Don’t Underestimate Your Dive Briefing

The Dangers of Underestimating your Dive Briefing

When flying to your diving destination chances are you witnessed a fairly standard safety briefing about what to do in the event of an emergency evacuation. Whether on screen on a big transatlantic flight or through the medium of bored air hostess on a budget airline the same information is pretty much covered. As a frequent flyer I see lots of other frequent flyers treat the safety briefing they’ve all heard times before as unimportant background information as they continue to direct their attention towards magazines, books and phones. Seeing as now a big part of my job is to also give safety briefings I do try and at least check I know the way to the nearest exit and have a life jacket under my seat.

It’s important, for both the guide and other divers in the group, not to treat dive site briefings in the same way. Contrary to aeroplane design your dive might be incredibly different to anything you’ve experienced before (depth, current, swell, marine park regulations, points of interest, points of potential danger, safety stop procedures, boat procedures… the list goes on!) and so a dive briefing really isn’t the time to adjust your mask strap, change your weight belt or start up a back ground conversation.

The briefing should cover the following points:

Dive site name

Useful if you keep a log book. Don’t get disheartened if the dive leader seems to be staying at the same dive site for your second tank. Lots of divers want to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth and diving a bigger area. However, chances are if you’re dropping in at the same place there’s actually a different dive site name attributed to a different route that can look completely different to the first. Guides often choose to conduct 2 dives in the same place for a variety of reasons. The most common is because on that particular day we know the conditions are going to be the best and we always want you to have the easiest, safest dive with the best possibility to interact with wildlife. After all, it’s more interesting for us too and we’re really not that bothered about saving a few dollars of gas!

Site description

This will help orientate yourself underwater and as this is often the hardest skill to learn, pay attention! A good description will also help anticipate common wildlife sightings and make certain coral or rock formations familiar to you if you suddenly find yourself separated from the group.

Dive guide’s role, communication devices and how divers can recognize them underwater

Sometimes you don’t realise until you’re under the water that everyone kind of looks the same in their masks and neoprene. Even more so when diving in hoods! So try and note something unique on your dive guide’s/buddy’s equipment to help you stay with the right group. If you start following another group the correct procedure would be that you will be sent up to the surface after 1 minute because your guide will be looking for you. The dive guide may have a tank banger or way of communicating. We don’t like to over use these as it scares off the wildlife but ask your guide what they will do if they need to get your attention underwater. They will be asking your air consumption and possibly sending you up in groups based on air consumption. It’s much easier to communicate all this if the group knows to expect a particular sound or communication technique.

Entry and exit techniques

Depending on the dive site and boat size/model these can differ immensely. A poor entry technique can lead to problems on the surface before the dive (losing a fin, a weight belt or a free flowing reg not secured in place properly) and sometimes entries and exits need to be quite fast. This is especially true in currents if the boat needs you back on board asap to move quickly out of a potentially hazardous area.

Dive procedures

A good part of the briefing to rethink the skills you learned in your training and any new ones specific to the dive site or dive equipment. Don’t be afraid to ask for a quick BCD orientation or tips for buoyancy. If you have forgotten how to judge safety stop time, for example, just ask your guide – we’re here to help!

Emergency procedures

If you lose the group wait one minute and then head in a controlled way to the surface. This is standard training procedure although your dive guide may have additional procedures for particular dive site. For example optimal ascent procedures in areas where there is a lot of boat traffic.

Signal review specific to the dive

Basic hand signals are easy to remember. Make sure you understand how to read your air gauge and how to communicate low on air. If you are deep diving and have a computer you need to review how to discuss decompression limits under water with your guide. There will be a signal for a safety stops, ear problems and often aquatic animals.

Roster and buddy check 

Especially important on larger boats and in larger groups, make sure somebody is accountable for you. This is why the buddy system is effective. If the group is large the guide will be at the front and might only check in with you occasionally. As a certified diver you have the legal responsibility for your safety on your dive.

Environmental orientation

The underwater realm is delicate so please don’t touch anything. Coral is an animal and you can kill something very easily just by touch or an innocent nudge with a fin. You may harm an organism or it may harm you. You cannot predict how an animal will react so touch nothing and take on any tips and advice from your guide.

Predive safety check

You need to check both your equipment and that of your buddy so you know how to help them in case of emergency. Make a mental note of where the inflator and dump valves are in the BCD. Make sure you know how to release weights. Look at the equipment once it’s on. Do you know where all the clips are to get yourself or your buddy out of their BCD if they need help back on the boat? Check your tank valve is fully open, breathe through both mouth pieces while observing that the needle on the air gauge stays completely still. If not tell your guide.

Finally, enjoy your dive!

Blog written by Laura Tyrell

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