Ever wondered “What is technical diving?” or are you looking for something else than recreational diving?

professional diving courses
technical diving courses

Technical diving or Tec diving is a form of scuba diving that exceeds the depth, bottom and any type of recreational diving. Technical divers dive for recreation and no other purpose, so you could call it recreational Tech Diving. Tech Diver get to stay longer and sometimes at deeper depths or they are allowed to go into overhead environments like caves and wrecks. Even Sidemount diving can be called “technical diving” although you can just stay within the recreational limits as well, as you are diving with more than one cylinder.

Technical Diving could be your next level of diving education as you don’t have to be an instructor, a strong man, you don’t need years of experience, everyone and literally everyone can start today. If you are an Open Water Diver and you have 25 dives you can already enroll in to the cave diving program. Or if you are an Advanced Diver with Nitrox you can start your first “tech” level today.

Technical diving courses require dedication from both diver and instructor. The courses entitle advanced training, extensive experience, specialised equipment and often use breathing gases other than air or standard nitrox.

Technical scuba diving is further defined as and includes one or more of the following:

  • diving beyond 40 metres/130 feet deep
  • completing dives requiring staged decompression
  • diving in overhead environments beyond 40 linear metres/130 linear feet of the surface
  • accelerated decompression and/or the use of variable gas mixtures during the dive

Below you can find an overview of the kind of courses, depth and material used during technical diving courses


History – How long has technical diving been around?

Most people would agree that cave diving is a form of technical diving. Cave diving developed in the late 1960s and 1970s, developing into a discipline largely like it is today by the mid 1980s. In the early 1990s, several groups of divers around the world began experimenting with technologies for deep diving (beyond conventional recreational limits) to explore both caves and wrecks. These communities united and emerged as “technical diving” or “tec diving” with the publication of aquaCorps (no longer in print), which dedicated itself to this type of diving. Since then, tec diving continues to develop both in scope and in its technologies.

The term technical diving has been credited to Michael Menduno, who was editor of the diving magazine aquaCorps Journal. The concept and term, technical diving, are both relatively recent advents,although divers have been engaging in what is now commonly referred to as technical diving for decades.

So what is it all about?

Depth

Ben Reymenants Deep Dive
Ben Reymenants Deep Dive

Technical dives may be defined as being dives deeper than about 130 feet (40 m) or dives in an overhead environment with no direct access to the surface or natural light. These environments may include fresh and saltwater caves and the interiors of shipwrecks. In many cases, technical dives also include planned decompression carried out over a number of stages/deco stops during a controlled ascent to the surface at the end of the dive.

The depth-based definition is derived from the fact that breathing regular air while experiencing pressures causes a progressively increasing amount of impairment due to nitrogen narcosis that normally becomes serious at depths of 30 m or greater. Increasing pressure at depth also increases the risk of oxygen toxicity based on the partial pressure of oxygen in the breathing mixture. For this reason, technical diving often includes the use of breathing mixtures other than air.

These factors increase the level of risk and training required for technical diving far beyond that required for recreational diving. This is a fairly conservative definition of technical diving.

Ascending

Technical dives may alternatively be defined as dives where the diver cannot safely ascend directly to the surface either due to a mandatory decompression stop or a physical ceiling. This form of diving implies a much larger reliance on redundant equipment and training since the diver must stay underwater until it is safe to ascend or the diver has left the overhead environment.

Physical ceilings

These types of overhead diving can prevent the diver surfacing directly:

  • Cave diving – diving into a cave system.
  • Deep diving – diving into greater depths.
  • Ice diving – diving under ice.
  • Wreck diving – diving inside a shipwreck.

Gasses and why we need Decompression stops

CCR rebreather Diving Wrecks
CCR rebreather Diving Wrecks

A diver at the end of a long or deep dive may need to do decompression stops to avoid decompression sickness, also known as the “bends”. Metabolically inert gases in the diver’s breathing gas, such as nitrogen and helium, are absorbed into body tissues when inhaled under high pressure during the deep phase of the dive. These dissolved gases must be released slowly from body tissues by pausing or “doing deco stops” at various depths during the ascent to the surface.

In recent years, most technical divers have greatly increased the depth of the first stops to reduce the risk of bubble formation before the more traditional, long, shallow stops. Most technical divers breathe enriched oxygen breathing gas mixtures such as nitrox during the beginning and ending portion of the dive. To avoid nitrogen narcosis while at maximum depth, it is common to use trimix which adds helium to replace nitrogen in the diver’s breathing mixture. Pure oxygen is then used during shallow decompression stops (max depth 6 meters) to reduce the time needed by divers to rid themselves of most of the remaining excess inert gas in their body tissues, reducing the risk of “the bends.”

Surface intervals (time spent on the surface between dives) are usually required to prevent the residual nitrogen from building up to dangerous levels on subsequent dives, but this is no different from conventional scuba diving.

Different Gas mixes

Trimix Sticker PADI
PADI Trimix Sticker

Breathing normal air (with 21 percent oxygen and 79% Nitrogen) at depths greater than 180 feet (55 m) creates a high risk of oxygen toxicity. Technical dives may also be characterised by the use of hypoxic breathing gas mixtures other than air, such as trimix, heliox, and heliair. The first sign of oxygen toxicity is usually a convulsion without warning which usually results in death, as the breathing regulator falls out and the victim drowns.

Sometimes the diver may get warning symptoms prior to the convulsion. These can include visual and auditory hallucinations, nausea, twitching (especially in the face and hands), irritability and mood swings, and dizziness. Increasing pressure due to depth also causes nitrogen to become narcotic, resulting in a reduced ability to react or think clearly (see nitrogen narcosis).

By adding helium (He) to the breathing mix, divers can cut these effects significantly, as helium does not have the same narcotic properties at depth. These gas mixes can also lower the level of oxygen in the mix to reduce the danger of oxygen toxicity. Once the oxygen is reduced below 18 percent the mix is known as a hypoxic mix as it does not contain enough oxygen to be used safely at the surface. Trimix divers only start and stop using the trimix mixes at certain depths, this is why they need to carry different cylinders with different gasses on the dives.

Nitrox (EAN) is another common gas mix, and while it is not used for deep diving, it decreases the build up of nitrogen within the diver’s body by increasing the percentage of oxygen. This reduces the nitrogen percentage, as well as allowing for a greater number of multiple dives compared to standard air. The depth limit of nitrox is governed by the percentage of oxygen used, as there are multiple oxygen percentages available in nitrox. (such as a EAN 50 can only be used from 0 – 21 meters) . Please note that further training and knowledge is required to use safely and understand the effects of these gases on the body during a dive.

Deep air/extended range diving

Advanced Side Mount Course TDI
Advanced Side Mount – Deep Air diver

One of the more divisive subjects in technical diving concerns using compressed air (21% O2 and 79% Nitrogen) as a breathing gas on dives below 40m. While some diving training agencies still promote and teach such courses (TDI, IART and PADI), a minority (NAUI Tec, GUE & UTD) argue that diving deeper on air is unacceptably risky, saying that helium mixes should be used for dives beyond a certain limit (30–40 m), depending upon agency.

Such courses used to be referred to as “deep air” courses, but are now commonly called “extended range” courses.  This limit entered the recreation and technical communities in the USA from the military diving community where it was the depth at which the US Navy recommended shifting from scuba to surface supplied air. The scientific diving community has never incorporated the 40 meter limit into its protocols and has never experienced any accidents or injuries during air dives between 40 meters and the deepest air dives that the scientific diving community permits,58 meters, where the U.S. Navy Standard Air Tables shifts to the Exceptional Exposure Tables.

In Europe some countries set the recreational diving limit at 50 meters, and that corresponds with the limit also imposed in some professional fields, such as police divers in the UK. The major French agencies all teach diving on air to 60 meters as part of their standard recreational certifications.

Deep air proponents base the proper depth limit of air diving upon the risk of oxygen toxicity. Accordingly, they view the limit as being the depth at which partial pressure of oxygen (PPO2) reaches 1.4 ATA, which occurs at about 57 m. Helitrox/triox proponents argue that the defining risk should be nitrogen narcosis, and suggest that when the partial pressure of nitrogen reaches about 4.0 ATA, which occurs at about 40 m, helium is necessary to offset the effects of the narcosis. Both sides of the community tend to present self-supporting data.

Divers trained and experienced in deep air diving report less problems with narcosis than those trained and experienced in mixed gas diving trimix/heliox, although scientific evidence does not show that a diver can train to overcome any measure of narcosis at a given depth, or become tolerant of it. Some people just choose “deep air” diving as Helium becomes more scares thus more expensive.

The Divers Alert Network (DAN) does not endorse or reject deep air diving, but indicates the extra risks involved and always recommend proper training.

ACTIVITYRECREATIONAL DIVINGTECHNICAL DIVING
DEEP DIVINGMAX TO 40 METERSDOWN TO 100 METERS
DECOMPRESSION DIVINGWITHIN NO DECO LIMITSSTAGED DECOMPRESSION
MIXED GAS DIVINGAIR AND NITROX UP TO 40%up to 100% O2,TRIMIX, HELIOX, HELIAIR AND HELITROX
CAVE DIVINGPENETRATION LIMITED TO LIGHT ZONE / 30 METERS FROM SURFACEDEEP - NO LIGHT ZONE AND DEEP PENETRATION
GAS SWITCHINGSINGLE GAS USEDMULTIPLE GASSES USED
ICE DIVINGSOME AGENCIES SAY ITS REC DIVINGSOME AGENCIES SAY ITS TECH DIVING
REBREATHER DIVINGTO 30 METERSBEYOND 40 METERS
WRECK DIVINGPENETRATION LIMITED TO 20 METERSDEEP - NO LIGHT ZONE AND PENETRATION
TDI awards 2013 and 204
TDI awards