I remember way back in 2007 when I got my open water dive certification, looking at the hierarchy of dive courses and thinking, “I have absolutely zero interest in becoming a rescue diver. I just want to dive for fun.” Flash forward ten years and here I am, a newly certified rescue diver.
In a previous life (high school and college), I worked as a lifeguard and volunteered as a member of the Cascade Backcountry Ski Patrol. Though I’ve since “retired” from both, you would think a little rescue diver course would be right up my first responder wheelhouse. How wrong you would be. I had stress dreams all week leading up to the class, one of which involved me forgetting my rental gear and having my car break down while running late, causing me to have to ride my bike 20 miles to pick up said gear and get to the beach, all while completing some sort of Amazing Race-style course of activities. Way to keep it together, Kels.
So why would I put myself through this, if I’m so clearly stressed out about it, you might ask? And why did I change my mind on this course in the first place? Well, for starters, if I didn’t do everything that stressed me out, I’d miss out on a lot of cool activities. But also, the idea of becoming a divemaster has grown more appealing to me over the years, and the rescue diver course is the next rung on the ladder before I can beginning working on that. I’d love to pursue underwater photography and being a strong, confident diver makes you more appealing to companies who might be hiring.
The entire course takes place over two days on the weekend with two days of diving and one afternoon in the classroom. I spend the few days leading up to class reading the workbook and completing the homework at the end of each chapter. This way I’m ready to dive right in. Pun intended.
Day one begins at 7am at the Edmonds Underwater Dive Park where I dove with Marissa a few weeks ago. There are several other divers here all getting certified – Advanced Open Water, Dry Suit, etc. It’s a bit chaotic, but we finally get organized and make our way into the water. We do a quick warm up dive to the end of the breaker and back and then start in on the skills we need to learn. To begin, we learn how to turn over a diver floating face down at the surface and bring someone up from the bottom. We also learn how to perform rescue breaths while still in the water and how to drag an unconscious victim out of the water.
Getting through these skills requires us to spend four hours in the water. Now, if I were in the tropics, this would be the height of luxury for me. But up here in the PNW where water temps run a wee bit cooler, it’s a struggle. I can barely control my shivering for the last 45 minutes. Most other people in my class are wearing dry suits to help with the cold, and while I’m dry suit certified, the cost of a dry suit rental is rather prohibitive. So I power through the end of class, run to my car to strip out of everything wet and bundle up in all the clothes I brought with me.
We have an hour break for lunch before we have to meet back at the dive shop for the classroom portion of the course. We’ll spend the afternoon covering each of the chapters in the book while watching a video of the same. Then we’ll take the written test. It’s the most tedious part of the course, but necessary. And props to Underwater Sports for having a space heater to keep us extra warm.
After all my anxiety, I manage to score 100%. At least that stress encouraged me to study!
For our second day, we head out to Cove 1 at Alki in West Seattle. The water here is deeper and there’s no ferry to keep an eye on. All of this should help us focus more on our rescue skills. We begin with a quick review of what we learned yesterday before moving on to practicing gear removal in deep water. With how much we’ve practiced these skills over the entire course, you would think it’s a big part of being able to rescue someone. In fact, it’s usually very low priority until you get the victim to the shore or boat. However, it’s definitely the most difficult thing we learn, which is why we spend so much time practicing how to do it.
During the entire course, I’m mentally preparing myself for the final “test”, similar to what Alex at Alex In Wanderland had to do for her rescue diver course. You think you’re finished for the day and start breaking down your gear, only for your instructors to run over claiming they’ve lost one of their buddies and need your help rescuing him. This is the part that had me stressed out the most. I hate tests; I always have. I put immense pressure on myself to be perfect and one screw-up has me convinced I’ll fail. So waiting for this scenario to happen added a lot of anxiety. Finally during a break, I simply ask our instructors if this is something they are planning to do. They give me a very convincing “no” stating they think that would be just plain mean (I agree!) and are sincere enough to ease my nerves. Thankfully, they aren’t lying.
Our final assessment puts all the skills we’ve learned over the weekend together in one rescue scenario (no surprises involved). Two of the assistant instructors swim out to be our victims. The main instructors are their friends who report them missing. We divide up into groups – two snorkelers who swim without gear to search from the surface, two people who stay on the beach to search for bubbles, call for help and monitor the big picture, and four divers to bring the victims up from the bottom. Once the victims have been found, they’re brought to the surface where rescue breaths are administered while simultaneously removing their gear and swimming them in to the shore. We bring the victims onto the beach (which is so much more difficult than you’d think!) and begin CPR. After about a minute of this, they’re saved!
And with that, we’ve passed. We’re all certified rescue divers. All that’s left to do is fill out our log books and some last bit of paperwork. Most of the work we’ve done this weekend is at the surface, but PADI counts the course as three 60 minute dives with a max depth of 15ft. Surprisingly we’re done by 11am. What do I do with all this extra weekend now? I think a nap on the couch is in order.
Side note: I didn’t take any pictures during my course as I was preoccupied with the whole business of learning to rescue people. We also didn’t do much in the way of actual diving, so there wasn’t anything to photograph anyway. These photos are all from my morning diving at Redondo Beach (the one in Washington, not California) a couple weeks later with a couple I met in my class. Another reason dive classes are worthwhile – meeting fun new diving partners!
So now that I’m a certified rescue diver, am I glad I did it? Yes, most definitely. It wasn’t worth all the anxiety I put myself through – the course was fun and I learned a lot about my skills as both a rescuer and a diver. Plus, I met some great people that I can dive with in the future. Will I continue on to divemaster? Only time will tell!