July 2012: How to launch an SMB and a few other “Advanced” techniques, Yugawara Pool, Shizuoka, Japan

Saturday July 7th and Sunday July 8th 2012

The SMB, or Surface Marker Buoy, is a fascinating device to use and an integral part of being an Advanced diver.  Also known as a Safety Sausage, its role is to mark divers’ positions underwater so that boats know where the divers are, can pick them up, and show other boats that there are divers below.  The SMB comes with a spool which is locked with a small clip.  The whole thing can be fastened to a BC or kept in a BC pocket.  Deploying it is fun, but does take some practice.   To begin, unclip the SMB from your BC and unlock the spool.  The small clip is then attached back on your BC, and your next task is to unreel a little bit of the string around the spool.  Look around and make sure there is nothing above, below or around that could become entangled in the string.  Next, keep the spool and SMB in one hand, and inflate.  Depending on the type of SMB, this can be done in various ways – orally, using an alternate air source, or the actual mouthpiece.  The SMB needs to be at least half full in order to stay upright.  Inflate some more and let it rise to the surface, maintaining full control of the spool.  When it reaches above water, keep the string taut by adding some extra tension to make it stay upright, and ascend slowly.  Good buoyancy control is vital for a smooth launch.

Training for the Advanced certification, which I have decided to do slowly over the next several months, consists of many other techniques as well.  As usual, further buoyancy control is a must, but simply achieving that isn’t the end of things.  The checklist for my training says that a diver must never touch the bottom or float to the surface unless they want or need to, and must never disturb the marine life.  Good fin techniques are vital to staying horizontal and maintaining control as you swim along.  Part of the training includes practicing frog kicks, keeping your body and upper legs horizontal but bending your lower legs so the ends of your fins point upwards.  You then twist your ankle and lower leg at a right angle.

Because of limited space and being in a more controlled environment, buoyancy control, frog kicks and launching an SMB are all good skills to start off with in the pool.  During the weekend I used for the first time a type of BC consisting of a back plate and wing, and a long hose regulator.  The back plate is made of metal and attached to the wing using two big straps which then go around your tank.  Both must be fixed tightly to your body, and are great underwater as it feels as though the diver, back plate and wing are “as one.”  Compared to the conventional jacket-style BC, the back plate and wing make it much easier for the diver to stay horizontal as everything is fixed on the back, and less weights are needed around the waist as the metal plate is already considerably heavy.  With the long hose regulator, the regulator for breathing is placed on an extremely long hose as the name suggests, while the spare regulator is attached to a shorter hose and worn over the neck.  When sharing air in an emergency, the diver takes the long hose regulator out of the mouth, gives it to the out-of-air diver, and then uses the spare regulator.  This is another technique easily practiced in the pool.

Navigation is focused on once you begin training in the sea, but rather than being a separate task, it comes up in all dives.  An Advanced diver should always carry a compass, know how to read maps of dive sites and understand how to figure out the heading of each direction they will swim in.  Navigation is also a part of understanding standard dive procedures and being aware, knowing where you are going, any possible landmarks or hazard spots, and where the entry  and exit points are.  Deep diving however is different altogether.  Not only do you go deep (30-40m) but through simple calculations you are required to know your rock bottom pressure (minimum amount of air you need to get you and your buddy to the surface while you are both breathing from one tank in an emergency) and turnaround pressure (the lowest pressure at which you can be when you decide to head back to the ascent point).  Turnaround pressure is difficult to determine as it depends on how the dive goes, how long it takes to reach a destination and how long you want to spend there.  To calculate rock bottom pressure, you need to know how much air you usually consume per minute and this is a good calculation to practice regularly before figuring out your rock bottom pressure.

My checklist also states that in general, an Advanced diver must exhibit good buddy skills and awareness, keep an eye on his or her buddy and understand the conditions in the sea.  An Advanced diver must also evaluate dive logistics and environment, and have the confidence to decide whether to dive or pull out, using his or her skills, experience and readiness.  Above all, he or she must be fully confident to plan and execute dives with a dive buddy.

Being an Advanced diver changes your diving experiences in quite a big way.  Rather than following a guide or having others help out, you are expected to be a lot more independent.  Instead of simply doing the task you are given, like heading down to 30m and then coming back up again, an Advanced diver must have a greater input in his or her experiences underwater. As an Advanced diver, you’re expected to have a lot more say in your dives, and contribute to areas like planning, navigation, amount of air, depth and time spent underwater.  It’s important to have your say, make clear what you are thinking and feeling at the time, and why.  The Advanced has no deadline, and can be taken in a weekend or spread out over several weeks or months.  The reward is some great and fun adventures – night diving, wrecks, experiencing the deep and much more.

About Rising Bubbles

Bonnie Waycott is a dive master and writer focusing on Japan's scuba diving and aquaculture. She is currently taking an MSc in Sustainable Aquaculture at the University of St Andrews via distance learning and is due to graduate in December 2017. Her written work has been featured in Asian Diver, Scuba Diver AustralAsia, DIVE, Marine Biologist, The Fish Site, Fish Farmer, Hatchery International and Outdoor Japan Traveler, while for Japanese divers she writes about marine-related issues abroad for Japanese diving website Ocean+α. You can follow Bonnie on Twitter (@risingbubbles), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RisingBubblesNotesOfANewDiver/) and Instagram (@bonniewaycott).
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