Category Archives: Training

Journey of 540 Dives

This post goes out to the dedicated and hard working men of ALERT’s Unit 51. 

I have been on the road for most of April in the great state of Texas, teaching at the International ALERT Academy.

This is one of the twice-a-year moments that I get to teach there, and it is hands down my favorite group to teach.

We cover a LOT in a very short amount of time! In just 14 days, these young men are taken from not being very confident in the water to open water, advanced open water, and then through the special response diving course. Like I said, a LOT!

There are a few reasons why I enjoy this.

  1. These guys are beast. Like Nike, they just do it. No reservations or holding back when they are told to do something- they just get it done.
  2. Big, giant, human shaped sponges. All of them are eager to learn and grow.
  3. Competent. It’s not like they just learned to dive in the ocean and now they won’t dive for another year. No.. in just these two weeks they put 20 dives under their weight belts. Most people learning to dive won’t even do that many dives in a year!
  4. Let’s not leave out comical. It’s not perfection all the time, and there are a lot of screw ups, but we have fun doing it! The difference is that these guys are willing to learn from their mistakes.

These are only a few of the many reasons I enjoy working with ALERT men. I’m also an Alumni of the Academy, so there’s that…

There is one thing that stands out the most, however, among these young men. It’s their desire to go out and do. They have a fire lit inside to take the skills that they learn and go and serve their communities and public safety departments. And that’s exactly what we need. We need the next generation of public safety divers to get excited to take on the job that is there.

An interesting shift is going on in the public safety diving world right now. It’s the shift from the experienced old salts to the young bucks. Those that have been in the world of Underwater Search & Recovery and have been successful in their craft are either moving up their respective ladders, or they are retiring. The massive amounts of knowledge and wisdom that comes only from experience also leaves with them. This is leaving a learning gap in many departments. The old is out and the new is lost and left to find help and training on their own; which often means poor training.

But it’s this fresh batch, the newbies, the rookies, the ones with that drive to get it done, that make my job a joy to do. I look forward to the future of these ALERT men and the impact they will have on their communities. Keep up the good work guys!

If you want to find out more about ALERT click HERE!


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The positives of negative buoyancy!

Finally, some clear thinking on the importance buoyancy has in the diving community. Wait a minute, what diving community is it important to? As a matter of fact, how many diving communities are there? Why don’t you just think about those two questions while I continue with the first thought.


Buoyancy is all about Archimedes, who was a Greek mathematician/scientist living in the 3rd century BC.archimedes

Using scientific methods he determined that “…an object immersed in a liquid partially or totally is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the liquid displaced”.


Well, have you thought long enough on those two diving community questions? The answer is… understanding and mastering  Buoyancy is important in every diving community.

In the recreational diving community the attainment of Neutral buoyancy at any depth is the desired objective to be considered a competent diver. However Positive buoyancy is the most sought after and taught skill for a dive profile to have a happy conclusion. Then there is Negative buoyancy which has become the bain of sport divers and those who teach them.


In the Commercial diving community the knowledge, skills and abilities  (attitudes) when it comes to buoyancy is more a job for job tool and capability. That means that Positive, neutral and negative buoyancy is mission dictated and performed professionally to a successful conclusion.

In the Special Response Diving community Negative buoyancy is king! This community includes Police divers, Public Safety divers, medium_21-280213113545emergency response divers, tactical divers, military divers, forensic divers and any other group that performs underwater search and recovery missions. Believe it or not trying to find something on the bottom while neutrally buoyant is a fools errand. Now some will argue that neutral buoyancy keeps the diver from disturbing the bottom, and that may work once in a while, but if you want to find something on the bottom you must become the bottom. This is achieved only with negative buoyancy. The only way to constantly have a positive resolution to an underwater search is becoming proficient in the use of negative buoyancy.


Remember, in underwater search & recovery you get positive results when negative buoyancy is king!


Written by – Michael W. Gast

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A Gentle Reminder. Gentle Like A Belly-Flop.

Last time I checked, you can not inhale water. Actually you can; but in doing so there have been reported many health risks. One of those risks is death. I’m not joking. People actually die from drowning! And you know what’s even more amazing? Public Safety Divers still do it! Even understanding there is a risk of dying, they still try to inhale that H2O. Why?!

Apparently no one told them that it’s no bueno. (Free Spanish lesson. You’re welcome.) If someone had, then maybe they might have been more careful. They might have had a different outcome. But where can one learn this kind of wisdom? Where can you go to understand what not to do?

It’s really not a question of where you can go, but who you can go to. The who you learn from is more important than where you learn. There are a lot of places you can go and learn advanced/specialty diving. Almost every sport diving agency has some kind of Search & Recovery certification. And if you are an advanced open water instructor with your agency, you’re all good to teach it. But has that instructor ever actually done it? Have they been down and located what was missing and brought it back? I’m not talking about a weight belt that fell off the boat in the ocean; I’m talking about zero visibility water looking for a gun that’s been pulled apart and tossed in piece by piece with every news station for 50 miles watching your every move. How would that instructor perform then?

Sadly this is happening. Police and fire departments across the country are finding and hiring sport diving instructors to train their people in something the instructor has no experience in, or business teaching. They are learning in clear water and comfortable conditions. If it’s raining they go home. Somehow this seems acceptable. Amazing.

Let me ask you a question. Why would you train anywhere other than where you would be performing the job? Pools are really nice; in fact I was in a pool last night. But I was teaching open water newbies, NOT people that need to be bringing their A-game at the worst times in the worst conditions! We need to get away from this mentality of trusting an instructor because they have a card that says they can teach a class. Take the time to interview someone who is going to train your department. Ask them what their experience is. I don’t care how many people you have taught, I want to know how long you have been doing recoveries and what kind of cases you have worked on. Tell me stories and some of your mistakes you have made.

Tell me why you teach what you teach! Are you doing this because it’s a good gig and the money is good, or are you doing this because you want to bring the very best training to those that serve our community’s? It is OK to ask these questions! If someone is going to get all defensive because you are challenging there credibility, then something is wrong.

So to sum this whole thing up in two words…be annoying. Ask questions, do your research, and don’t condemn you and your team to failing before the class even starts. Write down what you want to accomplish, and every question you can think of before you interview a potential instructor. Then get at it!

Search negatively my friends!

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Jump in! The water is like pea soup!

The other day I was talking with a police diver and his team, who had come to Miami to train with another department. The team was from Louisiana and most of their missions are around lake Pontchartrain. The team leader was commenting on how happy he was to be able to get his guys down here to train where there was visibility.

I would like to make 2 observations on this matter.

#1 – After the team leader made this comment, he continued in saying that all they have to train in back home, is dirty water that you can’t see anything in. I was thinking GREAT! That’s exactly what you should be training in, because that’s real world Public Safety Diving!

Now I do understand that you need to be able to see to learn certain skills. Skills like using lift bags. Learn in a controlled environment so you have that muscle memory when you really can’t see. I get it.

But is it necessary to travel 20 hours to find those locations? Absolutely not. Many divers think that going

back to the swimming pool is for newbies. For those open water wanna-be’s who are not yet worthy for real diving in that big dangerous ocean. Well their wrong. You might be able to find great, deep, pools at your local collage. Look for ones with a diving team. They usually have a diving well that’s 16 feet deep; more than suitable for learning the basics of lift bags. And while your there, work on some other skills that will push your ability’s as well as your teams. It’s not about the pool, but what you do in it.

This also gives a team leader the ability to evaluate how their divers dive. Do they have neutral buoyancy? do they actually know how to kick? Do they actually know how to tie that knot, or do they just say they do? Sometimes it’s good to go back to the basics to learn the hard stuff.

#2 –  What is visibility? The National Academy of Police Diving describes visibility like this:

  • Zero Visibility: The inability to visually observe any object at any distance from the faceplate of the mask.
  • Low Visibility: The inability to visually observe an object beyond the diver’s outstretched hand.
  • Black Water: The inability to visually observe an object because of the lack of light penetration.

Using the above terms, what kind of diving does your department have to deal with? If you have to learn in a pool first that’s fine; but nothing can replace the confidence and skill that comes from performing in the real thing.

I would love to hear what you think on this and any stories you might have from training, so leave a comment!


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