As an activity focussed on exploration and discovery, the nature of technical diving is to push back the boundaries of knowledge, not through reckless bravado, but rather through a true appreciation and understanding of the entailed risks.
Carrying with it certain challenges, technical diving is a demanding activity. But it’s also one that – when approached in a positive and thoughtful manner – delivers its own rewards.
To perform properly – and as safely as possible – those who practice technical diving should possess certain traits.
Technical diving is not something that can be carried out on a whim. To perform a proper Tek Dive requires a 100% commitment by its practitioners and a heavy investment in time, knowledge, and equipment.
Technical divers should possess the mental discipline to constantly practice and refine the skills that they’ve been taught … and the wisdom to apply what they have learned in a cautious and gradual fashion.
Knowledge begets a positive mental attitude. Having a thorough understanding of the life-support systems, the associated physiological and environmental considerations as well as the inherent dangers of a particular dive, gives the diver the necessary confidence to make informed decisions and establish sound safety parameters.
Not everybody is cut out for Technical diving. The desire to go deeper, or penetrate a wreck, or explore the back of a cave, is meaningless unless that desire is accompanied by the requisite competencies and skills. And a competent diver will always be more assured of success than an incompetent one.
Without compromising the safety of themselves or other members of a team, a competent technical diver should be able to adapt to sudden and unforeseen changes in their circumstances.
Some divers regard completion of a training programme as an end in itself, a badge of distinction that adds to their status as a diver. Many will never even contemplate a dive beyond the defining limits and barriers of their previous experience or training!
A few will immediately attempt dives that, while within the established parameters of the respective training programme, still remains beyond their present level of skill and mental aptitude to perform safely without some form of direct supervision.
Others become captivated by the technology. Rather than regarding the equipment as a means to an end, and something that should be selected for its relevance to the safety of each planned dive, some people allow the apparatus to dictate the sort of diving that they do. Particularly when, for example, they’ve made a huge capital outlay on an equipment item – a rebreather, say – and begrudge investing the additional money and time to become properly trained in its use. (In this context, ‘properly trained’, extends well beyond the mere completion of a certification programme. Knowing how to use an equipment item is meaningless until the user reaches that point in their training where the requisite safety drills become second nature.)
It’s an increasingly more commonplace attitude and one that’s usually based on the false premise that the person’s previous diving experience has provided them with sufficient knowledge to teach themselves! An approach that ignores that old adage of never allowing any piece of diving equipment to take you to places where your mind hasn’t been at least an hour beforehand!
They’re minority attitudes, but ones that are becoming increasingly more commonplace and that diminish the achievements of those who regard the wreck-site, cave, or deep ocean drop-off as the place where knowledge ends and discovery begins; those true exploration divers who view the necessary equipment and techniques as nothing more than important tools that allow them to satisfy their curiosity about the world in which they live.
Driven by that urge to look into the unknown, divers will always long to go deeper and further in their explorations. Their capacity to do so safely will always depend on their understanding of the risks, and their ability to reduce them to an acceptable and manageable level.
As Billly Deans, one of the acknowledged pioneers of technical diving, said in 1995, “Technical diving is … a philosophy, a mindset. Everything you do is based on making that dive absolutely perfect because if you don’t account for all of the parameters of the dive you could get killed.
“It’s a constant vigilance that wears on a human being. To do it well you have to live, eat, breathe technical diving.”
As with any form of diving, the deciding factor when it comes to safe technical diving will always rest with the individual.
But for those who have the necessary aptitude, attitude and commitment – and who understand the importance of doing things correctly – longer and deeper dives are an everyday reality, not the game of ‘Russian Roulette’ that they were once considered to be.
(The above article is a condensed version of an introduction to Technical diving originally given as a talk in 2004)