Wikipedia defines Dive Planning as the process of planning an underwater diving operation. As simple as it sounds, planning a dive may not always be an easy task for a divemaster who is responsible to make, organize, execute, lead and “dive” a dive plan.
After a dive, divers may describe it as an “excellent dive” in many ways but they will all evaluate a dive based on at least one of the following:
1. A fascinating site
2. A dependable and like-minded buddy
3. A good to almost perfect weather condition
4. Calm waters
5. A stress- free, incident-free trip
6. Easy entry and exit to the water
The above factors constitute an inevitably well planned dive, eventually resulting to an excellent dive. Almost always, a dive master or dive leader in a group plans the dive and relays the plan to the other divers.
A few years back, I was with a group of divers in a boat; everyone was called to gather at the deck for a dive briefing. Holding a white board and a marker, the divemaster started the “planning session” with some site description on the white board including depths, marine life previously sighted, some cautions, and direction of the current and so on. Being a newbie, I didn’t mind listening to all the “talk” because first, I was really curious and second, because it was my first time to dive with the group. But I noticed some “senior” divers started to become uninterested as the briefing lasted longer. Their faces showed an expression that they didn’t need as much talking. The divemaster seemed surely engaged on his version of a “dive plaaaaaaaaan”. In fact, I even felt a hint of bragging but I just ignored it (the bragging, of course).
So how long should a dive plan be? If dive briefing equals dive planning, then brief it is!
A good dive briefing conveys the local knowledge about the site that divers need to know. It should be as brief as possible (that’s why it’s called a brief, right). A dive plan should neither be too long with much basic dive course information (geez, we discuss those basics in the classroom!) nor too intrusive (divers need some room for adventures, right?). It should also be informative (I mean correct information, duh!), yet enthusiastic and not boring (a DM without sense of humor isn’t welcome in the dive, haha!).
However, if the divers are students then it is not a dive briefing but an instruction (read: dive planning is a whole lot different than dive instruction).
Diving the Plan.
Now, picture yourself all set for the dive with the “plan” totally stuck in your head. Thanks to the DM who “planned” the dive for an hour (that long briefing!). You dive obediently following every advice and information that your ‘boring DM” discussed. While diving around (following your unexciting DM who happened to be your buddy too), you noticed that there were not much to see (probably two small fishes and a bleached coral, and more mud or silt, etc. etc.). After 45 minutes, he signaled for a safety stop and then it’s time for you to ascend.
Although quite a bit boring, it was a safe dive. Until you hear the other group who went to another direction. They talk big about the manta ray that was suitcase big and a turtle that seemingly stopped while being photographed. Schools of fishes, nice corals, blah blah…then your heart sink with envy.
Here’s the point where you ask yourself, what happened to the dive plan?! And then you recall that long, tedious, and inaccurate plan! Could a dive plan be any worse?
Short and Accurate. Less Means More.
During my recent dive at Apo Reef Natural Park in Sabang, Occidental Mindoro, Philippines, I was amazed by how smart and professional the DM was. His name is Reuel from Mariposa Dive Center in Pandan Island. I was with a group of three PADI Instructors, an AOWD (with almost 200 dives in his log, ugh!). I was just recently certified as a Rescue Diver then. The point is, all divers in the group were well experienced, having been active divers for years and traveled many places around the world. But DM Reuel showed wit and authority. His briefing was short, informative and accurate. I also learned a new hand signal from DM Reuel during that trip to Apo Reef- the “half air signal” which is useful when you want to signal your buddy that you already consumed half of your air.
We asked him to bring us to where the sharks were, and he did. First time for me to see twelve sharks in a dive!
He made us feel that he knows the dive site very well (yeah, as if he was born in Apo Reef in particular!) He demanded trust and that was well given to him by the group.
An essential dive plan, brief in nature should consist primarily of the following: time and depth of dive and buddy assignment. A short note on possible hazards and emergency procedures, like what to do in case of a lost buddy, are also mandatory.
When you know the plan (from a competent and reliable DM- I’m sure you’ll know one when you see one), stick to it. A dive plan is a diver’s guide to safety and with a safe dive, all the fun just falls into the right places!
Safe diving, everyone! And have fun always!