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GUE History: Towards A New and Unique Future (2004)

Here in this 2004 white paper, Jablonski presents the rationale, controversy, and evolution of the DIR system, discusses the rise of alternative DIR groups and how they differ from GUE, and charts out a new direction for the organization, all of which makes for fascinating reading for diving history buffs.

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The Evolution of DIR

by Jarrod Jablonski, Preface by Michael Menduno

Preface

Standardization of equipment, gases and dive protocols are accepted and viewed as the norm in military and commercial diving. However,  the idea of creating standards for sport diving teams in order to improve their safety and performance was, to say at the least, controversial in the 1990s when technical diving was just emerging. But that’s exactly what George Irvine, then the director of the Woodville Karst Plain Project (WKPP), and training director Jarrod Jablonski, did with the development of their groundbreaking “Doing It Right” (DIR) system of diving, which evolved from the earlier “Hogarthian” approach to cave diving developed by WKPP co-founder Bill ‘Hogarth” Main.

There’s little doubt that the DIR system garnered even more controversy as a result of Irvine’s pugnacious “my-way-or-the-highway” online persona, which arguably detracted from DIR’s importance. Jablonski went on to establish Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) in 1998, with the DIR system at its core. In fact, GUE’s membership magazine “QUEST” was originally named dirQUEST.

By 2004, Jablonski and Irvine’s system inspired the rise of a number of DIR groups around the world, each unaffiliated with GUE, and each with its own focus and nuance. This created some confusion and additional controversy surrounding what constituted GUE standards in comparison to other DIR groups. As a result, Jablonski authored an article titled, “Toward A New and Unique Future,” in the Summer 2004 issue of dirQUEST, which is reprinted below. Following that issue, the “dir” was dropped from the title of magazine, which was renamed “QUEST.”

George Irvine and Jarrod Jablonski. Photo courtesy of the GUE archives.

In his treatise, Jablonski recounts in some detail the need, evolution, and clarification of GUE’s DIR standards, as well as discussing the rise of alternative DIR groups, the confusion that it caused, and the decision to take GUE in a new unique direction. His thesis makes for fascinating reading for diving history buffs like me. 

In addition, he made several notable points which struck me as I read it.  First, Jablonski pointed out that DIR was misunderstood from the beginning. Specifically, that it was NOT an indictment of non-DIR equipment configuration or practices, but rather an effort to promote uniformity among dive teams. There is more than one way to “do things right.” The key is to decide on a standard and stick with it.

Second, Jablonski concluded that DIR was a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of being GUE. In other words, GUE was bigger than DIR and encompassed a wider set of standards and practices. Those included the practice of “civility,” which was likely added in response to Irvine’s actions at the WKPP.

Interestingly, when viewed today, GUE’s standards have clearly demonstrated their robustness. In fact, one could argue that many of GUE’s standards, such as a pre-dive checklist, streamlined equipment, nitrox vs air, cylinder marking and gas switching protocols, as well as more conservative gas parameters—OK, not everyone has bought into helium beyond 100 ft/30m, yet—have been extremely successful in that they have largely been adopted by the technical diving community. Here’s what Jarrod Jablonski had to say back in 2004.

The article makes for fascinating reading for diving history buffs like me. 

Toward A New and Unique Future

by Jarrod Jablonski, GUE Founder and President

The history of underwater exploration is filled with striking personalities and noteworthy actions. However, underwater exploration took on a new form with the emergence of scuba diving. Initially driven by commercial and military interests, underwater exploration using scuba grew to include sport divers, who embraced underwater exploration as their life’s passion and who sought to develop the best tools possible to complement their exploration needs. While the sport was in its infancy, and choices were limited, these divers did not vary greatly in terms of their equipment and configuration.Furthermore, given that training options at the time were also limited, these divers also shared very similar techniques.

As more people took up scuba diving, however, variation in equipment, training, and equipment configuration grew. With ever-growing numbers of people finding pleasure in open water, no decompression diving, a collective identity emerged reflecting the interests of recreational diving participants. An entire industry would soon follow to serve these interests. Concurrently, another identity would take shape, one tied to a group of divers, some coming from within recreational diving, some from without. These divers pushed the limits of recreational diving, exploring increasingly more demanding environments; e.g. caves, deep wrecks and ice. Over time, these two groups would diverge and each would follow its own trajectory. The somewhat vague (in part arbitrary) categories of “technical” and “recreational” diving can be used  to describe these two trajectories.

Given the different orientations of recreational and technical divers, it should come as no surprise that different training practices, equipment choices, and configurations would emerge to answer to the wants of each. The evolving idea of what it meant to be “recreational” led to some divergence regarding what one needed to know to remain safe during dives of minimal difficulty. As a result, dive training tended to become shorter, with minimal treatment of topics such as gas planning, breathing gas concerns, decompression, and crisis management. Likewise, this shift led to greater variation with respect to equipment choices and to how this equipment would be configured.

However, the needs of technical diving generally required greater knowledge of these areas, more precision, more attention to detail, refined skills, practiced crisis management, a sound configuration, and well-crafted and well-maintained equipment. Conventions foreign to the recreational diving community, such as the “thirds rule,” the use of a long hose and a redundant regulator, emerged specifically to address the needs of the technical diver. However, in time, it became apparent that the more precision and proficiency that was required to pursue exploration-level technical diving, the more the need for a unified system. That’s because it was impractical, if not impossible, to operate efficiently as a team if individuals were not functioning under a common set of constraints.

George Irvine and Jarrod Jablonski
George Irvine and Jarrod Jablonski. Photo courtesy of the GUE archives.

Regardless of environment, there is substantial variation among divers with respect to both the value they place on efficiency and how intensely they seek to extend the limits of their diving practice. I would argue that the position that divers take on issues of efficiency is largely tied to the nature of their diving. For instance, it is clear why early divers did not consider standardization an urgent need. That’s  because their diving was less aggressive and thus less likely to demand a high level of efficiency.

However, as diving became more aggressive and more complex, the benefits of precision and efficiency become progressively more obvious; individuals undertaking such dives quickly realize the benefit of standardizing nearly all aspects of their diving to make it more efficient. So, when evaluating different equipment configurations—from those used in the early days of underwater exploration, to those representing “Hogarthian” ideas (discussed below), to the evolving principles of “Doing It Right”—it is useful to keep in mind the importance of efficiency in dealing with complexity.

As a greater number of divers (both recreational and technical) discover the value of efficiency as a means of improving the quality of their diving, standardization in training and equipment, seems the likely future of the practice of diving. The public first became aware of the movement toward standardization and of its value, when the Hogarthian diving system became popular. This scheme was composed of a rough set of ideas and equipment recommendations that served as useful standards for measuring desirable aspects of diving equipment configurations.

Cultivated by a small collective of cave explorers, i.e., Bill Gavin, William “Hogarth” Main, Lamar English, George Irvine, and myself, the idea behind this “system” was that there were preferred methods of configuring equipment, and that these methods had a profound effect upon diving efficiency. Bill Main invested considerable time seeking the most streamlined configuration possible, which resulted in his middle name being chosen to represent the overall system.

Though useful, the Hogarthian system did not require a specific piece of equipment or a particular configuration. Therefore, it did not provide divers with an objective diving standard that would ensure efficiency in the water and was thus limited in its utility. However, by promoting the idea that a careful selection of equipment and configuration could substantially impact the success of a dive, Hogarthianism introduced a dynamic new paradigm to divers and encouraged them to seek improvement through minimalism and streamlining. Armed with this new perspective, many divers (myself and the above explorers included) sought to assemble the most efficient equipment configuration possible, often sharing our findings with the public at large.


Jarrod Jablonski. Photo courtesy of the GUE archives. 

Rather than provide divers with an objective standard to assemble their configuration, Hogarthianism offered a loosely-knitted set of ideas or philosophy  that, in the interest of diver efficiency, promoted an ethos of careful gear selection. However, the lack of an objective standard did not permit divers to understand what exactly constitutes a Hogarthian diving configuration. Instead the “system” varied according to how different advocates of Hogarthian diving saw the links tying together equipment, streamlining, and efficiency.

This disparity of opinion, along with Hogarthianism’s singular emphasis on equipment (versus general diving practice) led to considerable confusion among the diving public (it was extremely difficult to standardize what, was largely subjective in nature). Eventually it became clear that both a more complete system and greater standardization were needed. To be as useful as possible, the components of the system would need to be objectively arrived at and standardized. George Irvine and I, having worked extensively with the Hogarthian system, and having written at length about it, worked toward this new paradigm. We named this  new paradigm “Doing It Right” or DIR.

As the first holistic scuba diving system ever crafted, “Doing It Right” began to gain significant popularity in the mid-1990s; a key component of its success was the detail and care that guided its growth. By adhering firmly to standardization, DIR initially faced opposition from diving quarters that saw the loss of “personal preference” as a notable sacrifice. Even so, with the gradual recognition that it is impossible for a team of divers to be efficient in the water without notable uniformity in equipment, training and configuration, opposition began to erode and continues to erode to this day. That’s because divers have begun to realize that there is a significant penalty in terms of wasted energy and effort for stubbornly seeking to maintain an individual “style.” Why reinvent the wheel alone when there is a proven system that ensures safety, efficiency, and success in the water?

Because DIR’s insistence on standardization is frequently misunderstood, it sometimes becomes a source of tension among divers. That’s because some see the insistence on uniformity as an indictment of practices that do not abide by DIR principles. However, there is nothing essentially hostile or critical about DIR; in its most basic form, it is ultimately pragmatic, promoting the concept of uniformity within and among teams of divers.

Because DIR’s insistence on standardization is frequently misunderstood, it sometimes becomes a source of tension among divers. That’s because some see the insistence on uniformity as an indictment of practices that do not abide by DIR principles. However, there is nothing essentially hostile or critical about DIR; in its most basic form, it is ultimately pragmatic, promoting the concept of uniformity within and among teams of divers.

To be fair, there is a certain degree of legitimate tension generated by imprudent advocates of DIR. Having personally benefited from the system, they take it upon themselves to become almost evangelical in their promotion of what they understand to be its tenets. Nevertheless, this is not an intrinsic weakness of DIR; all successful movements have their zealots.

By crafting a set of objective standards meant to regulate diving practice, DIR triggered a paradigm shift in diving, one that will forever modify the way that divers evaluate their diving. It is now part of our ethos to believe that divers acting cohesively and with shared purpose are more efficient. Nonetheless, considering standardization in isolation is unfair to the system’s holistic approach.

DIR Principles

As a well-defined, standardized system, DIR was designed to maximize efficiency across multiple environments in order to promote safety and fun. Among its key principles are:

Unified Team

Central to the DIR diving system is the concept of a unified team. This system pairs divers of similar capacity within an environment that they are properly prepared for. Teams of individually capable divers produce a level of safety and efficiency beyond what is capable while diving independently. Few things are as rewarding as diving within a group that maintains a similar degree of care and focus. Any diving activity where the concept of a team is marginalized will always fail to maximize its potential with respect to fun and safety.

Preparation

For DIR, preparation for diving involves five primary components. These are: pre-dive preparation, mental focus, physical fitness, diving experience, and dive planning. Divers who try to circumvent any of these areas are not adequately prepared for the dive and stand a good chance of experiencing reduced comfort, a missed dive opportunity, or even a dangerous situation. With ill effects, far too many divers assume that dive preparation begins the day or even hours before the dive.

Streamlined Equipment

The elements comprising a standard DIR equipment configuration have been endlessly discussed and are now well known. For those seeking more information on this subject, please refer to my book, “Doing it Right: The Fundamentals of Better Diving.”

In short, the DIR configuration was designed to work in a majority of situations and to ensure safety and promote a diver’s efforts, not undermine them. Streamlined and minimalist in nature, the DIR configuration was designed to maximize divers’ efficiency while minimizing their risk. Items should not hang free or protrude from divers’ bodies, increase drag or cause entanglements.

Balanced Rig

The DIR rig is a carefully weighted rig; one that ensures that while divers are not over-weighted, they are able to hold a decompression stop in the face of a catastrophic gas loss. This requires a careful assessment of the component parts of one’s configuration, and how these each impact statically and dynamically, on the buoyancy characteristics of the configuration as a whole.

Cylinder Labeling

DIR embraces the uniform practice of marking cylinders with the Maximum Operating Depth (MOD) in a clear and easily identifiable manner, and utilizing only this data to identify bottles. This practice prevents divers from becoming accustomed to unreliable identification procedures.

Standard Gases

DIR promotes reliance on standard gas mixes for all phases of diving. “Standard gases” help to insulate divers from the risks of inappropriate gas ratios, provide a common platform for cylinder marking and gas mixing, ensure team symmetry, and vastly simplify decompression logistics.

Conservative Gas Parameters

DIR promotes conservative gas parameters for all phases of diving. Among these are: Equivalent Narcotic Depths (END) of less than 100 ft/30 m, the partial pressure of oxygen (P02) during the working phase of the dive of 1.4 ATA or less, and P02s of 1.6 ATA or less for decompression. To offset the toxic effects of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, DIR recommends the liberal use of helium together with the conservative use of oxygen.

GUE Diving

To a careful reader, a casual review of diving history will reveal a movement toward greater standardization. DIR’s place in history is assured, given its role in introducing a new paradigm to the diving public, one where standardization provides divers with the key to efficiency, safety, enjoyment and success. Though there is still variation among divers, in time, the desire for proficiency will force them to migrate toward a known paradigm that through its insistence on standardization, ensures phenomenal success in both extreme diving projects and in recreational applications. For this reason, the trajectory that the history of diving will follow will speak volumes to the impacts of the DIR movement.

George Irvine diving with the WKPP. Photo courtesy of the GUE archives.

With all great movements, comes inevitable corruption and fragmentation. Today, DIR has spread to every corner of the globe, with self-appointed DIR groups emerging in dozens of different countries. Given their physical separation, their lack of centralized direction, their own specific agendas, beliefs, power struggles, and constraints, these satellite groups cannot help but to promote a version of DIR that is uniquely their own. Many of these “versions” of DIR bear little resemblance to the original, however well-intentioned and devoted to the founding principles of DIR these groups may be.

The unavoidable division of DIR is the result of many factors, ranging from breakdowns in channels of communication, to differing interpretations, to personal agendas, to private experiences, to power plays, to simple disagreements among proponents. As individuals and groups adopt DIR they will often make choices very different from those that I and other founders of DIR would have made. As a result, it is necessary for us to recognize that DIR will be repurposed by those it has influenced in ways that serve their own interests. Nonetheless, in the end, I believe that these systems that adopt DIR can only benefit the future of the diving industry. Even so, I believe that to enhance the safety, fun and efficiency we sought to ensure when we first started to build DIR, it is necessary for us to ensure greater standardization across additional domains.

From the outset I believed that divers’ training, their equipment, their configuration, their knowledge, and their skill set should all contribute to greater safety and enjoyment in the water. That was the reason I founded GUE. The DIR system is at the core of GUE training. That is not surprising, given the extent to which my efforts helped to shape both DIR and GUE. However, with the passage of time, GUE has shaped its own identity, one that is not identical to that of DIR. And though being DIR is a necessary condition of being a GUE diver, it is not a sufficient condition; it is not enough.

There is more to being a GUE diver than being DIR. Among other things, it entails a standardized measure of competence (training), a commitment to civility, and also to non-smoking, aspects to which DIR in-itself does not speak.

There is more to being a GUE diver than being DIR. Among other things, it entails a standardized measure of competence (training), a commitment to civility, and also to non-smoking, aspects to which DIR in-itself does not speak. Over time, GUE vice-president and long-time DIR supporter Dr. Panos Alexakos and I came to see that there was really no way to reign in the growing number of interpretations by DIR advocates; it would be a waste of resources and energy to struggle with them over the correct interpretation of DIR. With this in mind, we have struck out on a new road, a distinctly GUE road that looks fondly upon DIR as the foundation that can empower the organization toward a new and unique future.

Did you enjoy this article? Watch the original DIR 2004 DVDs now on GUE.tv.


Jarrod Jablonski is an avid explorer, researcher, author, and instructor who teaches and dives in oceans and caves around the world. Trained as a geologist, Jarrod is the founder and president of GUE and CEO of Halcyon and Extreme Exposure while remaining active in conservation, exploration, and filming projects worldwide. His explorations regularly place him in the most remote locations in the world, including several world record excursions at 300 ft to cave penetrations in excess of 24,000 ft/7 km; these dives include bottom times of 12 hours with total immersions near 30 hours. Jarrod is also an author with dozens of publications, including three books and more forthcoming, as well as several awards for lifetime achievement, including the 2018 DAN-Rolex Diver of the Year, 2016 Eurotek and 2015 Golden Trident. He successfully completed his first Ironman in April 2019.

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Deep Drift Diving in Cozumel

With its spectacular reef encrusted walls and irresistible current Cozumel has been a ‘Mecca’ of recreational diving for nearly thirty years; mind that 130-ft/40m depth limit! Now explorer and tech instructor Alberto Nava takes us on a journey to rediscover the parts of underwater Cozumel that single-tank tourist divers will never see. Are you ready to mix it up and conduct some unapologetically DEEP Cozumel drift diving?

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By Alberto Nava

Header photo by James Babor.

After doing all my closed circuit rebreather (CCR) critical control checks, i.e., “CHAOS,”  I jumped into the water to find myself in warm, cobalt blue water. We descended to 6 m/20 ft, did a quick bubble check, and started our descent. My automatic diluent valve (ADV) delivered a wonderful trimix 15/60 (15% O2, 60% helium) mix as I dropped down the wall and leveled off at about 60 m/197 ft. A large black grouper came to greet us, and we quickly reached the 65 m/213 ft overhang on the wall—the old coastline from the previous ice age. We followed the grouper inside the overhang and reached 80 m/263 ft. We found two large lionfish resting on a sizeable white sponge, and large strands of black corals and colorful gorgonian were all around. We turned our bodies into the current and began our 180-minute drift dive along the incredible walls of Cozumel. We were in heaven!

As we drifted along enjoying this incredible dive, my mind drifted back 20 years ago,

when I used to dive the Caribbean Sea in my home country of Venezuela. At that time, I had just become a PADI divemaster and used to take people on warm-water adventures in Venezuela’s national marine park, Los Roques Archipelago, near the island of Bonaire. As a divemaster, we limited our dives to 30 m/100 ft and closely followed the no-decompression limits. The tools of those times were single aluminum 80 (AL80) tanks, a warm-water wetsuit or no wetsuit at all on some dives, and the famous multi-level diving PADI wheeI.  

In my 20-year evolution as a diver, I’m so thankful to have found the Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) organization and its amazing mentors, which made my 180-minute dive to 70 m/230 ft seem as simple as the old single tank diving of my past. Is this for real? Can Caribbean diving be even more incredible with GUE tools? Please allow me to take you on my rediscovery of the Caribbean during the last three years, with the hope that you will also enjoy the incredible natural resource we have at our disposal.

In 1998, as technical diving was just getting started, I moved to California after spending a few years attending school in Sydney, Australia. My time in Oz had left me a bit frustrated, having experienced what I now perceive as dangerous deep air dives in the Sydney Harbor as well as in the caves of Mount Gambier, near Melbourne. I arrived in California wanting to learn to use alternative breathing gases for going deeper.

I experienced improvements on the diving procedures and gases while training with West Coast technical diving pioneer Wings Stock from Santa Cruz, where we used to breathe trimix 20/20 (20% O2, 20% helium) at 67 m/220 ft. But, it was really not until I took my GUE Tech 1 class in 2001 that deep diving came to a new light. Helium was such a wonderful gas to put in our tanks, and the more the better. For me, doing a 46  m/150 ft dive with 35% helium removed most of the ambiguities of deep diving, reduced the risk, and made deep diving a much more enjoyable experience. 

Living in Monterey, I was able to explore and document many of our deep water pinnacles, including those at Point Lobos Marine Reserve, Big Sur Banks, and others. 

Unfortunately, I quickly forgot all about the Caribbean and settled in as a cold-water California diver. During that time I also started going to Mexico to dive the amazing caves of the Yucatan Peninsula. 

Fortunately, I got better at cave diving, got into exploration, and was lucky to discover the Hoyo Negro Pit and an amazing assembly of animal and human remains from the Late Pleistocene. From 2007 to 2014, Hoyo Negro, underwater archaeology, and scientific diving were at the center of my diving world. As time went by, my distant past as a Caribbean diver faded more and more from my diving horizons. 

The Return to the Caribbean

In 2014, I reluctantly agreed to a warm-water diving vacation with my girlfriend. Cozumel was close to the caves, so I figured I could do my cave diving project, then spend a few days of diving Cozumel in order to make everybody happy. However, as soon as I jumped into the water, I recognized the warm, blue water surrounding my body and realized I had been there before; in fact, it was imprinted in my mind.

I was quickly able to find all the little creatures inhabiting the reef, including seahorses, green moray eels, and arrow crabs, and the larger creatures as well: barracudas, eagle rays, and nurse sharks. I felt about 20 years younger, having returned to my natural environment. On the second day of diving, after the divemaster gave us a check out, we ventured to the Cozumel wall. We quickly dropped to 30 m/100 ft, and I could see the wall going down, probably to 60 m/197 ft. I immediately wanted to go deeper on the wall and explore! However, considering my minimum gas reserves, equivalent narcotic depth (END), and maximum operating depth (I was diving nitrox 32), I realized that I needed the right tools.

By the end of the trip I was convinced I needed to come back to Cozumel with GUE tools. At a minimum, we needed to ditch the single tanks for doubles, or better yet a rebreather, and find a way to get helium, Softnolime, and a reliable boat operator willing to conduct some fun tech dives. 

Photo by James Babor.

I got back home and started talking to Cozumel veterans about how to get the equipment and support I would need for deeper diving. The most common answer I got was, “People in Cozumel don’t like deep diving.” There had been too many accidents, so they didn’t want to take people deep on the reef. Furthermore, my inquiries with dive operators were not successful; the best answer I got was that some shops had larger steel tanks. 

I eventually found a dive operator who was willing to conduct deep diving and had a great boat and crew. Unfortunately, the owner of the shop had had problems with GUE divers from the early “Doing It Right” era of the ‘90s, and thus was not very welcoming to me as a GUE diver or instructor. It took a lot of energy to convince him that I was a nice person, and that I was not going to call him a “stroke” or require him to wear all Halcyon dive gear. After numerous meetings, dinners, and some mescal, I finally had access to a good boat, an experienced crew, and the all-important helium. 

Fun Diving GUE Style

Over the last three years, my friends and I have conducted numerous fun dives in Cozumel and held some simple classes. Here is a description of what’s possible starting with the simplest diving and going to the more complex.

  • Recreational diving with doubles: For me, this is entry-level Caribbean diving. You get two sets of doubles filled with 32% and conduct two dives in a day. Each dive is a multiple-level “no-stop” dive on the reef with a max operating depth (MOD) of 30 m/100 ft. Total run times are around 75 min, and typical dives have three levels with 20 min at 30 m/100 ft, followed by 20 min at 18 m/60 ft, and another 20 min at 10 m/30 ft. Divers then use their remaining gas until their runtime is in the 75 min range. Our boat operator allows for two 75 min dives when doing recreational dives. This allows for good time at depth followed by fun diving along the wall. All that’s needed to participate in this type of diving is GUE fundamentals and a doubles primer.  
  • Tech 1 dives: For GUE Tech 1 divers, the equipment of choice is a set of AL80s typically filled with trimix 18/45, and a nitrox 50 (50% O2) AL80 stage for decompression. This is the perfect combination of gear to venture on the wall with a max operating depth of 52 m/170 ft (Note that GUE standards set a maximum pO2 of 1.2 atm during the working phase of the dive, and 1.6 atm during decompression), and again a run time of 75 to 85 min. Divers can multi-level their dives into two segments with 15 min spent at 52 m/170 ft and another 15 minutes at 40 m/130 ft, followed by a nice relaxing deco drifting along the shallow reef. In order to increase the fun during deco—we call it “Fun Deco”— we make the stops longer and spend more time on the reef. A typical decompression profile might be five minutes starting at 21 m/70 feet on nitrox 50, five at 18 m/60 ft, five at 15 m /50 ft, five at 12 m/40 ft, five at 9 m/30 ft, and 10 min at 26 m/20 ft. It’s easy and FUN! AL80s and wetsuits are also an ideal combination; no need for a drysuit there. During the summer months the air temperature is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the water might be as warm as 87 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Tech 2 dives: As people want to dive deeper on the walls, GUE Tech 2 divers get either a bottom stage to increase their time at depth, or we also have low pressure LP85 tanks available for them. They typically use both nitrox 50 and O2 for decompression. The best part of the reef is the old coastline in the 60-80 m/197-262 ft range. In order to make their gas last longer, T2 divers can also multiple-level their dive, dividing their bottom time between maximum depth and time at 45 m/148 ft. In Cozumel, there is plenty to see at maximum depth. Similar to T1 divers, decompression is done on the reef and plenty of time is spent in the 12-9 m/40-30 ft range while still on the reef, until heading out to 6 m/20 ft for a bit of O2 deco. While at 6 m/20 ft, you can still enjoy diving as you look at a school of barracudas, trevally jacks, and the occasional shark. Watching turtles is one of the treats during decompression.
  • CCR dives: The ultimate Cozumel tech dives are conducted by rebreather divers. The operator allows us to drift for up to 180 minutes, but in exchange for the long bottom time, we only conduct one dive. It’s not uncommon to have bottom times in the range of 60 minutes in the 70-80 m/230-262 ft range. These profiles require longer deco but one does so drifting along the Cozumel reefs.

The CCR allows for more flexible decompression and increases the enjoyable part of the dives. It’s not uncommon to extend the stops in the 37-21 m/120-70 ft range diving inside a coral head. We often make our stops for 20 minutes every 3 m/10 ft on our way to the surface, which allows us to stay on the reef for most of the dive. Our 6 m/20 ft stop is not much longer than the previous stop, which is a big change for people accustomed to long 6 m/20 ft stop hangs.

All in all, diving Cozumel with the appropriate tools provides for an incredible experience and allows you to practice your skills in a wonderful and warm environment. I plan to organize several trips to Cozumel in 2020. I hope you’ll be able to make it.

Beto will be running a number of ‘tech” trips to Cozumel in 2020. If you are interested please contact him at: betonavab@gmail.com


Alberto “Beto” Nava is a Venezuelan-American engineer, diver, dive instructor, and explorer based in California. He has over 18 years of diving experience and has completed over 500 cave dives. His longest cave exploration penetration dive has been 4.7 km/15,500 ft. He and his group of fellow divers particularly enjoy exploring the cenotes in the Yucatan region of Mexico. 

It was on one of these excursions that he and his colleagues discovered Hoyo Negro, or “Black Hole.” The bottom of Hoyo Negro contains bones of several Ice-Age megafauna and bones of a young girl who lived 13,000 years ago. They named her Naia. This discovery started one of the most important studies of the first Americans in recent history. From 2011 to 2015, Nava was a National Geographic Explorers Grant recipient. He used the grant to continue diving and photographing Hoyo Negro. His photography is now being used in the innovative labs of the Cultural Heritage Engineering Initiative at the Qualcomm Institute at the University of California, San Diego, to create a unique 3-D experience of Hoyo Negro for those who cannot do the difficult dive and would like to experience and study the space. 
Nava has also published several papers on diving, underwater mapping, and the discovery of Hoyo Negro. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from the Simon Bolivar National University in Venezuela and has worked as an engineer for over twenty years.

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