March 2012: The Challenges A Diver Faces, Osezaki, Shizuoka, Japan


Saturday March 17th and Sunday March 18th 2012

It goes without saying that scuba diving is not just about swimming in warm tropical seas admiring colourful fish and coral.  It’s also about entering cold water with zero visibility in pouring rain, losing confidence over basic skills, and getting used to some unfamiliar things such as dry suits.

Scuba diving attracts a lot of people and getting to know the underwater world is a thrilling experience, but divers can face an array of issues.  Every dive is different, and there’s no knowing how things will develop, so it’s vital to be as prepared as possible, aware of what might go wrong depending on the day’s conditions and think about what you might do in a problematic situation.  As the dives got underway on Saturday morning, I was already feeling apprehensive.  This is usually the first indication that the dives could be tricky.  The more nervous you are, the more likely you are to panic and not know how to proceed.

Looking back on my March weekend in Osezaki which turned out to be slightly more difficult than other dive trips, I researched some of the problems I experienced and read up on how to solve them.  Here’s what I found.

Poor visibility: Entering murky water and seeing next to nothing is no fun, and of course difficult without the necessary skills.  Poor visibility is even harder if you are far from the shore or swimming fairly deep.  The first thing to keep in mind is to look around, be aware of any wave action or currents and evaluate the environment you are in.  Better still, make sure you are familiar with the dive site and talk to your buddy and the other divers about it and what to expect.  You also need to know your position and that of your buddy’s.  If you lose each other, start swimming to the surface.  The most important thing above all is staying calm.  It helps to carry a dive light, use a stable descent and ascent line, swim slowly and plan your dive well, discussing signals (sound as hands may not be that visible), how deep you will go, for how long, and which parts of the site you intend to explore.

Buoyancy:  Easy diving is all about achieving neutral buoyancy, but getting there is certainly a struggle.  Constantly adding air or letting it out of your BC to stay at the required depth is annoying, and can greatly affect air consumption.  First of all, it’s  important to have the right amount of weights on your weight belt.  To find out, when you are at the surface make sure that you are at eye level with the water with no air in your BC.  It’s good to note that saltwater is denser than freshwater, so you will need more weights to dive in the sea.  As you enter the water with your BC fully inflated, you are positively buoyant.  To descend you need to become negatively buoyant, so you deflate the BC and exhale.  As the descent is quite quick, it’s good to add air to your BC and breathe in until your descent stops and you are still in the water.  This is neutral buoyancy.  It also helps to swim slowly and horizontally, clip your octopus, console and other items close to you, breathe steadily and continuously, stay calm and patient, practise often, and observe other divers.

Ear clearing: Get this one wrong and you could end up with an ear injury or worse still, impair your sense of hearing.  The pressure change underwater is huge, especially at the first 10m.  As normal pressure levels are reduced, air inside the ear becomes compressed.  The water outside the ear increases in pressure and leads to “squeeze,” that uncomfortable feeling.  It’s important to begin equalizing as soon as possible at the surface and then repeat every metre until you reach your required depth.  Some divers wiggle their jaws from side to side, others swallow but the most common method is to blow the nose gently while pinching the nostrils together.  A small crackling or popping sound means you have successfully cleared your ears.  In addition, relax and take slow deep breaths.

Buddy communication:  Communicating with your buddy is a must for a fun and successful dive.  Rather than take risks, it’s much more important to communicate openly if you are unsure about anything.  The standard buddy check involves checking each other’s gear so you know where everything is, how they work and whether they are functioning.  BCs, weights (are they fastened properly and how do you release the belt if necessary?), air content, gauges, regulators and octopus (breathe from them to make sure they work), slates, lights and cameras must all be looked over.  Afterwards, you need to discuss a dive plan (aim, course, entry/exit points, max. depth, and time underwater).  You also need to establish the amount of air you will need, who will lead and if you will dive to the left or right of your buddy.  Talk over communication signals (for example how you will tell each other it’s time to ascend), and what you will do if separated.  If you are unsure about anything or don’t feel confident diving with your buddy, make this crystal clear.

Of course, achieving all this doesn’t happen overnight.  My next challenge is to apply the above information to some upcoming dives in Bali!

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