During a recent business trip, my buddy and I made a last-minute decision to sneak in a dive, since there was water available. (Need there be more reason?) On the boat, we found ourselves mingling with six vacationers who had just finished their resort course and two PADI Open Water divers. The pre-dive banter revealed huge differences between this inexperienced group and the instructors and lifetime divers with whom we usually dived. Our destination was a shallow, north-south reef ridge that met a sandy bottom at about 32 feet. The lead instructor ended his briefing by requesting that my buddy and I remain with the group. After we entered the water, the instructor spent a few minutes tending to his charges, adjusting rental gear and settling nerves. Then we set off for a 30-minute out-and-back along the reef. This would not be the most interesting or challenging dive I'd ever made. There was no current and, unfortunately, too much dead coral.Back on the boat, my dive buddy's first words were, Man, that dive was lame. What a waste of time.Really? I replied, I thought it was good.Why Did you see some giant moray that I didn't?No, I saw the same reef you did. But I was working on my breathing technique, and now I have about 200 psi more left in my tank than I usually do. That means my air consumption is improving, unlike you, Mr.-400-pounds-remaining-when-you-should-have-800.The lesson here is an old one: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When on a less-than-perfect dive, try honing your skills.Not every dive is going to be as spectacular as Little Cayman's Bloody Bay wall or chock full of colorful critters and giant pelagics. But you should never come out of the water feeling that you've wasted your time diving. None of us gets enough diving in during a typical year to feel like we're wasting our time. So don't.Practice your buoyancy by working your way around rocks or raised reef structures using just your lungs to change your position in the water column. I like to work on my buoyancy and body control by turning upside down -- maintaining a perfectly vertical head-down position -- and peering under ledges for lobster and other shy creatures. It's fun and harder than it sounds.Use that expensive compass you just had to have by navigating a square or a triangle pattern. Did you end up at your starting point? Why not?If you're diving in a group, make a game of figuring out how the dive leader is navigating. Is it by landmarks, a geometric pattern or simply by going to a known object, such as a particular coral head? Try to determine which direction he will turn before he does it.Every dive is a chance to improve your breathing technique. Try counting your breaths during one-minute periods at different points during your dive. How does your breathing change with depth? Is it different when you're tired?You may find that you could stand some improvement in a particular skill area (just as my heavy-breathing buddy could). Perhaps you'll decide a refresher course is in order. Or maybe you?ll consider taking a specialty course to take your diving to the next level.True, practicing skills during dives won't get you a whale shark sighting, but it just might help you get an extra five minutes in the water next time you do see one. How great would that be? Drying or Damaging?My Open Water instructor emphasized the fundamentals in gear maintenance, including regulator upkeep. One crucial step was the post-dive air blast from my tank into the regulator's first stage to blow out any water from the dive. This practice is still taught by many instructors. But is it good advice? Probably not. In fact, it could be damaging your regulator.When the regulator is in use, pressurized air will keep water out of the yoke/first stage connection. It's after the dive that water may drip onto the disconnected first stage. The dripped water is usually just lying in the opening to your first stage, but it's probably not inside the mechanics. Blowing high-pressure air into the regulator, however, will certainly force that water inside. That could lead to reduced performance and the need to pay for more frequent professional servicing.Instead of blowing out your first stage, try these post-dive tips. You'll maintain the regulator's performance, extend its life and probably save money on service and replacement.
- Remove your dive suit or at least peel it down to your waist. Towel dry your arms, hair, the regulator first stage, hoses and tank valve.
- Turn off tank and purge the second stage.
- Remove the regulator from the tank, turn the yoke so it's pointed down and gently shake any water out of the opening.
- If needed, use your tank to blow any water off your dust cap only, making sure to hold it away from the first stage opening.
- Insert dust cap and firmly tighten yoke screw. Then rinse or gently dunk regulator.
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