2000-08 The Point of Tek Diving
By Karl Shreeves
Echoes from my novice days—beginning diver class. Topic: dive knives. My instructor tells us, “You carry a dive knife for safety, in case you get entangled or need a tool for some reason. It is not a weapon.”
Damn. That dashed my daydreams of hacking my way through dangerous sea denizen hordes to free LeeAnn from various undersea evildoers. Then she would show her appreciation for my daring rescue with a kiss. (Heady stuff for a 12-year-old with a crush.)
I never did get to snatch LeeAnn from peril’s jaws, but I imagine she cheated Dr. Evil and his cohorts even without my intercession. On the other hand, I’ve had a lot of really cool dive knives: big leg knives, little leg knives, BC knives, steel knives, titanium knives, work-of-art knives, purely-functional knives, you-name-it knives. I’ve probably lost (or had lost for me), bent, broken or discarded from boredom more dive knives than you see in an entire season of Xena: Warrior Princess.
As a recreational diver, I chose each dive knife based on these important questions:
1. How cool does it look?
2. Does it look cool and have the safety features required?
3. Will everyone see its coolness while I’m wearing it?
The Rules Have Changed
But when I got into tek diving, knife choosing rules changed, and I faced a whole slew of new knives and tools: zip knives, Z-knives, folders, bosun’s knives, multi-pliers, EMT scissors and more. Suddenly I’m wearing multiple knives, and not necessarily wearing them on my leg or BC. And I never wear a knife on a console (in fact, few tekkies even have consoles—but that’s another Totally Tek). Worst of all, how cool it looks doesn’t even count anymore!
When recreational diving, a knife is a knife is a knife. Basically, the same tool does the job on most any dive (yes, there are some exceptions, but let’s not nit-pick). In tek diving, your knife choice differs with the dive. In cave diving, I wear different knives than when tek-wreck diving, and I wear them in different places. Even in cave diving, my knife configuration differs (along with the rest of my scuba configuration) depending upon whether I’m diving with backmounted tanks in big cave or squeezing through little cave wearing sidemounted tanks.
For tek diving, the questions become:
1. What will I likely need to cut? Not a small point. Two thousand feet back in a cave, I might have to deal with thin cave line, but I’m not worried about running into a spider web of electrical wire or heavy-duty poly rope like I might on a shipwreck. So the major hacking tools stay home when I cave dive, but they’re always along for the ride on wrecks.
2. Where do I have to wear it? In recreational diving, unless you go ballistic and writhe around in panic or go some place a recreational diver’s not supposed to, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be in a situation that you’re so ensnared that you couldn’t reach your one knife (exceptions, yeah, remember—we’re not nit-picking).
In tek diving, it’s not unusual to be in situations in which you can’t reach your knife even when you’re not stuck or tangled. That’s why you wear at least two cutting tools when tek diving, strategically placed so that if you can’t get to one, you should be able to get to the other. This almost always means having a small knife on the upper body (arm, wrist, BC, waist, pocket).
3. What’s the best tool for the greatest likely hazard? In cave diving, the most likely cutting job involves cave line. For that, I wear a small Z-knife, which is basically a hook with a blade in it. It’s perfect for quickly cutting fine line, while minimizing the possibility of cutting your fine fingers.
The Z-knife takes up little space and it’s great on monofilament, so I usually carry it tek-wreck diving, too. But if monofilament and monofilament net are your biggest concerns, you can’t beat a set of EMT shears or other heavy-duty scissors, which is why you see many wreck divers carry them.
But note that even with a specialized knife or tool, you have to cover broader contingencies (like rope, when wreck diving). So your other knife/tool should be up to the task. When wreck diving, I wear a large titanium knife on my leg as well. (It’s pretty cool, but that’s beside the point…really.)
4. Can you retrieve, retain and use the knife in the worst case handling situation? The worst case is when only one hand can get to it and you can’t see it. If you’re wearing gloves, you may need a knife and sheath large enough to be able to feel what you’re doing through the material. You need to be sure you won’t lose it, because your last chance to survive may go with it.
When cave and wreck diving I wear one knife near the center of my waist in a small pouch. It’s a small (three inches closed) folding knife (not actually a dive knife) that you can open one-handed, with a wrist lanyard. Without being able to see and with either hand I can open the pouch, pull out the lanyard (on top) and slip it over my wrist, preventing accidental loss. Then I take it out and unfold the razor-edged fine blade/serrated blade. How do I know I can do this? I practice (gives you something to do on those long deco stops).
5. Would the knife create a hazard? This usually isn’t so obvious, but one example is that cave divers learned the hard way that big, leg-mounted knives easily entangle in the guideline. That’s why you never see cave divers wearing such knives. Besides, you’d never need it in a cave. Another hazard exists if you have to put away an exposed blade where you can’t see it. (That’s why I chose a foldable one for my waist knife.)
The gist is, that unlike most recreational diving, in tek diving one size doesn’t usually fit all. You choose the tool for the mission, paying attention to any special circumstances.
Karl Shreeves is vice president, technical development, of PADI and DSAT. He’s an avid tek diver and knife hound.