Following any break of activity, our skills deteriorate through lack of practice.
The extent to which individual divers will be affected will vary considerably based on their original level of skill, range of experience, the extent of any lay-off and any changes in circumstances, such as physical fitness.
Those with limited experience will not have consolidated their skills as much as a highly qualified and vastly experienced diver will and each will be able to recover those skills to a pre-existing standard at different rates. For example, an Ocean Diver who has only completed a few dives post-qualifying and then had a six-month break would require considerable skills refresher on a couple of shallow dives to regain the standard, whereas an experienced Dive Leader with hundreds of dives experience would need perhaps a few minutes during the early part of a dive to return to a level of comfort and familiarity.
On the other hand, more qualified divers, especially when preparing for more adventurous diving, may be required to practise a wider range of skills before returning to engage in those deeper, longer, more demanding dives.
Each diver, therefore, should consider their own level and evaluate honestly their own level of skill retention. Ocean Divers may need to seek advice and support from their instructor.
Buoyancy control and DSMB deployment are frequently key skills implicated as factors contributing to incidents. However, all skills taught during different phases of training are there for a reason and so should be regularly practised, including emergency skills. Emergency skills, in particular, are rarely needed for real and so as a result will naturally suffer a degree over time and so should be practised regularly to ensure the skill is retained in case they are required in an emergency.
Buoyancy control is very much the core of diving skills and is essential to ensure not only safe diving, especially during descent and ascent phases, but also to help protect the environment, especially fragile and vulnerable marine life.
DSMB and other skills associated with staged decompression procedures should be practised in controlled conditions before they are required to be used when decompression stops are necessary.
Further detail on skills practice guidance for open-circuit divers.
Whatever the starting point plan to refresh and practise skills in a controlled environment before undertaking more adventurous dives. In the current easing of restrictions access to the controlled environment of a swimming pool is less of an option. However, for qualified divers, it should be effective to use simple shallow dives to practise and refresh skills in a controlled environment before committing to more adventurous dives. Managed inland sites provide an ideal location for such practice and accessible for many without significant travel distances. Shore diving also facilitates access to shallow conditions on entry, allowing you to practise shallow before committing to an exploration deeper. If initial excursions require boat access, plan for a shallow site initially.
Open-circuit vs. rebreather
Whilst open circuit diving is generally simpler, deeper diving generally benefits from the advantages provided by using a rebreather because of the more appropriate gas usage and management. Buoyancy skills between the two also vary. Divers who make use of both systems need to practise both relative to the demands of their usage. For example, an instructor who teaches using open-circuit needs to ensure their skills are up to teaching standard with OC before using them to demonstrate for their students. If the same diver also uses a rebreather for their more adventurous diving, they need to ensure those skills are in suitable practice before undertaking such dives.
The NDC Technical group provide separate skills practice guidance for rebreather divers.
The subject of skills practice was covered within a safety webinar earlier this year and an extract from that webinar can be viewed below.