Rescue Training Revisited: New Training for Today’s Divers

by Elena Rodriguez

During my first Florida Lobster mini-season as a divemaster on a dive boat many moons ago, we had three rescues the first day. Oh Boy! Did that open my eyes to the reality of unprepared divers, and to the importance of having a solid foundation of rescue skills. I now live in Key Largo, FL a.k.a. “The Dive Capital of the World” according to the welcome signs. With so many dive boats and divers, we do have our share of rescues usually ranging from tired divers towed back to the boat against current, unprepared panicked divers on the surface, or a medical issue that necessitates a rescue.

In recent years with the increase in tec-reational and technical diving, I am now seeing more variety of gear configurations on dive boats that cater to all levels, not just those for specialized diving. These configurations include back-mount, side-mount, and rebreather divers. While most divers trained to dive these configurations are taught self-rescue skills, the Rescue Diver course is geared toward single-tank recreational diving. This Rescue Diver course is a pre-requisite to become a DiveMaster. However, the standard Rescue Diver curriculum does not address rescues in these different configurations. This may not sufficiently prepare DiveMasters to man the deck of a busy dive boat or the everyday Rescue Diver who gets drawn into an emergency situation.

Elena Rodriguez is a PADI Staff Instructor and a NASE Instructor Trainer. A certified diver more than 30 years, Elena currently resides in Key Largo, Florida where she teaches and contributes to the local dive community.

In recent months, PADI America’s Manager of Instructor Development, Alan Jan, has been touring the country inviting local instructors and course directors to participate in a Rescue Training Review. I attended one of these held last month in Key Largo. Six participants came from Atlanta, Daytona Beach, Sarasota, and locally. Alan demonstrated some critical attributes of rescue demonstrations that instructors should be emphasizing to their students. Skills were demonstrated in single tank back mount configurations with weight belts and with integrated weight systems. Alan included discussion on how best to deal with side-mount as well as rebreather victims.

All variations of rescues first require establishing buoyancy as soon as possible for the victim and the rescuer. In a nutshell, during a single tank back-mount (standard recreational) rescue, gear is removed first from the victim, then the Rescuer removes his/her own gear. In a rebreather, the Rescuer must first close his/her own loop and move the loop behind his/her head to improve access to the victim. When rescuing a rebreather diver, close the victim’s loop and pull the loop back over the victim’s head and ditch the bailout tanks which might impede Rescuer’s access. The victim’s gear can be loosened and then pulled from behind the head as one piece (similar to a t-shirt being pulled over the head) for easier removal. In side-mount, the Rescuer must first drop his/her own side-mount tanks to allow for easier access to the victim. For a side-mount victim, the victim’s side mount tanks must be removed to enable access for rescue breathing. Don’t expect these techniques to come easily without in-water practice.

Next month I will be teaching a Rescue Course that includes a newer diver who immediately adopted recreational side-mount diving after her open-water certification. I am ready to cover these concepts with my students and know the in-water practice will be a learning experience for us both. I hope that in the near future, Rescue Diver Courses across all agencies will be updated to include information about rescues in these configurations in training materials and videos, encouraging divers in all configurations to be prepared for the unexpected.

There is not enough emphasis given to refreshing your Rescue Skills and staying proficient.  What is your local dive shop doing to help you stay current in your skills?
Rescue Diver skills are something you hope to never use like the spare tire in your vehicle, but are grateful to have it and be able to use it when the need arises.

What are YOU waiting for?

  • Divers: If you have not taken a Rescue Diver course, what are you waiting for? The life you save may be your own.
  • Rescue Divers and above: When was the last time you reviewed and practiced your skills to remain proficient? If it has been a while, what are you waiting for?
  • DiveMasters: Are you familiar and comfortable saving any diver on your boat regardless of the configuration of gear they are diving? Doffing their gear can present some interesting situations you should be prepared to handle.
  • Instructors: When teaching Rescue Divers and Divemasters, are you discussing, including, and/or demonstrating some of these differences?
  • Dive Shops and Operators: Are you hosting periodic Rescue Refreshers for your regulars? It’s a great way to keep your divers diving and safe…and coming back to you.
  • Agencies: How is your agency keeping current and relevant with changing trends? How are your agency’s training protocols preparing future dive pros to be effective and ready to respond to any emergency?

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