Author Topic: Article: Entering the water  (Read 8 times)


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Article: Entering the water
« on: December 11, 2020, 10:45:08 am »
Iíve been diving with folks of all experience levels for much of my life now, Some of you have done your first open water dive with me this past year too! I recognized that there is a gap between the newer divers and the very experienced divers in this area that I thought I could address. With experienced folks everyone gears up and knows the drill for getting ready.  They know the proper etiquette for partnering up and getting into the water by walking to the shore or getting into the queue to step off the boat. However, for the newer divers this may help you to understand some of the process and differences.

The beach dives or shore dives are straight forward and really a great way to do your first open water dives. No rush, no line of people waiting to get into the water. Just you and your hopefully very understanding and patient dive buddy.  You go through the slow meticulous set up ritual with buddy checks before heading to the water.

Here are some things that may be new to you, or that have not occurred to you yet. A common situation, where do you put your car keys, wallet, purse, phone, etc? Many new cars have electronic key fobs which donít survive diving. There are waterproof dry bags that can hold your keys and your phone, feeling lucky? I think the risk of a leak to destroy your phone and keys are far higher than the theft of your cars contents. Dry suits solve this for the most part with an inside pocket. However for many new divers drysuits are not usually an early purchase option.

Parking is often in an area with other divers, going back and forth. Not sure theft is all that common in these daytime public high traffic areas. However you gotta think that anyone watching you strip off all your clothing to get that wet or dry suit on and then vanish below the surface, is contemplating a low risk theft plan! Then there are those ďdiver readyĒ new cars with the combination lock keypad doors! Or the other end of the scale, older ones with an actual plain metal Key you can take with!  Aside from that the options get narrow quickly. Hiding your key or putting it into another vehicle when  away is a good plan but somebody must have a key for that car. Maybe itís possible to have a door key made without the electronic part?  I donít have a magic answer here, but itís a consideration that you should give some thought to before youíre ready to walk to the water and then realize you have to do something to secure your things!

I dive with a guy that has a locking console between the front seats which uses a regular key. We often put everything in there and take that single ordinary key. Or hide a key in some area of the car that is not obvious. Another nice piece of gear is a little carpet or mat to stand on. Something other than the asphalt, sand, or gravel of the parking lot with your socks on or bare feet. Choose a piece that is not absorbent. The Shop has some nice options that roll up and are made exactly for this .

Now onto the dive. When you start the walk from the parking area to the shore a few things to be aware of. It could be a long walk. In Laguna Beach California the walk could be 1/8 mile  one way. Including a long steep set of stairs. Even at Sunrise beach in Washington you could be in for a very long walk, same with Saltwater Park. Redondo in Des Moines has stairs too. However,  they are not a struggle unless at high tide with rough waves.

In some places the walk is short but the rocky entry can be awkward and very difficult with the dive gear on your back. Choosing thick soled dive boots can be a huge help in climbing over rough areas and large rocks. Other places like Alki Cove 2 for instance or the Howard Amon park at the Columbia river are nearly effortless. Some locations getting to the water is easy enough. Maybe only a few hundred feet when the tide is in, or maybe 100 yards when the tide is out! Then again at the Edmonds dive park, or Saltwater park, you may have to swim a bit on the surface before you actually start the dive. So shore diving comes with some challenges. Mostly physical with the distances of walking, swimming, or climbing down to the shore. This balances out with the low stress of setting up in the parking area.  Donít forget to pay for the parking when required. Not much brings you down after a wonderful dive than seeing a ticket on your car!

Maybe the greatest thing about shore dives is the low to zero stress once in the water. As a new diver you can cruise around for an hour in shallow water 20-30 feet deep and explore the micro life around a dock or pier getting into the comfort of your buoyancy control and your new gear. This goes a long way towards helping you to find your happy place under water. From here you can test the water deeper and deeper at your own pace. There are countless amazing things to see in this 25-30 foot depth. Plenty of sea life from fish and crab to octopus and amazingly colourful invertebrates.  When youíre ready you just come out to have a break. Then change tanks and go back in at your own pace. Even after 100ís of dives in my life I would welcome this opportunity to share these shallow slow easy dives with anyone thats interested in making a Puget sound weekend trip. I know many of you would like to do this but donít know where to go or how to handle all the travel logistics involved. I can help you with every detail of this.

Now the shore dive is over and you exit slowly doing your safety stop as you continue diving at 15-18 feet deep and eventually ( 3 minutes later) getting  out. When in about 36 inches of water you can kneel there to take off your fins and mask. Get to your feet and walk up the beach to the parking lot. For wetsuit divers this is the only cold part of the process. You have to get that nice warm wetsuit off without shivering to death, and then get your warm dry clothing on as fast as you can. Guys seem to be rather blank about things going on around them much of the time in this situation. I am often guilty of this myself.

Ladies though are in a bit more of a bind. They never seem to just strip down without a thought to put warm clothing on. So the strategic use and placement of towels is a consideration for the female diver. In many places there are restrooms near, however If I were a woman I might just consider going full naked in public before utilizing that resource. Some of these beach locations with public restrooms are used by an interesting cross section of society. Be a good dive buddy and help a girl out by holding her towel!
Also having something to stand on with bare feet rather than the oil stained asphalt of the parking lot is nice too. 

On to the boat dives! This is the diving that requires the greatest level of thought and proper pace to be ready when itís your turn. There are three notable dive boat companies in Puget sound and countless boats to dive from around the world. They all have almost identical procedures coincidentally! When on the dive boat you should have your gear packed in a carry on dive bag that has what you need first on top and last on the bottom. When you get on the boat you may be assigned a tub or some kind of mesh basket that will slide under the bench. Unload the bag and store the gear in this bin. This is where your first tank will be set up with your BCD. Your second tank will be stored out of the way for later.

Before the boat leaves the dock, or in some cases en-route the dive master will share with you the safety procedures of the boat and where the restrooms are etc. Then they will determine dive buddies and often write these pairs down to better keep track of the divers as they are returning to the boat. You will have a release form to fill out too. They will explain the area of the dive, point out what you can expect to see, and give you a time limit to be back or when the dive is over so you can send up your SMB.

On a Puget sound dive you are on your own to assemble gear for the dive. Itís not a guided dive you are only supplied transportation across the the water to the dive site and given some type of light lunch between dives. You will either have a dive buddy with you, or you will have one assigned for this dive. Assuming this information is new to you, watch the progress of your dive buddy and stay in sync with them. You donít want to be geared up ready to go with 30 minutes of travel remaining to the site. Worse yet is having everyone in the water while you are adjusting something or searching for something you need to bring with you!
The dive master will select the diver pairs to enter the water first. This is a very serious point in the dive. The current and shoreline may be difficult for the captain to maintain boat position. When itís time to step off, you need to go!

The dives fall into two categories. Down line stationary dives which you return to and come back up using it for the safety stop, or drift dives which you will cover the distance drifting over the area and being picked up someplace else when the captain sees your SMB floating up. Not to worry this is not at all difficult or complicated. Actually itís often easier than the down line because with bad visibility itís not always easy to find that line at the end of a dive to get back up. It will be a 2Ē diameter line covered in kelp to an anchor or buoy with 10-15í visibility if youíre lucky. Finding that rope again after 45-60 minutes of diving is a challenge at times. In the more tropical areas like the Caribbean the dives are also down line or drift dive. The main difference is that the visibility is 80 to 100 feet or so. You can find your way much easier when you can see that far. Quite often these dives are also with a Dive Master that you will follow for the whole dive and end up back at the boat.

Another difference in the tropical dives are frequently what are referred to as valet diving. What this means is the boat staff will assemble your gear, help you get your BC on, put your fins on for you, defog your mask, check your tank valve is on, basically everything you can imagine they will try to help you with. They help walk you to the edge of the boat until you step off into the water.

Now this brings us to the stepping off the boat into the water! This is the part of this diving style that requires strong attention to detail. You want to be sure your inflator is connected, BC has enough air, your gear is properly secured to the D rings, waist strap is snug etc. Youíre going to step off into 50-100 foot deep water if itís not secure its going to be sinking quickly.  You need to watch the divers before you, mimic that giant stride from experienced divers. Donít look at the water when you step off, look at the horizon. You often land where youíre looking. You do not want your tank to catch the edge of the boat as you are falling towards the water. Once you hit the water you will go under and pop up in a second. Indicate ( with hand signal) to the boat staff youíre okay and  then move away from the boat quickly. Another diver is about to step off right after you! Then with the instructions from the dive master descend with your dive buddy to equalize and begin the dive.

Release air from the BC in small increments so you very slowly and with control sink to the level you can equalize your ears comfortably.  If folks are interested I along with at least a couple other experienced divers would gladly spend the time at the Howard Amon platform to show you the use of the SMB to get you 100% comfortable with it. Donít look at that inflatable tube and assume it goes up as easy as it looks. Buoyancy control and entanglement are frequent issues with SMBs for first time or infrequent users. The Shop has several options for SMBís. Talk to the staff and they will help you choose what you need. This in my opinion is a very critical piece of safety gear that should be with you on most if not all your dives.

Let me finish with this, there is an SSI boat diving course that will very clearly explain the proper step by step protocol, etiquette, and setup of gear for boat dives. This is a great idea to enroll in if you have a tropical dive in your future or if you plan to do the puget sound dives during the year.

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Re: Article: Entering the water
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2020, 03:16:25 am »
This is excellent. Very informative. I will apply all I have not considered. Gracias, for this piece, Jim