The Unique Challenges of Women in Technical Diving
The day finally comes that you find yourself on the deck of a dive boat; out to experience the depths of the sea, the haunting beauty of a lost warship or the mysterious network of underwater caves, you’ll feel a particular sense of pride at the overcome challenges of being a lady diver.
No one knows that you’ve taken ‘The Pill’ for three extra days so as to avoid any unpleasant cycles of nature while sharing a marine toilet with thirty five men. Not a single person has yet to notice the added weights stuffed in your under-suit bra because despite the otherwise perfect distribution you’re familiar with on twin 15 liter steels, feeling a little bloated means rearing up like a seahorse in an overhead environment.
You are confident, self assured and ready for the dive of a lifetime. ….Right up until someone switches out of your group. Sure, you might hear a mumble about it being bad luck, attracting sharks, or a question of capabilities, but recognize this behavior for what it is: Nothing more than growing pains of an industry that is improving every day, every dive.
We have undoubtedly experienced marked progress for women in the recreational field. Entire lines of equipment are now devoted to your slender, more curved physique. It’s possible to choose from a range of pastel colors for fins, masks and even second stage regulator covers. The world it seems, has taken notice of the lady diver and cashed in on what is still a relatively niche market.
There are gender friendly live-aboards that offer cabin arrangements for all preferences, orientations and comfort levels. Companies have gradually become aware and started offering a choice of instructors based not just on linguistic abilities, but customer comfort level as well. This is important when taking a dive holiday abroad where the attitudes towards women may vary.
Perhaps the single most important achievement in repetitive dive medicine for the female world is the availability of Diflucan; (Floconazole) a one-time treatment orally administered that halts Candida in its tracks. A less than romantic side to discovering the depths of the blue is that the female anatomy wasn’t meant to wear a wetsuit for hours at a time. By speaking with your doctor and placing a single innocent tablet in your first aid box, you can enjoy your much anticipated vacation, assured that a yeast infection won’t be creating misery when you ought to be having the time of your life.
By never taking no for an answer, women have forged ahead and forced manufactures to sit up, take notice and find solutions to our diving differences. The advancements that have been made in recreational diving, however, still have a long way to go in technical diving.
Once past the 40 meter/120 foot line though, it’s all a boy’s world. This is evident not just in the gear options and color choice, but in the mindset and physiological differences between the sexes. Harnesses aren’t meant for the 32 in. / 81.3 cm. chest size if it’s accompanied by a 24 in. /64 cm. waist.
Extra training and practice must go into learning how to clip and unclip a cummerbund, crotch strap, weight belt, deco bottles, reels and basically anything that sits below your chest while visually impaired or outright blocked by your breasts. Add the bulk of counter-lungs over them for rebreather diving, and vision limitations are second only to the possible feelings of suffocation that accompany literally being unable to look down. While this doesn’t apply to everyone, the variation in female shape makes it much more likely that your technical kit will not be ready to wear without a lot of customization and adjustment.
Quality harness modification is essential to having a safe dive, and if you’ll be spending hours upon hours in it during deco, comfort is a necessity. Finding an industrial grade sewing machines such as those used by leather works can save you a lot of frustration and insure a strong seam. For a fee, many small businesses are willing to do alterations to even the thickets webbing. Don’t expect to get it right the first time. Test all modifications in a pool before attempting any overhead or decompression dives. You might discover that a little bit of pinching in one place is just mildly irritating for a few minutes, but after hours, it can become a disabling pain. Before you set out, make sure all your equipment is suited for your form. It might cost a bit of extra money and time, but investing in your gear is investing in your safety.
From here, things only become more embarrassing of a struggle. Without the luxury of P-valves in the female dry suit, cold water diving is decidedly in the male’s favor. It isn’t possible to find a bit of privacy on a rib or even a beach dive. Biological functions become an epic event requiring at least another pair of helping hands to get you re-zipped. Even in the sphere of medical technology, women are still trailing. As bottom times increase, the trend has turned towards catheter use. For what is no more difficult than slipping on a condom for men, it involves hair removal, leakage protection and adhesive for women. If this doesn’t have you cringing, consider the alternative: A less involved but much more debatable method is an indwelling, or internal catheters. When forced to choose between gluing odd plastics to your most sensitive area (and the need to subsequently remove them later) or having a tube shoved literally into your bladder, the question of your dedication, determination and passion for the ocean is no longer question. Ever again.
After all the struggles you’ve faced just to get here, don’t let something so small knock you down. Underwater, in 100 lbs. /220 kg. of dive gear, no one will be able to see gender. Pull your weight, don’t show off and pretty soon you won’t be singled out for being a lady diver; you’ll be respected as a technical lady diver