Tips to passing an underwater stress test!

One of the hardest skills in a Divemaster course is the equipment exchange. Basically, you and a “buddy” ventured underwater whereby you have to exchange your fins, mask and buoyancy control device (BCD) while only using one source of air supply between you. The equipment exchange is also known as the stress test, as you are not only having to feel comfortable take off your gear underwater, but you also need to feel comfortable not having an air supply continuously available.

Let’s have a look at what I mean:

Now, as a person who has been medically diagnosed with anxiety, this was really going to push me to the limit. The first few times I attempted the equipment exchange, I literally bolted to the surface, eyes wide open, fear spread across my face and my heart beating 100 beats a second! I always knew that this little test was either going to make me or break me. I would practise at home not being able to access my regulator for a minute and taking off my gear – but there is something quite different from knowing you are only 1 meter underwater, to being 7 meters underwater AND there is someone else relying on you for THEIR air-supply also.

On my first few attempts, I would end up choking on the sea-water as I grabbed the regulator in order to get air. For some strange reason, not having that regulator in my mouth at all times, caused me all types of stress. I would swear to you, that I was going to be the first person to die while undergoing this exercise.

As it happens, I am still alive….. and well I passed! There are some tips that I learnt along the way, and I would like to share these with you!

Purging Regulator

When taking a regulator out of your mouth underwater, the reg fills with water. There are two ways of getting rid of this water; the purge process(where you depress the regulator for the water to disperse) or you can blast it out whereby you blow into the regulator before inhaling. The problem with ALL of my previous attempts was that I was either inhaling the water before purging the regulator, or when I would purge, some water would still be in the regulator, causing me to swallow (or choke) on what should have been air. Trust me, after a few times of doing this, your lungs and nasal passages are very unhappy with you!!!So, the first tip I would give is to use the blast method when clearing your regulator.

The second tip (and I thank my instructor for this one) – that there is no denying you are more comfortable in your own gear. Taking off scuba diving gear is a-hell-of-a-lot easier than putting it on! So, why not attempt to lower the stress by starting in your “buddy’s” gear first?

Third. Have a quick pep talk with your “buddy” before attempting the equipment exchange. Agree on the process that you want to undertake. There are three items you need to exchange…. what do you want to exchange first, second and third? For me, the fins are the easiest to exchange. So start building your confidence or exchanging what you feel most comfortable with. Also, discuss what your weaknesses are. For example, I take FOREVER to exchange and clear my mask. When clearing your mask too, you usually exhale most of the air in your lungs, through you nasal passage and the next thing you want to do after is to take a breath. Guess what happens if you don’t have the regulator in your mouth when doing this? Yep, you swallow (or choke) on sea-water!!!

Fourth. This is probably the most important. When starting the equipment exchange, get into a breathing pattern with your “buddy” first. For me, we used two breaths before we exchanged the regulator AND we signalled this with our fingers! That little gem meant that even if I felt I was about to drown, I knew I was only one breath away from having the regulator again. Somehow, you end up in a dance trance. One, two, exchange. One, two, exchange. Once you have mastered this pattern, then start exchanging the rest of your gear. One (unbuckle), Two (take off), exchange. One (Put on), Two (tighten), exchange. In the end, you will have completed all three equipment exchange and punching the sky.

My “buddy” and I got so enthralled in the dance trance, that we even went into a shared air-supply assent!

I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for hours. I scored a 4 out of 5 on this test. I knocked it out of the park; smashed it; owned it! I doubt I will ever have to use this particular exercise in a real life scenario, but what I do know, is that I can conquer my fears underwater!