2000-05 Team Sports
By Karl Shreeves
You’re on the way back from an 8,000-foot push into a cave system, working at 200 feet. You’ve got more than two hours deco ahead, but just as you and your buddy turn the dive—emergency! Your manifold blows (I told you 5,000 psi wasn’t a good idea). You close the isolator, saving half your remaining trimix, but that dwindles quickly as you zoom ASAP toward home. But your team is ready for this. Ahead, the deep-in support divers’ lights twinkle, welcome stars of salvation.
Already your regulator’s pulling hard. You know you’ll need to use
one of their long hoses (alternate
second stage, for you non-tekkies), while you sort out the emergency
“Okay,” you say to yourself. “No problem. That’s Jana. She breathes her short hose and tucks her long hose, so it’s going to be hanging...No, wait, that’s Janet. Janet breathes her long hose and...No, wait, that’s not even Janet. That’s James. James breathes short hose if he’s got two stages and long hose if he has more. One, two...three? No, wait. Does he count those back-up stage bottles?”
Cluster flop... in the making.
More Than Team Spirit
Join a tek diving team project today, and more than likely you’ll be asked to configure your gear a certain way and to follow particular methodologies and techniques. Before you get too defensive (“What? What about individuality? Freedom of choice? Just say no?”), the previous scenario should make it clear that such a request has more to do with diver safety than with arbitrary decision, honchos with a Gestapo mentality or enforced esprit de corp. When dealing with many divers in constantly changing work groups and support groups, a unified equipment and technique standard eliminates variables that cause mistakes or delays.
Hick’s Law (1952) states that reaction time increases logarithmically with the number of stimulus-response choices. What this means is that the more ways you have to deal with a situation, the more time you’ll take to decide which way to do it. This is why more choices is NOT always a good thing; the ideal is to have the fewest possible options necessary to cover all contingencies.
What to Standardize
There are a few things that most teams standardize. You’ll notice that I’m going to avoid preferences—it’s the standardization that brings the benefit, not necessarily what the standard is. That is, it’s not whether you breathe your long hose or short hose that’s important in a no-gas emergency, but that the whole team does it the same way. When working with a team, chances are something will run contrary to your preference. Get over it, or go find another team.
Alternate air source (breathing long/short hose): No gas is the most urgent emergency, and you shouldn’t have to stop and figure out which second stage your buddy’s going to give you.
Lights: In cave or wreck penetration diving, if you have to get a light from your buddy, or secure your buddy’s backup for him, you shouldn’t have to figure out where it is. This is especially important in tight confines or in the dark.
Gases and deco procedures: Although all divers analyze their own gases and dive their own tables, standardizing puts all deco bottles in the same places (so your support divers aren’t spread out all over the reef or cave). If one of your deco bottles blows, a support diver can snag a spare one from another diver or from the surface. If you lose your tables and your backup tables (happened to me once), you can look over your buddy’s shoulder.
This also goes for how you carry and stage your gases. There should be no question, for example, that a team diver using a deco or stage bottle will be using the uppermost bottle and how bottles are marked so you can confirm gases for each other.
First stage location and hose routing: Teams diving doubles benefit from standardizing which first stage (right or left side) which hoses come off of, such as the long hose coming off the right first stage, or the SPG off the left. In an emergency involving a gas shut down, an assisting teammate knows immediately which valve to close, and which capabilities you’ve lost by doing so.
Left to the Individual
Team diving doesn’t mean you have no choice about your gear. The following are those things that, from a practical point of view, don’t usually require standardization.
Brands and models: Once a team decides on a configuration, there’s usually no compelling reason why different divers can’t use different makes and models that meet that configuration. This gives each diver the opportunity to accommodate an individual preference while conforming to the necessary team standard. And, there must be accommodation for highly individual pieces, such as masks and fins, to allow proper fit.
Gauge brand and location: Which wrist you prefer to wear your gauges on really doesn’t matter from a team standpoint (though you still have practical issues, such as reading them with a light if penetration diving). Brands aren’t usually an issue, provided (with computers) individual choices comply with team deco procedures.
Accessory locations: Sundries like slates and so on are not usually safety critical. Provided they’re stowed out of the way, there’s seldom any compelling reason why everyone needs to store these in exactly the same place.
While there’s no practical reason why the above need standardization, note that some teams exert tremendous peer pressure and insist on standardization even among these. This is generally more of a social phenomenon than a practical concern, but it often reflects the mindset and philosophy that the team embraces.
If you want to dive with a team, you may not want to do everything the way the team does. But remember that before a team adopts you, you have to adopt the team.