CCR training from the perspective of training agencies

Training organizations often have different approaches to teaching rebreathers. Some of them try to get divers involved in rebreathers as quickly as possible, while others require more experience of the candidate. Often insisting on a level where the diver can dive with a stage bottle, both have their advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of applying for CCR training early on is to avoid any bad habits you can get from open circuit diving. However, on the other hand, this is also a big disadvantage.

In my opinion, a diver needs to get a certain amount of experience with open circuit because it is the way to go in the event of a catastrophic instrument failure. A CCR diver may dive closed circuit all the time, but in the event of an emergency a diver will revert to open circuit. That means he has to be sure of its use. If some training agencies allow divers to start diving with the CCR too early, this can lead to tragic ends.

The most extreme I have seen is with a training agency that allows you to start with CCR directly as an Open Water Diver, or after completing only 18 dives. In my opinion and experience, this threshold is too low. A diver needs to have an understanding of what is going on in the aquatic environment, how to react properly to basic situations such as increasing and decreasing ambient pressure, how to properly handle buoyancy, or how to generally come to terms with being in an environment that we can't ever breathe out of.

For those of us who have spent a large part of our lives diving these things may already be obvious, but let's put ourselves in the shoes of someone who's just starting. Let's remember our very beginnings. I, for example, still remember the feeling when I took my first breath underwater. It was so unnatural. All I had to do at that point was to breathe regularly, equalize the pressure in my ears, and not hold my breath as I ascended. I didn't have to deal with anything else.

To think that I would have had to know a lot of things about oxygen partial pressure, watch for it, make sure I didn't flood the loop, and be able to immediately switch to bailout from a cylinder strapped to my side, would have been overkill. These are mostly focusing on the most basic elements of CCR diving.

Fortunately for everyone, standing between the ambitions of the training agencies and the new student is an instructor who can correct the student and personally recommend a moment of patience before starting rebreather training. I'd say all the sensible instructors I know do this too.

The other thing that determines when a diver can start learning closed circuit is the manufacturer of that particular rebreather. Incorporating the teaching of a particular brand of device into a training system is preceded by a relatively long process of mutual approval between the manufacturer and the training agency.

The training agency examines whether the rebreather is sufficiently safe and may place conditions on certain elements, such as mandatory BOV, or require certificates of compliance with standards and testing such as CE or UKCA certification. The manufacturer may in turn define the entry requirements and conditions under which diving with their equipment will be taught. The manufacturer has the option to standardise training requirements for all training agencies.

In the case of Liberty, we have done our best to ensure the safety of diving also from the training agencies' approach. We have created training documents for instructors, which the training agencies have adopted. At the same time, we set minimum entry requirements for all. These requirements are a minimum of 50 dives, advanced knowledge of nitrox diving including accelerated decompression and the ability to carry a stage or bailout cylinder.

After 50 dives, one has at least a reasonable understanding of what is going on underwater and can concentrate on the other individual tasks set before them. To start learning to use a stage or bailout cylinder only during rebreather training would be to unnecessarily burden the student with tasks.

The Liberty is a sophisticated piece of equipment that will offer the user an incredibly wide range of options from the start, and there is virtually nothing to prevent even an inexperienced diver from making a dive to 100 m (330 ft) once they have completed their first training with the CCR. However, such a dive may be the last for them, as it is too big a leap. Therefore, we also require a certain moral maturity, which cannot be acquired except by knowing all the risks involved in such an activity. This we try to achieve by a higher level of training with which the candidate can undergo training.

No matter how low the limit of training agencies, they are bound by an agreement with the manufacturer who has set minimum requirements and can thus offer courses from a certain level and experience of the diver.

Despite all efforts to educate all divers, and to try to improve training procedures and materials, accidents still occur on all types and brands of rebreathers due to unsafe or irresponsible diver behavior. In this regard, there is a need to appeal to instructors and perhaps to the training agencies themselves to help weed out divers with unsafe attitudes to diving.

Every instructor has certainly encountered a student who had exaggerated ambitions or a tendency to underestimate the risks associated with diving or the use of the technique. In such a case, the instructor should terminate the student's training without certifying the student. But this rarely happens, because instructors rarely have the backing of the training system's standards.

Demonstrating an inability to perform prescribed exercises to a satisfactory standard is very easy, but demonstrating something as elusive as an unsafe attitude or opinion is very difficult. Often it is something that just hangs in the air and is very difficult to express. A very experienced instructor has the ability to detect this, but the standards of his training organization usually won't allow him to. This should be changed and implemented into the standards of all training agencies. However, even so, the situation for instructors under commercial pressure will always be difficult.

  • Jakub Šimánek