There is no substitute for proper diver training
It seems like every time I log into my favorite cave diving or technical diving forums or even facebook, I see news about someone who was not trained for cave diving, attempted to go cave diving and died. Many of those have happened at some of the most challenging sites in Florida’s Cave Country. Caves like Eagle’s Nest that not only are overhead environments (like all caves) but super deep as well. Such sites are challenging even for the most experienced of cave divers. Yet untrained people attempt to do these “pinnacle dives” so often that it seems to be becoming the norm.
I’ve been diving caves for over a decade and doing deep technical dives (whether on air or trimix) for about as long. However, I sought out training before attempting to do these dives because I knew that I didn’t know enough not to do something that could jeopardize my safety or that of those diving with me (also known as “something stupid”).
I took many courses. Technical diving courses, cave diving courses, technical cave diving courses, you get the idea. I took those courses from different instructors because as much as I enjoyed learning from each one, each one of them had something special, and each one of them helped shape the cave diving instructor that I am today. But this post is not about me or what a great instructor or great diver I am.
So what drives someone who isn’t trained on a specific form of diving into doing it? My best guess… EGO. They probably feel that they are above taking that cave diving course because they have been diving for x amount of years, and there is absolutely nothing new that some instructor could teach them that they don’t already know. They probably feel that by taking a course they are admitting to the fact that they are not good enough.
Well, I hate to sound like a complete jerk, but you aren’t. At least not yet. That is why you train. That is why we all train. To better ourselves. We train and we practice to become better. Better athletes, better scientists or better divers. You don’t start college knowing everything about your major, right? Heck, you don’t even graduate knowing everything about it. Just because I had bachelor’s degrees in environmental science and biochemistry when I graduated didn’t mean I knew everything. Then I went to graduate school and got advanced degrees, did research for many years, and became an expert in the field of my studies. But it took practice, it took training and it took persistency.
Same thing when I started diving nearly 3 decades ago. It took much training, practice and will to become a good diver.
Some of the better known diving agencies have seriously dumbed down their courses. You basically get your certification just because you paid and you showed up. It doesn’t matter if you demonstrated proper diver skills (and by that, I don’t just mean that you know how to clear your mask and regulator while kneeling on a sandy bottom) and attitude. This is also the root cause of the problem. People are not getting proper scuba diving training at the most basic of levels, and are getting certified without earning a certification because it seems is not in the best interest of the dive shops to train good, independent divers who will not need a divemaster or instructor to babysit them the whole time, or instructors start the course, and they know they will not be conducting the checkout dives, so they do the bare minimum, and let the one who will be conducting the checkout dives deal with the mess. This holds true not only in tropical destinations, but everywhere.
Sometimes people go for the cheapest course, or the best deal. Well, as a good friend of mine always says, “You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” A good scuba diving course at any level should not be cheap. It shouldn’t break the bank either, but it should not be cheap. When you think of all of the costs associated with giving a quality course (good equipment, good instructors, tanks, boats, fuel, pools, materials, etc), plus the costs of doing business (rent, taxes, utilities, etc), you have to ask yourself where the corners are being cut to offer such cheap prices.
But I seem to have gone off on a tangent. Back to getting properly trained.
Proper training courses are not only necessary to get the knowledge you need to make well informed decisions regarding your future dives. They give you the necessary tools to build up your skills and get experience so that in time you can do those dives you see people posting about on social media. Earning a full cave diver certification does not mean that you are ready to take on the most challenging cave dives, and start exploring caves. It means that you have demonstrated mastery in the skillset (and yes, that includes attitude) required to conduct dives at the level of a full cave diver, but should be cautious enough to start out slow. That is one aspect where we as instructors sometimes fail our students. We sometimes do not emphasize the fact that although they are now full cave divers (or divers at any level), they should continue to learn from every dive and build up their experience. The certification is a ticket to continuous learning at an independent (i.e. without an instructor) level.
What will happen if people continue to disregard the need for training? Well, we will see more deaths, and with that, we will see either government regulations (we do not want that!), sites closing down (we do not want that either!) or both!
So please, get proper training. Research the instructor that you want to train with. Evaluate yourself before signing up for a course so that you know that you are fully ready for what lies ahead, and most important, ask yourself why you want to do it. If it is to blow up your ego, then stop right there. Diving is not a competitive sport.