Rescue Skill Modifications

The author practices a modified rescue skill with a buddy in the pool during instructor training. Photo by Sydney Bell

“What I’ve learned today is that I can’t rescue dive,” I declared through the phone as I left my rescue diver course. Despite having a well-informed instructor and being confident in my abilities at first, I left feeling defeated. The required skills in a rescue scenario — which involved a surface swim while providing rescue breaths and removing dive gear from the victim and rescuer — were not coming easily, especially if my dive buddy was larger than me.

The rules and techniques for rescue diving seemed suited for people with a different body type and skill set — at 5 feet, 4 inches tall, I am a petite woman. Practicing rescues was challenging at best and near-impossible at worst.

As I progressed through professional dive training in the following years, I continued to perform rescue scenarios and complete the requirements after lots of practice, but I felt that I wouldn’t be capable in a real-world situation.

A course director for my instructor training changed everything, providing me with mentorship and individual attention that allowed me to develop techniques and modifications that made rescuing much more accessible.

Do-si-do Is a No-Go

The do-si-do is a rescue hold that allows the rescuer to control the injured diver’s airway while towing them to shore. My arms are too short for me to properly perform this technique, and I wasn’t able to provide proper open-airway positioning. I moved my hold to the base of the diver’s neck, which gave me better steering, airway control and swimming position. A pocket mask helped me protect the open airway and give rescue breaths without changing my position in the water, so I conserved energy.

Flotation Station

Keeping a negatively buoyant diver above the surface would slow me down and decrease my swimming efficiency during a long surface swim. As taught in rescue courses, I first ditched our weights and inflated both our buoyancy compensators (BCDs) to establish positive buoyancy. By disconnecting the injured diver’s BCD and being careful to maintain a hold on it, I could float them on top of it as I swam and keep their head in an open-airway position for providing rescue breaths.

Use It or Lose It

With an injured diver who is sufficiently buoyant without their BCD or when nearing the shore, many people remove the diver’s already unclipped and fully inflated BCD by sliding their free hand between the diver’s back and BCD and pushing down. To help get the leverage I needed, I slightly deflated the BCD until just positively buoyant. I could then ensure the victim wasn’t entangled in any remaining gear and more easily push away the BCD. Swimming on my back with the injured diver’s head on my torso utilized my most buoyant and stable surface to keep their face out of the water for the remainder of the swim.

I recently practiced a rescue with a buddy in backplate and wing, which was new to me and did not have quick releases at the shoulders. I established positive buoyancy for us, removed the waist and crotch straps and utilized the wing’s buoyancy to keep my buddy’s airway open and float them while I swam. Upon reaching shore, I slid the arm straps over their shoulders, held them firmly, deflated the BCD and used its weight to pull their arms through the straps.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone do it like that. It’s a great idea, and I might have to teach that in future classes,” my instructor said, confirming that I had successfully overcome what was once a huge hurdle. By advocating for myself, I got the focused attention I needed from my instructors. The determination to practice skills that didn’t come naturally for me and to better understand my capabilities and how to use the tools at my disposal has made me a more effective and efficient rescuer.

© Alert Diver — Q3/Q4 2021