Introduction into Speciality Diving – Getting personal with our students experiences
Have you ever wanted to stay down a little longer and a little deeper and reaching the limits of recreational diving but not sure what avenue to take in order to do that? Well during this blog we have a detailed overview of what you could expect from speciality diving with Big Blue Tech.
To begin we have an introduction into speciality diving, then move on to a Q & A session with our current Tech Manager Andy Campbell, who isn’t just the brains and beauty of Big Blue but the instructor that is likely to run your speciality course with one of the team; finally reviews from previous and current students who are exploring a world with endless possibilities.
Speciality diving? Well what is it? These are the courses that hone your skills and make you a better diver, they allow you to expand your knowledge / confidence / diving ability and safety… oh and can extend your dive times as well as allowing you to penetrate ship wrecks (there are still limits!) and dive in new configurations such as sidemount
That’s just the start of speciality diving, there is a world of possibilities that are open to all levels of divers who maybe once didn’t think they were capable of or maybe didn’t know existed. In Koh Tao we are very fortunate to have an abundance of dive sites and marine life our boats fin tips, as well as Big Blue Tech being able to provide certifications through SSI / TDI / SDI & PADI all of which will be covered in a little more detail in the Q&A section of this blog.
The reason we can expand our diving capabilities these days is down to the US Navy and some very intelligent men who realised what gases were needed at what depth and what could be so cool about diving with two tanks… well let’s hope we can answer all of your strange and wonderful questions about speciality diving, with the hope that you will understand that doing tech isn’t as scary or intimidating as people make out we only want to make ‘knowledgeable, confident and safer divers’. All the questions and feedback are from real students past and present that had the same questions as maybe you have about speciality diving and what it in tales.
Q&A – With Andy Campbell on an Introduction to Speciality Diving
- What are Specialties?
“The specialties or “Specs” are courses divers can take in order to further their education, they typically last 2-3 days as we add more dives than are requested by the agencies.
In general divers who have completed the advanced course are interested in pushing on to 40m or diving on Nitrox but Navigation and Buoyancy are also skills people want to take to the next level and of course the wreck course is also very popular”
- Are there any requirements for someone to start one of the specialty courses?
“Enthusiasm! As long as you have an open water certification and want to get better then we can look at many options, of course a few fun dives is never a bad thing and we’re lucky here to have great Divemasters that demonstrate just what good buoyancy is whilst leading and it’s not un-common for divers to come in and sya they want to be able to dive lie a Divemaster”
“If you wish to progress past recreational diving and into the Tech side of things then there are prerequisites and in general divers wishing to take these courses have a reasonable amount of experience”
During a course’s such as Nitrox, Deep or Sidemount what is typically required ? And what skill does it in tale?
“All three are great courses and allow you to take on more challenging diving but fundamentally they all involve an academic session Sidemount is a course where you learn to wear one or two tanks on your side instead of on your back, but all of the courses have additional focus on the bedrock of good diving – Buoyancy”
“Nitrox, used to be considered as the first step towards tech as it could extend bottom times and gives the diver a choice of breathing gases for the first time. Nitrox in itself is nitrogen and oxygen and students are trained to use between 22% and 40%, the benefits are huge but it comes with a risk on the oxygen side so divers need to be able to analyse tanks and calculate maximum operating depths, not as ominus as it sounds and actually my first spec”
- Some people find the idea of specialties daunting, why do you think this is?
“It’s natural but hopefully they’re excited at the same time, continued dive education should be challenging but rewarding at the same time and after all a majority of our customers are on vacation so it should be fun as well. After the training I’m a great believer that the customer should dive the “spec” without their instructor in order to experience it and to provoke further questions so we also have Divemasters available to dive in any configuration and on Nitrox… it’s time to reap the rewards for sure”
“We try and make the academics as straight forward as possible and to keep elope within their comfort zone, this isn’t rocket science I can assure you or I wouldn’t be teaching it! But it does need to be understood and certainly plays a large part in diver safety”
- Why should someone be interested in exploring specialties and technical diving?
“Well I guess like any other hobby and for most people diving is a hobby each time you go diving you either want to become a better diver or see something different or just chill out. Specialties allow you to extend from the basic courses of open water and advanced adventure towards the limits of recreational diving, so deep diving allows you down to 40 meters; Nitrox which will allow you to stay longer at a given depth and wreck where we can teach you limited wreck penetration”
“But in order to go beyond recreational limits by going deeper and staying longer then technical diving is the extension from recreational diving that will allow you to do so”.
- What are the benefits to moving from recreational diving to technical recreational diving?
“I would like to think that you’re not moving from one to the other, I still go out and recreational dive, still have fun diving on a single tank. However if the dives I want to do entail going beyond the recreational limits then it’s into technical diving”
“Of course the obvious benefits of Tech are extra depth and time but it’s based on additional knowledge and skill sets some of which are challenging but very rewarding. The dive day changes as does the approach to planning and executing dives but the fundamental reason we do it does not change… it’s a great way to spend time!”.
“So for me it’s like having the right tools in the toolbox do to the dives that you’re interested in and that also requires keeping skills competent and up to date. Refreshers and pool training no matter where you are is a valuable part of preparation for that vacation”
7.What are the costs of the courses?
“Like anything else they can vary and some are more expensive because there are more dives involved and the courses are longer or more equipment is required, so the more intense the course the more it’s going to cost but the more you are going to get from it as well”
“The basic courses at Big Blue Tech specialities start from 5,500 baht; and increase to 8,000 Baht. However you have to look at what you are going to get from it and certainly here with Big Blue Tech we try to maximize this and can tailor packages to suit everyone.
- Most people are not technically focused i.e. mathematical or scientific.. baring this in mind how is the theory side of the courses, and how can that be focused around people who maybe need a little more time understand the theoretical and technical side of the course.
“The internet is a wonderful thing. We now have the majority of our courses available through SSI, TDI and SDI with e-learning so you can do the academics before you arrive and work with your instructor online. You can approach Big Blue Tech and we can sign you up and we can get the online training done before you arrive this gives people time to understand it rather than trying to do it over a limited period of time, when after all they’re on vacation”
“So my advice would be if you want to find out more about the theory of specialty and technical diving then get in touch with a technical diving instructor, I personally spend quite a lot of my time answering questions online from email inquiries and fully encourage anyone to explore this avenue”.
- What is the greatest benefit you can get from just doing one speciality course?
“Experience! But you will only get experience if you take your speciality course and dive it, you could do a buoyancy speciality for instance and then if you don’t dive again for a year you will probably remember some of it but not all of it. So it’s about doing it at the beginning of the vacation and then getting your fun dives in and practicing the skills you learned”
- What’s the difference between TDI, SDI, SSI & PADI in relation to speciality and technical courses?
“Okay so, SDI and TDI which we offer at Big Blue Tech are part of the same family. TDI is technical divers international and SDI is scuba divers international. SSI is scuba schools international and they offer specialities in both recreational and Tech under the TXR an EX brand, whilst PADI also offer specialties and Tech with Tech falling under TecRec”.
“Customers can choose to mix and match with all certs recognised worldwide, so no issues there”.
- What is the philosophy behind technical diving at Big Blue Tech?
“Safety has to be the foundation underpinning all the courses and training we offer, after that the creating sharing knowledge and making sure our students use this, one quote shown to me during my training has stuck with me and I mention it at the start of all my courses”
“The key piece of equipment is a knowledgeable and thinking diver”
“all of the training we conduct is based around this and we encourage continued discussion on completion, I don’t believe our duty of care ends on certification and if a past student seeks clarification then it is always welcome, if in the future they feel they can add something then that’s also part of my own education”.
- Do I need to supply my own set of equipment?
“Nope, we can supply all of the equipment you need at Big Blue Tech. However by the time you get to the level where you want to do tech courses we do expect you to have some basic equipment and there is a small additional rental fee for some basic equipment”.
- What is the best piece of advice you can give someone looking into specialty or Technical diving courses diving
“Look around and challenge the people that you want to train with, if they don’t have time to answer your questions now then maybe they won’t once you arrive. It’s not all about the price like everything else in life, you can get good value for money…but would you buy a cheap parachute?”
- What are the general course durations?
“Anything from one day, to multiple days or even weeks for some packages depending on the speciality and time frame you are working with”
- Are wrecks scary to penetrate?
“The word scary no, I would say it’s more exhilarating”
“If you have got to the point where you want to penetrate a wreck, then I can almost guarantee your first dive will be amazing, when you go into the overhead environment for the first time, everything comes alive! You know your somewhere you want to be”.
“That’s why you do the training,the big thing about doing this type of speciality is the preparation and the understanding of the environment you are going into whether its wreck or cave”
- Do you need specific technical courses in order to do other tech courses i.e. do you need to do your nitrox in order to do your advanced nitrox?
“Yes there are pre-requisites and they are laid out by each of the agencies. They are fairy similar although not all tech certifications from different agencies are equal but you will find any technical instructor that you talk to or will talk you through the pre-requisites. But yes if you want to become an advance nitrox diver you need to be a recreational speciality nitrox diver”
- What course spec bundles is big blue tech currently running?
“We are very fortunate at Big Blue Tech that we have our own boat, but also we have several instructors teaching the bundles. So normally we are in a position to bundle a package to cater for someone’s needs.
If someone comes in and doesn’t want to go deep but wants to go nitrox and penetrate the wreck we can teach that bundle”
“If someone comes in and go all the way through to advance nitrox and deco procedures then we can do a bundle to fit the time scale that they have. But they should have a reasonable amount of time because again in between different courses we want them to do some fun dives in before they move to the next level”
Hear from the students themselves, what they did and how they found doing speciality courses
TOM – DMT
Course – Wreck & Nitrox
Tom said the reason that he wanted to get his specs for nitrox is that he would want to expand his knowledge and extend his dive times when doing his next speciality which was the wreck course. During the course: Andy’s teaching was outstanding, he was direct, through funny and really got you involved. What stood out the most with my course is that Andy really helped me understand in detail things I didn’t understand before about the theory and practical of these speciality courses.
Tech career continued – Tom will further his career with tech specialities by going on to deco and advance nitrox – as he wants extended range on his dives and get a deeper knowledge of the subjects in order to make him a better diver during his career.
Andy’s funniest moment with his student: “Tomathy as he is known in the tech shack… great student lots of interesting questions. Worked really well with Mike both have now slowed down and learned how to ‘not’ penetrate prematurely and enjoy the moment… wreck diving have become a passion for them”
NATHAN – DIVEMASTER
Course – Nitrox, Deep & Sidemount
Nathan was introduced into tech by seeing a couple of Big Blues instructors doing sidemount and the way in which they were diving they seemed to be kicking their fins and gliding with very minimal effort which sparked his interest into how they were able to do it, and if he would be capable of becoming that skilled and become a safer diver. Nathans thoughts on the courses were that Andy was very detailed in his teaching and pedantic. He makes you think that you are your own worst critic and only you can be the best you can which encourages you to be the best you can be.
Signs / signals and instructions in and out of the water were very clear and understandable. If you had issues under the water with a skill or somewhat it is dealt with then and there, you do not dwell on it when you get back on the boat you only look at ways to improve yourself for your next dive. Ideally when you have someone who you dive with who is just as passionate about diving and side mount and enthusiastic to learn and develop their knowledge and skills as you are it makes the experience so much more enjoyable. One of the best moments I’ve had was being able to have a 124 minuet dive at Sail Rock (one of Thailand’s best dive sites) diving sidemount with nitrox, without the skills and certifications I would never be able to have that experience
Nathan has completed a 124 minute dive at Big Blue – In his top 5 best life experiences
Tech career continued: Nathan would follow through with every tech course possible trying to add a new one each time he visits Thailand and Big Blue his quote “keep learning, keep diving keep practicing your skills”
Andy’s funniest moment with his student: “Nathan what an amazing diver – with one of the best buddies ever with Angelika. Will always be remembered for the ‘Nathan check’ please ask him about this”.
“Memorable moment was the 124 minuet dive at sail rock with Tim – a true gentleman”
AMYE – DIVEMASTER
Courses – Deep, Nitrox and Sidemount
Over the past few months I took several courses, I began with nitrox, continued with my deep certification and became hooked on the more technical side of diving. Learning to dive sidemount was always a goal for my diving career. At first I felt overwhelmed with the transition
From recreational with one tank to a completely new style, technique, and equipment that was entirely foreign to me.
Andy was a phenomenal instructor, not only does he teach but he pushes you to be your absolute best, no excuses. The more you dive with him gives you more of a reason to continue with your certifications because he becomes both your instructor and also a mentor. At first tech diving seemed to be entirely too intimidating, but it has made me a far better divemaster and diver. You understand the science of diving more thoroughly and you fall more in love with it as you can begin pushing the limits of both yourself and the possibilities.
Tech career continued: Amye continue in tech with a wreck certification and explore advanced nitrox and deco diving.
Andy’s funniest moment with his student: So many funny moments and such growth in someone’s diving ability. She has plenty of character & has an awesome mother who has just done her open water. 40 meters deep dive in zero viability and sitting in a ball of fish who knew not where they were.
Stoney Cove, United Kingdom
Big Blue Tech have been out and about in the uk this past weekend with some skills and drills in Stoney Cove lead by Technical Director Andy Cavell.
The Stoney Cove quarry was originally a granite mine that was begun at the start of the 19th century. In 1850 a train line was added to move the granite more easily from the Top Pit to the centre of Stoney Stanton. Spring water was a perennial problem for the quarry, but was a boon in 1958 when quarrying at the site ceased. By 1963 diving pioneers were using the quarry to practise their hobby. Over the next fifteen years Stoney Cove was used to train North Sea oil divers and in 1978 Stoney Cove Marine Trials Ltd was formed to fully exploit the site on a commercial basis.
Stoney Cove is used for scuba diving training as well as pleasure dives. It has a range of depths from only a few metres to around 36 metres. Stoney Cove has a large dive shop, gas filling station and scuba diving school all on site. There is also a complete pub (Nemo’s) on site along with a function room for private events.
The floor of the dive site has the following attractions for divers to explore:
- Viscount Aircraft Cockpit
- Nautilus Submarine
- Archways Beneath The Pub
- The Wessex
- The Bus
- The Monster (location unknown)
- The Galleon
- Aircraft Wreck
- Deep Hydrobox (commonly used for the PADI Deep Diver Specialty)
- Submerged Trees
- Blow-Off Preventer
- 4-metre Block House
- Wooden Boat
- Stanegarth (the largest inland wreck in the UK)
Big Blue Tech UK is an award winning technical diving organization providing training, trips, wreck expeditions and education around the globe. Located in the United Kingdom. Thailand and Australia our staff of highly trained technical instructors and divers can provide you with your deepest desires.
We are a TDI, BSAC, SSI and PADI Instructor Trainer facility for Technical Diving.
Big Blue Tech in the United Kingdom is primarily based in the north of England situated close to accesible training grounds and Scapa Flow. For our international trips we’re also close to the international airports. Big Blue Tech have facilities for education and equipment storage including mixed gases and ccr friendly oxygen.
check us out at www.bigbluetech.co.uk
more pictures can be found on our facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/technicaldivingthailand
How do you shape up for tech diving activities?
The most sensible approach for someone considering a move into technical diving is to regard it as physically testing, and respect it as an activity that calls for above average fitness and flexibility. How much above average a technical diver has to be is a debatable point, and the rhetoric runs from the argument that technical divers should be capable of competing in triathlons to a completely hands-off approach that believes any diver is clear to go as long as he can stagger around the dive deck with sufficient control to stub out his cigarette and put down his beer before dropping into the water.
You may, like me, be looking for a set of fitness guidelines that fall somewhere in between those two extremes, and there are several suitable scales to measure personal fitness levels in a way that fits well with the general rigors of tech diving.
The first is the Cooper 12-minute run test. It is used to gauge aerobic endurance, and is perhaps the most straightforward to self-administer. I run a “diagnostic” on myself a couple of times a month and track the results on a spreadsheet. The test simply calls for the subject to warm up and then run as fast as possible for 12 minutes. Results are evaluated on distance covered within those 12 minutes.
A run of more than 2700 metres is excellent, 2300 – 2700 is good, 1900 – 2300 is average, 1500 – 1900 metres is below average and less than 1500 metres is poor. Over the years I have dropped a category but find it has been worth the effort to maintain a rating on the upper end of “good” for several reasons, including resting gas consumption rate.
(The approximate imperial conversions are respectively: more than 1.6 miles is excellent, 1.4 – 1.6 miles is good, 1.2 – 1.4 miles is average, 0.9 – 1.2 miles is below average, and less than 0.9 miles is poor.)
Running speed and endurance are good indicators for tech diving but so too is overall flexibility. There are two methods I use to test flexibility: modified sit and reach, and trunk rotation. Both are part of a whole raft of fitness tests published by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and I would recommend a visit to their website for additional ideas. Flexibility in the hamstrings and lower back have been an issue with me since childhood and I always find the first of these tests a challenge.
Modified Sit and Reach Test
This gauges the flexibility of the lower back and hamstrings and requires a box about 30cm (12 inches) high and a metre rule:
1. Sit on the floor with your back and head against a wall. Legs should be out straight ahead and knees flat against the floor.
2. Have someone place the box flat against your feet (no shoes). Keeping your back and head against the wall stretch your arms out towards the box.
3. Have someone place the ruler on the box and move the zero end towards your fingertips. When the ruler touches you fingertips you have the zero point and the test can begin.
4. Lean forward slowly as far as possible keeping the fingertips level with each other and the legs flat. Your head and shoulders can come away from the wall now. Do NOT jerk or bounce to reach further.
5. Slowly reach along the length of the ruler three times. On the third attempt reach as far as possible and hold for 2 seconds. Have your training partner read the score. Repeat twice and compare your best score with the table below. (All measurements in cm.)
|Gender||Excellent||Above Average||Average||Below Average||Poor|
|Male||>40 cm||29 – 40 cm||23 – 28 cm||15 – 22 cm||<15 cm|
|Female||>43 cm||34 – 43 cm||23 – 33 cm||17 – 22 cm||<17 cm|
Trunk Rotation Test
This flexibility test measures trunk and shoulder flexibility. The only equipment required is a wall and a piece of chalk or pencil.
1. Mark a vertical line on the wall. Stand with your back to the wall directly in front of the line. You should be about arms length away from the wall with your feet shoulder width apart.
2. Extend your arms out directly in front of you so they are parallel to the floor. Twist your trunk to your right and the touch the wall behind you with your fingertips. Your arms should stay extended and parallel to the floor. You can turn your shoulders, hips and knees as long as your feet don’t move.
3. Mark the position where your fingertips touched the wall. Measure the distance from the line. A point before the line is a negative score and a point after the line is a positive score.
4. Repeat for the left side and take the average of the two scores.
|Rating||Positive Reach (cm)||Positive Reach (inches)|
Because of the nature of water and the effects of buoyancy, above average strength does not seem to be as critically important for tech divers as it may be for other sportsmen and women. However, some strength building and testing is in order since divers with arms and legs like noodles will be at a distinct disadvantage moving gear from one side of a parking lot to the other, and may find it close to impossible to get themselves and their equipment back onto the boat in a big sea.
The US Marshal Service has a well-respected and openly published set of fitness and flexibility guidelines for the men and women on its staff. These guidelines have been used by some of the tech diving community for years. Some time ago while researching another book, I modified those tables and developed a set of values that seemed to work for most able-bodied course candidates. These values are based on the figures from the US Marshal tables for above average males in each age category.
|Age||% body fat||Sit and Reach||Push-ups||Sit-ups||2.4 km run|
|20-29||5.3 – 9.4||>50 cm||>50||>45||< 10 mins|
|30-39||14 – 17.5||>45 cm||>38||>40||<12 mins|
|40-49||16 – 20||>42 cm||>35||>37||<14 mins|
|50-59||18 – 22||>40 cm||>33||>35||<15 mins|
|60 plus||19 – 23||>38 cm||>31||>33||<17 mins|
Want to learn more?
BBT-UK today took 2 of our club members to Stoney Cove to see what all the hype is all about regarding the VR technology Sentinel Closed Circuit Rebreather. Prior to this our guys had only dived open circuit SCUBA.
Rachel Linarts, a PADI instructor and moving through the ranks of technical diving and Andy Northen, a PADI divemaster who is very interested in anything to do with diving and self progression were the 1st 2 members of our club to stick their hand up when the CCR try dive was offered to all members. There is the choice of trying the AP inspiration and Evolution but both or the guys agreed on the market leading Sentinel.
A little bit of info on the Sentinel CCR that our guys were lucky enough to try out today:-
- CE approved CCR – this means training can be conducted within Europe
- At 40 meters the scrubber has been CE rate tested to last 185 minutes on air diluent
- At 100 meters the scrubber has been CE rate tested to last 150 minutes on Heliox diluent
- Set-up is very easy with O2 cell automatic calibration
- Simple removal of counterlung for cleaning
- Complete pre-dive checklist is available on the main display
- Dual Heads up display (HUD) 1 on breathing loop and 1 on top of unit for ease of status recognition for buddy
- Rechargable lithium polymer batteries with 60 hour life
- Option of CO2 monitor (standard on Expedition model) for added safety
all this and much more!!!!!
The day was a mixture of tech fun diving for James Foleher and Simon Norcup and the CCR stuff for the other 2.
Included in the Sentinel try dive is a briefing on the technical side of the unit, what the unit is capable of doing and what you are to be doing whilst on the dive. At this point it is time to get the pre-dive checks done and then get into the good part and don the CCR!! A waterside final check and brief is completed and then it is into the water you go. After a quick weight check it is off to discover what an underwater world with no bubbles and no noise is all about. At this point you can forget everything you have ever learnt about diving as this will be completely different from anything you will have ever done and even the most accomplished divers become novices once again.
Big Blue Tech have gone global and launched a UK branch with the support of Tech Instructor Andrew Cavell, James Foleher and Technical Divemaster Duncan Tyler.
The UK Tech Crew previously worked for the Thailand branch and have spearheaded technical diving in the north of England by organizing trips to Scapa Flow and training options throughout the United Kingdom, Scotland and wales.
Big Blue Tech UK already has an active dive club scene where we regularly organize diving trips to the coast of England or maybe one of the many inland sites which all offer different challenges and attractions.
Even though they are a dive club they are not limited to diving activities, this enables loved ones and friends to become involved and brings a real sense of community to Big Blue Tech UK. They organize many different events, some of which can be:
* Evenings out
* Multi-activity weekends
* Days to theme parks
* And many more
They run diving trips to destinations abroad several times a year to areas such as Malta, Egypt, Thailand, Norway, plus lots more and we are always open to suggestions for places to go and things to do.
In April of 2011 Big Blue Tech UK will running their first Scapa Flow liveaboard with the option of combined training and supervised technical diving.
In May of 2011 Big Blue Tech UK have a TDI Full Cave Course planned for the mines and caves of England.
They offer courses from the following agencies and are able to teach all the way to a professional level in each of the agencies.
* BSAC – British Sub Aqua Club
* PADI – Professional Association of Diving Instructors
* TDI – Technical Diving International
* SDI – Scuba Diving International
For information about technical diving in the Uk contact and be part of Big Blue Tech UK