Bookshelf: The Last Dive

The Last Dive – Bernie Chowdhury

The Last Dive
The Last Dive

The Last Dive is a number of things: a history of how cave diving techniques came to be applied to advanced wreck diving (use of lines for wreck penetration, for example), the story of the early days of mixed gas diving in the United States, the chronicle of the close-knit bands of divers who risked their lives to explore the cold, deep waters off the north Atlantic seaboard of the USA and retrieve trinkets from the many vessels wrecked there, and a biography of Chris and son Chrissy Rouse, who were involved in all of the aforementioned threads of the tale. The central subject of the book is the Rouses’ death while (or just after) diving on the German U-boat discovered by a local dive boat skipper.

I first encountered the Rouses in Robert Kurson’s book Shadow Divers, a gripping read about the efforts to identify the same mysterious German U-boat that the Rouses perished on, off the coast of the US, and Deep Descent, which describes diving on the wreck of the Andrea Doria and features many of the same divers and dive charter operators. Their relationship is (perhaps too) sympathetically portrayed by author Bernie Chowdhury, a friend of the family.

The Rouses were extremely technically proficient divers, but their downfall seems to have been their fraught and fractious relationship that was characterised by vicious bickering and name-calling that stopped only when they put regulators in their mouths to descend into a cave or onto a wreck. Chowdhury shows how their difficult (but ultimately loving) relationship led them to doing a dive (their final one) onto the U-boat when the conditions were decidely sub par. Their choice to dive to over 80 metres on air, when they were proficient in mixed gas use, as well as what seemed to be the firm conviction of Chrissy (the younger) Rouse that he was immortal, also appears to have contributed greatly to their deaths.

Both Chris and Chrissy Rouse died of DCS – Chris died in the water within minutes of surfacing, and his son Chrissy hours later in a recompression chamber. They had both ascended rapidly without any decompression stops, from a longer than planned dive to over 80 metres, having lost their stage cylinders in their disorientation after emerging from a disastrous penetration of the submarine during which Chrissy became trapped under a fallen book shelf and a self-inflating life raft.

Earlier in the book, Chowdhury describes his own experience of very serious decompression sickness, which gives great insight into how debilitating (if not fatal) the experience of being bent can be. His enumeration at the end of The Last Dive of the serious physical conditions now prevalent among divers of his generation who have persistently pushed the envelope and, in many instances, been bent and recovered, serves as a cautionary tale to those who believe that no-decompression limits are for wussies.

As I expressed in my review of Deep Descent, I strongly disapprove of the macho cowboy attitude that seems to be (have been?) disturbingly prevalent among the divers and charters of this generation (and not limited to the United States). But Chowdhury’s book is more than an ode to the glory days of artifact retrieval and experimentation with trimix. As a history of cave diving, mixed gas diving and advanced wreck diving it’s invaluable. As a diver himself, conversant with all these disciplines, Chowdhury is able to explain in simple terms concepts that would slow down someone who hasn’t done a dive course. The book is very readable despite the technical subjects covered.

Chowdhury does not conclude that the risks taken to achieve what this particular group of divers did were unreasonable, and does not overtly criticise the Rouses for the attitudes and behaviour that – I think most sensible people would agree – contributed to their deaths instead of just a scare that might have forced an adjustment to the dive plan. While he admits to having experienced times of ambivalence about diving, particularly when he describes the strain it placed on his relationship with his wife and son and the long road to rehabilitation that followed his episode of the bends, his equilibrium surprisingly undisturbed by the loss of several friends and acquaintances to the sport he loves, and his own health difficulties.

For some more perspectives on this book and the perceived accuracy of the descriptions of the events it covers, you can read this review and this discussion.

You can purchase the book here if you’re in South Africa, and here if you’re not. The Kindle edition is available here and here.

Oh, and go sign up for some DAN insurance, please?

Diving in less than ideal conditions

This is a much discussed issue and last Saturday was a good example. I had chosen to cancel the plan I had made to take Open Water students in the sea for the first time, because the wind was stronger than expected. Yet while Clare and I sat at the beach, at least 20 divers did enter the water for training.

I sat and watched this as I have done in the past and wondered whether I made the wrong decision. Of the 20 divers that entered the water four did not quite make it to complete the dives and returned to shore. The conditions were not suitable for them and they were not comfortable.

Tony in the green murk at the safety stop
Tony in the green murk at the safety stop

Some claim that if you learn to dive in terrible visibility and rough conditions it makes you a stronger diver. Some (me included) say that you should learn to dive in good conditions, build your skills and comfort levels and have a sense of your ability, and then brave the dodgy conditions if you must. This theory is based on the belief that if you are comfortable in the water, confident in your skills and abilities all you will then need to be concerned about is the conditions around you, but if you have not yet reached this point in your training then (I believe) you should not be exposed to these elements. There are many pros and cons for each argument but I am happy with my choice.

Dive Deals column: Don’t become a lost diver

Here’s the second in my series of articles for the website.

Don’t become a lost diver

Last week we looked at some of the situations and reasons that could cause a freshly qualified scuba diver to give up on the sport. This week I’d like to examine some of the simple things that can be done by the qualifying diver – before, during and after doing one’s first dive course – to reduce the attrition rate of new divers and avoid becoming a statistic.

Learning to dive

Firstly, learn to dive in a place you feel comfortable, with an instructor you feel good about. Choose an instructor whom you trust, and find approachable. Ask a lot of questions before you sign up. During the course, never hesitate to tell your instructor you are not sure of something you have just learnt. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. If you’re not comfortable performing a skill, ask if you can do it again. That skill might one day make the difference between a disastrous dive and a dive that ended well for all concerned.

Buying gear

Don’t buy the first piece of gear you are shown based on the sales pitch. There is very little junk available in the dive industry, but it just might not be what suits your budget, your body shape or diving needs. You WILL ultimately be better off buying your own equipment, but don’t rush into it without some research. Try on different styles of wetsuits, dive with different style BCDs, various volume masks, and so on. Then you will be qualified to make a good decision about what kit to buy for yourself.

On the boat

Do not hesitate to tell the skipper you are nervous, and never hesitate to tell the divemaster it’s your first dive and you are apprehensive. Don’t be shy to tell the group on the beach during the briefing you have never dived in the sea, or never been deeper than 12 metres, or whatever the case.

The divemaster faced with 10 new faces every dive cannot be expected to read everyone’s state of mind. Equally, a skipper that takes 30-40 different people out on his boat each day can’t be expected to know everyone’s gear, mental state, or qualification.

As a divemaster, skipper, and instructor, I can assure you the vast majority of people in the dive industry are helpful, keen to see you dive with them again and again and will go to great lengths to assist you whilst you find your feet. All you have to do is tell them that you’re just starting out. Don’t be afraid to ask the diver nearby for help as they will most likely be happy to share their knowledge. If they aren’t, don’t take it personally – unfortunately you will meet ungracious people in all areas of life – and just ask someone else.

Bad experiences

In the unlikely event you have a bad experience on a dive or with a dive operator, don’t give up move on as there are many, many, options and the vast majority of dive operators are good at what they do, keeping you a happy diver. After all, a dive centre filled with enthusiastic divers is a fun place to be and to these individuals diving will soon become a way of life. Diving has more to offer than any other sport in the world. (My opinion, yes, but shared by millions.)

Dive Deals column: Where have all the divers gone?

I recently (at the end of August) started writing a weekly column for the revamped website. Here’s the first of the series:

Where have all the divers gone?

Diving is a sport that draws people from all walks of life. Armed with a qualification to dive the world, several choices present themselves to the new diver. Does one keep diving, enrol for further training courses, travel to tropical dive destinations, or sell all that expensive gear and give it up?

Let’s be honest: the ocean is beautiful, full of weird and wonderful creatures, and incredible underwater topography. I doubt there are many people that give up diving because they felt it was boring.

So why DO people stop diving? Why do so many advertisements for second hand dive gear state that it’s been “used only once”?

Some people will try anything, and some new divers take up the sport just to try it out, to be able to say they’ve done it, and then move on to the next adventure.

Some people just don’t enjoy it, but the majority of people that give up diving will cite a bad experience or some negative event related to diving that was the catalyst to their decision.

Let’s look a little bit deeper. The majority of dive centres are pleasant environments, with shiny displays of the latest dive gear, exceptional salespeople and smiling instructors, mostly enthusiastic about what they do and keen to share it. These are easy places to be and easy places to spend money.

And spend money we do. Some people will purchase a full set of dive gear before they ever enter the water. This is not a bad thing as you then become familiar with your own gear. From a hygiene point of view it’s nice to know only you have worn that wetsuit and booties. However some people have body shapes that differ from average, so a custom wetsuit is the way to go. Some people hate a side inflation BCD but don’t know there is an alternative.

Some people will arrive on your boat, newly qualified and on their first ocean dive with a mask the size of their heads, a BCD one size too big (it was on special) and cheap nasty fins because they blew their budget on the regulator… You know the one: the salesperson recommended it as it’s rated to 100 metres and you can take it diving under the ice. Their weight belt doesn’t fit because they were told to add a few kilos for salt water.

Imagine that you’re this newbie diver. Having qualified inland or by doing shore entries off the beach, the boat is all new. The diver next to you looks really hard core and is kitted and ready to roll into the water 10 seconds after the boat stops. They get annoyed with your hesitant attempts to kit up on a cramped boat whilst seasickness threatens to overwhelm you. You roll into the water, descend into the beauty of the sea, but on the way down you are overcome with fear, stress and near panic as this is all new to you.

Your divemaster and dive buddy did a negative entry and are way below you, and you can hear the boat leaving overhead. Your weight belt is loose, your mask is leaking and you want to gag because the mouthpiece on your new regulator feels strange, so you panic. Perhaps the divemaster comes over, solves all these problems and holds your hand for the entire dive. Perhaps not, and back to the boat you go. And at that point you decide diving is NOT for you.

Sometimes you will be on a dive boat, and the sea looks a little rough. But you have spent a lot of money getting here, and prepaid for a whole bunch of dives. The skipper tells you it’s fine, and that he has launched in far worse. He assures you that it’ll be fine on the bottom. It probably will, but getting there is scaring you half to death. At the last minute you decide to stay on the boat, spend 50 minutes feeling terribly seasick and decide diving is NOT for you.

In each of the situations I’ve described, there isn’t one single cause that led our new diver to the decision that this isn’t the sport for him. A combination of circumstances and factors have led to the decision to quit diving, and we’ll analyse how to avoid those next week.

Bookshelf: Diver Down

Diver Down: Real-World Scuba Accidents and How to Avoid Them – Michael R. Ange

Diver Down
Diver Down

This book should be compulsory reading for all careless, lazy, poorly-trained, slapdash or happy-go-lucky divers out there. In fact, for all divers.

This book is short with lots of sidebars (I don’t like these in books – they make it hard to read smoothly). Each chapter starts with an account of a diving accident (not all of them fatal). An analysis of what went wrong follows, as well as a short checklist of what you can do to avoid a similar fate.

I was at first reluctant to read this book because I thought it might scare me, but Tony devoured it and suggested I read it. It was disturbing, but didn’t give me nightmares. Michael Ange doesn’t write in a prurient or senstational manner – he just presents the facts. He has ample experience reviewing diving accidents.

Most of the time it was really simple things that caught people out, or a cascade of trivial compounding errors or problems. Often it was ego or over-confidence that led to the problems. Controlling partners or well-meaning parents who pressured their loved ones into doing things they shouldn’t also feature strongly.

The emphasis is on training, experience and common sense – every single thing you learn in your dive courses is vital. PADI and friends want to make diving fun and accessible, and they’ve pared down the manuals to be as concise and un-intimidating as possible… So EVERY SINGLE WORD counts. This is both a good thing (no scary huge textbooks) and a bad thing (you NEED to pay attention when you read and watch the DVDs and spend time with your instructor).

Dive briefings are also important. Your local Divemaster isn’t trying to dampen the mood by warning you not to surface without an SMB – he’s ensuring that you don’t end up out at sea without a signalling device, or with an unwanted Yamaha haircut. When the skipper and Divemaster speak they’re doing it out of a wealth of local (and that’s important) experience. Pay heed.

You can get a copy of the book here if you’re in South Africa, and here otherwise. If you want to read it on your Kindle, go here. If you dive, you should read it. And you should do a Rescue Diver course.

To dive, or not to dive?

Becoming a qualified scuba diver is for some people a dream, a huge achievement, for some just another minor achievement and for others a piece of cake. Irrespective of your comfort level when trying something new, the level of enjoyment is largely dependent on the rate of progress you make and the diligence of the trainer.

Long Beach - dive!
Long Beach - dive!

I tried skydiving once and had my first jump cancelled several times, not by the instructor, but by the pilot who refused to take-off in poor conditions. I tried microlights too and had the same problem. Diving is no different. The Instructor or Divemaster should cancel the day’s diving if the conditions are less than optimal.

Unpleasant surface conditions at the Clan Stuart
Unpleasant surface conditions at the Clan Stuart

It is true to say that once below the surface the conditions above don’t always have too much bearing on the dive. Choppy surface conditions can soon be forgotten once at depth. For a seasoned diver the surface conditions are seldom a big issue but new divers and for students slowly coming to terms with a host of new skills, equipment, and the recent dive briefing are very susceptible to panic on the surface.

A stressed diver on the surface, being battered by choppy seas is often encouraged to descend: “Descend quickly and then you will feel better.” This is far from the truth. Descending a near-panicked diver or even a highly stressed diver is the wrong choice. Put them back on the boat or take them back to shore.

The same is true for poor visibility, which can often increase stress and lead to panic. Diving in bad visibility is a skill that will be learned at a more advanced level – an Open Water diver should not have to contend with pea-soup on their first sea dives.

Chocolate-coloured visibility in False Bay
Chocolate-coloured visibility in False Bay

A new diver has many new things to think about and to ensure they get the pleasure from diving they should it is important to move at a pace that maintains their sense of achievement and that they are ready for the next step before you proceed. All too often time and money influence the decisions to dive or cancel, and new divers end up going into the ocean when they honestly should not, and if they were given a choice they would not dive. A Divemaster or Instructor insisting that “the water will be fine when we are in” is doing the dive industry a disservice as most new divers never dive again if their qualifying dives were a nightmare.

Bookshelf: Shadow Divers

Shadow Divers – Robert Kurson

Shadow Divers
Shadow Divers

This book is gripping – I loved it. It describes the discovery and diving on a German U-boat in the northern Atlantic Ocean. It took over six years before the vessel was conclusively identified, and Kurson describes the process followed – including multiple dead ends – by John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, the two divers who persisted with the mystery long after others had lost interest.

It’s a mixture of terrifying deep wreck diving and penetration, WWII history, and personal drama that I found quite irresistible. Three divers died on the submarine before it was identified, and every imaginable diving accident – from entanglement to DCS to panic to nitrogen narcosis (a big feature, since the sub lies at about 70 metres and initially the diving on her was on air), and the constant risk of being lost at sea if you didn’t surface on the line – occurs. I still don’t think this kind of diving is for me – the dangers are too great.

I admired the determination of Chatterton and Kohler to put a name to the submarine, thus providing closure to the families of the German officers who perished on board. Their rectitude and determination not to desecrate a war grave and the resting place of nearly sixty men was admirable. It’s possible that, had they agreed to rummage among the human remains all over the submarine, they’d have located an item of someone’s personal effects that would have speeded the identification process, but they refused to disturb the bones.

The culture of American deep wreck diving sounds as though it is quite macho and cowboy-like (one group of divers wore matching denim jackets with a skull and crossbones on it), and for Chatterton and Kohler to buck that trend was a big thing.

I learned one useful thing that has stayed in my mind since I finished the book – maybe I knew it all along, but it was articulated here in a clear manner: when you run into difficulties in the water, solve the first problem completely before you try to solve a second or third one. You need to answer each problem fully when it occurs, because accidents happen when a small thing is ignored, which then combines with another problem to cause a life-threatening situation.

In the acknowledgements, Kurson mentions Deep Descent by Kevin McMurray, which describes diving on the wreck of the Andrea Doria in the same dangerous, cold, rough piece of ocean. Many of the protagonists in MacMurray’s book appear in Shadow Divers, as do the same pair of dive boats – the Seeker and the Wahoo. He also cites Neutral Buoyancy by Tim Ecott, another of our favourite diving books, as an inspiration and source for some of the decompression theory.

Unfortunately the aggressive, fiercely competitive ethos that has been allowed to fester among this particular group of divers has led to the publication of a rival account by Gary Gentile (who appeared extensively in Deep Descent). It’s called Shadow Divers Exposed and apparently refutes much of what is described by Kurson. Gentile is clearly a bitter and angry man, with several axes to grind. It does however seem possible that in focusing the book so squarely on Kohler and Chatterton, Kurson allowed it to seem as though the two of them are due more credit for identifying the U-boat than they really are, so this book should be read with a small measure of caution. I would still strongly recommend it, however – the overarching truths and events described did take place, even if a few small-minded participants and observers would quarrel over specific details.

The book is available here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here. If you want to read it on your Kindle, go here.

What it takes to be a Divemaster

Many divers dream of becoming a Divemaster or a Open Water scuba instructor. In reality it is a “dream job” as it is made up of 99% good stuff and only 1% of the bad. (More on this shortly.)

The Divemaster role requires hard work
The Divemaster role requires hard work

Sadly not everyone can be a Divemaster. Not because its difficult (it’s not – learning to be a Divemaster is easy and fun with the right mindset, and we can all learn something new if we want it) but something else needs to be there first, an intangible skill or demeanour for want of a better word.

There are lots of good Divemasters, people who scored 90% plus on all the exams, scored highly on their skill sets and have the right gear and proper diving habits. But there are fewer really exceptional Divemasters, who performed as well as the rest while in training but have that elusive ability to be exceptional Divemasters. These are people who you would be happy to trust in any situation. It is only in an emergency situation that this ability in a person shines through.

You need to be calm and authoritative to be a Divemaster
You need to be calm and authoritative to be a Divemaster

Being exceptionally good in the water is not all that is required. An active Divemaster will know the dive site, have exceptional buoyancy, keep divers together and ensure you all see the hidden beauty of the dive site. But will they cope when two people run out of air at the same time, or when half the group gets lost, or two people panic when their masks flood (90% of regular divers have not removed their masks since their Open Water course)? Will they make the right decision if the conditions are unsafe, or will they dive anyway because they need the money? What will they do if you see a shark and some of the group panic and some just freeze?

There is a lot more to being a Divemaster than completing the course. It is only once you have done the course and started working as a Divemaster that you start to learn, and only the right people stick it out. You need to have the ability to feel ”that was a good dive” despite a dive where things happen like an O ring pops on the boat, a regulator free flows, a diver loses a weight belt, someone gets lost , someone runs out of air and yanks your regulator out your mouth dislodging your teeth, the visiblity is lousy and the water is cold, the boat leaks and the weather sucks… Is this you? Yes? Then become a Divemaster and it will change your life… Diving is a way of life.

Bookshelf: Deep Descent

Deep Descent: Adventure and Death Diving the Andrea Doria – Kevin F. McMurray

Deep Descent
Deep Descent

I really don’t know if I can recommend this book in good conscience. I devoured it over the space of a day and a half, but it gave me nightmares for several nights running, and when I started thinking about it during the two dives I did just after I finished it, I almost panicked – twice – even though I was in four metres of water at Long Beach.

The Andrea Doria was a magnificent Italian cruise liner that sank in 1956 after a collision with another ship in the north Atlantic. The ship itself was enormous, a work of art, and outfitted with great attention to detail. It lies at over 70 metres depth, an 18 hour boat ride from the North American coast (and thus hours from the nearest decompression chamber). The wreck is subject to howling currents, and as you can guess, the water is freezing. All that said, it’s become a sort of Mount Everest to a particular breed of deep wreck diver, even though the factors listed all place it squarely outside the domain of recreational scuba diving.

McMurray describes the sinking of the ship, but his main focus in the book is the diving that has gone on in the decades since the ship sank. The Andrea Doria attracts a particular kind of diver that I am reluctant to characterise (because I will be rude – but I will probably give in after a few more paragraphs), and there have been fifteen diver fatalities on the wreck. McMurray (a diver himself who has dived the Doria several times) describes the circumstances of several of the deaths, and the other characters involved, in some detail.

As the ship lies in international waters, many of the divers – if not all – who visit her are keen to loot the ship of its china, crockery, fittings, and whatever else they can find. This activity was a contributing factor in the deaths of many of them. I was astounded at the chutzpah with which many of the divers penetrated the wreck – all the guidelines we learned in our Wreck Specialty course were flouted with aplomb. Owing to the depth, it’s very dark down there. The interior of the wreck is collapsing, and as it is a modern ship there is a maze of cables and numerous other hazards to entangle the unwary. In general those who died penetrating the wreck got lost (none of them used reels) or trapped in cables inside.

The depth of the wreck necessitates incredibly complex gear configurations, and in more than one case the diver’s gear arrangement meant that he died inside the wreck. A multitude of clips, pony bottles (two different gas mixes for decompression, plus double tanks on one’s back) and a bewildering array of hoses put all but the most experienced divers under pressure. During a moment of stress, accidentally breathing at depth from your cylinder of pure oxygen (for use at the final, shallow decompression stop) will most likely be fatal owing to oxygen toxicity.

Another danger of a dive like the Doria is decompression sickness – because of the depth, but also because the cold water increases the risk of DCS. The actual bottom time in most cases was half an hour or less, and the depth necessitated extensive decompression on the way up. Divers clipped themselves to the anchor line – the currents and remote location of the dive site meant that getting lost at sea carried with it a significant chance of a lonely death. Inexperienced or unprepared divers who shoot to the surface in such circumstances – whether through a failure to control buoyancy, or (more commonly) either a malfunction in their gas setup, an out of air situation, or panic, are likely to suffer an air embolism and die as their lungs explode. Paralysis is the other option.

I was thoroughly freaked out by this book, but peversely enjoyed it a lot – literally could not put it down. If I’d read it before I started diving, I don’t know if I’d have taken up the sport. The point is, though (and I wouldn’t have known two years ago that this isn’t “normal” diving), that the divers who do dives like the Doria – whether on air (can you imagine the nitrogen narcosis at 70 metres?) or on trimix (where a proportion of the nitrogen in ordinary air is replaced by helium) – are fringe operators, lunatics looking for something that recreational scuba cannot and should not provide. There are individuals who are careful, methodical and motivated by things other than proving a point – whether to themselves or their communities – but they seem to be few and far between. This branch of diving is rightly spurned by mainstream scuba diving magazines and operators.

The sport I do is safe, fun, and non-competitive, characterised by a spirit of co-operation. The diving these wreck cowboys engage in is dangerous, motivated by the wrong things (collecting china so that you can one-up the other divers? I think not!) and characterised in many cases by a competitive spirit, aggression, and a LOT of machismo. There is no place for that kind of carelessness or for any element of competition in recreational scuba diving.

You can get the book here if you’re in South Africa, and here on If you want to read it on your Kindle, go here. There’s tons more information on the subject on this website, including some pictures that show just how dark and murky it is down there.

(As an aside, there’s a Seinfeld episode called “The Andrea Doria”. The script can be read here.)

FAQ: Do I need to be a good swimmer in order to scuba dive?

You don’t need to be an Olympic swimmer in order to learn to scuba dive. Scuba diving isn’t about covering big distances or swimming really fast. In fact, we take great care not to over-exert ourselves in the water, and if you swim too fast you won’t see a thing! Also, divers wear fins, which add a lot of power to your kick stroke, and wetsuits and BCDs, which assist with buoyancy.

However, you do need to be at least comfortable in the water in order to become a scuba diver. If you’re absolutely terrified of water and struggle to take a shower without a lifeguard on standby, scuba diving is not the sport for you. If you can’t swim at all, you do need to learn to swim before you learn to dive. If you’re a half way ok swimmer who can hold your own in your pool at home (but not necessarily swim the English Channel), then let’s talk!

There are swimming tests for the various courses (the precise name of the skills being tested is watermanship). For Open Water, you have to do the following, either in a swimsuit or wearing a wetsuit and weighted for neutral buoyancy (i.e. wearing a weight belt):

  • swim 200 metres continuously without any swim aids,
  • OR swim 300 metres continuously wearing fins, snorkel and mask ;
  • float unassisted in water too deep to stand in, for 10 minutes.

The Divemaster course requires the following:

  • swim 400 metres non-stop with no swimming aids;
  • swim 800 metres non-stop, face in the water, wearing mask, snorkel and fins, with hands tucked in;
  • tow or push another diver for 100 metres in full gear, non-stop;
  • tread water for 15 minutes in water too deep to stand in, hands out of the water for the last 2 minutes.

At Open Water level, these swims are not timed.  The Divemaster and Instructor swims are timed. You can use whatever stroke you want, but doggy paddle may get tiring! The swims are very important to confirm that you have basic water skills and can take care of yourself (and others, at DM and Instructor level).

If you’re a decent swimmer already, improving your swimming fitness, stamina and technique will definitely improve the quality of your dives. Not having to think about your position and attitude in the water will enable you to focus on the other things around you, and get more out of the experience. Developing your swimming muscles (that’s almost all your muscles!) and your cardiovascular endurance in the pool will make diving feel a lot less physically strenuous, and you’ll be far more relaxed knowing that your body is in a condition to handle the sport with no strain at all.

Surface time
You should be comfortable on the surface as well as below the surface.

Finally, being a confident swimmer will make you a more confident scuba diver. While we try not to rush on dives, you never know when a situation will arise that will require you to swim towards or away from something quickly. If you do boat dives, you’ll need to float on the surface at the start and/or end of the dive, waiting for the other divers to gather together, or for the boat to pick you up. Strong swimming technique and developed muscles will help you in both these situations. Basic swimming skills should be part of your arsenal as a fully prepared and competent scuba diver.

If you are in need of swimming lessons – whether it’s to start from scratch or improve your stroke, contact Swimlab, run by Hilton and Wayne Slack, at the Wynberg Military Base swimming pool and in gyms around Cape Town. They offer swimming lessons, coaching, training for high performance swimmers, and even sell swimming gear.