“Why do the Underwater Equipment Exchange” drill? Is that the question? And a very good question, indeed.
At first glance, this drill may appear to be a “throw back” from times gone by. You know, from the days when scuba courses were structured more like military training programs where they wanted to train their divers to handle anything and everything that might come up. You know, where they drilled their divers in the fine art of adaptation and contingency. Heaven forbid that we expect our “Dive Professionals” of today to do any of that. After all, everybody knows that things never go wrong under water. We never have the need to adjust, replace or exchange pieces of gear while under water, RIGHT.
At the Divemaster level, we are expected to deal with unforeseen circumstance. We are expected to be capable of “going beyond” and doing more than what is expected of the average recreational diver. We are expected to possess and exude confidence in our own abilities. Not only are we supposed to be able to keep our cool in sticky situations, but we are expected to maintain calm within the group and provide direction to others who are less qualified, in any given situation.
I have been diving since 1977, and I have had occasion to either remove, exchange, adjust or replace my own equipment and the equipment of others with whom I was diving. Since I learned how to do this safely, efficiently, correctly and with confidence, I was able to pull it off without a hitch. As an instructor, I still find myself in need of exercising this skill. Maybe not to the extent of a complete gear exchange every time, but the need still arises. And because I am well practiced in this skill, I can do it easily, safely and with confidence.
“When I were a Guppy”, I learned that I needed to get used to the idea of dealing with anything that came up while remaining under water. Granted, during most “recreational” dives, it is unlikely that you will find yourself in a situation where you can not surface directly and fix gear or exchange gear if necessary. However, as you progress and start to venture into things like Deep Diving, Deco or Technical Diving, Cave Diving, Ice Diving, etc… you will find out very quickly the value of that “Gear Exchange” drill.
As I have said, it’s a valid question, and one that has been asked many times. Some would say that it is an unnecessary and out dated drill that places the prospective divemaster at an “unnecessary risk which is not worth the skills that are gained by doing it. To this argument I can only say that Scuba Diving is “One Big Risk”, that many would consider unnecessary. But if we are going to venture forth and take that risk, then had we not better to be well and fully trained to handle everything (even the unexpected)?
The trend that I have seen with some Scuba Training Agencies is to trim down or reduce the skills requirements for each level of certification, in an effort to make the certification more marketable and to reduce the time commitment required for each level course. In an effort to do this there has been quite a bit of “streamlining” in the various course curriculums. Although there are some skills that should be (and should have been in the past) considered unnecessary at the lower levels of certification and training, which have been discontinued, there are also skills that have been eliminated which should still be required in the training curriculum. Certainly, any skill that will better train and prepare a dive “Professional” to handle any circumstance while underwater and dealing with student divers (and less skilled divers) should be continued. And if this skill should contribute to confidence building, then all the more reason to continue teaching it.
I can see the marketing logic behind “making getting into scuba diving easier” in order to introduce the sport to more people and to grab a bigger portion of the market share. However, I have to wonder if we really want to make achieving the level of Divemaster (a professional) any easier. I have to ask if it is wise to not teach a skill that builds confidence and could potentially save a life, to someone who will be expected to possess “ultimate” confidence and superior skills.
Besides all of that, it’s actually a fun (although somewhat challenging) skill to do. Not to mention being a great confidence builder.
But this is just one old mans opinion.