“Teaching” yourself Situational Awareness (SA)


SA is not easy for an instructor to teach. Since some level of SA is innate for most of us, many instructors opt therefore not to include an SA module in their technical diving programs, preferring to simply “mark” a student’s SA as there or not there. Of the instructors who DO include SA in their classes, most do so with an understand that their role is to create a non-threatening, learning environment… she/he facilitates rather than teaches, because, with a little guidance, most students — with direction — do fine once they’ve been show the value of SA. It’s more efficient that way, but hereare some “techniques” I believe may help you (or your students if you teach) become more aware: more clairvoyant. 

Awareness — both in water and out of it — is a choice. We have to choose to build awareness of what’s happening around us: and how what’s happening now can influence what is going to happen next either positively, or what’s more important, negatively. So, when we dive — and especially when we dive deep or in tough conditions, or in an overhead — rather than being pushed from moment-to-moment with the flow as it were, and with no idea of what comes next, we can project “current events” into the immediate future. This  helps to protect us. With this skill, we can focus on things that matter — threats — and ignore the superficial and unimportant things that have no real importance — things that are simple distractions. Developing this skill takes time, but — with very few exceptions — we are all capable of its mastery. And without exception, developing and refining this skill will make every diver a better diver.

First we have to understand what a baseline is. A baseline is normal activity: noise; motion; actions; a series of things unfolding as they should in an anticipated order; everyday things that signal things are just fine and will stay that way — at least until something changes… and it’s that change we need to notice, understand, and be mindful of its implications.

Here’s a suggestion: begin in a quiet space… like a park or backyard. Be still and silent. Listen to what’s going on around you. If this were the 1970s and we were sitting around burning incense, and a block of Hash, I’d say: “Still your mind.” Since it’s not; and we’re not, let’s simply say, Focus on this baseline; it is the norm for that environment AT THAT TIME. Consider anything a threat that is not part of it; any odd noise, movement, circumstance… a dog suddenly barking, for example. Consider anything out of the norm, a potential threat… develop a healthy paranoia!

If possible, have someone introduce non-baseline “threats” — a footfall, a mobile phone alarm, a ball being kicked, a door opening, closing, being locked. Learn the appropriate reaction to each. Practice, practice, practice…

Try the same exercise in a shopping mall… more noise and a different baseline, but a baseline nevertheless.

Building awareness of the environmental baseline will help you to switch focus onto things that carry the potential to derail plans or possibly harm.

Now move your baseline awareness exercises to confined water

The secret of making any progress at all is to be relaxed and to be able to maintain your position in water column with quiet hands and feet. Your “consciousness” has to be directed away from yourself, so if you’re constantly fighting for buoyancy and trim, you will not have enough awareness left over to gauge and monitor the baseline!

Once you can focus on the baseline, have a buddy introduce “distractions” (displaying minor simulated problems with gear… letting an unclipped backup regulator hang loose, a fin strap not in position, a mask fogging up, rapid breathing, etc.) Practice these simulated “threats” during skills development dives. Document what is noticed and what is not. Simulate multiple oversights in gear and technique between you and your buddies… errant fin strokes, loss of buoyancy control, failure to respond to hand-signals. Make your debriefs learning exercises.

Enlightened self-interest tells us that a problem with our buddy’s gear, his or her piece of mind, lack of skill, is a potential  problem for us. That’s one of the most important values of good SA!

Most of all, apply what you learn on every “real” dive not just “practice” dives. Try to expand your SA every time you get into the water. I guarantee you’ll get more enjoyment — and less threat — out of your diving.