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Talking Tech
Fit to tech dive?
out in addition to a complete physical exam by a qualified hyperbaric
Some professionals want a standard ‘watermanship’ test introduced, on
images: Andrew Slater
the understanding that a technical diver should be much
Red Sea technical diving instructor cath Bates takes a
fitter than a recreational diver.
close look at diving medical assessments and finds out The agency medical statements I recently investigated
why diving medical pioneer Dr Adel Taher is calling for in this matter mention panic and hyperventilation as a
new standards to ensure divers are fit to extend their danger that should be anticipated. This signed document
range in the water. is of course to be coupled with a Liability Release form,
‘Deep diving utilizing multiple gases, including
requiring a witness. IANTD have additionally printed
helium, is about as risky as it gets.’ This is the
a message to the medical examiner informing stating:
friendly greeting that slaps you round the face from
‘Technical and recreational scuba diving activities with
decompression expert Erik C Baker as you open dive
compressed air, oxygen-enriched air (nitrox), oxygen,
software programme V Planner. In technical diving
helium and/or trimix are physically strenuous.’
there may be long exposures to the cold depending DSAT provides a specific Liability Release for technical
on the amount of decompression, equipment and diving and a Tec Deep Diver Statement of Understanding,
associated technology. Multiple gas mixes need to be which even mentions task loading and physical burden.
managed and the environmental conditions can be TDI (Technical Diving International) has its students
far more challenging than your everyday dive site and sign to state that they ‘understand that I will be exerting
plan. But when and who decides if you are physically myself during this course’ and ‘understand that these
and mentally up to this challenge? activities may place me deeper than I am able to safely
In order to become a DSAT (Diving Science and
execute a free ascent from’. But the fact remains that all
Technology) trimix-qualified diver the student must
these medical questionnaires were originally designed for
have a physician’s ‘approval and signature’ on the
recreational diving activities. The information provided is
medical statement. Hotel doctors and GPs (general
to the best of the divers’ knowledge, not that of a medical
medical practitioners) are not diving medical or
hyperbaric specialists, nevertheless, this seems to be Dehydration and panic are common causes of accidents.
considered suitable enough. But neither of these can be anticipated when completing
However, Dr Adel Taher of Sharm el Sheikh’s Chamber
the medical. Breathing an inappropriate gas at depth
of Hyperbaric Medicine has been campaigning for
can cause hypoxia (not enough oxygen is received) or
three years to try to ensure technical divers do not fall
hyperoxia (too much, as with oxygen toxicity). Running
under the recreational diving umbrella when it comes
out of gas, getting lost, equipment failure and drowning
to medicals.
have nothing to do with the health of a technical diver
when they complete the questionnaire, yet these are all
He has given a lecture called Reflections on Recent
incidents that could cause one to panic and head blindly
Technical Diving Accidents in the Sinai…what are
for the surface.
we doing wrong? in Poland, Turkey and Austria for
DAN (Diver’s Alert Network) and the EUBS (European
The most common accidents that Dr Adel has identified
Underwater and Baromedical Society) to try and
that most technical diving accidents involve those divers
strengthen his case. He doesn’t hold back on his
who over estimate their abilities. ‘It is evident they are
views about there being no standards and goes
overloaded psychologically, physically and physiologically,’
as far as to describe the situation as a ‘farce.’ So if
he says. ‘Gas management is not easy.’
he – a man highly respected in the field of diving He has a particular problem with dealing with technical
medicine around the world - believes a candidate diving accidents involving heavy smokers or those who
to be unsuitable – will this lead those to simply go have been drinking acohol the night before.
elsewhere to get the okay and return to the diving centre to begin their
Adel was Sharm’s first trimix diver. He returned with his licence from the
US in the late 1980s. ‘But when I gained weight and lost my physical
As an industry standard, Dr Taher believes we should see the following fitness, I stopped,’ he says.
tests carried out on technical diving candidates:
At the 2008 DAN Technical Diving Conference Jeff Bozanic from the
• Lung function tests
Island Caves Research Centre in California said: ‘We cannot expect to
• Spiro meter testing (measuring the volume of air inspired and
identify every poor-risk technical diving candidate with medical/physical
expired by the lungs)
screening alone. We are all guinea pigs.’
• PFO test (Patent Foramen Ovale – a congenital heart defect)
• Cat Scan on the lungs (these can show up cysts that are otherwise
There is still much medical research needed where increased pressure
invisible on a normal X-ray)
(physical and mental) is concerned. But with the generic recreational
• A stress ECG (an electrocardiogram to see how the heart responds to
diving medical questionnaire still being used, what are we learning?
an increase in demand for oxygen)
Perhaps we are expected to assume that divers use common sense to
self-certify themselves when pushing the limits of their training and
He also would also wish to see full and complete neurological testing
experience. Sadly, however, common sense isn’t stated in print as a
done on any diver wishing to enter the technical realm if they have
prerequisite for these courses.
suffered a previous episode of decompression illness . They should
steer well clear of deeper diving if they are on medication because, he
DSAT: Diving Science and Technology
says, not enough research has been done into the effect of drugs under
DAN: Divers Alert Network
extreme pressure. In addition to this he believes a ‘proper’ psychological
EUBS: European Underwater and Baromedical Society
assessment should be carried out.
DAN: Divers Alert Network
Technical diving pioneer Tom Mount from IANTD (International IANTD: International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers
Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers) agrees: ‘In an ideal world a TDI: Technical Diving International
stress, VO2 max test (the maximum capacity of an individual’s body to
transport and utilize oxygen during incremental exercise, which reflects
Cath Bates is part of the technical team at Camel Dive Club in Sharm
their physical fitness) and a psychological evaluation would be carried
el Sheikh (
Issue 4 January - February ‘10
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