What Really Happens on a Scuba Diving Rescue Course

Who do you trust with your life? Who would rescue you? I mean, truly. Because if you’re taking on an activity like scuba diving, it involves a significant amount of risk for a recreational activity each time you decide to take part; regardless of your certification or experience. So with changing circumstances and perhaps changing buddies and certainly changing environments and conditions – it’s important to feel secure, to feel like the risk is mediated by your expertise, awareness and processes that you personally take to mitigate any of the controllable hazards taking place.

How can you best do this? By becoming a Rescue Diver. Simple.

A four to five day course where you’ll of have an intense array of circumstances present to you and you’ll be informed, demonstrated and supported in learning how to prevent and manage them all.

The intensity increases as you go through the course, so don’t panic, there’s nothing that you can’t handle by the final ‘hell dive’. Oh yes, the final dive of the course is called the hell dive.. and it’s where you put all your instincts, training and underwater ninja skills in to action. But we can come back to that – don’t freak out just yet.

Day One

If you already have an EFR (Emergency First Response) certificate, that’s going to reduce the time you’ve got out of the water, if not you’ll need to go through the training which crosses over into diving scenarios and how EFR is applicable within emergency situations in and out of the water, like with DCS (decompression sickness) and other likely forms of injury. After completing the EFR training you’ll begin to go through basic scenarios in confined water, like a training pool. This allows the instructor and assistant to demonstrate to you the most common and dangerous scenarios you might come across in open water and scuba diving scenarios, but on a very basic level at this stage. Everything is fully explained, demonstrated and then you have the opportunity to practice the communication, approach and execution of your rescue technique.

Days two and three…

…will see you in open water, where you will be presented with the same scenarios in a more real life environment, but again, this will be only a touch more realistic to allow you to build ‘muscle memory’ for the situations and confidence in your approach. The thing is, it tends to be irrelevant when you’re told to relax or enjoy the dive – I spent every moment wondering if someone was distracting me to turn my tank off. But this wasn’t the case, and generally this dive should be the one where you know what is going to happen and it shouldn’t be overly dramatic. But they might decide that the visibility is just too good for a search and recovery and zinc up your mask like mine… Can’t. See. Anything.  

The third and fourth day… All bets are off.

This is the day that aims to build your confidence in your abilities by putting them to the test with much more realistic acting by your instructor and assistant, and will aim to catch you off guard. Regardless of knowing this at the start of the day, everything still happened when I least expected it – straight after a search and recovery I found myself with an unconscious diver at the surface, who I had to tow to the boat, haul onto the deck and provide theoretical CPR, until thankfully they sprung back to life before EMS was needed. Another time, whilst a fellow DMT completed his 400m swim in open water, I was told to make a life float and swim to him with it, little did I know he was in on this scenario. So, as I gently motion the float towards him, his eyes turn wide and unseeing, no longer a friend but a panicked swimmer, he jumps over the float and right on my head! I have no time to process this as I gasp for air back at the surface, only for a moment before I’m plunged with two hands on my head back into the ocean – cheers mate!

Then I had the pleasure of rescuing him as unconscious diver and dragging him on to a real life desert island for CPR! As you can see, total success!

Another classic bluff was being told that I’d been tested so much and done so well in my few days that we were just going to do an unconscious diver scenario on my last dive – well, don’t believe that for a second, what a naïve diver and student I was, let me enlighten you.

On the hell dive…

…I’m told I’m guiding the dive with not one but three divers, all of whom were capable instructors and divemasters. Cool, no problem, I just need to keep reef left and check their air occasionally. Five minutes in and I turn to see an array of mischief occurring; grasping at anemones, trying to catch fish with a hook they’ve found, lost fins, run away ascents whilst getting tangled in their SMB. Of course, as I’m assisting these terrible divers, my air runs dry – someone’s turned it off whilst I was trying to help them!

Not so long later, in a galaxy not far away, one’s now decided to be unconscious and incredibly heavy on the ocean floor, whilst another has stolen all my weights and swum off… what on earth! Cursing through my regulator I dash around, up and down, desperately wondering what in earth is going on. After an unbreathing, unconscious diver scenario sees me shouting ‘Bob Marley, Bob Marley, prepare the tea and biscuits!’ offering rescue breaths as I tow to the boat and haul myself on, before managing to get a man twice my size on there with a good heave-ho! Exhausted! Make sure you have a good breakfast and coffee before you begin your day on a rescue course.

Mania, but what an epic dive that was, and no one died! I couldn’t have come up feeling more confident than I did. Strangely you end up feeling weirdly grateful to have been tested so thoroughly – it removes so much doubt about what you could or could not handle in an underwater emergency and builds your confidence as a diver ten times over.

Why should you do your Rescue course?

For me, this course was the most impactive, the most useful but also the most fun course I’ve completed since starting on my scuba diving journey. Allowing me to overcome fears of being unable to cope with situations, confidence in my gear and my own understanding of what can both prevent and help manage an emergency situation. I have since assisted two rescue courses over my Divemaster training, and the students who passed agreed with the sentiment wholeheartedly, ‘what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger’, and have no doubt, they will try to kill you… Honestly, it’s a fantastic course.

Thanks to Blue Marlin Komodo for an yet another epic experience!

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