to have fun and start exploring. There is a physical aspect to diving, No doubt about that. I try to reduce that stress as much as possible. On the flip side, there is also a mental aspect to scuba diving. More people get hung up on the mental side more than the physical side.

Face it, when you step into the water, put the regulator in your mouth and slide below the waves, you take a step backwards in the evolutionary chain. Once you relax and realize that you have a full tank of air, everything becomes easier. We are going to have you do skills in the water to overcome common issues. While you might not like the skills, if you follow what the instructor is teaching then that too becomes easier and more relaxing.

So the scuba equipment manufacturers have created equipment that makes us feel more comfortable and confident in the water. Proper instruction helps you to understand common issues that can happen underwater and gives you techniques to correct those issues. Your instructor is there to also remove many of the physical strains that will happen during scuba diving. So how can this be too hard? Again, scuba diving suffers from a perception of what it used to be like, and not what it is today.

From someone that has been scuba diving for years, we start to see that scuba diving, with the right instructors is not too hard. They will show us many places to go scuba diving and really it doesn't cost all that much for our safety and comfort. Since we don't see Mountain Dew advertising scuba diving, it really can't be all that extreme. Scuba diving should be looked at as a relaxing and enjoyable sport that almost everyone can enjoy.

Kathy Dowsett

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Monday, March 10, 2014

A wrong corrected::The real discoverer of the shipwreck Hunley

Reprinted with permission from Dr Lee Spence.

Shipwreck Treasure Expert: Underwater Archaeologist, Dr. E. Lee Spence

The purple area on this map is the general area where Clive Cussler claimed to have discovered the Hunley. It was a bald faced lie, the wreck wasn't even within one mile of that area. Both the State's GPS coordinates and my location (as shown by the "X" on my map furnished to government officials and published in my book well prior to Cussler's alleged discovery) for the wreck are beneath the small red dot shown within the yellow outlined Hunley Protection Zone that was maintained by the Coast Guard during the raising of the Hunley.

A WRONG UNCORRECTED: The 150th anniversary of the Hunley's sinking will be this Monday. It is a significant mile post and I am glad the Hunley and her men will be properly remembered, but, a recent CNN story shows, an important part of the Hunley's story will not be accurately told. Much of the media will be crediting the wrong person (i.e. Clive Cussler) with the wreck's discovery in 1995, even though I found found the wreck a quarter of a century earlier.

Since the Hunley has been described by government officials as the most important underwater archaeological discovery of the 20th century, who found it should and does matter. To me, crediting Cussler is like crediting someone with winning a gold medal in the Olympics when they actually came in last.

I found the wreck in 1970. To protect the wreck from looters, I initially kept the discovery secret (except to the government) while I attempted to get permission to raise it. In 1975 word finally got out about my discovery, and I thereafter gave numerous interviews to the news media. I also wrote about it in various magazine articles and in two books (the first published in 1976 and the second in 1995). I gave its location in both. The second book actually included a map with the wreck's location correctly shown by an "X."

My discovery was later attested to in sworn statements by others (who had no obligation to me but had direct knowledge of the discovery) and, in 1976 the wreck was nominated (by the National Parks Service on the basis of my prior written reports to them) for placement on the National Register of Historic Places. Under the law and government regulations, no shipwreck can be placed on the register unless its location is actually known. The nomination went through the normal review and accrediting process and the wreck of the Hunley was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. At that point my discovery had been tacitly recognized by the federal government.

In 1980 I filed an Admiralty claim against the wreck and posted notice for any parties claiming a legal interest in the wreck to come forward. I was claiming legal ownership of the wreck as the finder of lost and abandoned property. No private individuals responded to claim ownership or prior discovery or any other rights to the wreck. Although both the State and Federal governments were served with notice, neither contested my ownership claim, which was based on my physical discovery of the wreck and the theory that the wreck had been lost and abandoned by its previous owners. In fact, the Federal government took the position that the wreck was not within the court's jurisdiction since the wreck was over three nautical miles from the nearest shore.

The legal position taken by the government was good news to me because the court would have had automatic jurisdiction if the wreck had been owned by the United States government. So, their position effectively endorsed my claim of ownership to the wreck.

Because there were no intervening claimants and because the government was claiming the wreck was outside of the court's jurisdiction, my attorneys advised that we should seek dismissal of the suit as we already effectively won, we had publicized my claim as required by law and neither the government nor private parties had contested my claim of ownership.

For practical reasons, under Admiralty law, the time to contest such claims is very limited. That time had already passed. We therefore took the position that the government's failure to make an adverse claim of ownership was de Facto recognition of my ownership and we had the suit dismissed.

Believing the wreck should be properly raised and conserved, I offered to donate my rights to it to the State, and in 1995, the South Carolina Attorney General's office advised the South Carolina Hunley Commission that my 1970 discovery and my 1980 court action had indeed given me ownership of the wreck, and prepared documents for me to sign assigning my rights to the wreck over to the State. On September 14, 1995, I donated my rights to the wreck with South Carolina Attorney General Charles M. Condon signing for the State. The wreck was then being valued at over $20,000,000 so that was quite a donation.

Only after I donated my ownership rights to the wreck to the State did Clive Cussler, who had previously made public claims that a group funded by him had discovered the Hunley in 18 feet of water over a mile inshore of my location, turn over the GPS coordinates to "his discovery." When a reporter with the News & Courier (now called the Post & Courier) learned from the State archaeologist that the wreck was in 27 feet of water (the depth I had reported), Cussler blandly admitted to a reporter that he had "lied" about the wreck's depth and location "obviously to mislead" (his words, not mine). It would later be determined that his coordinates and my location (as represented by the "X" on my published map) were effectively the same position. The two locations were actually within the length of the salvage barge later used to raise the wreck, and the distance between them was well within the margin of error allowed for the official representation of shipwreck locations on NOAA navigational charts. Despite this, the reporter, who had gotten Cussler to admit that he had lied, later published a book crediting Cussler with the discovery. I am sure the flattering quote by Cussler about the book helped with sales.

Furthermore, although Cussler had publicly claimed credit for the discovery, the expedition that did the work was neither initiated nor directed by him. The expedition was initiated and directed by underwater archaeologist Dr. Mark Newell at the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology & Anthropology (SCIAA). Cussler and his organization were brought in by Newell solely for funding and support purposes. Dr. Newell later gave sworn statements that he used my maps to plan and direct that expedition and he further credited me with finding it in 1970. He took the position that what SCIAA's 1995 Hunley Expedition did was to verify that what I had previously found was actually the Hunley. The real accomplishment of the 1995 expedition was to take the first pictures of the wreck. Taking pictures of the wreck was something that I was unable to do because in 1970 we had no equipment to take such images (due to the limited visibility), and that shortly after the discovery, the Hunley, which had only been partially uncovered by a storm, was completely reburied. It hadn't moved and we had no trouble relocating it, with magnetometers, but it was impossible to take pictures without uncovering it, and that even Dr. Newell agreed we were correct in not doing that.

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Kathy Dowsett

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Frilled Shark

The frilled shark (Chlamydoselachus anguineus) is one of two extant species of shark in the family Chlamydoselachidae, with a wide but patchy distribution in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This rare species is found over the outer continental shelf and upper continental slope, generally near the bottom, though there is evidence of substantial upward movements. It has been caught as deep as 1,570 m (5,150 ft). In Suruga Bay, Japan it is most common at depths of 50–200 m (160–660 ft). Exhibiting several "primitive" features, the frilled shark has often been termed a "living fossil". It reaches a length of 2 m (6.6 ft) and has a dark brown, eel-like body with the dorsal, pelvic, and anal fins placed far back. Its common name comes from the frilly or fringed appearance of its six pairs of gill slits, with the first pair meeting across the throat.

Seldom observed, the frilled shark may capture prey by bending its body and lunging forward like a snake. The long, extremely flexible jaws enable it to swallow prey whole, while its many rows of small, needle-like teeth make it difficult for the prey to escape. It feeds mainly on cephalopods, leavened by bony fishes and other sharks. This species is aplacental viviparous: the embryos emerge from their egg capsules inside the mother's uterus where they survive primarily on yolk. The gestation period may be as long as three and a half years, the longest of any vertebrate. Litter sizes vary from two to fifteen, and there is no distinct breeding season. Frilled sharks are occasional bycatch in commercial fisheries but have little economic value. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed it as Near Threatened, since even incidental catches may deplete its population given its low reproductive rate. This shark, or a supposed giant relative, is a suggested source for reports of sea serpents.

With its elongated, eel-like body and strange appearance, the frilled shark has long been likened to the mythical sea serpent. The head is broad and flattened with a short, rounded snout. The nostrils are vertical slits, separated into incurrent and excurrent openings by a leading flap of skin. The moderately large eyes are horizontally oval and lack nictitating membranes (protective third eyelids). The very long jaws are positioned terminally (at the end of the snout), as opposed to the underslung jaws of most sharks. The corners of the mouth are devoid of furrows or folds. The tooth rows are rather widely spaced, numbering 19–28 in the upper jaw and 21–29 in the lower jaw. The teeth number around 300 in all; each tooth is small, with three slender, needle-like cusps alternating with two cusplets. There are six pairs of long gill slits with a "frilly" appearance created by the extended tips of the gill filaments, giving this shark its name. The first pair of gill slits meet across the throat, forming a "collar".

The long jaws of the frilled shark are highly distensible with an extremely wide gape, allowing it to swallow whole prey over one-half its size. However, the length and articulation of its jaws means it cannot deliver as strong a bite as more conventionally built sharks. Most captured individuals are found with no or barely identifiable stomach contents, suggesting a fast digestion rate and/or long intervals between feedings. This species preys upon cephalopods, bony fishes, and smaller sharks.

The frilled shark has seldom been encountered alive, and thus poses no danger to humans (though scientists have accidentally cut themselves examining its teeth). On August 27, 2004, the first observation of this species in its natural habitat was made by the ROV Johnson Sea Link II, on the Blake Plateau off the southeastern United States. On January 21, 2007, a Japanese fisherman discovered a 1.6 m (5.2 ft) long female alive at the surface, perhaps there because of illness or weakness from the warm water. It was brought to Awashima Marine Park in Shizuoka, where it died after a few hours.

Japanese fishers regard it as a nuisance, as it damages the nets. This shark is sometimes sold for meat or processed into fishmeal, but is not economically significant. Because of its very low reproductive rate and the continuing expansion of commercial fisheries into its habitat, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed it as Near Threatened.


Kathy Dowsett