PADI's gateway to TEC
EVERY JOURNEY STARTS with a single step. How many steps you take after that determines how long your journey is and where it takes you.
Diving deep’s a journey. I don’t mean from the surface to your maximum depth, I mean the training, planning, and kit preparation it takes to reach your destination. It would be foolish to undertake such an excursion without the knowledge, gear and skills to complete it as safely as possible.
So, after making your initial strides as a recreational diver, where do you want your journey to take you
There’s much to be said for diving deep, not necessarily silly depths requiring hour after hour of boring decompression stops, but diving a little beyond the recreational limits, having the knowledge, skills, confidence and kit for the task in hand.
With these extra skills your journey options increase, and you have access
to previously unavailable wrecks and reefs. Taking this route will make your recreational diving safer, too.
PADI is now a one-stop-shop training agency, offering everything from kids’ Bubblemaker programmes to serious technical diving on hypoxic trimix to depths of 90m. The Tec 40 course and qualification is PADI’s initial step into technical diving.
Camel Dive Club in Sharm el Sheikh’s Na’ama Bay provides the full range of PADI courses, and has some of the best instructors in Egypt to deliver them. I joined its experienced technical instructor Cath Bates as she delivered the Tec 40 course to student Michael Haigh.
Tec 40 is a limited, entry-level technical-diving programme designed to bridge the gap between recreational and full deep, decompression diving.
Once qualified, divers are certified to make limited decompression dives using equipment marginally more extensive than that used for mainstream recreational diving.
In typical PADI fashion, the course involves knowledge development, practical applications and training dives, all in a flexible package that can be tailored to suit conditions, logistics and your personal training requirements.
To undertake the course you need to be at least 18 and to have 30 logged dives, 10 using nitrox and seven to 30m.
You also need to be a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver, Enriched Air Diver and Deep Diver (or have proof of 10 dives to 30m). Of course, you could have equivalent certifications from other training agencies.
Early on day one of the course found us in a classroom at Camel Dive Club. Both Cath and Mike were raring to go as the sun streamed through the windows, signalling another hot Egyptian day.
I was there not to participate as a student but to oversee and document the course.
Tech 40 has a set sequence, although this can be rearranged to suit the students’ progress and the local diving logistics. There are three knowledge-development sessions, three practical application sessions and four training dives to complete, along with the final exam (with an 80% pass mark) before gaining certification. Mike was in for an intensive three days.
We spent the best part of the morning covering the theory section. I’m sure Mike’s brain was being fried, and I don’t mean by the sun.
However, he’d get a chance to cool off in the afternoon on the first dive.
There’s a huge amount of information to absorb, so my advice would be to allow plenty of time for this.
It would be beneficial to get hold of the manual and additional student handouts either in paper or electronic formats from your chosen dive centre and work through the theory before the start of the course, especially if participating overseas. This would leave you more time to concentrate on the practical side of things on site.
PADI’s tried and tested format – read a chapter, undertake an open book quiz, then move on to the next section – applies to this manual.
It takes you through the theory in a logical, progressive manner and offers the chance to check your understanding before starting the next chapter.
Practicals cover everything from determining surface air consumption (SAC) rates, gas choices, decompression planning, dive planning, emergency procedures and logistics through to determining gear requirements and configuring your kit.
Another consideration is oxygen exposure, especially when using rich nitrox mixes (50% maximum) for accelerating decompression stops.
This is covered in depth on this course, giving a good grounding should you decide on more advanced technical diving in the future.
After Cath had checked Mike’s knowledge reviews and addressed a few points she moved on to discuss our dive plans, using decompression software to calculate run times, depth limits, deco stops, ceilings and O2 uptakes.
The Tec 40 kit requirements are quite flexible. Students can choose from a number of configurations, including a single cylinder and pony bottle set-up with a single side-mounted deco cylinder (allowable only for this programme).
Alternatively, you can opt for the standardised technical rig, which consists of twin back-mounted cylinders coupled via a manifold with a single side-mounted deco cylinder. Otherwise a full sidemount set-up with an underslung stage cylinder (for suitably qualified sidemount divers) can be used.
The latter two configurations are the best options, because you can progress through further PADI technical training programmes using them.
DIN-type regulator first stages are used for technical diving. The standard tech rig incorporates one second-stage regulator on a long hose coiled around the neck with the other clipped off or on a necklace.
Stage / deco regulators need to be compatible with the nitrox blend you use. Analogue pressure gauges are also recommended for the main and stage cylinders.
In addition to your standard exposure suit, mask and fins, you’ll need ancillary equipment such as a DSMB and reel, knife or line-cutter, double-bladder wing-type BC, preferably fitted to a harness and backplate, spare mask, slate and pencil, and two ways of determining your decompression requirements – a simple electronic dive-timer and depth gauge in partnership with deco tables, or two wrist-mounted dive computers.
Mike opted for a standard technical set-up for the course.
Dive one was from the Na’ama Bay shore, at a sandy site beginning in water shallow enough to stand up in and sloping gently down to a maximum depth of 10m. This was an ideal place for getting used to new kit configurations and sorting out weight requirements; which was Mike’s first task.
Once done and with his buoyancy sorted out, Cath sent him on a series of timed swims with gas pressures, times and depth recorded on his slate.
He would later use this information to calculate his gas-consumption rates.
Cath then went through a series of skills, demonstrating each one individually with Mike following suit.
The skill circuit included bubble checks; shut-downs while dealing with
a free-flowing regulator (on both divers’ kit); out-of-air simulations; removing and replacing the stage cylinder; gas-switching; gas-sharing, simulated decompression stops; and DSMB deployment.
There were new hand signals to deal with as well, all this making for a really intensive dive for Mike.
He later commented that the hour spent under water was probably the busiest he had experienced.
BACK IN THE CLASSROOM there was no respite as Mike underwent another practical application, this time calculating SAC (surface air consumption) rates and working out
his gas requirements for the next day’s dives. A calculator is a must-have for this and all technical-diving courses.
Mike took his time ensuring a correct outcome. There’s no pressure here, but getting your gas requirements right is crucial to safe diving, and Cath made sure that he was on the right track.
Then it was onto planning for the next dive, using decompression software.
The following morning on dive two we leapt off the boat into the clear waters of Middle Garden. This dive was going to be down to a maximum 18m, with a repeat of the skills already covered plus a few additional problem-solving drills and more SAC swims.
Mike was getting to grips with the shutdown exercises, quickly closing his main and manifold valves while depressing his regulator purge valve to simulate a free-flowing second stage.
Cath demonstrated a neat way of pushing each other away while face to face, something I hadn’t seen in ages and a helpful tool for students who have trouble back-finning. An additional skill was to monitor and implement turnround times and pressures.
The DSMB deployment was a little different, too. Mike was asked to send up a secondary device along the already-deployed line to simulate adding extra buoyancy to a failed or only partially filled buoy. This is a skill I think everyone who uses DSMBs should learn.
The dive ended after completing 10 minutes of simulated deco stops at 5m. After an hour’s run time we exited the water for a lengthy debrief.
Mike calculated his oxygen uptake over the dive before we prepared our kit for the next dive, and enjoyed a welcome cup of tea.
Dive three at Fiddle Garden was to a maximum of 27m and involved all the usual suspects – controlled descents, bubble checks, gas switches and shutdown drills. At intervals throughout the dive, simulated emergencies were indicated by Cath producing a card with the task marked in bold lettering.
Mike would be engrossed in his dive when all of a sudden he was told that his mask strap had failed or his main reg had developed a fault, and he had to deal with the situation quickly and safely. Under Cath’s guidance he was progressing extremely well and it was plain to see that he was enjoying every second.
The following morning I joined Cath and Mike for coffee in Camel Dive’s lounge. Instructor and student went over the finer points of decompression planning using computer software programs, building a profile to be used for the next and final dive.
Mike had completed his theory training at this point in the course. He had also passed the final written exam the previous day (while I guiltily snuck off to the famous on-site Camel Bar for some beverages and played catch-up on the UK footie scene).
As we walked the short distance to the harbour at Na’ama Bay, Cath was quizzing Mike about aspects of the course along the way. There was just no let-up for him.
I really like the way Cath teaches – she throws heart and soul into everything she does, and her enthusiasm is contagious. It’s obvious that she wants her students to get the very best out of the courses she runs.
Dive four at Ras Zaatar would be the first time (on this course) that Mike had gone beyond the recreational dive limits of depth and time to deliberately gain the penalty of limited but mandatory decompression stops.
Diving beside a wall covered in Technicolor hard and soft corals at 40m in the Ras Mohammad National Marine Park should be on everyone’s to-do list.
It’s a dive to remember for the stunning scenery, topography and marine life, but somehow I doubt whether Mike noticed the beauty
around him as Cath produced her cue cards for him over and over again.
Shutdown drills and gas switches were now second nature to Mike, and I could see Cath bursting with pride as he effortlessly performed his set tasks.
We finished the dive decompressing under DSMBs as the Egyptian sun sent rays of light dancing around us,
I couldn’t wait to see if there would be high-fives all round when he knew he’d successfully completed the course, in the PADI tradition.
Instead there was just a well-earned pat on the back – this was, after all, a technical diving course.
We had time in the afternoon for a shallow fun dive. Mike opted to take his much loved sidemount set-up for a spin, and Cath followed suit.
It was also an opportunity for me to photograph them sporting the alternative rig configuration that can be used on this course, and for Mike to show off his newly acquired skills as a technical diver.
The Tec 40 course is the entry into PADI’s Tec Deep program, which consists of Tec 45, Tec 50, Tec 65 and then full Tec Trimix. Camel Dive Club offers Tec 40 as reviewed for 350 euros if booked in advance, including all kit, gas and boat dives. Certification costs 35 euros and the manual is charged at extra cost. Hand-outs can be sent electronically in advance.
PADI defines technical diving as diving other than conventional diving that takes divers beyond recreational diving limits.
It is further defined as and includes one or more of the following: diving beyond 40m, required stage decompression, diving in an overhead environment beyond 40 linear metres of the surface, accelerated decompression, and/or the use of variable gas mixtures during the dive.
Technical scuba-diving uses extensive methodologies, technologies and training to manage added risk, says PADI.
Typically this means using complex equipment in situations where direct access to the surface is inaccessible due to a ceiling imposed by decompression, or physical barriers such as those found in cave- or wreck-diving environments.
Technical diving is not simply about exceeding the limits of recreational diving. Exceeding recreational limits without the appropriate training, equipment and procedures in place is not technical diving, stresses PADI – it is being stupid and irresponsible.