THE TROUBLE WITH DIVER-RESCUE SKILLS is that most of us only ever practise them just once or twice, as and when we need to demonstrate a rescue to pass a particular diving qualification. Most other diving skills are used regularly during dives, but rescue skills are put aside until the day they are needed.
Despite teaching and assessing rescue skills for my local club, I am uncomfortably aware that I have not practised a full rescue myself for several years. Just how rusty have my rescue skills become
An opportunity to refresh my rescuing came from the Sub Aqua Association, which has incorporated a unique feature into its rescue training - a full body manikin.
SAA Diver Rescue Examiner Sal Cartwright arrived at Vobster with Dotty the Manikin partly dressed in the back of a pick-up truck.
We named him or her Dotty because we werent really sure whether it is a he or a she, explained Sal.
With this important issue settled, we got on. Sal and I had assembled between us a team of three other divers with a wide spread of backgrounds to practise their rescue skills (see panel).
Three was the maximum number with whom Sal could work for her own safety, as each rescue involved her ascending to observe.

Sal briefed the students on a controlled buoyant lift with a twist, filtered down from technical diving.
The difference was that at 4m we sent the victim to the surface on a reel while completing a safety stop, said Charlie.
The reel had to be attached to the victim at the start of the rescue ready for later in the ascent, added Lyn.
This was really different, as Ive been taught to bring a casualty to the surface regardless, said Chris. During the day I warmed to the technique, and would like to see it adopted in advanced training, but not basic, as it could be too much for a beginner.
So how hard was it to lift Dotty, with the addition of the reel, from 4m
All three divers missed the 4m stop on their first ascent, though the ascents were all at a safe speed, and never dangerously out of control.
I thought Id be OK, as I do teach this a lot from 6m, but it threw me a bit when we added the reel, said Chris.
I was a little stressed, as Sal had taught me lots in the past so I had plenty to show, which I think affected what happened on the first lift.
I was quite pleased with myself as I did my first ascent, said Lyn. I felt
in control, but at 4m I couldnt get enough air out of Dottys BC, and we both continued to the surface.
I have no recollection of a safety stop from my PADI training, so I expected to have problems with this part.
I expected that as Id done some rescue training previously in the year, Id be able to cope reasonably well, Chris told me. Although a little slow, I felt in control of the first part, but I was so focused on getting the buoyancy of the dummy right that I neglected my own. It soon became evident that Id underestimated how rusty I was.
All our divers immediately descended again to safety-stop depth, to get back to releasing Dotty on a reel. Although, as Lyn commented, if this had been a genuine rescue I would have stayed on the surface and continued from there.
I think the divers were surprised at how Dotty reacted in the water, and how easily they could end up in trouble, concluded Sal.
Both Lyn and Charlie also commented on unexpected difficulties in attaching their reels to Dotty at the start of the rescue. I need to look at how my kit is configured, said Lyn. I found it difficult to access my reel.
I realised that the clips on my reel were rather small and fiddly when I was trying to be urgent, said Charlie.

At the surface the rescues continued, and none of our divers had any problems giving Dotty full mouth-to-nose rescue breaths while towing. At the end of the day, they then worked as a team to get Dotty ashore and continue with CPR.
These I think went OK, said Lyn.
I wasnt expecting to have any problems with the towing or basic life support.
We all worked well together dekitting and getting Dotty out of the water to continue CPR, said Chris.
Sal then took the trio to a 6m platform to work on fine control of Dotty, progressing to an overhead environment rescue from beneath the platform.
I got to grips with controlling the rescue, said Charlie. The key was keeping the dummy at the same level as myself, so that everything was in easy reach. I learned to think ahead to control buoyancy and, with this mastered, things fell into place.
I felt more confident in handling Dotty, said Lyn. I would have liked to have tried the rescue from deeper again, but this wouldnt have been safe at the end of the day.
As with any course during a day, youll improve your skills, said Chris. I felt more in control of Dotty once I was used to the limpness that you just dont get with a volunteer diver.
Sal was also pleased: By the end of the session, I felt that all the divers had addressed their earlier mistakes, and were quite at home playing with Dotty.
She listed some common mistakes exposed in the past when divers first rescue Dotty:

  • Rescuer over-weighted, resulting in Dotty being lifted above the rescuers head, with consequent handling problems
  • Rescuer starting the lift negatively buoyant, making it difficult to get Dotty moving, followed by similar problems to above
  • Poor grip and control of Dottys BC inflator
  • Poor kit configuration

How did our three divers think rescuing Dotty compared to working with a buddy feigning unconsciousness
Using the dummy was a lot harder, because a buddy always has a tendency to want to help a little, said Chris.
It was more challenging, agreed Charlie. There were no helpful hold me there glances, no self-righting. Dotty was completely inactive. It really was all up to me to get it right. Whats more, Dotty didnt complain, however many times I wanted to do it again!
I could concentrate on the rescue and not have to worry about Dotty, said Lyn. With a live victim, self-preservation would have kicked in, and I wouldnt have learned as much.
I imagine a live victim would have found the rescue from under the platform particularly disconcerting.
On the other hand, all three would have liked Dotty to be wearing a drysuit. As Lyn said: In the UK, the majority of divers will be wearing a drysuit, so we need to train for this.
The engineering of the manikin is not compatible with a drysuit, though Sal Cartwright has dressed it in a twin-set, and the SAA is discussing a dummy Inspiration rebreather with AP Diving.
Looking back to the last Dive Show, I think a full-thickness Esizip wetsuit with zips all the way along the arms and legs would be easy to fit to Dotty.
As well as different kit, real divers come in different sizes, so it would be best to incorporate both real and dummy divers in a course, said Chris, summing up everyones feelings.
How would the experience affect the divers future training and teaching We need to recap rescue training more regularly, said Charlie. It was great to really focus on rescue technique using a novel training aid.
Chris had similar thoughts, but added: Id also like to look more at the use of the reel, as its something I hadnt encountered before.
Ill use the whole of this experience within my club, said Lynn. You have to have lived the experience to pass on the knowledge. The old chestnut practice makes perfect is very true.
Getting back to my own rusty skills, I had a go at rescuing Dotty between taking photographs, and controlled the ascent beautifully, even if I do say so myself. If you ever dive with me, you can be assured that my rescue skills are tested and up to date.
More likely, I will be so buried in my camera that I wont even notice whether you need rescuing!

SAL CARTWRIGHT: SAA Regional Instructor, National Diver and Diver Rescue Examiner. An ex-chairwoman of the SAA national executive and West Midlands regional representative, Sal is currently the SAAs public relations officer. She also leads trimix and rebreather expeditions and is diving officer of a technical diving club in Staffordshire.
CHARLIE MILNER: Having almost completed BSAC Sports Diver training 10 years ago, Charlies club disbanded before he could get it signed off. Since then he has been a long-term Ocean Diver on holidays, until recently completing Sports Diver training with a BSAC club in Bristol.
LYN LEWIS: Diving since 2004, Lyn was trained through the PADI system as far as Rescue Diver. More recently she joined a BSAC club, and is working towards Dive Leader while helping out with pool training. She is looking to expand her diving experience, and ultimately gain an instructor qualification.
CHRIS BENNETT: Chris is a BSAC Advanced Diver and Open Water Instructor who has been diving for 11 years. In addition to diving and training with his local BSAC club in Cannock, Chris also dives with an SAA technical diving club. He expects to move on to a rebreather soon.
JOHN LIDDIARD: Originally BSAC-trained 30 years ago, John has instructor qualifications with BSAC, PADI and several technical training agencies. He still teaches regularly for his local BSAC club.
DOTTY: A full body manikin made by Simulaids ( - filled with water and dressed in kit, Dotty has the buoyancy characteristics of a real diver. It is hard in the real diver way, not caring about the number of ascents made in a day, immune to DCI and barotrauma, wearing a 6mm shortie wetsuit whatever the weather and with a tattooed forearm. When not diving, Dotty likes to accompany SAA rescue instructors to the pub.
This inland site is located in Somerset, off the A362 between Radstock and Frome. Recent improvements include larger changing rooms, waterside parking for an additional 20 vehicles and an expanded shop. Diving is carried out seven days a week through most of the year (