Dive Master

As a dive master, you are able to lead dives and dive trips, take certified divers on vacations, and work full time or independently supervising certified divers at a club, resort, store, or charter boat service. Diver masters often work here before moving on to instructor level certifications. Consult you local dive shop or training agency for course requirements and expectations.

Dive master certifications require specific prerequisites, and these prerequisites differ amongst training agencies, so it’s important that you contact your local dive shop or training agency to find out everything you need to know before signing up for a course.

The Tech Photographer

by Pete Nawrocky

Many of today’s divers are engaged in “technical” diving. Simply stated, “any dive in which a diver cannot surface immediately and directly to the surface, is performing a tech dive.” However, most of the time “tech” diving is looked upon as dives requiring gas mixtures other than air or dives that require decompression or entering overhead environments. It may be necessary to switch regulators underwater or work with computers that need to have gas changes accomplished during hang times. Carrying the extra load of double tanks and stage bottles causes even more drag. Now add a camera into the whole mix. Before you decide just to “grab and go” do not bring a camera into any situation that you have not encountered before, plan your dive carefully.

Carrying a camera can be considered task loading on just about any dive. Why? It’s simple. The diver has just lost the use of one hand. Access to all equipment has to be accomplished without damaging that expensive piece of photo gear. It may be necessary to cut or remove a piece of monofilament. It’s simple enough to do when both hands are free. However, if the cutting shears are placed where only your right hand can reach them and the camera is now occupying this hand, you know have a dilemma. How do you cut the line in a ripping current when the left hand is holding you in position on the anchor line? What do you do? Consider reconfiguring your equipment.

Photographers occasionally disregard their planned dive profile or run low on air. The following statements are commonly used for justification. “I had to hang because I wanted the shot and had to wait for the right conditions.” Or, “I wasn’t paying enough attention to my air supply because I was to busy taking pictures.” Photography is never an excuse to proper dive safety protocols. Buoyancy control is very important not only for reducing the possibility of silting out the photo but also energy conservation. A diver that is neutrally buoyant expends less energy and reduces gas consumption. The following areas are just two of the many “tech” situations that a photographer may encounter.

Cave Diving
Diving and exploring the subterranean world of an underwater cave takes special training and equipment. Double tanks, backup lights, and the necessary reels needed to safely navigate this environment quickly take up all available body space. One hand is occupied with the primary dive light and the second hand may be needed to pull through a strong current. Kicking hard only tires the diver, so where does the camera go? First of all, the photographer should leave behind the camera until this area has been dove beforehand. Maybe the current is too strong to swim a housing against and a Nikonos is a better option. Strobe lighting is essential and multiple strobes are considered standard. Is the cave opening large enough? Side mount explorers may have to change their approach in order to get the diver and camera through a two-foot wide crack in the earth!

Following a dive plan that has been agreed to is required if the photographer expects results. After the site has been chosen and a decision made on what subject to photograph, the divers have to get into the cave. High flow areas may require modifying techniques. One technique is to allow the diver without the camera to lead the dive. The lead diver can actually deflect part of the strong current. The photographer has to stay close behind to take advantage of the flow deflection. An errant kick however can be devastating to a camera system. The photographer does not only have to protect the camera from his dive buddy but maneuver in such a way as to avoid slamming it into the bottom or the cave walls. Fortunately, in many cave systems, the flow is strongest at the entrance. Once inside, it is necessary to swim with a light and camera system at the same time. Attaching a primary light to the camera system is one technique of using a “Goodman style handle” on the light allowing the diver to hold the camera and light at the same time. Navigating through very tight areas may require reconfiguring equipment and thinking.

Side mount diving has gained much attention lately. In this situation, the tanks are moved from the divers back and are mounted along side the body. Air management is even more critical since the entire air supply is not accessible from one regulator. This type of diving requires multiple regulator exchanges during the dive. This configuration is considered extreme and should not be attempted without proper training. Placement of camera lanyards must not interfere with regulator access. In this case, it may be best to dispense with any lanyard to avoid entanglement with regulator hoses. Multiple strobe systems may not work in tight areas because the strobe arms cannot be extended properly. It is important to have a pre-dive briefing explaining when and how the photo is to be attempted. You may wish to have your buddy carry and position the secondary slave strobe in order to achieve results in tight places.

Many divers are using nitrox as a breathing medium and a second gas with a higher percentage of oxygen to assist in decompression. Most cave divers leave the “deco” bottles at the cave entrance where decompression stops are done. Some buddy teams work with the photographer allowing his buddy to carry his/her deco gas into the cave while they manage the camera system. It’s the photographers’ responsibility to ensure their deco bottle is placed properly and secured.

Wreck Diving
Exploring shipwrecks in deeper water for longer periods of time has become commonplace for the advanced wreck fraternity. Cold-water explorers already know how gloves hinder movement and dexterity. Many divers find themselves needing deco stops that require maintaining proper depth in current or wave action, occasionally both. Unlike cave divers that more often than not put a camera down and free up both hands, wreck divers are hanging in open water and may have to stay close to or hold onto the anchor line while maintaining neutral buoyancy. Wrist lanyards can be uncomfortable because of the extra weight or drag on the arm can be fatiguing or interfere with gear management. Computers that require manual changes may be difficult to work with unless the camera system is “clipped” off and allows the use of both hands. Accessing a second regulator with one hand while holding the anchor line and a camera interfering with the other can turn into a nightmare. Remember in this situation, neutral buoyancy is important to maintain depth. The left hand needs to be free so that the power inflator can be manipulated. It may also be necessary to access dry suit valves to prevent over or under inflation. Wrist mounting the computer is one solution. Hold the anchor line with the same hand the computer is attached. This allows the opposite hand the freedom to clip off the camera and then perform computer or regulator changes.

Selecting the type of camera system that works for the planned dives is just as important. Housed systems are bulkier to work with in the water and create more drag, therefore more fatigue. Aluminum housings tend to have deeper working ranges than plastic housings. However, metal housings can have problems with fogging when encountering drastic temperature changes. Using a desiccant to absorb moisture or cooling the housing down prior to submersion can alleviate this problem. It is best to check with the manufacturer for the maximum working depth of the equipment. Although the camera system may be rated to 200 feet, it may impossible to use the housing effectively past 150 feet. Systems for handling gear are available with retractable lanyards. These gadgets work well since the lanyard can be locked into a preset length or set to retract. The camera can now hang in front of the diver and both hands are free. This allows full access to all valves with either hand. The attachment clip should be of a style that can be released with one hand and is different than any other clip. After surfacing, it would be best to hand the camera system up to some one on the boat.

This probably sounds like a lot of work…well, you’re right! This is the reason that any dive of this nature should be planned out and discussed before hand. If you don’t know the dive or the gear, leave the camera behind. Work as a team to achieve the best results!

The Advantages of Diving Nitrox

by David Miner

Diving nitrox has become much more the “norm” today as compared to ten years ago when nitrox was still highly questioned as being a safe breathing medium within the sport diving community. Today, all of the major training agencies offer nitrox training and many dive shops now have the ability to mix and pump nitrox, meaning that nitrox mixes are now a prominent part of the sport diving community.

The most common nitrox mixes being used are EAN32 and EAN36 (enriched air nitrox). These used to be referred to as NOAA Nitrox 1 and NOAA Nitrox 2, because in 1978, NOAA formally established procedures for these two mixtures and referred to them as “standard mixtures.” Even though EAN32 and 36 are still commonly used, almost any mixture from EAN25 to EAN40 is being pumped in dive shops from coast to coast. This is because the comfort levels have significantly increased with respect to diving and mixing nitrox, and the ease in getting the proper training and equipment for safely diving any mixture is being more and more recognized. In addition, every major dive computer manufacturer makes a nitrox computer, making it very easy for divers to monitor and safely dive the nitrox mixture they have chosen to dive.

This is a great thing for the diving community, and all divers should recognize that there are significant advantages and benefits to diving nitrox. Diving standard air still goes on, but it is slowly becoming secondary, as opposed to the norm. Divers need to recognize that there are now choices for their breathing gas, choices that can make a difference in every dive they do.

The advantages of diving nitrox:

  • Increased bottom time while staying within no-decompression limitations
  • Reduced surface interval times between dives
  • Reduced risk of decompression illness due to lower nitrogen levels
  • Reduced nitrogen narcosis due to lower nitrogen levels
  • Significant reduction in fatigue levels after a day of diving
  • Less decompression when no-decompression limits are exceeded
  • Increased safety factor when used with standard air tables

Increased bottom time while staying within no-decompression limitations

Nitrox significantly increases your available bottom time within the no-decompression limits. It basically lets you stay down longer. For example, diving standard air to 60 feet allows you 55 minutes of bottom time when staying within no-decompression limits. Diving nitrox 32% (EAN32) to 60 feet allows you 75 minutes of bottom time when staying within no-decompression limits. That’s about 35% more bottom time, a significant increase! And why did you spend all that time and money to go on your dive trip…to dive, so getting more bottom time on every dive is definitely worth it.

Reduced surface interval times between dives

Diving nitrox reduces the amount of time you have to remain on the surface before doing your next dive. With the increased level of oxygen and lower level of nitrogen, your body absorbs less nitrogen on every dive. This means that your body has less nitrogen to off-gas, meaning that you have less sit time between dives. If you like to do 3 or 4 dives a day and be home before dark or if you’re an avid live-aboard diver doing 3 to 5 dives a day, then diving nitrox is your answer.

Reduced risk of decompression illness due to lower nitrogen levels

Using nitrox reduces the possibility of getting decompression illness. Your body tissues absorb nitrogen during every breath you take while underwater. Excess nitrogen must be off-gassed before you surface or it could form into bubbles and cause decompression illness, also known as “the bends.” Standard air has around 79% nitrogen and EAN32 has 68% nitrogen, meaning that every breath you take of EAN32, the less amount of nitrogen your body is absorbing. Thus, by diving a nitrox mixture and staying within no-decompression limits, you’ll reduce the risks of decompression illness by limiting the amount of nitrogen your body absorbs.

Reduced nitrogen narcosis due to lower nitrogen levels

Diving nitrox helps to reduce nitrogen narcosis, which happens at depth and is caused by the nitrogen in your breathing mixture. We all learned about nitrogen narcosis in our diving classes and know that the deeper you dive, the more susceptible you are to nitrogen narcosis, which can impair your judgment and motor skills. Air has around 79% nitrogen. EAN32 has 68% nitrogen. By diving a nitrox mixture, you reduce the amount of nitrogen in your breathing mix and thus reduce nitrogen narcosis levels while diving at depth. Little to no narcosis means a better and safer dive.

Significant reduction in fatigue levels after a day of diving

As reported by many divers, nitrox can significantly reduce your fatigue levels at the end of a day of diving. This can be extremely beneficial when traveling or when diving for many consecutive days. Nitrogen can increase your fatigue level, so the more nitrogen your body absorbs during your dives, the more fatigue you’re going to feel. After doing 2 to 4 dives in a day on air, divers have routinely commented on how fatigued they feel. Diving nitrox can change this. Nitrox mixtures have less nitrogen, meaning that there is less nitrogen for your body to absorb. The less nitrogen your body absorbs by the end of your diving day, the better you’re going to feel. There is no reason to go back to the hotel and take a nap after your dives anymore. Spend the afternoons doing other fun things!

Less decompression when no-decompression limits are exceeded

If you participate in decompression diving, nitrox reduces the amount of decompression when no-decompression limits are exceeded. No-decompression limits and decompression obligations are based on the amount of nitrogen your body absorbs during a dive or series of dives. If you participate in decompression diving, nitrox mixtures can reduce the amount of time you have to decompress because there is less nitrogen for your body to absorb. Nitrox mixtures can also be used to speed up decompression obligations. Using nitrox mixtures for decompression helps to flush out the excess nitrogen quicker and limits the amount of nitrogen being absorbed at each decompression stop.

Decompression is the result of the absorption of excess nitrogen, requiring you to stay at depth for a period of time until nitrogen levels return to safe levels before surfacing. Using nitrox mixtures can reduce this time requirement.

Increased safety factor when used with standard air tables

Nitrox, when used with standard air tables or air computer, provides an increased safety factor with respect to decompression sickness. By diving nitrox and staying within air no-decompression limits, you can reduce the risks of decompression sickness and stay more conservative underwater. If you’re a conservative diver, using nitrox this way can greatly increase your safety factor.

Nitrox Training Frequently Asked Questions

Where do I go for Nitrox training?

The first place to check is your local dive shop. Many dive shops now have Nitrox instructors and can provide you with the proper training. If your local dive shop cannot help you, use the links on this website to find a dive shop that does offer the training or contact on of the training agencies to find an instructor.

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