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Compliance Provides An Illusion Of Safety In Diving

Using the recently published ISO standards for rebreather training as one of his examples, human factors coach Gareth Lock takes to task the discredited legacy belief that safety is best created through the development of, and compliance to standards. NOT. As Lock explains, according to the latest science, safety is created by constantly adapting and fine-tuning systems based on available information to enable successful outcomes in uncertain situations. Here’s how to reduce our reliance on compliance and improve safety.



By Gareth Lock

Human Factor Instructor Guy Shockey and at his Thermocline Diving mixing station. Photo courtesy of Andrea Petersen

“Safety is not just the absence of accidents and incidents, rather it is the presence of barriers and defences, and the capacity of the system to fail safely.” —Todd Conklin Ph.D.

Modern safety science has moved away from punitive behaviour control and the premise that safety is solely achieved through the development of—and compliance to—standards. Instead, over the decades, there has been a recognition that safety is created by constantly adapting and fine-tuning  systems (using experiential information) to enable successful outcomes in uncertain situations.

A classic example of this is Cactus 1549, ditched in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. Shortly after take-off, the Airbus 320 hit a flock of geese, damaging both engines. The aircraft had to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River, as neither La Guardia nor Teterboro airports were believed to be reachable from the plane’s current altitude. Captain Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles modified emergency checklists to generate emergency power in a very unexpected situation. Sully summarised his ‘resilient practice’ in the following quote: “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’d been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education, and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

Sullenberger and his co-pilot did not follow protocols because they understood the background behind the checklists, and this allowed them to modify their responses to achieve a successful landing. However, had they crashed into the tower blocks on the way to La Guardia or Teterboro airport, I am sure they would have been criticised for not following the checklists! The point is that ‘resilient practice’ comes from continued practice, adaptation, and reflection on those actions. It comes from a mindset that recognizes fallibility is likely and that rules exist to increase the likelihood of success—not to be blindly followed. 

Those involved in the 2018 Thai cave rescue took the same approach. While there were rules to follow, they were not absolute; personal experience along with professional judgement meant that plans and situations had to be modified and adapted, leading to a successful rescue.

Adapting to the World Around Us

Adaptation is normal in a complex environment. We need to adapt to survive (physically and commercially) in a dynamic world where tensions exist. The following model from Jens Rasmussen shows the tensions that exist within a business, a diver training organisation, a dive centre, and even between instructors and divers. There are finite resources—people and money—that allow us to achieve our goals when used correctly (shown using blue and black lines, respectively). While the model shows ‘management’ pressures, these pressures also come from our own cognitive biases and the social environment. We want to save money and be more efficient with our time.

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The financial and workload boundaries are quite clear—we know when we are going to run out of money, and we know how much time or manpower we have available. However, the red line (the boundary of unacceptable performance, or having an accident) exists in an unclear position in time and space. If we always knew where it was, we would operate right next to it because that is where we are the most cost-effective and workload-efficient—it’s also the riskiest place. And, because we don’t know the absolute position of the accident line, we bring the boundary back and call that a risk margin or margin for error.

At the same time as the resource and money pressures are pushing us left towards an accident, we also have ‘safety campaigns’ taking place which drive the operating position back from the red line into the middle. The downside is that it costs us more in terms of time, money, and people, so there is resistance to doing this. And up steps outcome bias: “If we don’t have a bad outcome, we must be safe!”

Herein lies the problem. 

“If you complete all your paperwork 100% you will be safe,” said an insurance company leader at a DEMA presentation a number of years ago. I asked, “Do you mean safe from litigation, or operationally safe?” There was no answer. You might be safe from litigation if you remain 100% compliant with the rules (although some of the rules that dive centres and instructors have to comply with are not compatible; read on for some examples). But, you are not necessarily operationally safe, and you’re going to struggle to be commercially competitive if others in your commercial space aren’t following the rules. 

The customers coming into dive centres for training are often blind to the standards that should be followed, and as such, their relationship with the instructor is totally based on trust—this is normal human behaviour. If the dive centre has an agency badge/logo above their front door, and all the dive centres in the area offer the same course, and they all appear to ‘comply’ with the RSTC/RTC standards, then the prospective client is going to choose the cheapest and quickest option (per Rasmussen’s model above).

Work as Imagined vs. Prescribed

Gaps exist between what is imagined (the perception of a training program), what is prescribed (the standards from RSTC/ISO to agency, and agency to instructor in terms of training materials), and what is done (what actually happens on a dive course). This is what the following model shows.

We can identify the gaps between ‘Work as Done’ and ‘Work as Prescribed’ by having conversations with instructors and dive masters. Imagine that the dive centre owner or the training agency has a punitive approach to a breach of standards and non-compliance. If they ask how you teach your classes, the answer will be ‘Work as Prescribed’ i.e., to the standards. However, if that same centre or agency has a more open approach—one focused on improvement and learning, and with high levels of psychological safety and a Just Culture—the response to the same question will reflect ‘Work as Done’ which includes all the adaptations and workarounds that every operational environment has. Such an approach has to be role-modelled by those in the most senior positions in the organisation; otherwise, trust in the system will vanish. 

The quality of a system is determined by the quality of the feedback within it. The more detailed and timely the feedback, the more likely improvements will happen quickly. Unfortunately, the majority of diver training ‘quality control feedback’ consists of tick boxes and ‘happy sheets’ which are filled in by a student who has no real idea of what ‘good’ looks like; and, because many performance standards are not made available to students, they can’t check. In addition, there is a fear that if they give the instructor a bad report, they might not be able to train with them in the future or be excluded from that community. This is a compliance-focused approach. 

With the exception of a few agencies, after their initial assessment as an instructor, there is no practical assessment of instructors and instructor trainers in water and classroom delivery to ensure that their performance standards are where their agency says they should be. This is another tradeoff that can be mapped onto Rasmussen’s model above! “Instituting observation-based quality assessments costs time and money, and because we haven’t had an accident yet, we must be safe! We are compliant because we have ticked the boxes and all the paperwork is in place.”

Sussing The ISO Standards

Recently, two ISO standards for rebreather diver training have been published:

ISO 24804 “Recreational diving services — Requirements for rebreather diver training — No-decompression diving” and;

ISO 24805 “Recreational diving services — Requirements for rebreather diver training — Decompression diving to 45 m”)

In addition, three more ISO standards are in the final stages of review:

ISO 24806 “Recreational diving services — Requirements for rebreather diver training— Decompression diving to 60 m”, 

ISO 24807 “Recreational diving services — Requirements for rebreather diver training— Decompression diving to 100 m” 

ISO 24808 “Recreational diving services — Requirements for rebreather instructor training”

These standards are to ensure that agency courses are aligned with a common standard. This is a good start. The problem is that these standards are based on absolutely minimum standards to remain commercially viable, with the expectation that instructors will go above and beyond these to provide ‘quality’ training for their students—these statements were made at a recent diving conference. The problem with minimum standards is that they become a target. This is known as Goodhart’s Law—when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. 

ISO standards have a reputation in the safety world as being something that shows you have a process in place to undertake the activity, but it doesn’t mean that the activity is actually carried out across the organisation per the ISO standard. In the context of diving, the standards at the organisational level aren’t necessarily the issue—we should investigate issues at the dive centre and instructor level to ensure that the lower-level practices are aligned with the ISO standards. 

Measuring the ‘quality’ of a training output by the number of hours or number of dives undertaken in a class or only to move from one instructor grade to another isn’t likely to be an informative metric in terms of ensuring safe performance and effective knowledge transfer because quantity-based standards alone can be gamed—5 x 20 mins dives to 6 m, tick

A better metric might be to work out how much knowledge students retain X weeks or Y months after a class. This is especially important for instructor development; in the majority of situations, once an instructor is certified, which in some cases is literally a box-ticking exercise, then they are certified for good and only have to train a number of divers over a period of time and pay their fees. No one comes back to see if they are still able to teach as long as nothing has been raised in the ‘happy sheets.’         

One problem with a standards-based approach is that a large proportion of diving accidents and incidents happen outside of the formal training environment. In this case, there are no formal standards to be compliant with. Drift is normal, and formal knowledge about how to execute a skill or apply theory will erode over time to be replaced by adaptations and ‘good practice.’ Sometimes that is good, and sometimes it is not so good. 

This is especially important when it comes to critical activities relating to communication, decision making, and teamwork e.g., pre-dive configuration checks, gas analysis, gas switching, wreck penetration without a line, assumptions without validation, distractions, excessive task loading, and the normalisation of deviance.

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Reducing Reliance on Compliance

There are a number of ways we can reduce reliance on compliance to produce safe diving operations:

  • Have meaningful standards which are based on performance rather than box-ticking compliance—this requires more thought and investment in quality management.
  • Increase the knowledge behind why the rules are in place. If you understand why rules are in place, when faced with uncertainty, you are more likely to be able to solve the problems from first principles.
  • Teach instructors about the importance of psychological safety, how to create it, and the cognitive biases at play in a training environment.
  • Develop effective debrief structures which allow post-dive debriefs to identify the gaps between WAI and WAD.
  • Be proactive in finding out ‘what works’ and ‘what sucks,’ developing an understanding of local rationality—how is it making sense for someone to do what they are doing?
  • Develop knowledge and practice of teamwork at all levels within the diving system so that when drift starts to happen, it is called out because of mutual accountability. That includes the ability to challenge senior instructors within an organisation.
  • Examine the behaviours that are present within systems when certain behaviours e.g. compliance, are rewarded. Personal and organisational goals are likely to take precedence over compliance, so look at what can be done to make it easier to comply.

Aim For Sensible Compliance

Compliance provides an illusion of safety. Safety is created dynamically by those at ‘the sharp end’ through the constant refinement and adjustment of behaviours and the application of learned and modified skills, trading off between the time and resources available, and the amount of money available. The problem comes when you start creating punitive environments where compliance is more important than operational safety. The fear of noncompliance leads to situations where stakeholders miss the real risks. If we blindly follow the rules and don’t explore the boundaries of safety in a safe environment, situations outside of our training experience can escalate very quickly because we don’t know how to solve problems. And, when things go wrong, the response that “they should have followed the rules” completely overlooks the context that shaped the behaviours.

Gareth Lock has been involved in high-risk work since 1989. He spent 25 years in the Royal Air Force in a variety of front-line operational, research and development, and systems engineering roles which have given him a unique perspective. In 2005, he started his dive training with GUE and is now an advanced trimix diver (Tech 2) and JJ-CCR Normoxic trimix diver. In 2016, he formed The Human Diver with the goal of bringing his operational, human factors, and systems thinking to diving safety. Since then, he has trained more than 450 people face-to-face around the globe, taught nearly 2,000 people via online programmes, sold more than 4,000 copies of his book Under Pressure: Diving Deeper with Human Factors, and produced “If Only…,” a documentary about a fatal dive told through the lens of Human Factors and A Just Culture.


The Way The World Will Learn to Tec: Exploring PADI’s TecRec Update




By Michael Menduno. The views and opinions expressed are strictly my own. Photos courtesy of PADI unless noted.

This October at the annual Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA) tradeshow, PADI released a long-awaited update to its open circuit “TecRec” program, which was originally launched in 2001. Specifically, the training juggernaut has completely rewritten its introductory courses to tech diving, i.e., its Tec 40, 45, and 50 courses that serve as the gateway between recreational and technical diving. 

The update incorporates the latest diving science and thinking on topics such as gas density, gradient factors and deep stops, the helium penalty, whether oxygen is narcotic, dive planning software, and more. It enables divers to do their training in sidemount or backmount, adds additional “dry” practice session options into courses, and now offers trimix as a gas option beginning at 40 m/130 ft—originally the program was air and nitrox only. 

In addition, PADI added a Discover Tec (try-dive) and Tec Basics (skills) courses as additional resources for would-be tekkies and instructors. PADI’s advanced trimix courses, Tec 65 and Tec Trimix (which are newer) and its closed circuit rebreather (CCR) program (which was launched in 2012) remain largely unchanged. The updated TecRec courses are available now, though the original courses can be taught until 2025. 

“We think it’s the most robust and comprehensive program on the market,” PADI’s Michael Richardson, a Supervisor for Instructor Development, boldly asserted to me at the show. His comment got my attention, and I was interested to know more.

The TecRec update signals a conscious move on PADI’s part to lean forward into Tec diving and make it more accessible to interested recreational divers, while providing increased flexibility and resources for instructors and dive centers to expand their technical diving business. As discussed in PADI’s member materials, though tech divers only represent about 7% of recreational or sport divers, they are not only more engaged but spend considerably more money on equipment and training—as we know!—making them a lucrative market niche. “Tech diving is the future of the market,” opined Asutay Akbayir, PADI Regional Manager for the South Mediterranean, who has been involved in the TecRec program since its inception.

In fairness, though PADI is not regarded as tech brand, its sheer size and market presence with 128,000 members (instructors and dive masters), 6,600 dive centers in 184 countries, and (according to PADI) an estimated 70% of the open water market—The Way the World Learns to Dive—makes them an important player in the tech market. 

Though they declined to answer me specifically, PADI likely has upwards of 4-5,000+ Tec and rebreather instructors at various levels (personal communications)—second only to Technical Diving International (TDI)—and sports at least 366 designated TecRec centers in 64 countries, though many more dive centers offer tech training. And though they also declined to answer my questions on certifications, PADI is probably responsible for having brought tens of thousands of new tekkies, well, in this case, “Teccies,” into the fold. 

By focusing on the transition from Rec to Tec—arguably an area of strength for PADI which dominates the recreational market—the training giant will not only help create more tech divers but likely stands to grow the market—The Way Many Will learn to Tec? —and in doing so gain market share. They will also likely gain Tec instructors. According to PADI, 55% of all technical diving instructors globally are also PADI professionals, which means that the organization has direct links to those that can potentially help grow its tech training business.

PADI’s prospects for picking up new business are arguably further enhanced by the high quality of PADI’s new Tec eLearning materials and standards which seem to combine the best of old-school tech with the latest developments. Though some tekkies seem to enjoy PADI bashing—ironically both PADI and Global Underwater Explorers (GUE), which hosts InDEPTH, seem to be favorite targets for critics, though for different reasons—most tech professionals will likely be impressed by PADI’s latest efforts, which were more than two years in the making. I know I was. 

Accordingly, here is a brief review of the history of PADI’s TecRec program and a discussion about some of the details of the new update.

Photo courtesy of Ricardo Castillo for Dive Rite

A Dive into Tec History

PADI’s Diving Science and Technology (DSAT) division released its Tec Deep Diver program in 2001. The general approach at the time was to treat technical diving like cave diving, in that it shouldn’t be promoted, but if people were interested, the training was available. Note that DSAT, which served as PADI’s tech division for a time, was also a sponsor of Rebreather Forum 2, held in Redondo Beach, CA in 1996, and published the Proceedings.

Tec Deep Diver was an extensive course, typically taught over an extended time, with numerous days and or weeks devoted to training. It included 12 air or nitrox dives to a max depth of 50 m/165 ft, and a dense 378-page manual. By comparison, an Intro to Cave followed by Full Cave course today, would generally run 8-10 days and include 16 dives. In about 2009, the Deep Diver course was broken up into three modules: Tec 40, Tec 45, and Tec 50, indicating maximum course depth in meters, but the content remained largely unchanged. 

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Instructors I asked told me that the Deep Diver course was challenging to teach. First, the time requirements meant it was very difficult to fit into student and instructor schedules. Breaking the course into modules helped some, but the sheer volume of content was daunting. The course was developed when mixed gas dive computers and dive planning software were still in their infancy, so students were left to deal with extensive math calculations with a pen and calculator.

The original course was also conducted solely on air or nitrox blend. In fairness, back in the day, the community, by and large, limited air diving to 57 m/187 ft, based on a PO2=1.4 bar, and considered narcotic levels manageable at those depths. It was only later, pioneered primarily by GUE, that the recommendation to maintain Equivalent Narcotic Depths (END) at 30 m/100 ft by adding helium to the mix. 

As a result of the further work on gas density, Dr. Simon Mitchell and Gavin Anthony, concluded that air diving be limited to less than 40 m (gas density less than 6.3 g/l). To be sure, PADI received internal and external feedback and scrutiny over the last few years  regarding their approach to what is now considered “deep air” diving, and deep air diving with students. They were not alone. Their new recommended trimix options address this.

Finally, the original course material became seriously out-of-date with regard to important new developments in diving science and safety, including gas density as mentioned, gradient factors and deep stops, narcosis levels, the helium penalty, whether oxygen is narcotic, Immersion Pulmonary Edema (IPE), using dive gauges and tables versus dive computers, the use of dive planning software, and more.

Course Structure and Logistics

As far as the requirements for the courses, Tec 40 requires a PADI Advanced Open Water and Enriched Air Diver certification (Rescue Diver is recommended), the Deep Diver certificate or at least 10 dives to 30 m/100 ft, and at least 30 logged dives. The student must be at least 18. Tec 45 requires Tec 40, an additional Rescue Diver certification, and a minimum of 50 dives (≥10 dives to at least 30 m/100 ft). Tec 50 requires Tec 45, and a minimum of 100 dives or 75 hours. No doubt, a discussion could be had on how much experience someone should have before starting on their tech journey.

Course specifications are as follows: Tec 40 can be conducted on a single tank provided it has a Y-valve for redundancy, or backmount or sidemount doubles, depending on the students’ certifications, along with up to one deco gas with a maximum of 50% oxygen. The course includes four dives to α max depth of 40 m/130 ft with a maximum of 10 minutes of decompression on back gas, or 15 minutes using deco gas. The course has a trimix option with a minimum of 21% O2 and a maximum of 35% helium.  

Tec 45 is conducted in doubles back or side mounted cylinders and one deco gas up to 50% O2, with four dives to a maximum depth of 45 m/148 ft and a trimix option. There are no decompression time limitations. Tec 50 also consists of four dives to a maximum depth of 50 m/165 ft with double cylinders, two deco gases, one of which can contain up to 100% O2, and (optionally) normoxic trimix, with no more than 40% helium. Again, there are no specified deco time limits. 

The courses, which are performance based, intentionally have a lot of flexibility in scheduling using eLearning or class presentations (depending on language), however a typical schedule might be 3-4 days for each course, depending on the needs of the students. The instructor may also begin with the Tec Basics module to bring up divers’ skills prior to beginning the Tec 40-50 sequence.

Courses include an “Instructor Wetbook” for each class that instructors can take in the water as part of their tool kit. The Wetbook essentially outlines the conduct of the course and includes performance goals, checklists, skills to be learned, specifications for conducting each dive, etc. It is the only physical learning material used in the courses.

Taken as a whole, the Tec 40, 45, and 50 courses represent a comprehensive introduction to technical diving consisting typically of 9-12 days of training and 12 dives. To put this into perspective, by comparison earning a “tech pass” in a GUE Fundamentals class followed by a GUE Tech 1 course (dives to a max 50 m/165 ft  depth with trimix 21/35, one deco gas (up to 100% O2) and a maximum of 30 minutes of deco), typically would require 10 days of training and 13 dives. So, the two are roughly equivalent in terms of training time and number of dives.   

Photo courtesy of Jon Milnes

My Impressions

I decided the best way to assess the new courses was to dive in and work through the eLearning modules. It should be noted that PADI pioneered the use of eLearning in diving, back when digital meant floppy discs. Remember them?

I was impressed that the authors were able to seamlessly weave together old school tech philosophy and approach with the latest diving science with a focus on diver safety. Overall, it was some of the best tech course material I’ve read.

Tec 40 begins with a sobering warning. 

To sum up the difference between recreational and technical diving risk in a single statement: “In technical diving, even if you do everything right, there is still a higher inherent potential for an accident leading to permanent injury and death. You have to accept this risk if you venture into technical diving. “

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The warning is straight out of the original tech playbook pioneered by Capt. Billy Deans, before there were formal tech certification classes. Back in the late 1980s/early 1990s, interested divers traveled to Key West to spend a week, 10 days, two weeks—as much time as they could spare—to learn mixed gas diving from Capt. Billy. This was before formal tech certification courses existed.

By way of background, Deans’ best friend John Ormsby died on a deep air dive on the Andrea Doria in 1985. Deans was one of the divers that recovered the body and brought it back to the RV Wahoo. The incident motivated Deans, who worked with Dr. Bill Hamilton, to swear off “deep air diving” and develop his mixed gas diving operation and offer training.

On the opening day of his classes, Deans would welcome everyone. “We’re here to have a good time, “ he would say. “But before we do, I need to have your attention.” He would then play the film of him and others recovering his friend’s lifeless body and hoisting it onto the back deck of the Wahoo. “As I said, we’re here to have fun, but this is serious. You have to pay attention, and do everything right—there’s no room for complacency. If you don’t, you’re going to die.” Deans was admittedly harsh by today’s standards, but his admonition never failed to get divers’ attention. 

It was encouraging to see attitudinal requirements and discussions as an integral part of the course. Attitude requirements were of course, part of original “Blueprint for Survival 2.0” community consensus of best tech diving practices that was published in aquaCORPS Journal #6 COMPUTING (June 1993), and meant to help improve tech diving safety. 

To quote the Tec 40 text, “Your actions, words, and behavior must reflect that you will choose to follow the procedures, rules, and principles you learn in this course. This attitude is considered particularly important to diver safety in technical diving.” 

In fact, Tec 40 offers six characteristics that denote a responsible technical diver, to wit; self-sufficiency, team player, disciplined, wary, physically fit, accepts responsibility. Sounds about right to me. 

Finally, in the wrap up, the Tec 40 text reminds would-be tekkies (paraphrasing), “Your primary mission in tech diving is to survive the dive!”


It’s The Science, Stupid

As mentioned above, the Tec course materials integrate the latest science and thinking from gradient factors and gas tolerance to IPE and offer depthful and nuanced discussion. The latest science, for example, has concluded that oxygen is non-narcotic in the PO2 relevant ranges for tech diving, however, the discussion points out that there’s nothing wrong with adding extra conservativeness and treating both O2 and N2 as narcotic gasses in calculating one’s END. 

Similarly, the material teases out the nuances of the so-called “helium penalty,” a feature of some decompression algorithms that add extra deco time when using helium, whether or not it’s physiologically needed, and what that means for tech divers. They have also eliminated “deep stops,” which were included in the original Deep Diver course and offer an explanation why. 

I was also impressed with the level of detail. For example, in discussing gear configuration, the text points out that tekkies don’t use hose protectors because they can mask hose damage. Similarly, in discussing the use of hyperbaric mixes, it details the risks of oxygen fires, the need for proper cleaning and lubrication, and even highlights the fact that regulators made with titanium might not be fully compatible with oxygen use (check with the manufacturer).

As mentioned, the mathematics and calculations sections focus on using dive computers and dive planning software to arrive at the answers rather than doing manual calculations. Hmm, it’s faster and more accurate. PADI calls it a “real world” consideration. Geeks like me can follow the link to the formula details and calculations, if that’s what they need to learn the material. 

Drills & Skills

The Instructor Wetbooks outline the drills and skills to be worked during both dry and in-water sessions. I found them to be quite comprehensive and included the drills and skills you’d expect; dive planning, pre-dive checklist and equipment matching, S-drill, bubble check, controlled descent, propulsion drills, valve drills in trim, putting on and removing stage bottles, regular SPG checks, gas sharing, SMB deployment and ascent practice, proper gas switching, calculating SAC rates, etc.

As they work their way through the courses, students spend increasing time on problem-solving and responding to team emergencies such as free flows and leaky valves; various out of gas scenarios (bottom gas, deco gas); dealing with a dive buddy breathing the wrong gas at depth; buoyancy device failures; dive computer failures; and rescuing an unconscious diver. GUE Tech students will be very familiar with these kinds of drills.   

Recommendations & Standards

I found the recommendations and standards presented in the courses robust and reassuring, and if offering a recommendation vs. making it a requirement is insufficient to satisfy a dyed-in-the-wool, old-school GUE instructor, it would likely at least get her to at least give a nod of support. One of the considerations for PADI, with its ginormous, global scale, is that courses must have sufficient flexibility to meet the needs of divers and instructors in different geographies. Here are some of the high points.

PADI recommends that tech divers maintain an END ≤30 m/100 ft and gas density less than 6.3 g/l (the air equivalent of 38 m/128 ft); however, it does not mandate the use of trimix for the Tec 40-50 courses. Given current prices and availability issues with helium, it is recommended but optional in these ranges, depending, of course, on conditions and the circumstances.

PADI focuses on team diving. They also recommend that the team utilize the same gas mixes while conducting a dive—hard to argue against for obvious reasons—although PADI does not offer specific standard gas mixes like GUE (nor do other agencies). However, they do rely on standard gas switching protocols, in PADI parlance, the NO TOX gas switch (Note your tank label, Observe your depth, Turn on the valve, Orient the regulator hose, eXamine your teammates). 

Divers are encouraged to always use checklists. Gas reserves are calculated using traditional thirds or “Rock Bottom” gas, the equivalent to GUE’s “minimum gas” i.e., the amount of gas required to get two divers back to usable gas, whether deco bottles or the surface. Divers are also able to use computers in gauge mode and tables or dive computers. 

Photo by Imad Farhat, courtesy of Halcyon Dive Systems

In Conclusion

Overall, I came away very impressed with the program and its focus on diver safety. But I wanted to get a perspective from someone who was familiar with PADI Tec as well as other agency programs. In this pursuit, I had the privilege of speaking with  underground veteran Jim Wyatt, principal of Cave Dive Florida.

The ex-Navy diver is a former training director and instructor trainer for the National Speleological Society-Cave Diving Section (NSS-CDS) and a trimix instructor and cave instructor trainer for both IANTD and TDI. As far as his involvement with PADI, Wyatt is both a PADI course director and DSAT instructor trainer who has taught PADI Tec since 2002. Just the guy I wanted to talk with. “PADI Tec is a good program. They’ve made big changes and added trimix to their intro classes. I’d put their standards against anyone’s,” Wyatt, who’s hardly unbiased but likely knows the material as well or better than anyone outside the PADI organization, explained to me. 

It is important to remember that all training agencies have standards; the critical question is, do their instructors follow them? After all, it is the instructors who are entrusted to provide training to students. 

Without doubt, this is the work and challenge shared by all agencies, especially in the realm of technical diving. The challenge is even more complex for larger agencies like PADI and TDI, who have thousands of technical instructors. Managing and ensuring adherence to standards and quality instruction is undoubtedly a formiable task, even for smaller agencies like GUE, who have several hundred instructors.

Clearly, PADI bears the responsibility of ensuring that the quality of their Tec instruction matches the high quality of their standards and learning materials. I have no doubt that’s PADI’s goal and intent, and we wish them the utmost success in that endeavor. 

Growing our cherished community with well-prepared, competent and capable technical divers, especially among the next generation who will eventually take the helm, is a shared responsibility, irregardless of the logo. With a shout out to GUE, we need to encourage and inspire each another, and our respective organizations, to strive for excellence in this regard! It’s all of “OUR” global community after all.

Special thanks to Asutay Akbayir, Eric Albinsson, Vikki Batten, Chris Brock, Samantha Pearson, Michael Richardson and Karl Shreeves for their help with my research for this story.


aquaCORPS archives: Put Another Diver In: John Cronin And The Business Of Marketing The Diving World (OCT 1995) I interviewed the late PADI CEO John Cronin in his office in 1995 just as the training juggernaut was rolling out its new Enriched Air Nitrox program. We talked about the founding of PADI, his vision of the diving business, the impact of tech diving on the market, PADI’s new enriched air nitrox courses,  his thoughts on tech training and rebreathers, and where he believed the market was headed. Here is the original interview as seen in aquaCORPS.  It ran as the cover story of aquaCORPS #12 Survivors OCT 1995.

InDEPTH: One Way The World Learns to Mermaid: The Mer-spective from PADI’s Karl Shreeves

Alert Rapture of the Tech: Depth, Narcosis and Training Agencies 

Michael Menduno/M2 is InDepth’s editor-in-chief and an award-winning journalist and technologist who has written about diving and diving technology for more than 30 years. He coined the term “technical diving.” His magazine “aquaCORPS: The Journal for Technical Diving” (1990-1996) helped usher tech diving into mainstream sports diving, and he produced the first tek.Conferences and Rebreather Forums 1.0 & 2.0. In addition to InDepth, Menduno serves as Senior Editor for DAN Europe’s Alert Diver magazine, a contributing editor for X-Ray mag, and writes for He is on the board of the Historical Diving Society (USA), and a member of the Rebreather Training Council. 

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