The Open Water course prepares you to dive in the conditions in which you trained. There are, however, no scuba police to check what you’re doing underwater and there is, therefore, reliance on individual divers’ judgements, and those of divers around them.
There was a post recently about the limitations that newer or inexperienced divers should adhere to. However this brings with it a range of issues as the reality is that many newer divers don’t really know what it is they don’t know. I’ve seen many Reddit or Facebook posts where divers have stated they’re experienced but with a bit further down the conversation it turns out that they have logged twenty dives, or maybe a hundred, but over fifteen years and always in warm water, calm conditions and guide-led. Does it matter? Not really on one hand, but on another we have very different perceptions of what “experienced” really means.
In my own experience I find that there tends to be a period where divers are a bit tentative, after their certification. They build a bit of experience and then confidence surges, before dipping again as they start to realise how limiting their training really is.
So for some specific examples. One is swim throughs. I have lost count of the number of times people have said they don’t feel they need any additional training on wreck diving. The old “Put Another Dollar In” is trudged out. “But I can see through it”. Yes… but how aware are you of silt? Is your buoyancy really good enough to not kick anything up? Can you make a risk assessment on entry and exit? Some may say this is a bit of overkill but the reality is that experienced divers can get into trouble by kicking up a bit of silt. The difference is one hopes that experience would reduce the chance of panic, which is oft cited as the cause of many accidents.
Another example is depth. Again, despite there being additional courses available to train a diver to 30m and then to 40m (with PADI, and equivalent courses with other training agencies) I have regularly seen comments on posts that suggest that divers do not need additional training. In one group, a diver has posted about continuing to Advanced Open Water and a number of divers have commented that it’s a waste of money. OK, so there are some instructors that may run a “tick box” course but if done correctly the AOW is an opportunity to further develop skills in areas, including Navigation and Deep. It’s restricted to 30m, as that’s the average depth at which narcosis can kick in, but each diver is different so you can explore your own limitations. The Deep takes you further down and you can test your responses at depth. This builds your own awareness of your skills and your own areas of development. You can then continue to practise and develop, moving forward, applying your training and increasing experience.
There are other examples such as diving in current for the first time, or the first time you dive in the sea with needing to adjust weights. Any new variable adds an extra consideration and it’s about managing the risk, rather than always avoiding it, and identifying the steps needed to reach the sort of diving you would like to undertake.
The difficulty is being aware of limitations, but we often don’t know what our own limitations are. Whilst I’m not advocating full cave dive training to enter the bus at NDAC, I am suggesting ensuring a bit of caution whilst we build up our experience to be able to make safe judgements on what we do.
There are a range of ways we support club members to do this. We run a couple of sessions a year on scenario discussions, using those published by DAN or by BSAC in their annual reports. We also offer free refreshers on courses so you can repeat a course to fill in those gaps and have a chance to reflect with a different perspective now you’ve logged a few dives. The most popular of these is the Rescue refresher as a big part of this is self-analysis and being realistic about what you can do. Skills, fitness and judgement changes over time so it’s an opportunity to reflect and have a go at the scenarios again.
So I guess what I’m saying is that it can be difficult to self assess when you don’t have a full picture of what diving in different situations actually entails. By building time in the water, taking appropriate and good training courses and having those pre and post dive discussions a diver can become more aware, but it’s always worth thinking through why folks say “new divers shouldn’t do swim throughs” or “stick to your depth limits”. There are many, many people who do it and get away with it, but you wouldn’t want to be the person who doesn’t.