Imagine sitting down to a coffee or cocktail with your favorite diving personality and hearing their stories. The League of Extraordinary Divers podcast brings legends in the diving industry to you. Hosted by Tec Clark, this podcast features diving legends of the past and present sharing some of their best scuba diving stories such as their original scuba training, scariest diving stories, funniest diving stories, as well as tips for divers.
There is no singular book more worthy of my number one recommendation than Jacques Cousteau’s timeless classic The Silent World.
The book is written by Capt. Jacques Cousteau. It recounts his journey from Naval officer to inventor of the most groundbreaking invention for underwater exploration – the Aqua Lung (prototype of the modern SCUBA unit). Set during World War II, Jacques Cousteau writes of his first attempts at designing the Aqua Lung, along with the ideas and inspirations from others such as his co-inventor Emile Gagnan.
Where the book really shines is in the accounts of the actual underwater exploration. Capt. Cousteau describes the harrowing details of the first dives with the Aqua Lung, the first deep dives of his dive team, bends, nitrogen narcosis and oxygen toxicity. He also describes being the first humans to be underwater in certain places. How amazing the stories are as you get to read and feel what it was like to be with the first explorers underwater.
I am also fascinated by the photos. The underwater photos are mysterious and eerie. All are black and white, with a combination of topside and underwater – including the first underwater photo he ever took on the Aqua Lung unit. Photos of the earliest divers in their equipment are just superb.
The first printing of the book was in 1954. However, National Geographic has republished it for its 50th anniversary. I can’t recommend this book enough for any diver of any level!
The History of Diving: CMAS
With the invention of the Aqua-Lung by Capt. Jacques Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnon in 1943, the sport of diving with the Aqua-Lung (later to be coined SCUBA) was becoming popular with water enthusiasts worldwide. An association of fishermen, underwater hunters and divers created the International Confederation of Sport Fishing which was founded on February 22, 1952. As diving became more popular in the 1950’s several members of the Sport Fishing Federation wanted to create an organization dedicated to underwater activities. So from January 9th to 11th, 1959 15 countries unanimously voted to form the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (CMAS) – the English translation is the World Underwater Federation.
CMAS is represented in over 51 countries with over 3 million members. It consists of three committees – Sport, Technical and Scientific. These committees are overseen by a Board of Directors elected periodically at the annual General Assembly. The Sport and Scientific Committees oversee sub-committees known as commissions. Its headquarters are currently located in Rome.
CMAS is represented in the United States by two entities: 1. the Underwater Society of America for sports such as underwater hockey, underwater rugby, fin swimming, etc., and 2. Scuba Educators International for recreational scuba training.
CMAS utilizes a unique “star” system for diving certifications called the International Diver Training Certification System that consists of Diver, Speciality Diver, Technical Diver and Leadership Diver Training Standards. This system allows divers that have been trained in accordance with the prescribed International Diver Training Standards, to be recognized throughout the world in member countries.
For more information on CMAS click here
For more information on the history of scuba diving, I highly recommend the book Scuba America
Summary: One of the great debates in the diving industry is whether or not to wear a snorkel when recreational scuba diving. In technical diving it is unanimous not to wear snorkels, but in recreational diving there are two camps and there are certainly pro’s and con’s on both sides of the camp. However, the debate has a bit of a bite to it. Many are quite judgmental to the people who disagree with their position. In this unique article not only will we look at the top points for and against wearing the snorkel while scuba diving, we will also look at the pro’s and con’s of each point. We will also look at considerations not often mentioned – considerations that are overarching rather than scenario-dependant.
THE “YES” TO WEARING A SNORKEL WHILE SCUBA DIVING CAMP
We will start here since this has been the diving industries’ historic position on training standards and equipment requirements for recreational divers.
POINT 1: The snorkel is good for surface swimming pre or post dive as it conserves air from the tank.
PRO: This is true as it will conserve air in the tank. This also lets you see underwater while you’re swimming, which can aid in orienting and direction. It is ideal when you need to keep your eye on something underwater while swimming at the surface. Using the snorkel keeps that uninterrupted vision by keeping your face continuously submerged. The snorkel is good for long surface swims in easy conditions where you would like to see underwater while you are swimming.
CON: But, the amount of tank air conserved needs to be measured against conditions, distance and time. At the surface (1ATA) the amount of air we breathe from the tank is quite small, as compared to the increased density of air consumed at depth. For a short and simple surface swim, breathing from the regulator may not have much effect on air supply at all. However, if there is a strong current or if the surface swimming distance traveled is long (let’s say 5 minutes or longer), then the amount of air used from the tank may be a factor and the snorkel may be a better option. However, note that if the conditions are causing heavy breathing at the surface using a snorkel, this could be worsened by the “dead air” space (residual CO2 that remains in a snorkel after exhalation) that continues to be breathed in keeping the diver’s CO2 levels high, thus increasing respiration. Also, if the surface conditions are rough, it may be better on the diver to abandon the snorkel swim and slightly descend and continue the swim underwater using the regulator. This will cut down on the exhaustion that may set in from surface swimming in large waves. Another con is the drift diving scenario when surface swimming up to a boat with its engines running. I will often wait at the surface using my snorkel, but when the boat approaches, that nasty taste of diesel exhaust makes me switch right away to my regulator and breathe the regulator the whole time I am waiting my turn to get out – as a dive professional, I am always the last one out of the water for whatever group I am supervising, (see FILO article) so that would be a long time to sit with a snorkel breathing exhaust.
POINT 2: The snorkel is essential for surface swimming if the tank has no air.
PRO: It’s true that we can’t breathe off the regulator if the tank has no air. So, when maintaining a face-down surface swim, the snorkel is the best method. I watched a diver with no air and no snorkel perform a surface search for his buddy who was still underwater. He followed his buddy trying to get his buddy’s attention. For ten minutes he swam at the surface lifting up his head every time he needed to breathe. He came back on the boat with a raging hypercapnia headache caused by such high levels of CO2 for such a long period of time. The snorkel would have helped greatly.
CON: Let’s consider this question… is swimming face-down on the surface while wearing full scuba the most efficient surface swimming position? Hmm. Many instructors, myself included, like to teach all levels of students that a faster and more efficient method to surface swim while wearing scuba is to swim on your back. This method rarely works with a snorkel. Most divers with a positively buoyant BC are easily able to swim on their backs while maintaining a controlled airway even in waves – as now the airway is above the water line instead of under it.
POINT 3: It is a safety tool, there when you need it.
PRO: By wearing the snorkel during a dive, it is immediately available when needed at the surface. The scenarios of having it immediately at the ready are subjects of discussion as there are nearly endless scenarios to consider.
CON: But, by wearing the snorkel during a dive, can all the con’s that we will see below outweigh the pro’s of having it readily available? The con side really does not see many “needs” for the snorkel that could trump all the con’s. And those who see merit to both pro and con sides of the point of “it is a safety tool, there when you need it” often jump to the “collapsible” or “folding” snorkel. (See “THE HYBRID” below.)
THE “NO” TO WEARING A SNORKEL WHILE SCUBA DIVING CAMP
POINT 1: It tugs on the mask and is unwieldy in a current.
PRO: In a strong current a snorkel may wobble, tug and pull on the mask strap. This can cause the mask to leak and/or flood completely. The wobbling snorkel may be a nuisance as it moves and bumps equipment or one’s head.
CON: It is not fair to generalize this point as the design of the snorkel relates greatly to how much it will wobble, tug and pull in a current. The more streamlined the design and the closer it is worn to the head dramatically reduces the snorkel’s profile in the water. Plus, a slight tilt or turn of the head changes the hydrodynamics of the water rushing by one’s head and can also reduce the resistance of water flowing by the snorkel.
POINT 2: It can easily get caught or entangled.
PRO: Having over a foot of plastic attached to the side of a diver’s head could be an object that gets bumped, caught or entangled. The snorkel can get caught in throw/tag lines, current lines, down lines and reel lines. It is also possible to get caught in other objects like monofilament line or on hoses when doing BC removal and replacement. In overhead environments such as caverns, caves and wrecks students are emphatically taught not to wear snorkels for this very reason.
CON: Many pieces of equipment we wear underwater protrude slightly off our person. What makes the snorkel that much different than the tank valve and first stage, the hoses, fins, gauges, etc.? Proper training and experience allows for the diver to accommodate for those items. We do what we can to minimize them (danglies) and we work with and around them. Those who have worn snorkels for a very long time have a great sense of their presence and rarely have an entanglement situation with their snorkels.
POINT 3: It gets in the way during a dive.
PRO: My most recent rescue class had a student who went to put her Air II in her mouth during an air sharing exercise, and as she brought it up to her mouth the snorkel mouthpiece came up on top of it! She put the wrong mouthpiece in and took in quite a gulp of water. This is a classic example of the snorkel really getting in the way in what could have been a drastic level. Sometimes the snorkel can be uncomfortable as it is hanging down next to the face and neck. This can be very distracting during a dive.
CON: Again, the profile of the snorkel and how it is worn has a lot to do with the comfort of wearing the snorkel. Most seasoned snorkel wearers have become very accustomed to the snorkel and do not perceive it as a nuisance. It is just another piece of equipment on their profile to which they know how to use and are aware of.
THE HYBRID: “HAVING” A SNORKEL INSTEAD OF “WEARING” A SNORKEL
One solution that both camps often agree on is the use of a “collapsible” or “folding” snorkel. Several brands exist wherein the snorkel can be folded up and carried either in a BC pocket or attached to the BC during the dive, then deployed and attached to the mask strap at the surface when needed.
PRO: This seems to be the best of both worlds. It is not worn while underwater scuba diving, and it is there when you need it at the surface. It also works towards many training agency standards that call for a diving professional to carry a snorkel when teaching or supervising a dive.
CON: Although their flexible design works for storage, some can bend in surface currents/waves and squeeze down upon a strong inhalation. When you think of times when the snorkel may be needed, there is a strong chance that heavy breathing will accompany its use. To have a snorkel that restricts airflow, even slightly, leads to high CO2 levels and is also extremely frustrating. These folding snorkels can function as a snorkel in ideal conditions, but do they function well in robust situations? Not really. Many people give them good reviews for what they accomplish in theory, but when really used and put to the test they often come up short.
LET’S TAKE A TIMEOUT: THE GREATER ISSUES AT-HAND
So we looked at many points, and the pro’s and con’s of those points. As you can see scenarios really dictate the need to wear or not to wear a snorkel. But we are missing bigger issues. For this I must stand atop my soapbox…
SOAPBOX POINT #1: We need to take a look at the modern-day snorkels hanging in dive centers everywhere. They are huge! With their ultra-hyper-uber-dry features they come with literal “domes” on top. To make it so they get rid of water easily they have large purge assemblies under the mouthpiece. To make it so they move out of the way when used with a regulator they add corrugation to allow the mouthpiece to drop away. To make this large contraption fit on a mask strap, there needs to be a large keeper assembly. With all of these conveniences comes lots of plastic. This makes snorkels longer, heavier and bulkier. When I wear these, I want to end my dive, ignore the divemaster’s briefing on what to put in a marine toilet, and flush them down the head! The modern snorkel has, in my opinion, become ridiculous because of point two…
SOAPBOX POINT #2: We’re getting lazy! It is truly not hard to clear a snorkel – and I mean ones with no purge valves. But instead we’ve relied on technology to design an easier product. But that design has had a backlash as more and more divers are recognizing all the negatives to wearing these monstrosities while diving and they’re simply ditching their snorkels. And since many scuba classes downplay snorkeling so very much, the certified diver is often uncomfortable and not proficient with the snorkel to begin with (yet it was required to buy for their class).
Sure technical diving is blending into recreational diving, but that is not the main reason for this large-scale rejection of the snorkel. For these reasons above it is no surprise why divers of the last ten years are shying away from wearing snorkels and why this is such an area of great debate.
I am fond of low-profile, simple J-design snorkels – such as freediving type snorkels. I am also completely proficient in their use. That combination of user proficiency and low profile design allows me to comfortably and skillfully scuba dive with my snorkel in place.
Ah, to wear a snorkel, or not wear a snorkel… that is the question.
We think of running, cycling and triathlons as physical activities where hydration is absolutely critical. But scuba diving does not seem to have that same critical need, so hydration tends to be downplayed by scuba divers, reduced to just a “good practice” when going diving. Think again! In this article we will explore why proper hydration is so vital to healthy scuba diving. We will explore the many ways divers lose water during scuba diving activities, how dehydration can negatively affect diver performance, and how to recognize dehydration. Finally, we learn several tips for effectively keeping properly hydrated for your dives.
THE GENERAL NEED FOR WATER
It’s no secret that our bodies depend on water for survival. In fact, water makes up over half of our body weight. Every cell, tissue and organ in your body depends on water for proper functioning. Water is essential for joint lubrication, cardio-vascular efficiency, regulating temperature, and removing bodily waste.
You may have heard a common rule-of-thumb for water consumption to be “8 x 8” or eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. However, more clinical recommendations advise between 3 and 4 liters of water per day for men, and between 2 and 3 liters of water per day for women. But there are many factors that may demand significantly more daily water intake including age, body mass, medications, alcohol or caffeine consumption, hot/dry climates, and physical activity.
HOW DO WE LOOSE WATER SCUBA DIVING?
Let’s take a look at some of the well-known and not-so-known factors that reduce hydration levels when engaging in scuba diving activities:
Sweating (climate) – Diving often takes us to tropical locations with the greatest abundance of coral reefs, as they are near the equator with good sun coverage and warm waters. With the lower latitudes comes warm, humid, tropical climates that increase sweating. But even in our northern latitudes, divers may sweat just carrying gear bags and tanks, and suiting up for their dive. Sometimes northerners come to the tropics for their once-a-year dive vacation and they are not at all accustomed to the oppressive humidity and do not do such a good job staying hydrated.
Sweating (exposure suit) – Also, no matter the latitude, divers wearing wetsuits will sweat under every square inch of that neoprene. So when we see a diver wearing a wetsuit or drysuit and he has a few lines of sweat running down his face, don’t be fooled. Underneath that exposure suit he is sweating more than the exposed skin where air is evaporating sweat and cooling the skin. A steady increase of body temperature takes place the longer the exposure suit is worn out of the water. Sweating underneath the exposure suit can be profuse, but it is hidden, making it quite deceptive.
Respiration – Our bodies naturally loose water through exhalation. You can notice this just exhaling on glass and seeing your exhaled water vapor create a fog on that glass. But when scuba diving, water loss through respiration is increased significantly due to our breathing of highly filtered and very dry compressed air. This air, with virtually no humidity, draws even more water out of the body during respiration.
Sun – Our best dive locations have excellent sunlight. As we engage in this outdoor activity we are susceptible to large amounts of sun exposure. A mild to moderate sunburn leaves the skin red, hot, and painful. Just as with any other skin burn the body rushes fluid to the skin. Being outdoors air will evaporate the moisture on the skin, leading to further fluid loss.
Wind – Because scuba diving is an outdoor activity another natural factor contributing to dehydration is wind. Not only do the tropics have healthy breezes, but a swift boat ride to a dive site can remove surface moisture and sweat from exposed skin. The faster the wind, the higher the rate of evaporation.
Salt – The majority of scuba diving takes place in salt water. So divers have contact with salt directly on their skin before, during, and after their dives. When we dive we are immersed in salt water and when we return to the surface, unless we rinse off thoroughly with fresh water, there will be salt water on our skin which evaporates leaving small salt crystals on our skin and hair. Before or after the dive we may be blown with salty ocean breezes or even salt spray when the boat hits waves. Since salt is hygroscopic it has the ability to attract and hold water molecules. When it sits on our skin it can pull water away from the skin tissue, where it quickly evaporates.
Immersion Diuresis – A technical term for “peeing in our wetsuits”! As we dive, ambient water pressure and the cooler temperature of water may both have a role in shunting blood from the extremities (arms and legs) into the thorax. When the body recognizes the increase of blood around core organs, and the subsequent increase in blood pressure, it attempts to flush fluids by increasing urine output. That is the reason for the frequent need to urinate during dives.
Vomiting – If you’ve spent time on a dive boat, you understand the plight of those who are plagued with sea sickness. Not only is it embarrassing and uncomfortable, but vomiting can leave the body in a severely dehydrated state along with a severe electrolyte imbalance. The more one vomits, the greater the chance of severe dehydration.
Alcohol – Dive trips are often fun, tropical vacations. It is important to recognize that drinking alcoholic beverages is quite common during dive vacations. Alcohol consumption actually counters water consumption since it is a diuretic. Alcohol diuresis is increased urine output resulting from the consumption of alcohol. The alcohol suppresses production of the body’s anti-diuretic hormone leaving the person with a frequent need to urinate, speeding up the loss of fluid from the body, and leading to dehydration.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M DEHYDRATED?
There are several symptoms of dehydration that you should be aware of:
- Little or no urine, or urine that is darker than usual
- Dry mouth
- Extreme thirst
- Sleepiness or fatigue
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
Do not wait until these symptoms appear before you take in water! Drink early and often. Also note that these symptoms may be hard to recognize when you are already dehydrated.
HOW DOES DEHYDRATION AFFECT DIVERS?
Picture an automotive television commercial for motor oil. They show the internal engine parts sluggishly moving with the thick, pitch-black oil junking it up. But then the new light-colored golden motor oil makes its way into the engine and now it moves faster, with greater efficiency. I use that visual to describe what your blood is doing with your organs when you are dehydrated. As the blood gets thicker due to reduced water, the circulatory system becomes compromised. Its ability to transport nutrients and blood gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen diminish. This leads to muscle fatigue, cramping, high blood pressure, rapid heart beat, confusion, and increased breathing. And, as the circulatory system is vital to the off-gassing of nitrogen, nitrogen release may be compromised in a dehydrated diver. Mild to moderate dehydration in divers can lead to the following:
- Weakness and exhaustion
- Poor air consumption
- Reduced awareness
- Increased risk of decompression sickness
BUT WHAT TO DRINK?
Water is best. If you don’t like plain water, you can add small amounts of fruit juice for flavoring such as squeezing a lemon wedge or an orange slice. Sports drinks like Gatorade® or Powerade® are also good for hydration when engaging in long-duration physical activity, and so they have a high sugar content. That high sugar content prevents them from being your daily water intake. But they do contain sodium and other electrolytes, which are good if you’re sweating heavily, slightly dehydrated, cramping, or after vomiting. And finally, energy drinks like Red Bull® and Monster® – just stay away from them. There is no need to take in stimulating beverages prior to scuba diving.
TIPS FOR PROPER HYDRATION
Here are some tips on staying properly hydrated when scuba diving, plus links to items I actually use:
- Hydrate early, at regular intervals, hours before your dive.
- Carry a re-usable, clear, BPA-free water bottle with measurement markings. This helps you gauge your consumption. My favorite is the CamelBak BPA-Free Chute Bottle.
- Hydrate during surface interval times (SIT).
- Remember, fruit contains water, fructose and vitamins and is great both pre-dive and post-dive.
- Utilize shade as much as possible, especially for equipment set-up.
- Remain out of exposure suits until absolutely ready to get in the water.
- Apply sunscreen liberally and every one hour of sun exposure. Waterproof sunscreen is not waterproof. Being underwater, rinsing off, and sweating gradually removes sunscreen. Use SPF 30 or higher (I recommend higher).
- Cover up. Utilize wide-brimmed hats like the Columbia Bora Bora Sun Hat. Light-weight long-sleeve shirts or wind breakers are good for windy conditions, my favorite is the ExOfficio Reef Runner Lite Long Sleeve Shirt.
- Rinse the salt off your skin soon after diving.
- Do your best preventing sea sickness. Look into medication or using your sea legs. (See How to Get Your Sea Legs article)
- If vomiting occurs remember to replace fluids and electrolytes soon thereafter.
- Avoid diuretics, especially alcohol.
- Plain water and sport drinks: GOOD Energy drinks: BAD
As you can see hydration is really important in scuba diving. Keep up with your water intake and your body will keep up with you.