Top-10 Tips For Safe Wreck Diving Penetration
Wreck diving penetration is an exhilarating yet risky activity that requires extensive knowledge and skills. As a technical wreck instructor with decades of experience, I understand the importance of wreck diver safety and the necessity for uncompromising wreck penetration training. Wreck diving penetration can be dangerous and even deadly if not executed with caution and proper preparation.
However, with the right knowledge and skills, it can also be a rewarding and unforgettable experience. In this article, I will share my top 10 tips for safe wreck diving penetration. These tips are based on my personal experience. They are the lessons learned from near-misses and the loss of friends in the wreck diving community.
By following these tips and guidelines, you can:
- Enhance your wreck diving skills
- Minimize the risks of wreck diving
- Ensure a safe and enjoyable experience
Over many years, I’ve observed a vast disparity in the attitudes and standards of wreck diving penetration compared to cave diving. Even though both activities involve similar levels of risk and require near-identical skills and procedures, the practices of the wreck diving community can often be far less standardized and the training far more superficial and incomplete.
Through my own experiences as a wreck diver, I’ve learned the importance of proper training for safe wreck diving penetration. It should be comparable to the equivalent level of cavern or cave diving.
1. Get Reliable Wreck Penetration Skills and Protocols
Simply having a certification card doesn’t mean you’re prepared to deal with unforeseeable incidents in a wreck. The key is to have reliable, ingrained skills and protocols to handle worst-case scenarios. These must include zero visibility, entanglements, or losing a team member.
Your training should provide enough in-water time to practice the required skills and protocols until they become second nature. Under the immense psychological stress of a real emergency, you need an ingrained skill set to deal with these situations.
2. Seek Reputable Wreck Penetration Training Expertise
Wreck penetration diving is a highly specialized activity. For that reason, it’s important to seek out training from an instructor who has genuine expertise in this area. Look for someone who is qualified and experienced far beyond the level of training you seek from them. It’s also essential that the training is challenging enough to prepare you for the real risks of wreck diving.
Don’t settle for just a certification card. Seek proper training from an experienced specialist wreck diving instructor. Only they can equip you with reliable skills and protocols to handle worst-case scenarios in a wreck. By doing so, you’ll be able to enjoy this thrilling activity with the utmost safety and confidence.
To become a wreck diver, one needs to first have basic scuba diving certification, such as Open Water Diver. There are multiple levels of wreck training, progressively enabling non-penetration, recreational, and finally technical penetration wreck diving.
3. Perfect Your Fundamental Skills Before Wreck Penetration Diving
Wreck penetration diving is a highly specialized and challenging activity=. As such it demands mastery of fundamental diving skills to minimize the risk of emergencies inside a shipwreck.
Before adding complex wreck penetration skills to your repertoire, it is essential to perfect your:
- Team/buddy skills
- Stress resilience
These skills are the fundamentals (fundies) of diving but are often neglected by developing and advanced divers.
Weak foundational skills can result in serious incidents such as silt-outs, collisions with collapsed structures, or entanglements. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that these skills are reliable and ingrained. They must ensure consistent performance, even when distracted by other events or tasks.
Before commencing any wreck training, a reputable instructor will encourage you to consult with them. The aim is to practice and prepare your foundational skills to an appropriate level. This approach ensures that your training will progress your capabilities rather than just remediate your deficits.
It is worth noting that ethical instructors will evaluate your foundational skills before starting the course. This recognizes that necessary skills, not certification cards, are the true prerequisites for safe and successful wreck training.
So, invest time and effort in mastering the fundamentals. These will ensure you are better equipped to deal with emergencies when they arise.
4. Respect Your Personal Limits in Wreck Penetration Diving
Wreck diving involves significantly more task loading and requires a higher level of performance from divers. Even an uneventful wreck penetration dive can place a significant burden on a diver’s task loading. As a diver, it is important to recognize when you are exceeding your personal limits.
Wreck diving penetration demands focus, skill, and knowledge. However, one of the biggest risks to diver safety is complacency. Divers must understand that no matter how good their training is, it becomes irrelevant if they don’t apply it diligently on every dive post-qualification.
Complacency can arise from overconfidence due to an imbalance between a diver’s training and experience. Furthermore, it can arise from overestimating one’s competence based on only experiencing wreck penetration dives where nothing goes wrong.
Remember, a diver’s relative wreck diving ability is defined by how well they can deal with the worst that can happen.
It is crucial to resist the temptation to dive beyond your comfort zone. Peer pressure, ego, and over-easy training courses can all lead divers to dangerously overestimate their abilities.
Divers must make an honest effort to assess their competencies relative to the complexity and challenge of the dives they undertake.
5. Honestly Self-Assessing Your Competency
If routine wreck penetration skills and foundational scuba skills are causing task loading, it is important to consider how you would cope in an emergency when additional stressors will affect you.
Divers should assess their wreck diving penetration competency based on their level of task loading and stress under worst-case scenarios.
If you are at the limits of your comfort zone when everything is going right, you will be overwhelmed when something goes wrong. Effective wreck diving penetration training should introduce divers to these stressor scenarios, ensuring they are mentally and physically stress-resilient for every foreseeable situation.
To improve your wreck diving proficiency, it is important to sit down as a team post-dive and apply constructive criticism to individual and team performance. By doing so, you can identify areas for improvement, ensure that deliberate practice is focused appropriately, and set appropriate future limits on the demands of your wreck penetrations.
6. Cultivate Self-Awareness and Self-Discipline
Wreck diving is an exciting and challenging activity that requires proper training and a high level of skill. As a wreck diver, it is essential to critically self-analyze your performance after every dive. This means acknowledging your skill deficiencies and accepting your mistakes. There are lessons to be learned from every wreck penetration dive, but those lessons won’t be recognized if the diver is not self-aware of their faults and failures.
Self-discipline is also a crucial attribute in any advanced diving activity, but it becomes especially important in wreck penetration diving. The consequence of errors can sometimes be fatal in this unforgiving environment.
Disciplined planning, sticking to the plan, respecting personal limits, and deciding when to abort a dive are all important aspects of self-discipline. Shipwrecks can tempt divers to overreach their abilities or err against their better judgment, but self-discipline can keep divers safe when the siren call of a wreck beckons them into danger.
7. Don’t Compromise with Wreck Diving Penetration Gear
Wreck penetration diving is a very specialist pursuit that demands equally specialist equipment and procedures. Therefore, it’s essential to intelligently equip yourself for wreck penetration.
Research what is optimal for the diving you wish to undertake, and heed advice on equipment approaches. Continually review, revise, and replace your equipment if it isn’t optimal. Always apply the principle of critical redundancy and keep things as simple and minimalistic as possible. Remember, short-cutting with equipment can result in serious and life-threatening accidents.
Remember, being a good wreck diver means being disciplined, focused, and dedicated to safety. Ensure that you have the appropriate wreck training and wreck course to hone your skills and knowledge. Stay within your comfort zone and be honest with yourself about your abilities. By following these tips, you can become a skilled and safe wreck diver.
Wreck diving penetration is a challenging activity that can become even more demanding if your equipment isn’t stored and rigged effectively. Clutter and disorganization can cause stress and task-loading, which can be detrimental to diver safety.
It’s essential to identify whether you have an equipment or skill-related issue if something causes stress or increased task loading on a dive. If it’s an equipment-related issue, then find a better equipment alternative; if it’s a skill-based issue, then throttle back your diving until you’ve resolved it.
Once you have the right equipment, be meticulous in checking and preparing it before every dive. Don’t make any compromises when equipment-related problems arise. Your safety is reliant on your equipment during wreck penetration dives, so be obsessive in testing it thoroughly before you get in the water.
Keep in mind that wreck penetration diving is a specialized pursuit that demands specialist equipment and procedures. Continually review, revise, and replace your equipment if it isn’t optimal, and understand and apply the principle of critical redundancy while keeping things as simple and minimalistic as possible. Remember, your equipment is your lifeline, so be diligent and obsessive about it.
8. The Importance of Team Diving in Wreck Penetration
Wreck penetration diving requires more than just a buddy system. The safety of all divers inside the overhead environment is dependent on the integration and coordination of all divers to achieve predetermined goals in an efficient manner. This approach is known as team diving, and it is a skill that needs to be thoroughly understood, practiced, and developed before entering the wreck environment.
The team diving competency should be established from the initial dive planning and end in a post-dive critique. The team must understand each member’s strengths and weaknesses to dictate the overall team’s limitations.
Poor communication, misunderstandings, differing protocols, or unexpected actions can pose a threat to safety inside wrecks. While a good diving team can be stronger than its individual members, the team should recognize that it is only as strong as its weakest link.
9. Diligently Practice and Rehearse Wreck Diving Penetration Skills
Wreck diving penetration requires a lot of skill elements, including foundational scuba skills, penetration-specific skills, contingency/emergency skills, gas management, team diving skills, and mission-specific skills.
Diligent and continual practice of these skills is necessary to make them reliable and ingrained. Before relying on new or dormant skills, the wreck diving team should rehearse them in dry runs or on open-water dives. Wreck penetration divers must be able to consistently apply all necessary skills under low/zero visibility, confined areas, or awkward body positions.
10. Understand and Mitigate All Forseeable Risks
A safe wreck penetration diver must engineer their own luck by understanding and mitigating all risks.
Proper training, reliable and ingrained skill sets, appropriate equipment, effective practice, accurate self-assessment, and the application of appropriate protocols and procedures can reasonably nullify the increased risks of wreck penetration diving.
However, to achieve this, divers must first intimately understand the risks they will be exposed to inside a shipwreck and gauge their severity on any given penetration dive. Effective risk management starts with knowledge and understanding, and proper education from an expert ensures that a diver doesn’t unknowingly expose themselves to danger.
Enjoy safer wreck diving penetration in the future!
In summary, wreck diving penetration is a thrilling activity that requires skill, experience, and a deep respect for the wrecks themselves. By following the top ten tips outlined in this article, divers can increase their safety and confidence when exploring the inner spaces of sunken vessels.
From proper equipment selection to the importance of good buoyancy control, each tip is crucial for a safe and enjoyable wreck diving experience. Additionally, divers must maintain a keen sense of situational awareness, follow established safety protocols, and never compromise their own safety or the integrity of the wreck.
It’s important to remember that wreck diving penetration can be a hazardous activity, and it’s not recommended for inexperienced divers or those without the appropriate training. However, for those who are qualified and prepared, exploring a wreck’s interior can be a thrilling and rewarding experience, offering unique insights into the past and the chance to encounter marine life that has taken up residence in the dark corners of these submerged time capsules.
So, if you’re ready to take on the challenges of wreck diving penetration, be sure to follow the tips in this article and continue to expand your knowledge and skills through training and practice. By doing so, you can enjoy the excitement and wonder of exploring sunken wrecks while staying safe and responsible.
About The Author
Andy Davis is a RAID, PADI TecRec, ANDI, BSAC, and SSI-qualified independent technical diving instructor who specializes in teaching sidemount, trimix, and advanced wreck diving courses.
Currently residing in Subic Bay, Philippines; he has amassed more than 10,000 open-circuit and CCR dives over three decades of challenging diving across the globe.
Andy has published numerous diving magazine articles and designed advanced certification courses for several dive training agencies, He regularly tests and reviews new dive gear for scuba equipment manufacturers. Andy is currently writing a series of advanced diving books and creating a range of tech diving clothing and accessories.
Prior to becoming a professional technical diving educator in 2006, Andy was a commissioned officer in the Royal Air Force and has served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Belize, and Cyprus.
Wreck Diving FAQ
Wreck diving is a type of scuba diving that involves exploring sunken ships, airplanes, or other submerged human-made structures. It is a fascinating glimpse into human history and allows divers to observe the plentiful marine life that is attracted to wrecks.
The depth of a wreck dive can vary greatly, from a few meters on recreational dives to over 150 meters on advanced rebreather technical diving. The record for the deepest wreck dive was set in 2008 at 236m/774ft on the Milano wreck in Italy.
In 2008, Pim van der Horst, Mario Marconi, and Alessandro Scuotto conducted the deepest technical shipwreck dive ever recorded on the Milano, which lies at a depth of 236m/774ft in Lake Maggiore, Italy. This is the equivalent of 751 fsw/176 msw.
The three types of wreck diving are non-penetration, recreational penetration, and technical penetration. In non-penetration, divers don’t enter the wreck. In recreational penetration, divers are limited to 40/130ft linear distance from the surface and must stay in the ‘light zone’. Technical penetration has no limitations.
Wreck divers should have an ingrained subconscious mastery of precision buoyancy, horizontal trim, stability control, non-silting propulsion and maneuvering, unimpaired situational awareness, team diving skills, and psychological resilience. This spectrum of proficiencies has to be developed through frequent deliberate practice.
Wreck diving is generally legal, but certain wrecks may be off-limits due to local regulations or restrictions. For instance, some wrecks are war graves or require environmental or historical protection. Follow applicable regulations when wreck diving to avoid potential legal repercussions.
To become a wreck diver, one needs to have basic scuba diving certification, such as Open Water Diver, before enrolling in a specialist wreck diving course. There are multiple levels of wreck training, progressively enabling non-penetration, recreational and finally technical penetration wreck diving.
Originally posted 2018-03-07 23:56:23.
Hazardous materials I have encountered are – Aviation fuel – skin burns, fuel oil – oil bubbles and slicks on surface stain to equipment, asbestos – white milky water – good clean before surfacing. Others have been abandoned in a wreck by a guide, being freed from a jam by a guide. Most Pacific wrecks are following a local guide, 1 Stay with the guide, 2 stay behind the guide and photograph over his shoulder, 3 Dive deepest first eg Engine Room, 4 Know your wrecks propulsion eg Diesel, 3 stage compound steam, turbo electric, geared turbine. 4 I take my own 6m decoline for my AL80 N93+ and a bungee line (to tie onto the deco line with multiple break-aways) for long 6m stops. I refuse to hand hang. thanks for your engaging articles, cheers. Fortnight in Chuuk June 2023, dived with RAGS II on Coran Wrecks in 2015.