WHY TAKE THE RESCUE DIVER COURSE?
The Rescue Diver course is the final step in a series of qualifications before you can start to become a scuba diving professional. Many people take the course for the sole purpose of making themselves eligible to become a divemaster or scuba instructor. Of course, the other huge benefit is that it gives you the skills to assist in emergency situations and makes you a better dive buddy in circumstances where another diver needs reassurance or a helping hand. Lastly, it builds your own confidence in the water and helps you to recognise signs of stress before they lead to more serious situations.
WHERE SHOULD THE RESCUE DIVER COURSE BE DONE?
You can do your Rescue Diver course at most scuba schools around the world, and there are various training bodies that offer it – the main two being PADI and SSI. The qualifications are interchangeable and very similar in content, so the decision of where to learn your skills will most likely come down to location, price and how you feel about a particular dive school.
The costs of diving are much lower in third-world countries like Thailand and Honduras, especially where competition from a large number of dive schools forces prices down.
I did my SSI Stress and Rescue diver course, along with React Right first aid, with Koh Tao Divers in the Gulf of Thailand. It cost 14,000 baht. The school is actually run by Finnish dive professionals, but it attracts divers from around the world and they teach in a variety of languages. They’re a really professional company, but they’re also a lot of fun.
WHAT DOES THE RESCUE DIVER COURSE INVOLVE?
Becoming a rescue diver is a huge accomplishment. The course is very full on and it definitely has the potential to put you out of your comfort zone. Some of the skills and techniques you need to master involve simulations of stressful situations, but if you take each one a step at a time you will get there. Remember that your instructor’s aim is not to catch you out and make your life miserable. If you struggle with a skill, you’ll have the chance to do it again and again until you get it right.
The camaraderie helps too. Dive schools so often have a really great vibe and Koh Tao Divers was no exception.
In order to pass your SSI Stress and Rescue course or PADI Rescue Diver course, you need to also be trained in first aid. For PADI, this add on is called Emergency First Response, or EFR. If you’re training with SSI, it’s known as React Right. The main skills you’ll need to learn are CPR and oxygen administration. You’ll need to go away and revise from a textbook before taking a multiple choice exam of 50 questions. A pass rate of 75% or above is enforced. You’ll also learn practical skills from your instructor, including splinting arms and legs and providing CPR to a dummy. This qualification needs to be repeated every two years in order for your rescue diver status to remain valid.
STRESS AND RESCUE
The main qualification of a rescue diver – the Stress and Rescue course itself – is where the real fun starts. It’s a good idea to complete the online training before your course officially begins, because you will be really overwhelmed with information otherwise. The Stress and Rescue course comprises a 25-question multiple choice exam as well as the demonstration of a number of skills in the open water. These skills are covered in more detail below.
RESCUING A PANICKED DIVER ON THE SURFACE
You’ll learn this technique both with and without your scuba equipment. If you’re on the surface with another diver and they’re tired or panicked, your priority is to make sure they’re positively buoyant. If asking them to drop their weights and inflate their BCD doesn’t elicit a response, you’ll need to help them. There are various ways to approach a diver in these circumstances and you have to know how to quickly move out of harm’s way if they start to panic and threaten your own safety. My favourite technique is to quickly release all of the air in your own BCD, drop below them, duck dive underneath and then resurface behind, where you can access their weights and inflate their BCD yourself. It’s not a particularly difficult technique, but it’s good to practice having your regulator ready and your hands on your release valve as you approach.
You’ll also need to demonstrate pulling a panicked swimmer out of the water. For this you’ll have to throw a buoyancy device from the boat and then jump in and get them. This is one of the most humiliating skills of the course because you never know when your instructor will surprise you with it – or who the victim might be. You often end up with a few crowded boats of spectators as you inevitably do the most feeble throw imaginable and then struggle to tow someone twice your weight to the safety of the boat.
RESCUING A PANICKED DIVER UNDERWATER
Once you’ve got the skills on the surface, it’s time to drop beneath. The most common causes of stress underwater are poorly fitting or lost equipment. It’s important to learn to recognise the signs of stress, such as rapid breathing, and to respond to them quickly and appropriately. Most of these skills are common sense, but you have to be comfortable buddy breathing, as well as knowing how to reassure and communicate effectively.
BRINGING AN UNCONSCIOUS DIVER TO THE SURFACE
When you suspect that a diver is unconscious under the water, your priority is to bring them to the surface as quickly as possible. After a few quick checks to determine that they are, in fact unconscious, you’ll need to ascend by holding onto their body and using their BCD to take you both to the surface. You should also hold their regulator in for them if you can.
HELPING AN UNCONSCIOUS DIVER ON THE SURFACE
This is one of the most tiring and complicated skills you’ll be expected to learn. It involves removing gear, checking for breathing and administering rescue breaths at 5-second intervals at the same time as removing both of your BCDs and towing your buddy to an exit point. The technique for getting an unconscious person onto a dive boat is to hold their body, back to the ladder, above the water by keeping your hands on top of theirs. You then wrap their legs around your waist, bring their arms over your shoulders, pull their body towards you and walk up the ladder supporting their weight on your thighs as you climb. It’s not easy and it’s not pretty either, but it’s an incredibly useful skill to learn.
There are a few different techniques for searching for a missing person underwater, depending on whether or not you have some idea of where they’re likely to be. Typically, your instructor will have you learn these by handing you a compass, asking you to close your eyes while they hide an object and then having you complete the search until you find it. Be aware of currents and don’t forget to look around you in all directions as you carry out your search.
THE ‘HELL DIVE’
Affectionately known as the ‘hell dive’ your final dive of the course is a chance to practice bringing all of these skills together. Typically, whatever could go wrong on this dive probably will – under controlled circumstances of course. From the moment you start gearing up, be prepared for your buddy to make errors, act irrationally, lose equipment, entangle themselves or react in a stressed or panicked manner. While it sounds scary, if you’ve paid attention to the skills you’ve learned over the past few days, you’ll be fine. You might even enjoy it!
MAKING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR RESCUE DIVER COURSE
One of the most important things to remember as you do this Rescue Diver course is that the intent is for you to come away with the skills required to prevent or control stressful or emergency situations. No matter how challenging you find the course, your instructor will reassure you and give you plenty of opportunities to make sure you’re satisfied you’ve learned the techniques.
The best way to approach this course is to apply what you’re learning to what you’re experiencing. In the Stress and Rescue diver course, you learn to pause and think rationally before you act, and you learn that preparation and experience are the best ways to prevent or deal with stress or panic. Take a moment to think about why you’re doing the course and make sure you spend adequate time revising the textbook information/online training, as well as mentally going through your practical skills, and you’ll probably find you have the time of your life.
Keen to get involved in scuba? Check out this ultimate guide to scuba diving.