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Scuba Guru - What Does It Mean to Be a Rescue Diver?


"Rescue Diver". The name evokes a Bruce Willis-esque situation where a diver's life is in jeopardy. There's an ambulance on the way - and maybe even a helicopter, but by the time they arrive it'll be too late. It's up to one courageous diver whose entire life has been leading up to this moment.

....or something along those lines. Right?

The reality is that the PADI Rescue Diver course teaches divers how to head danger off at the pass. It's less, "Cover me, Man! I'm going in!" and more of, "Hey, your weight pocket isn't clipped in all the way."

In regular, non-underwater life, we avoid bad situations in one of two ways:

  • Warning from a buddy
    (slow down: there's a speed trap at the bottom of this hill)
  • Learning through trial and error
    (bump your head going down to the basement enough times, and eventually you'll learn to duck)

Unfortunately, in diving, learning through trial and error is a bad idea. The best thing to do is get the best possible training to be a great buddy. And that means the rescue diver course.

Your Mom Thinks You Should Become a Rescue Diver

The annual DAN accident report tells us that, year after year, diver error causes the majority of dive accidents. The rescue diver course teaches you something your mom has been telling you for years: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Or 28 grams of prevention is worth 0.45 kilograms of cure if you're on the metric system.

First: know thyself and thy buddy. Do you know how to dump your buddy's weights? Do you know which BCD button inflates and which one deflates? Can your buddy do both of these things for you?

By the end of the rescue diver course, you'll be on the honor roll of dive buddies. "Have no fear, M'am, I'm a Rescue Diver. Please allow me to remove your weights."

The rescue diver course also covers emergency preparedness. An emergency can be as simple as a leg cramp, or as significant as a missing diver. Through study and in-water role-playing, you'll learn how to respond to a variety of emergency situations.

... like being attacked by a Kraken.

Rescue Diver = Serious Fun

Because divers (and scuba instructors) love to have a good time, the rescue course becomes an opportunity for serious fun. Imagine you've got three or four divers in a pool for the panicked diver scenario. Ultimately, the rescuer's mission is to assist a panicked diver at the surface without being used as a flotation device. Here's how the instructor might set it up:

"Okay, pretend Andrew here is a new diver. He's scared out of his wits because his wife made him get certified, and he's 99.9 percent sure he just saw the tentacle of a Kraken. Andrew has surfaced but forgotten to inflate his BCD. He's struggling to stay afloat and he thinks the Kraken is trying to drag him to a watery grave. Go!"

So Andrew, a fairly-reserved IT manager in real life, goes nuts. Splashing like crazy in the deep end, he starts wailing about giant tentacles and pointy teeth. Everyone is cracking up. Meanwhile, Andrew's wife does an excellent job calming Andrew down while inflating Andrew's BCD from behind his back.

Divers often tell me that rescue was their favorite scuba course – because of the fun they had and because it improved their comfort and skill level so dramatically. As you become more alert to identifying and preventing problems for others – you'll gain confidence and improved self-awareness.

Plus, a prerequisite is CPR and first aid training which, let's face it, all of us should have. Eventually, the skills you learn will come in handy: if not for you, then for your buddy or someone else.

Warm-water holiday divers: don't think for two seconds you're exempt from Rescue-level training. Please join Scuba Guru for a flashback....

Scuba Guru's Real Life Rescue Experience

It was 2006. At the start of a boat dive in the Caribbean, the Scuba Guru assisted a female vacation diver who was struggling to keep her head above water. Unbeknownst to this gymnast-sized diver, her dive buddy husband put 9 kilograms/20 pounds of weight in her BCD. It was less weight than he dove with, but more than twice what she actually required.

Due to a strong surface current, the husband was unable to assist his wife and the divemaster was assisting other divers getting into the water. Seeing an opening to put serious skills to use it was Scuba Guru to the rescue!

Afterwards, both expressed regrets about what happened. It was a seemingly simple mistake, but could have been serious and I was proud to put my skills to use.

The Scuba Guru knows all and recommends every PADI Open Water Diver progress through the ranks and become PADI Rescue Diver certified. Still not convinced? Talk to your PADI Dive Center, Resort or Instructor about observing a rescue course, talk to some certified rescue divers or participate in a rescue workshop.

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