Technical Diving was a term created by Michael Menduno in 1990 to categorize the types of dives being done at that time by the “crazies” in the dive community. These divers were doing things like cave diving, deep and decompression diving, penetration wreck diving, and using gas mixtures like nitrox. His goal was to bring these diverse groups of divers together to standardize procedures and equipment, further develop safer advanced diving procedures, and provide a forum for those involved to discuss their exploits, concerns and issues. Along the way, his work also served to add a degree of respectability to those diving activities.
I started teaching cave, deep, and decompression diving in 1983, long before the term “technical diving” was coined. Today, I consider technical diving to include any form of diving that is beyond the realm of “normal” sport diving. That, however, is a moving target.
If we consider the use of buoyancy compensators, we would find that they were originally developed by cave divers looking to keep their feet up off the silty floors of the passages they were exploring. In fact, the first “BCs” were a pair of empty Clorox jugs tied together, and looped under the legs to light the divers’ legs. “Normal” recreational divers of the early 1970s looked at BCs, and thought that the need for them and the skills required to use them were far outside regular diving requirements. They were too “technical.” Now BCs are required equipment for all divers, and were you to suggest diving without one you would be looked at like you had just landed on Earth from the Moon!
Dive computers have a similar history. In the late 1980s, soon after the release of the Orca Edge dive computer in 1984 (the first truly viable electronic dive computing device), the community thought of dive computers and extremely advanced technology meant only for the extreme diver. Specialty certification cards were required to purchase one, some dive boats would not let you dive if you used one, and some agencies even sponsored entire workshops to consider their hazards and specialized procedures for diving with them. Today, there are some agencies that will not even allow a person to start their dive training if they do not have a dive computer on them, even requiring computers for pool dives.
What about nitrox diving? Throughout the 1990s nitrox use was classed as “technical diving.” SkinDiver magazine, then the most widely distributed and read specialty magazine in scuba diving, called nitrox the “voodoo gas.” Evan as late as the early 2000s in some regions nitrox use was considered to be extremely advanced. Today most training agencies class nitrox as a standard specialty, and many do not even require training dives as a part of the certification requirements for use. Often a nitrox diving specialty is offered as a part of the initial certification program now.
So what do I consider “technical diving” to be now? Let’s look at it from a few different perspectives: environmental, equipment, and breathing gas.
Some environments should be considered as technical by virtue of the additional risks associated with them. In this category, I would include any overhead environment that would preclude direct access to the surface. Cave, penetration wreck, decompression, and ice diving all fall into this category. Specialized equipment and procedures are needed to allow for emergency contingencies, hence the “technical” designation. Other uncommon environments, like blue, swift, or polluted waters I would classify the same way, again because of inherent risks and specialized equipment or procedures required.
At this time, some equipment is considered “technical,” because it is beyond the norm of sport diving. Some people might include double cylinder configurations in this view, but I personally do not. I would, however, place mixed gas rebreathers, one atmosphere suits, underwater habitats, and the use of stage bottles or additional decompression cylinders in this category.
As we discussed earlier, while enriched air nitrox was once deemed to be technical, it generally is no longer considered this way. The use of helium based breathing gases like trimix (helium-nitrogen-oxygen) or heliox (helium-oxygen) breathing mixtures, on the other hand, still falls into technical diving. Breathing hydrox (hydrogen-oxygen) or hydreliox (hydrogen-helium-oxygen) would certainly be considered technical in nature. The objective in using these specialized gas mixtures is to reduce narcosis or breathing gas density, problems associated with deep diving.
In future columns, we will look at some of these forms of diving in further detail. Just remember that while some environments, equipment, or gas mixtures might be considered technical diving today, they may not be tomorrow. Of course, by the time “tomorrow” comes, we will probably have some new form of “technical diving” opening up to us!
In the meantime, stay wet, stay safe, and enjoy yourself!
Words & Photos by Jeffrey Bozanic
About the Author:
Jeff was certified as a NAUI Instructor in 1978, is certified to teach diving for the NSS-CDS, NACD, IANTD, TDI, and NAUI. He is active in teaching cave diving, rebreather, nitrox, technical nitrox, and trimix diving courses. He has published extensively on diving education topics, with heavy emphasis on cave diving safety techniques. He has edited/reviewed many diving textbooks, and is the author of Mastering Rebreathers. He has served on several Boards of Directors in the diving community, including as Chairman of the NSS-CDS and as Vice Chairman of NAUI, and as Treasurer on the AAUS Board. He has received the NAUI Outstanding and Continuing Service Awards; the Silver Wakulla, Abe Davis, Henry Nicholson, and International Cave Diving Awards for safe cave diving; the SSI Platinum Pro 5000 Award, and is a NAUI Hall of Honor inductee. In 2007 he was honored as the DAN/Rolex Diver of the Year. Jeff may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.