Why Tech Divers Should Take A Freediving Course
The tech community can arguably learn a lot from freedivers who have operationalized their knowledge and their ability to manipulate mammalian physiology, to significant effect. Today’s top athletes are all pushing beyond 100 meters feet, while even intermediate freedivers are reaching tech diving depths. That’s why we recommend that every tech diver should take a freediving course. Freediving educator Ted Harty explains why.
By Ted Harty. Lead image courtesy of Lorenzo Mittiga. Other images courtesy of Ted Harty.
Hey there, tech diver!
You and I both started as scuba divers.
Then, we both decided plain old “regular” scuba diving wasn’t enough for us.
You decided you wanted to go deeper and stay longer.
You decided if one tank was good, eight tanks were better.
You decided you wanted more math in your dive planning.
You decided you wanted way more gear.
You decided you wanted a new type of diving where a mistake might kill you.
You decided you want to spend way more money to go diving.
You decided going into tiny, tight places sounds like fun!
You are kind of crazy.
Remember that the next time you say those freedivers are “crazy”.
I took a different path. I taught scuba in the Keys for several years. Paychecks in paradise, beers and bikinis, I bought it hook, line, and sinker; I was an easy mark. Eventually, I started freediving and that changed my life more than any choice I have ever made.
Today, my job is to convince you that you should try freediving for two reasons:
#1 It’s awesome.
#2 It will make you a better tech diver.
My name is Ted Harty, and I’m the founder of Immersion Freediving and my pride and joy www.FreedivingSafety.com, which is a free online coursed that will teach you how not to kill yourself while freediving and how to save your buddy’s life if they blackout. Don’t worry, more on this fun topic later. I’ve appeared on the Discovery Channel training Tim Kennedy, worked with Jack Dorsey, ex-CEO of Twitter, and trained Ben Greenfield.
Before we get into why you should try freediving, let me handle the most common objection I get: “Ted, freediving looks awesome, but I’m too old, I’m too out of shape, I can only hold my breath for 45 seconds.” If you want to be a world record freediver then yes, you need to be an elite athlete. If you just want to be a regular old freediver, you don’t.
I have a body built by beer, bourbon, and BBQ, yet my deepest freedive is 85m/279 ft, and my longest breath hold is 7 minutes. My average student after my 4-day PFI intermediate class does a 4-5 minute breath hold and a 30m/100 ft freedive. At the recreational level, being a good freediver is mostly about knowledge and technique, not rare athletic ability.
Let’s get started!
SACR and DACR rates, anyone?
Tech divers obsess about how much oxygen they are using. Guess who obsesses about that more than you do… FREEDIVERS!
We use many techniques to reduce our oxygen consumption. Freedivers spend a lot of time focusing on our breathing, especially before a dive. I always say the biggest secret to holding your breath is not what you do during the breath hold, but what you do before the breath hold.
“The biggest secret to holding your breath is not what you do during the breath hold but what you do before the breath hold.”
We learn how to use our breathing to slow down our heart rates, which reduce our oxygen consumption.
We also know how to increase the oxygen carrying capacity of our blood, more on that below.
After I took my freediving class and applied the breathing techniques I learned, I immediately lowered my air consumption while scuba diving.
You have to understand I was a dive instructor at the time and was diving almost every day year-round, and I even noticed an immediate improvement.
If you want to lower your surface air consumption rate (SACR) and depth air consumption rate (DACR) learn freediving breathing techniques.
Physiology Over Physics
I admit tech diving has more math and physics than freediving does, but freediving has way more physiology than tech diving.
Kirk Krack, founder of PFI and a tech pioneer, says that there is more physiology taught in a PFI Intermediate class than in the upper levels of tech diving. The coolest topic we dive into is the mammalian dive reflex.
Dolphins, seals, and whales are mammals. We are mammals. Dolphins, whales, and seals have the mammalian dive reflex. It’s used to turn these mammals into freediving machines. Genetically encoded in every single human being is the mammalian dive reflex. You need to know how to turn that sucker on, so you turn into the freediver you were born to be.
When the dive reflex is active, the blood vessels in our fingers and toes constrict, pushing blood to our core to keep the heart, lungs, and brain supplied with oxygen. The dive reflex causes bradycardia, a fancy name for slowing of the heart. It does this to minimize our oxygen consumption. Sound useful for tech diving?
Our spleen contracts, which pushes more red blood cells into your blood. This raises the oxygen-carrying capacity of our blood. We get free and legal blood doping just by freediving. How cool is that! You’ll learn about these adaptations and how to apply them to your diving in a freediving class.
How To Activate Your Most Primal Reflex Before You Dive
Try doing three to four breath holds before you get in the water before your dive; that will start to kick in the dive reflex.
Breathe for two minutes, then hold until you have an urge to breathe.
Breathe for three minutes, then hold until you have an urge to breathe.
Breathe for four minutes, then hold until you have an urge to breathe.
Breathe for five minutes, then hold until you have an urge to breathe.
That would for sure kick in your dive reflex, but does take some time.
Another way is to breathe with your face immersed for five minutes with your mask on your forehead and your snorkel in your mouth. That water across the eye kicks in the dive reflex as well. Not as good as doing the breath hold, but at least you can get it going in five minutes before you go.
Kirk talks about having tech divers do this to kick in the dive reflex to lower air consumption and calm the mind before a dive. [Ed.note: Legendary cave explorer Sheck Exley used to do this before big dives.]
When I first started getting into freediving I was working as a dive instructor in the Florida Keys. I loved that on my day off, all I needed was a mask, fins, snorkel, and I could hop on my boat and go. No need to go to the dive shop to get my tanks filled.
Don’t get me wrong; I still like to put my tanks on to go hang out on a deep wreck, but if I want to play around 10-21m/30-70 ft, I’m freediving at that depth all day long with minimal gear.
Scuba diving is the integration of human and machine. In freediving, the human becomes the machine.
“Scuba diving is the integration of human and machine. In freediving, the human becomes the machine.”
Freediving And Scuba Diving Do Not Mix
Let’s say you are coming up from a wreck dive. Do you come up fast or slow? SLOW!
What do you do at 5m/15ft? Safety stop.
Now, do you get on the boat, take off all your gear, and decide you’re going to freedive down to the top of the superstructure at 24m/80ft?
Question: when you take all your gear off, does the nitrogen magically come out of your body and attach itself to the tank and BC? Of course not!
But nevertheless, you freedive down to the wreck and then come up.
Do you come up fast or slow? FAST!
What do you do at 5m/15ft? Fly to the surface.
If you go freediving after scuba diving, you are asking to get bent. All the nitrogen is still in your body. I know of scuba instructors that got bent in the Keys doing exactly what I described.
Let’s address scuba diving after some freediving.
Here’s the issue: no one knows how much nitrogen freedivers are absorbing. There is no computer that tracks it, and DAN doesn’t know. However, we do know that freedivers get bent.
So, if you go freediving, you are absorbing some unknown amount of nitrogen, so you can’t properly plan for your upcoming scuba dive.That’s why I teach my students to freedive and scuba dive on separate days.
How To Get Started Freediving
I’ve included the steps on how to help you get started into freediving and some resources that will help you along your way.
Step #1 Safety
All great freedivers are safe freedivers.
Many freedivers are not safe, here is why.
While every scuba diver is REQUIRED to take a class with an instructor, pass a written test and be evaluated by an instructor in the water proving they can handle all emergency situations and rescue someone in need. The big difference is 90% of the people that freedive have not taken a freediving class.
They just walk into the dive shop and say I want those big fins, the tiny mask, the camo wetsuit and the biggest speargun you got. The dive shop swipes their credit card and it’s now on them to figure out how to not kill themselves while freediving.
See the difference?
Scuba divers can run out of air which can lead to a fatality unless they have procedures set up in place to prevent this issue. When Freedivers can run out of air, they experience shallow water blackout.
If a freediver doesn’t have a buddy there to watch and be available in the case of a blackout, it can lead to a fatality as well. On the other hand, if the freediver has a buddy right there, disaster can be easily averted. it’s incredibly easy to fix.
After working on a dive boat in the Keys for three years, I can assure you that rescuing someone from a blackout is infinitely easier than rescuing a panicked snorkel or scuba diver at the surface.
To learn the truth about shallow water blackout, for example, how to tell if you are wearing too much weight, and how to save your buddy’s life if they blackout, please check out www.FreedivingSafety.com. It’s not a substitute for taking an in-person course but it’s a great start.
Step #2: Equalizing
Wait, wait, I can see the eyeballs from here. “Ted, I’m a tech diver. I can already equalize fine.”
Question: How deep will you be able to freedive if you use the Valsalva equalization method?
Answer: Likely no deeper than 9m/30ft! I’ve had probably five scuba instructors in my class get stuck at 5m/15ft because they were using the Valsalva method of equalizing, not the Frenzel method of equalization.
The dirty little secret in freediving classes is 20-40% of the students will get stuck at 5-9m/15-30ft, unable to equalize head down.
Freedivers must use the Frenzel equalization method if they want to equalize instantly and effortlessly head down.
So yes, YOU, the mighty tech diver who can dive to 300ft, can easily get stuck at 5m/15ft in your freediving class if you are not doing Frenzel.
Here is a short YouTube video to allow you to figure out which method you are using: Valsalva vs Frenzel Method of Equalization. If you are using Valsalva, there is an online course that will teach you how to switch from Valsalva to Frenzel: Roadmap to Frenzel
Step #3: Get your freediving questions answered.
Each episode of my podcast, Freedive Live, I answer the most common questions I’ve been asked over my 15 years as a freediving instructor.
Step #4: Take a freediving class.
I’m not currently teaching physical classes. I’ve moved to the North Georgia Mountains and there isn’t a lot of good freediving up here. However, here are some freediving classes I recommend. If you try any of them, please let me know how it goes.
• evolve FREEDIVING (PFI North Carolina)
• SoCal Spear-It (PFI California)
• East Coast Divers (SSI & PFI Boston)
• BlueAlchemy Freediving (PFI Virginia)
•Florida Freedivers (PFI Palm Beach FL)
• Bluewater Freedivers(PADI Florida)
• WATERMAN SURVIVAL (FII Puerto Rico)
•Freediving Instructors International—Daniel Koval (FII Hawaii)
•Freediving Instructors International-Errol Putigna (FII Florida)
Step #5: At-Home Freediving Training Programs.
If you want to get the most out of your upcoming course, or if you have taken a course and you want to learn how to get better, I can show you how. My Freediving Training Secrets is a guided, freediving-specific training plan you can do from home. No pool or ocean required. I also create daily freediving advice videos on the following platforms:
InDEPTH: Is Freediving Safe? by Ted Harty
InDEPTH: Doping for Depth by Charly Stringer
DeeperBlue.com: Technical Freediving: Are Breathhold Divers Ready To Mix It Up? By Michael Menduno
Ted Harty began his professional underwater career as a Scuba Instructor for PADI, NAUI, and SSI in 2005. In 2008 he took his first freediving class with Performance Freediving International. After that course, he wanted to go freediving instead of scuba diving on his days off, and realized his passion was freediving. In 2009, Ted took PFI’s first official Instructor program, and immediately started working for PFI helping Kirk Krack and Mandy Rae-Kruckshank teach courses all across the USA.
Ted went to his first freediving competition in 2009 as an overweight, out of shape scuba instructor and progressed from 24-27 m/80-90 ft freediver to 54 m/177 ft in three weeks. After the experience he wondered what he could do if he actually started training. Since that time, he’s broken a USA Freediving record in 2011, won three freediving competitions, and was selected to be the captain of the USA Freediving team in 2012; his deepest dive is 85 m/279 ft. Lately, Ted has been focusing on spreading his message of safe freediving through www.FreeedivingSafety.com, which offers a free online course sharing all of the safety information he teaches in his in-person classes. He can be reached via Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter, @ ImmersionFD. Email: tedharty@ImmersionFreediving.com
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.
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.
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.
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. “
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.
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.
Alert Diver.eu: 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 DeeperBlue.com. He is on the board of the Historical Diving Society (USA), and a member of the Rebreather Training Council.