Notes from the Freezing North – Part Three

Vikki Batten PADI Technical Diving Consultant

Part 3 – Team Work and Preparation

Over the years I have been lucky to dive with a group of divers who enjoy working as a team wherever they are diving. The benefits of working together and helping each other can be seen in any environment but in extreme cold team work takes on a more important role.

  • Sometimes even getting to your dive site should be done with a buddy. For most people the worst weather related problem we encounter regularly is the difficult driving conditions created by extreme weather. From ice and snow to wind, gales and torrential rain. Choosing the right vehicle and ensuring that it is equipped for the journey can make all the difference. Make sure you are prepared for delays or breakdown by carrying extra equipment and provisions. Ensure you have communications and that someone knows where you are going, which route and when you should arrive. In some conditions travelling in convoy for extra backup is vital but sometimes the only sensible option is not to travel at all.
  • Make sure you are warm before you dive. Starting at a normal temperature is the best way to conserve heat. Put your thermals on in a changing room or at home and make sure you stay dry; water inside your drysuit is really bad news. If it’s feasible, enter the water (with a surface buddy nearby) to test the integrity of your drysuit and gloves prior to fully kitting up.

  • Heated kitting up areas may only be a reality in Finland (see picture) but you can certainly pinch the idea of preparing your kit in a warm place. Rebreather divers nearly always prepare their units the night before. Why not set your kit up and check it at home. You don’t want to leave it pressurised during transport and will need to check it again at the site but as you have less to do you will minimise it’s (and your own) exposure to the cold. You will also have had the chance to fix any minor problems or replace any non-functioning items ahead of time.
  • Site preparations and kitting up are much easier when you dive in groups. One group assists the other so that surface exposure (both for the equipment and the diver) is minimised. Not only is it easier to kit up with a “dresser” but any problems can be quickly solved by them as well.

  • The surface group also serve as a rescue team. In the event of a problem a rapid response is absolutely vital in freezing conditions. Problems that would be a minor inconvenience elsewhere, such as a leaky glove, can lead to serious injury. More serious problems can easily be life threatening if they are not dealt with immediately. The rescue team are suited up with their equipment ready to don at a moments notice.
  • Co-ordinate your kitting up. Make sure everyone’s equipment is together, checked and working. When all divers are in their drysuits and have completed inwater suit checks everyone kits up together so nobody is left hanging around in full kit or rushing to catch up.
  • Entering the water should be done when the dive team are all ready. There is nothing worse than floating at the surface getting cold and also annoyed with your buddy for keeping you waiting. If you have co-ordinated all the previous steps this should be a natural progression.
  • Whether you conduct your pre-dive checks on the surface or in the water they should be as thorough as always. If you can’t check something because you can’t reach it, or your drygloves make it difficult, or you are getting stressed by the amount of equipment you are carrying STOP! Ask for assistance or don’t dive! Do not miss a step in your checks because it’s easier not to do it.
  • Post dive the surface group assist the divers with their exit and de-kitting. Divers are the priority and ensuring adequate warmth, avoiding exertion and rehydrating are vital after extreme dives. Equipment often freezes as soon as the diver surfaces and care must be taken not to damage anything as it is removed and dismantled.
  • Although you may think the next step is to swap roles so the surface group gets a dive that isn’t always possible or sensible. It is very common for divers to turn up at a dive site just to help others. It works because they know that when they want to dive there will be plenty of volunteers to help.

 

I love cold water diving because it allows me to dive in the most exciting diving environments in the world (in my opinion, of course) but without the right tools for the job and a great team around you it would be miserable. The camaraderie and generosity of divers in Nordic countries is incredible. They will lend you any of their equipment (and look after yours like the crown jewels if you lend it to them), they will take time off work to come and help on the surface and they will wait with you even if they have finished their deco and you still have an hour to go and you’re all freezing! Best of all, at the end of the day they will sit with you around a roaring fire eating sausages, chatting, laughing and reliving the dives just like anywhere else in the world! Now that reminds me, I must plan my next freezing cold dive trip…..

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