By Peter Herbst

Image by Dr Michael Hindley

Find out why there are no grey areas in the black-and- white technical diving canvas.

As a young man, I had very opinionated views regarding life: I knew what was right and what was wrong, I knew who to vote for and who not to vote for, I knew how to manage money and I also knew that my parents were wrong. Life was a simple canvas – black and white with a very thin grey line down the middle. As I grew older, my parents’ intelligence increased exponentially, my perceived monetary skills disappeared together with what meager funds I had and the grey line on life’s canvas grew a lot wider.

Technical diving is the exact opposite. As a new diver, I ran around from instructor to instructor and dive centre to dive centre trying to get the best price and the quickest training, trying to fill my logbook with quantity and my wallet with certification cards. Diving was a grey canvas with a thin black line on the one side and a thin white line on the other side – anything was okay and everything worked. As I progressed with technical training from longer to deeper dives and then to caves and eventually to rebreathers, I realised that technical diving is white or black – it is either done the right way or it is not. The grey line down the middle of my technical canvas is now so thin, it almost disappears.

Technical diving is disciplined diving, not the adrenaline-fueled rush of a surf launch or the imaginary fear-inducing thoughts that go through your head when you see shapes moving fast in murky waters. It is cold and requires calculated planning and precise execution. There is no place for silly fears or unthinking actions.  Equipment is either the right gear and correct configuration or you need to leave it. The grey line is much, much thinner and the canvas is black and white.

Diving equipment configuration has been “perfected” by technical divers pushing the envelope and in some cases pushing too hard and losing their lives. The quality of equipment that is needed has been developed through the years by divers diving on the edge, sometimes building their own gear, fixing, complaining to manufacturers, and altering gear or configurations until only the best  remained. This is the equipment and configuration the modern technical diver has access to today. This is the gear that recognised technical diving brands sell today.

Choosing the correct gear is simple; there is a very limited choice of quality technical diving gear and an even smaller choice of configurations. Trying something new simply does not work when it gets to this level, unless you are very experienced. You either do it right or you do not do it at all.

Technical training procedures and standards have developed based on mistakes. Simply put, if someone died, a rule was put in place to prevent the next diver fatality. Today, the same principles are still used by recognised training agencies when they decide to change their training standards or training methodologies.

Technical instructors must have experience. If your diving instructor suddenly becomes a technical instructor and you have never seen him or her in a twinset before, remember that it is either black or white – there are no grey areas here! Recreational diving “allows” for more mistakes than technical diving does as the dives are relatively shallow, therefore decompression is highly unlikely; entrapment seldom occurs if a diver follows the basic rules; and out-of-air situations should never have to be too serious as dive buddies, and the surface, are always there for you if you are a well-trained and active diver.

Untrained divers diving deeper than what their respective training and comfort levels allow and entering wrecks, overhangs and caves are not aware of, or trained to handle, the lurking dangers.  Remember, the grey line is very thin at this level of diving since you are either going to come back or you are not – you have a 50% chance of survival.