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Is a pre-dive checklist overkill for recreational divers?



In his first blog for Scubaverse, Steve Lewis talks about the importance of pre-dive checklists for ALL divers…

Pre-dive checklists are a brilliant idea. Using them properly can save embarrassment, and things that are much worse; for example, sinking like a rock and having nothing to breathe when you hit the bottom.

Every scuba training agency with a plastic card printer at head office seems to agree because each has its own acronym for what to check before we jump into the water. These are a sort of verbal reminder about weights, and hoses, connections, air (or gas) pressure, and all the other bits and pieces that help to keep us safe and happy underwater. It’s highly likely — I’d bet a beer and pretzel against a poke in the eye — that you were taught one of those mnemonics in your open-water class.

The only drawback is that it is also highly likely the folks kitting up beside you at your favourite dive site, don’t bother to use a checklist at all; or can’t remember how the ABCDEF, or whatever alphabet soup they were taught, relates to all the things that need to be checked before launching themselves into the deep blue. Their checklist is incomplete.

And so, it’s probable you have witnessed people jumping off dive boats with no fins on, their mask around their neck, their low-pressure inflator unconnected, weight belt someplace other than around their middle, and so on.

A checklist can help keep surprises to a minimum; especially nice when the surface is long swim away. Photo of the author in a Mexican cave by Tom St. George.

We can certainly do better. But the answer is NOT another acronym. Fact is, the stats seem to tell us that for the average diver (recreational or technical), a verbal checklist is as useful as a chocolate poker.

One reason for this is with almost everything we learn, retention is difficult. If teaching is about making a permanent change in behaviour — and that is arguably a fine definition — it follows that it takes work from both the instructor and the instructed to make change happen. It appears we are not doing a stellar job at it.

I think the answer is either a written checklist — the one you were originally taught may be fine — or at least something visual to trigger memory.

Okay, it’s time to declare a conflict of interest: I’m a cave diver. Worse, I am a cave diving instructor evaluator. I also teach rebreathers. In both those situations, checklists save lives. “My name is Steve. I am ADD, I love checklists.”

The benefit of using a physical checklist, far outweigh the “inconvenience” of carrying one!

Being a realist, it is obvious that getting every diver on the face of the earth to conform to the type of pre-dive routines taught to cave and CCR divers is a pipe-dream. A group of dive-shop operators recently told me en-masse that “advanced cave diving skills” — trim, buoyancy, gas management and most specifically using a physical checklist — are total overkill for “ordinary” divers.

I bit my tongue because I was outnumbered; but I was able to say “bullshit” before they all walked away. Surely a bimble at five or six metres on a nice tropical reef someplace warm and sunny deserves as much respect in its way to a swim a kilometre and a half back into a cave. At least until we learn to breathe water.

Last Christmas, I did something really unusual: I taught an open water diver course. It was for a special student: my girlfriend, and it was unusual because for the past 20-odd years, I’ve focused on teaching exclusively technical diving: trimix, decompression, sidemount, rebreather, and cave diving. I’ve run open water instructor programs over the years, but my poor girlfriend was in my first beginner’s class since sometime in the last century.

Consequently, it was a terrible course. First-off, she was asked to dive sidemount. Also, she had to demonstrate a bunch of “extra” skills and drills, and she was encouraged to use a pre-dive checklist to begin every dive. Her course was not a happy pat-on-the-back pencil-stroking exercise. She was pushed hard and it took ten days to certify her.

The miracle is that she did not disown me and we are still dating. In fact, she told every one of her friends how much she enjoyed herself and what fun it was. She particularly enjoyed the emphasis on “learning properly, and being made to use a checklist,” her words. “I’m forgetful, a written checklist thingy really makes me feel comfortable,” she admitted.

Invest in a waterproof notebook. It’s great for your checklist, but really a boon for underwater communication.

Now, hers is in a waterproof notebook that’s part of her dive kit (and by using it she automatically checks she has it on her dives). But that method may not work for everyone. It’s based on the “head-to-toe” buddy check used by cave divers (well, some cave divers) as they get ready to swim into a hole in solid rock to look at wet rocks.

It’s this simple. Reading from an actual physical checklist (at least until it becomes embedded in memory) one of the team leads and begins at the head, and works down the body to her feet. As she calls out, her buddy(ies) confirm with a spoken “Check” (provided they have the corresponding piece of kit of course).

There’s a simplified version below. You can use it, create your own based on the way you and your buddy dress and dive, or write down the acronym you were taught to use.

The important thing is to use something. Have Fun. Play Safe!

Example Checklist: They only work when we use ‘em!

Write down your checklist, print a couple of copies, have them laminated, give one copy to your buddy, keep a copy in your wetnotes, use it prior to every dive.

Here are some things that need to be covered:


  • Feeling good/positive to the dive
  • Diveplan — depth, time, gas(es) MOD and marked, deco
  • Route — waypoints, bailout strategy
  • Vision — mask, backup mask, lights
  • Info. — PDC on, battery good, correct bottom gas set, (deco gases set), conservatism appropriate for dive
  • Cutting — knife, line-cutter, shears
  • Breadcrumbs — Reels, spools, JON line
  • Signal — DSMB/Emergency DSMB
  • Comfort — exposure suit zipped
  • Hoses/Orings — inspected
  • BCD/Drysuit connected (inflate / deflate)
  • Breathing — pressures, regulators purge watch SPG
  • Surface support


  • Verify tank pressure, gas match, verify thirds
  • Breathe wet ALL regs, Deco pressurized and off
  • BCD/drysuit inflate/deflate
  • Check lights, reels, spools, line markers


  • Bubble Check / S-Drill / Valve Drill
  • OK to Dive… CONFIRM

Steve Lewis is an author, adventure travel writer, and generalist, who dislikes dive gear but who loves to dive. A specific interest is cave diving, which he regards as "the most creative way to learn mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation.” He lives in a converted schoolhouse in Ontario’s cottage country with coyotes, white pines, and the Great Lakes as neighbours.

Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 1



Over the next seven days, join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy as we publish a Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

Deptherapy made the very brave decision to book an expedition to our home in Egypt as soon as Roots Red Sea received their certificate from the Egyptian Authorities that the camp and dive centre was COVID secure. Roots is one of very few resorts to receive a certificate from the Egyptian Government.

We arrived in Roots the day after they re-opened.

Getting together an expedition was a major task. Very few Approved Medical Examiners’ of Divers or Dive Referees are conducting consultations at the moment. Availability of beneficiaries and the requirement to quarantine on return from Egypt affected the number of beneficiaries available.

There was also a requirement to pass a COVID PCR virus test within 72 hours of travelling.

We had decided on a small expedition and on the day of travel we had six flying to Egypt.  Unfortunately, Chris Middleton had to drop out the day before we travelled after emergency wisdom tooth surgery.

Our group comprised of Richard Cullen, Michael Hawley, Tom Oates, Tom Swarbrick, Keiron Bradbury and Corey Goodson.  Keiron was undertaking his RAID Master Rescue Course and, as it turned out, Corey was undertaking the RAID Open Water 20 course.

A deserted Gatwick Airport at 0900 on 10 October

Our outbound flight was before midday on Saturday 10 October and I must admit we were all shocked at how deserted was.  Checking in with easyJet took minutes and when we boarded the plane, we found it less than half full.

Corey is a paraplegic since a car accident two years ago while he was training prior to joining the Royal Anglian Regiment.  Corey has no sensation below the waist and is unable to use his legs.  The cabin crew on our flight were quite amazed to see the two Toms and Michael lift him from his wheelchair and place him in his seat for the flight.

Mask protocols were strictly observed by the team, the flight was uneventful, and the easyJet Cabin Crew superb. We also took a digital thermometer to check temperatures prior to flying.

Corey having a pre-flight temperature check

Hurghada Airport was very quiet and we moved through Immigration and collected our baggage in very quick time.

Two things to note:  If you are travelling to Hurghada you need to complete a COVID declaration for the Egyptian Authorities. If not, you have to fill out the rather lengthy form when you arrive.  You can undertake a COVID test on arrival at Hurghada Airport but the queues are long.  It costs much less than the tests we had done in the UK – BUT – you are required to be quarantined at your hotel until the test result comes through.  This means two days with no access to resort facilities.  If the test comes back as positive you have at least two weeks being confined to your room.

COVID guidelines

Transport to Roots was, as ever, on hand and we were soon at the camp and being briefed about the COVID arrangements.  A lot of work has been put in place to make Roots COVID compliant – and all at considerable expense.

None of the usual hugs with the Roots team and you have your temperature checked every morning and every time you return from the dive centre.  Your dive kit is sterilised every night ready for the next day’s diving.

Sterilised Dive Kit

We all felt very COVID secure.

Check back for tomorrow’s Blog and our first day diving…

Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at

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Dive Training Blogs

Dive Instructor! Is Your Paycheck rubbish? Here’s 4 passive income ideas for Scuba Pros (Watch Video)



How much money does a Dive Instructor make? The easy answer is not much. Here’s 4 ways a Scuba Diving Professional can diversify their income streams.

You hear it all the time: Being a Scuba Diving Instructor is a labor of love. Why is it that Scuba Instructors, when compared to almost any other professional in a sports training or educational role, make less money? Well, we’re not going to dive into that topic, because nobody here has the time for that!

What we are going to do is give you 4 ideas for generating passive income using your expertise as a Dive Instructor. Each of the ideas requires a little effort and investment on your part, but with a long term strategy, you can absolutely add money to your monthly income.

If you’ve just finished your Instructor Development Course, I strongly encourage you to diversify your income streams by trying your hand at some or all of the ideas we explain in this video.

We want to thank all of our subscribers for supporting this channel and being such an active and engaged audience! We appreciate you all! And thanks for making our most recent video our most watched video yet!

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