Preparing for Deep Diving: How DIT Trains Students for Saturation Diving

Preparing for Deep Diving: How DIT Trains Students for Saturation Diving

Being a commercial diver may be one of the hardest jobs on the planet.

Not only does it require a special kind of mentality that can work well under pressure, and in the most extreme of environments on earth, it also requires some serious training as well.

The Divers Institute of Technology (DIT) has 50 years of experience in training commercial divers for the many challenges that await them deep underwater.

Commercial divers are a rare breed..

DIT students

Who else is going to work hundreds of meters below the ocean, living in cramped chambers for weeks on end, constructing massive pipelines or securing a $300 million dollar oil rig in place?

Practice Makes Perfect

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

A huge amount of time during the DIT Commercial Diver course is dedicated to teaching divers how to do things safely and automatically.

DIT instructors insist that trainees repeat tasks and exercises over and over until they get them right every time. Only after they have mastered a task will they be allowed to move on to the next one.

This is extremely important.

There is very little margin for error when you are working deep underwater where a mistake can mean serious problems. You only need to look at how many people have died trying to break depth records to see just how dangerous it can be.

Time To Go Deep: DIT’s Deep Diving Course  

Becoming a commercial diver with DIT takes a total of 900 hours. Needless to say, it is pretty intensive. Out of all their courses, saturation or deep diving may be the most demanding and exhilarating.

DIT students on Deep Dives

Deep Diving is the 7th and final module at DIT that students must complete if they are to graduate as commercial divers. DIT reserves this course for the end because diving to 165ft, far beyond the depths of where light can penetrate, can be as scary as it is dangerous.

Training In Baby Steps

Deep diving is considered anything below 100 feet. And carries its own set of risks and rewards.

DIT’s deep diving program is designed to ease students into their first deep dives. Students receive full training on all the procedures and equipment that are needed for deep dives. As instructor Doug Irish explains, “We train in baby steps.”

DIT’s 3-week deep diving course sees trainees first perform 3 dives at 60 feet, then 5 dives at 130 feet, and finally, 2 dives at the 160 feet. This gradually eases students into both the physical and mental challenge of going deep.

Dives take place in open water from DIT’s beloved boat the MV Response, located in Lake Washington.

DIT’s deep dive vessel, The Response.

By the end of the course, every student is fully confident and experienced in working at such depths.

Special Equipment For a Special Field

Let’s talk equipment.  What exactly do you need to dive 160 feet in the water?

Hot water suit

Imagine working deep underwater in the Arctic while in a hot tub. Well, thanks to the hot suit that’s exactly what divers get to do!

The hot water suit is a modern marvel that is used to keep divers warm in cold water environments or when they are breathing a cold helium/air gas mix.

DIT student coming up after after a 165ft dive in a hot water suit.

This suit works by pumping hot water from a surface heater down to the suit. The diver can control the temperature by increasing/decreasing the flow rate via a value on his/her waist.

Divers must learn to confidently operate these suits as burns can result if the temperature exceeds 113  °F, while if it falls below about 89 °F, hypothermia can result.

At 100 meters below the surface, both are equally perilous.

Decompression chamber

This life-saving vessel is essential for any deep dive. It is a large pressurized chamber that divers must enter to “decompress” after a deep dive.

Chamber on The Response.

It’s function is to allow divers to get rid of excess nitrogen gas that builds up during a dive. A decompression chamber allows this to be done safely on the surface.

Saturation diving sometimes requires divers to live in pressurized chambers for days, if not weeks at a time. Before students even get to try their first deep dive, DIT ensures that all students are 100% confident with operating a decompression chamber

During the first two weeks of the course students learn about all aspects of using a decompression chamber including operating the Built-In Breathing System or BIBS.

DIT student in the chamber

Oxygen supply levels

Gas management procedures are another vital part of deep diving training.

DIT instructors have years of commercial diving experience under their belts and know better than anyone how critical maintaining right gas levels is.

Commercial deep diving requires specific gas mixes that are lighter than oxygen to help divers adapt to the high-pressure conditions.

As a result, DIT students are thoroughly trained on how to control oxygen levels and recommended best practices of levels depending on how far down they are.

Overcoming Fear, Preparing For the Physical

Students are submersed  deeper and deeper underwater in ‘baby steps’ to overcome the mental challenge of going deep; however, divers must prepare  for the physical challenges too.

One additional part of this course occurs when divers go to 160ft.  Divers are tasked with performing a set of challenges such as tying knots and performing a ‘bottom report’.

This is to familiarize divers with the effects of nitrogen narcosis, also known as the ‘Rapture of the Deep’.

Most students find themselves amazed to discover that below 100 feet, they sometimes experience a ‘euphoric state’ where they feel like they are intoxicated.

While it might seem fun at first, not being able to function properly at such depths can have deadly consequences. Nitrogen Narcosis is a drowsy state that sometimes results from breathing air under pressure. It can be a killer.

This is why DIT instructors are always on hand to make sure that everything is done safely.

Deep Diving Techniques & Procedures

To perform a deep dive, students must master tasks that include decompression and gas management procedures.  

Avoiding Decompression Sickness or “The Bends”

Decompression sickness (DCS) occurs when gas bubbles build up in different parts of the body. It is most frequently observed in the shoulders, elbows, knees, and ankles and causes symptoms ranging from aching joints to headaches.

While scuba divers can safely decompress by performing safety stops on their way back to the surface, the amounts of nitrogen absorbed at deeper depths mean that divers must spend longer amounts of time decompressing.

To this end, DIT trains students in surface decompression or SUR D. This involves three stages of time.

At 40 feet on your ascent, divers are trained to take 1 minute to get from 40 feet to the surface.

After they arrive at the surface, divers have 3 minutes and 30 seconds to undress, before being pressurized to 50 feet in the decompression chamber at a rate of 100 feet per minute.

The whole process should take less than 5 minutes from 40 feet until students are in the decompression chamber to ensure diver safety.

Decompression Chamber

Once again, DIT instructors will insist on students getting the procedure right before they can make deeper dives. Not only is this to ensure safety, but to build student confidence too.

Train Hard And Make It Easy

Deep diving can be a real adventure.  A whole new world awaits those who are willing to go way down under the sea.

DIT’s commercial diving course helps ensure that all graduates are fully qualified to perform saturation diving both safely and confidently.


Aran Davis, Writer for Water Welders


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