Taking On New Skills
Technical diving and specifically, rebreather diving, is a continual learning process. If we closely examine how we learn, we can better prepare for the pitfalls associated with each stage of the learning process.
Gordon Training International is popularly considered to be the originator of the conscious competence model, which describes the steps of learning any new skill. This model is particularly applicable to rebreather diving.
The model describes the first stage of learning as “unconscious/incompetent” or “unconscious-unskilled.” This stage describes the rebreather diver on his or her first day of class; they are unaware of the proper function of the unit and incapable of determining risk. They simply don’t know what can kill them.
Stage two refers, and each stage thereafter, is often associated with a sensation of awakening, when the person feels “like a light bulb went off.” As they make this step forward, they enter the realm of “conscious-incompetence.” At this point, the diver is beginning to understand the function of their unit and able to assess risks, but still needs close supervision.
Next, the learner reaches the point of “conscious/competence.” This may be the point when they complete their initial rebreather training. At this level, the diver has mastered basic controls, has a good assessment of risk and is able to complete self- or buddy-rescue.” This may indeed be the point where they are the safest rebreather diver they can be. They still have a healthy fear that the unit may fail them and are consciously driving the rebreather with great care.
The final stage of learning occurs when the diver reaches the “unconscious/competent” level. This is akin to someone who has been driving a car for a long time. They make their daily commute and barely recall the route they took or the things they saw along the way. When this occurs in rebreather diving, it is often the point when complacency kicks in.
I have often felt that rebreather divers with roughly 50-100 hours after their initial training, may be at the greatest risk, especially if nothing has scared them along the way. A serious gear malfunction in that time frame often frightens the diver back to the previous level of learning, when they become conscious drivers of their unit again. A long absence from diving will also result in the diver stepping backwards in the model until they catch up with their skills and practice.
To avoid the pitfalls of complacency, good procedure and a commitment to pre-dive check-lists and proper pre-breathe sequences are critical. A diver who carefully reviews their personal preparedness as well as their equipment readiness will be better prepared to deal with the issues on the road ahead.