Thinking Like a Diver When Wreck Diving

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)

The PADI® Open Water Diver and Advanced Open Water Diver courses provide a strong foundation for teaching divers to think through diving scenarios to make sound decisions. As you mentor divers at all levels, you can build on this by providing dive scenarios relevant to the course you’re teaching, and offer questions that help them think like a diver as they evaluate the scenario and share their decisions with you. This helps you assess understanding and how they apply what they’re learning. It’s a great way to coach thoughtful and deliberate decisions. In this example, the scenario promotes using sound judgment in deciding whether to enter a wreck in the PADI Wreck Diver Specialty course.

Entering a Wreck

When a diver wants to enter a wreck, the primary -decision-making goal must always be to have a safe exit. That means being able to find a way to an exit, and being able to handle any emergency situation that could arise while in that overhead environment. Wreck-entry methods include two classifications: swim-throughs and penetrations.

  • Swim-throughs – In a swim-through, the diver enters through one opening and exits through another. In a basic swim-through, the diver will always be able to see two exit points to open water using natural light. The path between them will be free of significant obstacles, entanglements or silt. The combination of the distance to an exit point and up to the surface should not exceed 40 metres/130 feet for Advanced Open Water Divers and higher, and in other circumstances the distance should be the depth for which the diver is qualified.
  • Penetrations – In a penetration, the diver enters more than a few metres/feet into the wreck intending to return to the entry point, either because there is no other exit or the diver is not sure there is another one. The diver may go beyond the point that the entry is still clearly visible and must run a line to ensure a safe return to the exit. The path should be well lit and free of obstacles, entanglements or silt. As with swim-throughs, the distance to the exit and then to the surface should not exceed 40 metres/130 feet.

Using Sound Judgment

Either situation calls for good, reasonable judgment. Answers to the following questions can help a diver shape an appropriate decision:

  • Are the exits big enough to allow my buddy and me to swim through side by side?
  • How much light is there? Is there enough that I will always be able to see the light of the exit?
  • Is there anything big enough to be a dangerous obstacle?
  • Is there enough silt to have potentially obscure my vision to the extent I couldn’t find my way out?
  • For my planned maximum distance, is the nearest exit close enough to allow me to leave the wreck and with ample time to handle an emergency?

Also factored into the decision should be the diver’s experience, training, skill and equipment. Two different divers looking into the same wreck can make two totally different, yet appropriate decisions. For example, divers with little wreck experience entering a silty environment could obscure visibility creating a potential hazard. A diver trained in non-silting kicking techniques may not have a significant issue with silt. A diver with excellent buoyancy and trim skills can pass around obstacles that could challenge a less‑skilled diver.

Good judgment can also allow divers with more -experience and training to go beyond some of the penetration guidelines. A diver with technical training, such as cave training that includes effective use of suited lights, will be able to work in areas without clear daylight.

When teaching the PADI Wreck Diver Specialty course, mentor your divers on how to think like a diver and make good decisions regarding wreck penetration based on the specific wreck circumstances and their individual training and experience. Apply similar decision-making mentorship in all courses as appropriate to the diver level, environment and course topic.

Reference the PADI Wreck Diver Instructor Guide (Product 70232) for information about this specialty diver course.

A version of this article originally appeared in the 3rd Quarter 2018 edition of The Undersea Journal®.

One Reply to “Thinking Like a Diver When Wreck Diving”

  1. Great article on “Entering Wrecks”. Covers the basic safety common sense rules I teach and emphasize in my wreck diver courses. I have always incorporated air sharing into the wreck diver course, “we should practice it the way we would need to use it, and we use it the way we practice it”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.