Take a moment and think back on some of the skills that you accomplished during your first few dives. Regulator recovery, mask clearing, weight-belt handling, buoyancy control and the controlled emergency swimming ascent, for example, readily come to mind. Many of these skills, and all of those just listed, relate directly to self-rescue: Someone kicks the regulator out of your mouth? Recover it and stick it back in. Laugh too hard and flood your mask? Clear it. Something wrong with your BCD? If you're on the surface, ditch your weight belt. Simply save yourself.Try now to remember how you felt just before your first open-water dive. Chances are that you were dealing with an element of stress. What happened as you became comfortable with the skills just mentioned? If you're like most, the stress level dropped as your ability to perform these skills increased. And that's the way it should be.Now consider for a moment what might seem to be a bit of a contradiction: Another major part of becoming a qualified diver is becoming a good buddy. Never dive alone. Plan your dive, and dive your plan with your buddy.Isn't it interesting that the best buddies are frequently the most self-reliant divers? These divers have developed and honed self-rescue skills to a fine edge. They can recognize and manage stress. They can help themselves. And before you can help anyone else, before you can be a really great buddy, you need to be able to look after yourself. To do that, let's look at a few concepts from the PADI Rescue Diver course that are actually introduced during entry-level training. I present for your perusal the three ''P's.''Preparation: Self-rescue begins with preparation. You need to be ready physically and mentally for your planned dives. Physical preparation, obviously, involves fitness, health, rest and diet. You can take this as far as you want to go, but no matter who you are and what you do, you know when you're rested and healthy. You probably also have some idea of your personal physical limits. Pay attention to these factors and plan dives within your capability. Mental preparation means feeling confident - but not overly so - about the dive you're about to make. This is a little harder to describe, but you've just got to ''feel good'' about the planned dive. A few examples illustrate: Is the tax man on your back? Are you in the middle of a particularly trying court case? Did your dog just die? These circumstances may make it difficult for you to concentrate on the dive at hand. Or they may be just the excuse you need to get away from it all. The point is that only you can make that call. Preparation also includes equipment. Have you all the appropriate equipment for the particular dive? Is it in good condition and recently serviced? Is it adjusted for fit and streamlined to avoid excessive drag and the risk of snagging? Are you properly weighted? Involve your buddies in your preparation and get involved with theirs. Diving is always better when no one has a problem.Continuing the ''P'' theme, consider next: Prevention. The ideal situation is to never allow problems to occur. This way, you never have to deal with them. Try to think ahead and anticipate potential problems. Are you more active than usual, perhaps kicking against a mild current? You'll probably use more air. So keep an extra eye on your pressure gauge and factor increased air consumption into the dive plan. Is this your first dive on a vertical wall? Make sure you are weighted correctly. Pay close attention to buoyancy control from the moment you enter the water. Watch your depth gauge as you descend and level off well above your planned maximum depth. The goal here is to prevent damaging the wall by leaving claw marks behind as you make a vain attempt to control descent rate using the fingernail method. Is this your first time diving with a new buddy? Take a little extra care with your pre-dive checks. Get to know your new buddy as best you can in the time you have before the dive. Remember that this is an opportunity to make friends; try not to rattle off a string of questions that sounds like an inquisition. Make sure to review communications and what to do in case of buddy separation.Another ''P'' thing, from a self-rescue perspective, is Performance. Sometimes, in spite of all attempts at preparation and prevention, a problem crops up. No matter what the problem, the first thing to do is take a moment and stop all activity. Next, re-establish a normal breathing pattern. Third, think about all possible actions (establishing positive buoyancy is likely to be way up on this list). Finally, act, and implement your plan. Remember this from your first scuba course? ''Stop, breathe, think and act.'' Important concepts don't change as you get more experienced; they just get fleshed out a little more. That is one of the strongest reasons I know for continuing education, in this case a rescue course. Once you've built a little confidence and experience, take the time to be a better buddy. As you do, you'll be pleased to see how much better you get at taking care of yourself.John Kinsella is PADI America's director of training and quality management.
Find exclusive opportunities and packages offered to Society members on the member benefits site.