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SKILLS IN THE
Published in Dive Log Australasia March 2002
seems to be common practice in the industry to package four or five
specialty courses, and present them as an “Advanced Open Water Diver”
course. It makes a lot of
sense to do this because there are economies of scale for the dive shop
and convenience for the diver.
it is possible to construct a course which reinforces the basic open water
skills and covers the additional skills and safety procedures that are
needed for enjoyable boat diving. If you think through the steps in a dive, there are many little skills
involved: dive planning, buddy procedure, entry, controlled descent,
instrument checks, dive computer use, navigation, returning to the anchor,
controlled ascent, safety stops, retrieval, exit, safety log, stowing
gear, refilling tanks. When
you combine this learning with a trip on a liveaboard, you have the
ingredients for a great weekend’s diving.
Harris from Absolute Scuba in Brisbane has designed such a course to
advance his divers to a higher level. The
course is presented as “advanced diving techniques” and covers the
Use & Benefits
Tides & Currents
subjects are included to improve skills, provide an understanding of safe
diving, and some knowledge of the local environment. There are no written exams.
Competency is measured when the divers demonstrate their new skills
during the dives.
“SAFER LIMITS 2000”, Hyperbaric Workshop,
held at the Wesley Hospital, Brisbane, September 2000, it became
clear that diving is considered to be a relatively safe recreation these
days when compared with other activities. This opinion was based on the
number of DCI cases treated in Australia compared with the total number of
dives per year. One of the
main reasons for this is that most divers now use a dive computer, rather
than tables or nothing at all. It would seem that there is evidence to
suggest that the use of the dive computer has made diving safer.
computer has become as much an integral part of scuba diving as the
buoyancy compensator. In the
Advanced Diving Techniques course, time is given to identifying and
explaining the built-in functionality of each diver’s computer so that
they can make full use of its capabilities.
As with all these electronic gadgets, there is a considerable
difference in price, features and functionality between a basic dive
computer and, for example, an air-integrated Nitrox computer.
no other special gear requirement for this course apart from the “Safety
Sausage” which is mandatory for diving in Queensland.
The students are encouraged to buy or borrow a small reel which is
used to deploy the sausage during safety stops.
night, we met at Newport Waterways, Scarborough, and loaded our gear, and
two “G cylinders” of oxygen, on board “Big Cat Reality”. This is a
25 metre, luxury liveaboard vessel with facilities to accommodate up to 24
divers and 7 crew including a K180 dive compressor, and a rescue vessel.
The ship has the latest navigation equipment with a professional
and experienced crew. Big Cat Reality has a 10 metre beam which provides a
large stable dive platform.
trip our group, including students and us pleasure divers, occupied
‘port side’ and a group from another shop were on ‘starboard
side’. Many of us had been
on trips together before and there was much camaraderie between the groups
of divers. We were welcomed
aboard by Skipper James McVeigh and made to feel very much at home.
vessel there are two sets of back-to-back seats with numbered tank racks,
and room for big dive bins underneath.
The first thing for the novice boat diver to learn is that you set
up your gear in one of these racks and this becomes your allotted number
for the duration of the trip. You
then write your name, rack number, diving qualifications, and whether you
are using a computer, on the Safety Log prior to each dive.
crossed Moreton Bay on Friday night and anchored in a sheltered bay on the
west coast of Moreton Island. At first light, we headed out to Flinders Reef, about 5
kilometres north of Cape Moreton.
lesson for the novice boat diver is to listen to the dive briefing, put on
your gear, retrieve your fins, and clip on the optional torch.
You then walk around to the starboard side, put on our fins and
wait to be checked off by the dive master.
Your tank pressure is duly noted and the dive master clips your tag
onto a convenient D-ring on your BCD.
Then hang on to your mask, torch, regulator, etc, take a giant
stride over the side, give the OK signal and follow the current line to
Pinnacle” is a coral ridge just south of the exposed Flinders Reef.
My buddy and I descended the anchor chain and headed over to a
shallow, clear area to sort ourselves out.
Neil Harris arrived with his students and set off on some natural
navigation exercises. We went
in the opposite direction around the ridge and into a rugged valley at 20
metres. There was a large
crayfish in a hole and a number of good-sized territorial fish about.
board, the dive master unclips your tag and notes your bottom time,
maximum depth and remaining air pressure.
When your hands are dry, you must sign the safety log beside your
name. This paperwork is
required in order to comply with Queensland’s Workplace Health &
Safety diving industry code of practice.
their gear is stowed, all the students had to do was remove their first
stage from the tank valve and their cylinder would be re-filled with air.
However, most of the pleasure divers from Absolute Scuba were using
Nitrox mixes. Under Neil’s careful supervision, we calculated the
correct amount of pure oxygen to put in our 100 cu ft tanks, so that it
would end up with the required mix when topped up with air.
When each tank was full, the diver analysed the mix, filled in the
tag and the log sheet with the pressure, gas mix and maximum operating
the other reefs off Moreton and Stradbroke Islands, Flinders Reef is
covered in a variety of hard and soft corals.
It is classified as a “Protection Zone” which extends 50 metres
seaward from the exposed reef. Boating
and diving are allowed in this zone but no fishing.
The recent introduction of permanent moorings is a welcome addition
to protect the coral from boat anchors and chain.
James moved Big Cat Reality into the lee of the exposed reef where there
were some smaller charter boats. Three
more dives were conducted during the day on this beautiful coral reef at
around 14 metres. This gave the students much practice in dive
planning, buddy procedure, entry, controlled descent, instrument checks,
dive computer use, navigation, returning to the anchor, controlled ascent,
and safety stops. They gained some experience at landing on the big
rear stairs in the choppy conditions and hauling themselves out of the
water. Neil also took them on
a little underwater orienteering exercise!
qualified night divers and those doing the Night Diver Specialty course
went on the superb night dive. Three of us spent 45 minutes practically under the boat in
the 23-deg Celsius water. There
was a big ledge with a large green turtle, a big wobbegong, and several
crayfish scuttling around. As
I approached the stern holding up my torch, a large wave crashed past the
steps. The dive master got
the torch and nearly went in with it!
The white water created zero visibility while I waited for my next
chance to exit. Handing over
fins and weight pouches was out of the question.
Just land on your knees and get aboard as quick as you can!
in to the sheltered anchorage at Cowan where the crew prepared a barbeque
for us. During dinner, we
watched Neil’s new promotional video for MV Princess II featuring
beautiful underwater footage from Fiji. This was followed by the very popular movie, “Gladiator”.
morning, Skipper James had a conference with the three dive masters and
made a plan for the day. When
conditions are rough in the open ocean, we dive on the inside of Moreton
Island at sites called Comboyuro Drop Off, The Pines, Curtin Artificial
Reef and Tangalooma Wrecks. The mid-morning high tide would be ideal for
Curtin Artificial Reef, giving time for two dives at The Pines on either
side of the high tide. We
anchored off Bulwer for a drift dive in the incoming tide.
preparations for the drift dive were another new experience for the
students. The divers held on
to the surface current line or Trail Line, then descended together and
drifted along the wall.
took some photos, then headed inside for a hot shower, a shave, and some
clean clothes. These are the
luxuries of liveaboard diving! According to Neil, there are three rock
walls, each a little further out than the other.
A wonderful exercise in natural navigation!
The students with reels practiced sending their safety sausages to
the surface to indicate their position and enable them to stay at the
5-metre level. After
completing a drifting safety stop, Big Cat Reality was right there to pick
south to Curtin Artificial Reef for a dive at high tide.
I decided to use my big 15 litre (120 cu ft) tank for this dive.
Neil decanted some pure oxygen and topped it up with air, which
analysed as a 33% Nitrox mix. We
descended the anchor chain to the stern of the old tug Melbourne in a very
slight current. Neil showed
his students how to navigate from wreck to wreck using their little URGQ
Charts. We swam down the deck of the Melbourne, then to Barge 25,
then explored the gravel barge Estrella Del Mar, the tug
across to the Etmore at 22 metres.
time the tide had reached its peak so there was good visibility and no
current. People gave the
half-tank signal and Neil led us back towards the anchor chain which was
now close to the Drydock Gate. This
is a huge structure that I had not dived on before, but was able to
identify it on my chart. My
buddy went exploring down under the structure and received a 3 metre
decompression ceiling for her efforts.
She was using a fairly conservative air computer which penalises
you for this kind of behaviour, whereas my Nitrox computer was nowhere
near deco time.
to one of the drop lines under the stern of Big Cat Reality and did a one
minute stop at ten metres. Then we ascended slowly to five metres for a five minute
stop. I gave my primary reg
to my buddy and used my AIRII so that she could share my 33% Nitrox mix
instead of using air. The
reason for this is added safety. The higher percentage of oxygen in the
mix would increase the rate of off-gassing the Nitrogen in her body.
During this time, the 3 metre deco ceiling disappeared from her
computer. We then slowly
ascended the last few metres to the surface.
advanced diving techniques course is only the beginning of the learning
experience. All keen divers
should complete Stress and Rescue, Senior First Aid, Nitrox and other
specialties that suit their interests.
For example, the SS Yongala
lies off Townsville at 30 metres. The
SS President Coolidge in Vanuatu goes much deeper.
Truk Lagoon has a broad range of wreck diving.
Wreck and Deep Diver courses are sensible pre-requisites for these
trips. Deep Diver courses
cover recreational diving from 30 to 40 metres and, in particular, gas
consumption at depth. Nitrox
courses cover the use of oxygen enriched air which provides an additional
students all demonstrated a high level of competence in their diving
skills and also had a great time doing it.
They were subsequently awarded their Advanced Open Water Diver
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