The Rescue Diver course is known for being a demanding course — both physically and mentally — but it’s also praised for giving you the training that will boost your confidence and hone your diving skills more than any other course.
“Almost everyone who completes the Rescue Diver course says it is one of the most challenging yet rewarding courses they’ve taken,” says PADI’s technical development executive Karl Shreeves. “Take this course, and you’ll dive more confidently knowing that you’ve expanded your emergency prevention and management skills.”
OK, so you’ve decided to take the course. It’s pretty easy to sign up (visit padi.com), but you will need to meet a few requirements, including Advanced Open Water certification and Emergency First Response Primary and Secondary Care (CPR and First Aid) training within the past 24 months (though most divers take it at the same time as the rescue course). To succeed in passing the course, however, you also need to be physically fit and have the right mental attitude.
Do you need the athletic abilities and discipline of an Olympian? No, but demonstrating your capability as an effective rescue diver requires a certain level of fitness. The course — especially when participating in what are essentially dress rehearsals for real emergencies — can be physically demanding. Jo Mikutowicz, managing partner of Divetech on Grand Cayman, ticks off some of the scenarios: “You will learn how to assist a tired diver at the surface and a panicked diver at the surface. You will practice some search patterns underwater with the aid of a compass to help you locate a missing buddy. You will learn how to surface, assess and transport an unconscious diver while performing rescue breaths. You will also learn methods for exiting an unconscious diver from the water.”
READ MORE: How To Deal with Panic Underwater
If the course seems challenging, Kell Levendorf, who has been teaching diving since 1982 and is the dive accident investigator for Dive & Marine Consultants International in Boca Raton, Florida, says that’s by design. “Real rescues are ugly. They won’t look like the scenarios practiced in the course.”
Attitude is also key because in real life, your mental toughness will not only serve you well when rescuing divers in trouble, it also will help you when you’ve done the best you could but the outcome isn’t what you hoped.
“No two rescues are the same, neither are two rescuers, so there’s no ‘standard’ way to rescue,” says Shreeves. “You’ll learn techniques that work for you as an individual, and how to apply them on the fly. After you’ve mastered key skills, you go through scenarios in which you practice thinking and adapting what you do to realistic situations. More important, you also learn that you can do everything reasonably and appropriately, and still not have a happy ending. But you are still successful if you did your best under the circumstances, and it’s critical to have that perspective.”
What You’ll Learn
The PADI Rescue Diver course prepares you to deal with both minor and major dive emergencies, using a variety of techniques. As you practice rescue scenarios, you learn how to respond and put into practice your knowledge and skills. Among the topics in the course are self-rescue, recognizing and managing stress and panic in other divers, emergency management and equipment, and rescuing unresponsive divers.
“Rescue is where the blinders come off,” says Levendorf. “Prior to Rescue, all scuba instruction has a first-person point of view. In Rescue, you stop looking at just yourself and start looking at others.”
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That shift in perspective is one that many instructors point to in recommending the course. “The Rescue Diver course is the first level of training where your focus is not only on your own safety but also on the safety of others,” says Mikutowicz. “The course makes you a more aware diver.”
You’ll also be taught to remember the little things, and to recognize potential problems. “You’ll be more aware of everything while setting up your gear and doing your predive buddy check,” says Mikutowicz. “You will hopefully correct small problems at the start, because these small problems sometimes lead to bigger problems if they are not caught early on.”
There are times when all that is needed is a calming, reassuring presence. “When divers start to panic, they seem to forget everything,” says Mikutowicz. “Numerous times I have come across panicked divers at the surface who have forgotten to inflate their BC, and they are kicking like crazy to keep their head above water, and then they get exhausted quickly. By reminding them to inflate their BC and drop their weights, they take a moment to compose themselves.”
“Proactive risk avoidance is always preferable,” says Levendorf. “But Rescue also teaches reactive skills. The maxim ‘reach, throw, row, don’t go unless trained’ becomes ‘reach, throw, row, go.’ But simply earning the Rescue Diver certification isn’t enough — it takes regular practice to keep skills sharp and natural.”
The Benefits of the Rescue Course
In addressing problems underwater it’s also helpful to remember the mantra “stop, breathe, think, act.” That’s because in a crisis — either one you’re facing or one for a fellow diver — the real danger is not usually from the immediate threat, but rather, it’s from your panicked response to it. In the course, you’ll learn to take a slow, deep breath and exhale fully before doing anything else. As long as you can breathe, you’re not in immediate danger and you’ve got time to figure out a solution.
“You’ll not only focus on keeping your buddy safe by remembering simple self-rescue techniques,” says Mikutowicz, “but you will help keep yourself safe if you happen to run into any difficulties.”
Sometimes, however, rescues can be complicated, requiring multiple people to assist in executing them. “Possibly the most important skill is how to manage a rescue,” says Levendorf. “You’ll learn who to assign to specific skills and duties: search, recovery, first aid, communications, information gathering. Learn to lead, learn to follow, or learn to get out of the way.”
It is rare when rescue does become a life-or-death situation. “I’d practiced and taught rescue, CPR and first aid for more than 30 years before I was faced with a serious diving situation with an unresponsive diver,” says Shreeves. “But in 2012, a diver had a problem with his rebreather, stopped breathing and went unconscious. He was fortunate because this was in waist-deep water at the surface with six instructors there, including me. We opened his airway and I gave him a breath as everyone else stripped off his gear and got him ashore and started CPR in under two minutes. He came back within minutes and resumed diving after a night of observation in the hospital and a day out of the water. The thing I remember most is that the situation was nothing like any in which we’d practiced, but we were able to quickly adapt our knowledge and skills to the situation.”
Almost any advanced training course will make you more competent by adding new skills and reviewing old ones. But for most of us, the single-best course for developing rescue skills is Rescue Diver.