Totally Tek: What's Redundant, What's Ridiculous

By Karl Shreeves

Is mission success having
all your D-rings full?
Maybe not. "Lastly, item #406: Ankle-mounted Q-knife with spring-loaded sheath and triple-redundant retaining bands," my dive buddy Grant read solemnly off our pre-tek dive checklist.

"Check. We’re ready," I said, confirming my backup backup knife.

"Not quite. Your cobra guards are missing."

"These waters don’t have cobras, so we don’t need them," I observed.

"Ah. Let’s hit the water!"

With that, I struggled to my feet (thank you Power Factor training) under a load more than my own weight and plopped over the side. Awkward out of water in all my tek gear, but in it, graceful as a fish. A Mola Mola, to be precise.

Seems to me that in tek diving, too many of us wear too much crap, and I’m sometimes as guilty as the rest. Heresy, you say--having all that stuff is the point of being a tek diver. Call me a radical, but . . . I don’t think so.

More and more, I decide what to take on my next tek dive the way backpackers figure out what to take on their next jaunt. Goes like this:

When you come back from backpacking, you spread out all your stuff and sort it into three piles: things you used a bunch in pile one; things you used once or twice in pile two; and things you never used in pile three. Now take your first aid kit, cell phone and emergency flares out of pile three or two (hopefully three) and put them in pile one. Next trip, piles two and three stay home. In the best of all possible worlds (which Voltaire illustrated this one ain’t), you would do exactly the same with tek diving. But we’ve got too many things that rank like the first aid kit, cell phone and flares: you don’t plan to use them, but if you need to and don’t have them, you’re utterly screwed. Which means you can’t just leave stuff behind because you didn’t use it during the last plunge.

On the other hand, I found I can still be minimalist by analyzing everything I take based on these questions:

1. What’s the chance, really, that I’ll need this thing? (A third knife? I don’t think so.)

2. If I need it, how bad off am I if I don’t have it? (Oh no, my watch croaked with two hours hang time to go! One hippopotamus, two hippopotamus, three . . . )

3. How much hassle does taking it add? (Two watches take up almost no more space than one. Wish I’d thought of that. Nine thousand, eight hundred seventy-two hippopotamus, nine thous . . . )

4. Will my buddy have one? (If he’s got his Jaws of Life, do I need mine?)

In cave diving, for example, the answer to #1 for most backup gear is "Almost nil," but the answer to #2 is, "You’ll die." This makes the answer to #3, "Who cares, I’m taking it," and to #4, "Irrelevant. I won’t have time to go looking for my buddy." On the other hand, I see divers carrying backup survey slates. Answer to #1: "Almost none." #2: "Very irritated at worst." #3: "Not much, but it’s something else to futz with. #4: "My buddy has a survey slate we can use if we lose mine." Conclusion: It’s generally stupid to carry a backup survey slate.

Open water tek diving creates more variety. Should you carry an emergency lift bag and ascent line? If you’re wreck diving off Jersey, you’re crazy not to. But at many California sites, for example, they’re just weight and drag.

Sometimes fellow divers rebuke my minimalist approach claiming they need a particular extra piece to assure "mission success." In my book, you can only really justify this if the answer to #3 is "almost none." Effective diving comes first, since the only real "mission" of any dive is to come back from it. As noted cave diver and underwater shooter Wes Skiles says, "Beware of goal orientated [from Wes, 'orientated' sounds right] diving."

Care to argue with screw-the-mission-minimalism? Okay, wiseperson, your "mission" is to shoot an IMAX film 10,000 feet back in a cave. They’re finicky cameras, and weigh several hundred pounds each with housing. They require three divers to move. So to ensure mission success, which D-ring would you like me to clip your backup IMAX to?

And speaking of minimalism, by now you get it and enough said.

Karl Shreeves is vice president, technical development for PADI and DSAT, and an avid tek diver. He’s into a lot of other stuff, but minimalism requires us to omit it from a two line bio.