Perhaps you've shared a dive boat with some technical divers and looked at them and wondered: "geez, all those cylinders, those hoses, dry suit, hood, gloves, lights... so much ado about nothing. Is it really worth it?"
Whether Techincal Diving is actually worth it, is of course a highly subjective, individual consideration but I figured I could list some pro's and con's of technical diving to help you answer that question for yourself.
PRO: You get to really challenge yourself
For some divers, after a few years in the game diving simply becomes.. mundane. That's not to say all recreational diving becomes dull but frequenting the same local dive sites at the same depths over and over again can definitely become a bit boring. Technical Diving is an excellent way to add some challenge and excitement to the premise of a dive that's otherwise "been there, done that".
The techniques needed to properly and safely execute a technical dive, are definitely a challenge to most divers venturing into tec. They provide a great perspective on your actual skill level and stage of development as a diver and inevitably force you to get better if you wish to continue down this path.
CON: You could really get in trouble
While it's exciting to challenge yourself and 'push' your limits in a structured and supervised way, technical diving definitely introduces some new concepts that increase your chance of getting hurt, or worse. Your increased exposure to the risks of Deceompression Sickness, Oxygen Toxicity, Critical Gass Loss or even Hypothermia can not be denied. While technical divers learn ways to mittigate these risks, they can never be fully eliminated. I have always told myself I will do whatever it takes to return home that day, but at the same time it is essential to accept the increased risk.
The same 'mistake' or 'misfortune' that can get you mildly hurt at recreational depths, can mean death on a technical dive.
PRO: It's safer
This is probably a somewhat controversial statement but hear me out. Many recreational divers do become somewhat unaware of or unprepared for the essential non-negotiable dangers of diving. Any time you go under water, you can drown. Any time you breathe compressed gas, you can get some form of DCI.
Exactly because mistakes are so much more unforgiving at greater depths, we tend to prepare for them much more consciously. Gas volume requirements are calculated much more precisely (if recreational divers calculate them at all!). Our decompression schedule is calculated, analyzed and rehearsed. Most recreational divers will just follow their dive computers on the fly. Most of our dives consist of endless stretches of neutrally buoyant decompression stops during which we ruminate endlessly on what-if scenarios.
It's somewhat ironic that because we know technical diving is more dangerous, we take it so seriously that it arguably becomes more safe than recreational diving.
CON: But it's not
Preparation, however, does not necessarily make you impervious to the laws of physics. A high-pressure hose burst at 20 meters, makes you lose gas at a factor of x3, while a hp-hose burst at 90 meters makes you lose gas at a factor of x10. Sure, we cary redundancy, but the time to access it is severely reduced at depth.
The added complexity, can definitely add to the stress during problem solving and seriously cloud your judgement to the point of fatality. Again, it's a risk you train for, but for which you ultimately accept the odds.
PRO: It's more than just a dive This may seem odd to some but the pleasure to be had from a technical dive can start hours or days before we even touch the water. There's great energy going around when you and your team mates are discussing a prospect dive site, figuring out the ideal maximum depth and the optimal gasses for this journey. It's actually fun to run these numbers through the deco planner and to figure out how to execute it all.
If you enjoy tinkering with dive gear (somewhat of a requirement) it can be really rewarding to prepare all the equipment for the mission, blend the gasses to accuracy and brief the team. In many ways, a technical dive is like an entire dive trip, just in one. We get to savour it well before we ever jump off the boat and usually discuss it for hours or days after. That is worth something!
CON: It's really convoluted
As a technical diver, it's really important to understand when NOT to perform a technical dive. Although we strive to make every technical dive as "simple" as possible, it's nearly impossible to reduce the complexity of a technical dive to the bare essence of most recreational dives. Extra cylinders with decompression gasses, potential for narcosis and rigid execution, can sometimes really take away from a dive if you're doing it for the wrong reasons. Some dive sites are simply better enjoyed with a simple one-tank configuration. A light travel BCD, a dive computer and some buddies.
Whether or not Technical Diving is for you, is impossible for me to say. The added challenges, the added planning and equipment requirements and the need to accept a higher-than-usual amount of risk, require you to do your research and to question whether these requirements are acceptable to you. To me, techincal diving is a key to places that are otherwise undiscoverable. It's an amazing instrument to explore some of the few untouched places on this planet. To me, that's worth a lot.
Nick Derutter is a PADI Platinum Course Director and a Tec Trimix Instructor and Tec Deep Instructor Trainer.