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Becoming a PADI Tech Support Diver

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stu martin robsonCropping up alongside PADI’s growing list of TecRec training courses are a number of distinctive specialties focusing on the more diverse aspects of technical diving. By popular request, Martin Robson, who is one of PADI’s designated instructor trainers, has written a new specialty course to teach the roles and responsibilities of a support diver typically needed on expedition level dives.

Martin invited me along to inland diving site Vobster Quay to check out his inaugural 2-day course. On a particularly cold, crisp Saturday morning in April I packed up my trusty drysuit complete with newly fitted dry gloves and made tracks for Frome near Somerset. In this instance my job was to observe rather than participate. Martin had pre-warned me that the water temp would be a toe tingling 3 degrees. The support diver specialty course works much better with a team of divers so at least I wasn’t going to be the only numpty braving the elements!

Martin has more than 30 years of diving experience. His long list of credentials include PADI, IANTD, TDI and cave diving agencies up to instructor trainer trimix CCR level. Throughout the years he has planned and executed a substantial amount of wreck and cave expeditions to a maximum depth of 180m which provided the foundation for this course. Martin runs EAU2 Advanced Diver Training as well as organising new expeditions. He conveniently lives just 10 minutes drive from Vobster Quay where most of his tech training work is conducted. Martin huffed and said “I know Vobster far too well.”

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I was interested to know what had inspired Martin to write this specific PADI distinctive specialty course in the first place. Martin said he had recently given presentations at Oztek in Sydney, the Polish dive show in Warsaw and at the Eurotek conference on some of his expeditions. There had been a lot of questions from the audience about becoming a support diver, underwater habitats and expedition diving in general so the idea just grew from there. Martin wrote the basic structure of the course in 2 days and then submitted it to PADI for approval. He said “support staff are used in a whole range of roles depending upon the requirements of the particular mission, but common roles include pre-exploration dive equipment preparation and positioning, in-water equipment provisioning during the dives, safety and rescue support, and surface management. Being a support diver is a great way to get involved in expedition diving and gaining experience of the roles and techniques support divers need is both fun and challenging.”

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Seven divers turned up for the weekend event which included some theory, a dry practical session and 4 training dives. Minimum certification requirements are PADI rescue diver and Tec Rec 40 or Tec Rec 40 CCR diver with a minimum of 10 dives on whatever rebreather was being used on the course. I noticed that there were plenty of different equipment configurations varying from CCRs to sidemounts. But this course wasn’t about diving deep; in fact, the habitat itself would be anchored to the crushing works at a depth of around 6 metres. The other practical sessions were performed by the plane wreck which is no deeper than 18 metres.

After tea and bacon sandwiches Martin gathered everyone together to talk about the differences between a support diver, a standby diver and a safety diver. We then got our first glimpse of the underwater habitat, which in this case, was a plastic box encompassed in a metal framework roughly 2m long x 1m wide x 2m high, suitable for 2 divers. Martin said he has used much bigger habitats and on one particular expedition it turned out to be too big and got wedged inside the cave entrance!

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At this point it’s probably worth explaining what an underwater habitat is actually used for. Martin said that habitats help exploration divers stay warmer and make rehydration easier while decompressing, which is basically the same concept as a diving bell used in commercial saturation diving. But in this case the divers don’t breathe the gas inside the habitat, as this would soon become unbreatheable; instead they breathe from gas mixes that they are either carrying with them, or that are hooked onto the habitat or are being carried by support divers. This obviously varies depending on the dive, location and equipment available. They have exactly the same decompression obligations as being in water – the main difference is that the divers can surface inside an air pocket, which just makes life a bit more comfortable.

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For Dive 1 ‘Team Robson’ assembled on the platform and lowered the habitat into the water. This was towed into position over to the top of crushing works and sunk. The whole operation required some nifty teamwork skills, especially during the underwater anchoring and making buoyant phases. Untangling the underwater comms cable proved to be the most taxing part of the day. The idea was to have a telephone system connecting surface support to the divers inside the habitat, but the unit was playing up and eventually got packed away. Dive 2 focused more on supporting the lead diver. This time, in teams of 2, the task was to unclip and exchange all 4 stage cylinders attached to Martin, which turned out to be a lot more fiddly than expected. One of the divers managed to lose his torch during all the fun and games so Dive 2 was rounded off with an additional search and recovery exercise. Being a support diver requires many different skills!

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On Sunday morning I managed to jump in with Martin and Graham Allathan (who has been a support diver on a number of Martin’s previous expeditions) to get a few undisturbed underwater pictures of the habitat. Visibility was at best 3 or 4 metres but at least Martin and Graham were using rebreathers so there were no exhaled bubbles to worry about, although the floaty mouthpiece of Graham’s twin rebreather unit looked slightly out of place.

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By the time we surfaced the rest of the team were kitted up and ready for Dive 3, which involved looking after lead diver Martin while he was decompressing inside the habitat. This included monitoring gas supplies, changing cylinders and battery packs, supplying food and drink etc. Everybody then got the chance to surface inside the habitat, have a drink, eat some food and do a simulated gas exchange. The final dive was basically the reverse of dive 1 so the habitat was brought to the surface in a controlled manner and towed back to the platform. At the end of a very full on weekend I sat down with Martin to get his thoughts on the very first support diver distinctive specialty course. He said ‘‘I thought the course went extremely well. It was nice to see everyone having fun and learning at the same time.”

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Martin’s main passion is cave exploration and I think this is where underwater habitats are best suited. From my own perspective it was great to see a group of individual divers interacting and working together as a team. Exchanging cylinders, getting used to clips, D-ring positions etc is definitely a useful skill to practice. I haven’t had any experience with major expeditions involving a team of divers, so Martin’s support diver course gave me a good idea of what to expect. I think one of Martins own blog comments summed up the weekend quite nicely – when asked what attributes do you look for in an expedition diver, Martin said “I look for a team player who shares the team philosophy and goals, who is self disciplined, works hard and who can be relied upon when the chips are down but also knows when to have fun.”

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Course comments

stu john belchamberName: John Belchamber

From: Weston Supermare

Level: TDI trimix, PADI Instructor

Dives: 700

 

“The course was a fascinating insight into what goes into supporting expedition level diving. The weekend was interesting, challenging and immense fun all at the same time.”

stu greg parkerName: Greg Parker

From: Bristol

Level: TDI Instructor, PADI Instructor

Dives: 800

 

“Overall I thought it was a good opportunity to learn from someone who has done real expeditions. I picked up some great tips. I would love to get involved with real life expeditions.”

stu george birchName: George Birch

From: Liverpool

Level: PADI tec 40, BSAC advanced diver

Dives: 400

 

“First enjoyable weekend I have had since I got back into diving. Brilliant exercise in teamwork. It’s given me a major insight into expedition planning and training.”

stu linda williamsName: Linda Williams

From: Swindon

Level: IANTD CCR Mod 1

Dives: 500

 

“It was me that actually asked for the specialty in the first place! I spoke to Martin at the Eurotek show after his talk on the blue lakes project. I wanted to get an understanding of what’s required of a support diver and so Martin set up the PADI distinctive specialty.

“I thought the weekend was excellent fun, well organised and gave me a great insight into being both shore and underwater expedition diving. The course will benefit any tech diver in terms of practice and skills.”

stu tara strachanName: Tara Strachan

From: London

Level: PADI Divemaster, IANTD ART

Dives: 215

 

“I learnt some amazing things that I don’t usually think about. Clipping off cylinders is completely different when you are doing it on someone else. I loved the teamwork aspect and the application of existing skills but in a different way.”

stu john thixtonName: John Thixton

From: Bournemouth

Level: IANTD, BSAC Club Instructor

Dives: 300

 

“Great fun weekend. It’s given me a small glimpse into the logistics, skills and teamwork of an expedition.”

stu graham allathanName: Graham Allathan

From: Scotland

Level: IANTD CCR trimix

Dives: 1000 plus

 

“I’m the whipping boy! I wanted to learn more about habitats, practice for real and do some experimentation to set up properly.”

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It was a pretty good course. You can read all the theory but it’s different in practice. It was nice to see everyone enjoying the weekend. There’s a much better atmosphere with groups.

To find out more about the technical diving courses that Martin offers visit www.eau2.com.

Discuss this article in the Scubaverse Forum.

 

Stuart has spent the past 26 years taking pictures and writing stories for diving magazines and other publications. In fact, this equates to more than a year of his life spent underwater. There have been plenty of exciting moments from close encounters with crocodiles and sharks to exploration of deep wrecks and more recently rebreathers. He lives in Poole, Dorset and is very much an advocate of UK diving.

News

Camel Dive Club to re-open in May

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It has been almost a year for Camel Dive Club in Sharm El Sheikh without diving, partying at Camel Bar and, most importantly, without their Camel divers. As the second wave of Covid-19 has spread throughout Europe and beyond, resulting once again in restrictions and lockdowns of which many of you are experiencing as you read this, Camel Dive Club feel that a March re-opening date is optimistic at best. So they have made the difficult decision to regroup and delay re-opening until May 28th, 2021.

Although it is a bit longer to wait, Camel Dive Club are taking this time to revitalize their services which include smaller and more exclusive dive groups when you head out onto the boat and exciting new renovations to their hotel and menus.

While the hotel is getting a face-lift, Giuseppe their Italian chef is winging his way over to cook up a storm, revamp their breakfasts and shake up the menu at Pomodoro. You can look forward to tickling your taste buds with something new as well as enjoying all the Pomodoro classics!

As always, the team at Camel thank you for your patience in this ever-evolving saga.

Camel Dive Club ask that you support them in the coming months by getting in touch and letting them make your escape to the beauty and freedom of the Red Sea a reality.

JUNE OFFER

  • 7 nights with breakfast at Camel Hotel, plus 5 days/10 dives from the boat and return airport transfers – only 423 Euro per person in a double room.

LIMITED AVAILABILITY. This offer is only valid for arrivals from 1st – 30th June 2021 and is not applicable for bookings already confirmed. Bookings need to be completed before 15th April 2021, so hurry up to take advantage of this amazing rate!

DIVE & STAY

  • 7 nights with breakfast at Camel Hotel, plus 5 days/10 dives from the boat and return airport transfers – 452 Euro per person in a double room.
  • 7 nights with breakfast at Camel Hotel, plus 3 days/6 dives from the boat and return airport transfers – 354 Euro per person in a double room.

LEARN TO DIVE

  • 7 nights with breakfast at Camel Hotel, plus PADI Open Water course and return airport transfers – 502 Euro per person in a double room.

NOT DIVING?

  • 7 nights with breakfast at Camel Hotel, plus 3 days snorkeling and return airport transfers – 354 Euro per person in a double room.

Book with confidence: flexibility is what you need when it comes to planning travel. Book with confidence, knowing that if plans change you can change your booking without losing a deposit. If you are unable to honor your booking as a direct result of the Covid-19 Pandemic, your deposit of 120.00 Euro per person will be made redeemable as credit for use in any future booking with Camel up to 31.12.2022.

Oops, accidently booked to stay somewhere else in Sharm el Sheikh? You can still come and enjoy some quality time with the Camel Tribe by taking advantage of their diving only deals!

3 day/6 dive package  162 Euro; or 5 day/10 dive package – 260 Euro including your transportation to and from your chosen hotel in Sharm, free of charge!

All deals include weights and FREE 12lt Nitrox 32% tanks for Nitrox certified divers

For more information visit the Camel Dive Club website by clicking here.

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Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Sea Turtles rescued in Grenada during clean up

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On Feb 20th twenty volunteers gathered for one of Eco Dive’s regular monthly clean up dives off Grand Anse Beach in Grenada, a shore dive site adopted by Eco Dive under the Project AWARE Adopt a Dive Site programme. With a mix of snorkelers, freedivers and scuba divers, including junior divers, the squad set out to find and recover as much ‘treasure’ as possible from the patch reef, sand patches and extensive seagrass beds skirting the beautiful 2 mile beach.

With a plan in place to cover as much of the beach as possible and focus on the high risk areas (storm drains, public jetty, public park accesses) the group set off. Divers were dropped by the dive boat up the beach in teams, a meeting time was set, mesh bags were issued and the they were off. Two more teams one of divers and a snorkel/freediving team headed off from the dive shop to cover the home base and down current zone of the beach.

With the clean-up underway the beach station was set up for sorting, counting and weighing of the haul. The debris gets sorted and the data recorded with Project AWARE to help track global trash trends and local hot spots and events. The first team back to the beach however was the freediving team, and they brought a VIP. Found tangled in kite line was a juvenile Green Sea Turtle. These juvenile turtles love this seagrass habitat off Grand Anse Beach and there is a rotating population of juveniles that join snorkelers regularly.

The team at Eco Dive are familiar with these endangered babies and work closely with Ocean Spirits, a local conservation organization, to tag and monitor these juveniles in the hopes of gaining more information on their movements, risks, health and a better estimate on the size of the local population. For anyone who has worked with a sea turtle project before you would know that catching a wild turtle is a stealth act of athleticism, especially juvenile Green’s who are deceptively quick when motivated. To see our snorkel team carrying a turtle (on a non-tagging day) had to mean something was amiss.

Sure enough timing on this clean up dive turned out to be serendipitous. This little turtle, later named Cora, was alive but exhausted. She had managed to tangle herself in a kite line and struggled so much that the line that immobilized her fore-flippers and dug cuts into her skin. Unable to reach the surface this little baby was struggling for her life, so she provided no resistance to rescuers as they freed her up to the surface and back to the dive shop for some TLC.

The right place right time nature of the day continued… with Ocean Spirits’ Director, Chair and veterinarian was on the clean up dive already, there were a further 5 veterinarians also on the clean up dive (it turns out vets love to help save the ocean and make great clean up dive buddies!) so little Cora was in good hands. Cora received some antibiotics to help prevent infection in her cuts, some fluids to help her relax and a safe place to stay for 4 days before her release safely back into the sea. Normally turtles would be tagged at the base of their fore-flippers to help identify repeat individuals and track growth etc however with the tissue damage and bruising Cora suffered under her fins on this occasion she was not tagged but marked with her name and well wishes on her shell and set free.

As for the trash clean-up dive the team successfully removed more than 38 kg of trash from the sea including 2 kites, 10+ kite lines, fishing line and lots of plastics and clothing. Juvenile octopus, mantis shrimp, cleaner shrimp, crabs, grunts, wrasse and gobies were found within the trash treasures and were released back to the sea by the sorting volunteers. Cora definitely stole the show and had all of the volunteers extra grateful for having made the effort to come out and join the clean up. More kite line remained in the sea however as some run for 100’s of meters. A plan was made by some particularly keen volunteers to come back during the week and target some of the known areas where kite line remained, the Eco Dive crew also committed to daily clean up dives for the week to get these lines out of the sea.

As the working week started, Eco Dive were back to their daily routine and booked a clean up dive with just 4 regulars for the next Friday morning. The divers were out for an hour and one of the dive teams found another turtle tangled. A different turtle, and a different kite line, but a very similar scenario. Kite line in the spring windy season is a known risk item that is found on the clean ups but a tangled turtle has never been found before until this week, and now they had rescued two! A call went out to Ocean Spirits saying “you’ll never believe me but ..” and the dive team got to work freeing the second turtle of the week from a fore-flipper straight jacket caused by kite line.

This juvenile green sea turtle, slightly bigger than Cora, was named Aurelia, after Eco Dive’s Junior Open Water Diver who is an adamant clean up diver and has been on a trash mission for weeks. Aurelia weighted in at just over 7 kg and was exhausted but safe.

Eco Dive’s tally for their clean up dives for the week: they removed over 50 kg of lines and plastic from the sea and rescued two baby turtles. A pretty good week all round!

For more information, or to join a clean up day, with Eco Dive Grenada visit their website by clicking here. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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