Sometime around your 16th birthday, you went to your parents and said “I want to go get my driver’s permit”. Now, unless they had been living under a rock, they saw it coming. Since they knew you were going to ask, I am sure they had been evaluating you and how they were going to handle it. But what made you say, “You are ready?” Was it simply because you were of age? Did you step back and evaluate yourself: your maturity, responsibility, reflexes, attention span? No, you were the right age and you had the right to drive! If you had stepped back and looked, you may have seen that you were not ready. For sure, you were not ready to drive 75mph down the interstate during rush hour, eating a cheeseburger and changing the radio station. (Not that I would ever do that.) Like driving, technical diving takes a level of maturity, responsibility and multi-tasking. Technical diving is not a right, it is an earned privilege. Just like with driving, a mistake can mean you life.
We are going to talk about your role in deciding to start. What you should do before you start.
The question is, when do you know you are ready to start the tec path? Only you will know when you are ready. There are no hard set rules, there are requirements or prerequisites but they do not mean you are ready. For instance, one organization requires 25 dives while another requires 50 for the equivalent classes. Does that mean you are ready, I think not. Here are a few recommendations for you in no particular order.
It is all about the skills and drills. You will be exposed to many new skills and some of your old ones will be polished. Before you start, you should be able to do at least the following in your openwater equipment: 1) While hovering horizontal: remove and replace your mask, without changing depth by more then 3 ft. 2) Share air while remaining horizontal. 3) Swim at least 30ft, horizontal, on one breath (CESA). 4) Swim at least 50ft without your mask on. 5) While hovering horizontal, remove and replace your BCD, best to do this in a pool. These are not requirements to start but being able to do these skill will make your class much more enjoyable for you and your instructor.
Once you can do those skill, find a set of doubles. Rent or borrow different types, to include the rigs if you do not have one. Gear configuration is covered in class, but you need to find a rig that suits you and works. Then, dive. Get a feel for the rig and the tanks. There are three times in a divers training when they relearn how to dive. Diving with doubles, a dry suit, and with a re-breather. Doubles have a different buoyancy and trim characteristics then a single tank. Double 80’s are not the same as 104’s. Once you get use to one set, changing to a different set is like changing cars. You will have to make a few adjustments to the seat, and mirrors, get a feel for the breaks and steering but nothing you should not be able to overcome fairly quickly. If you are diving in an area were a drysuit is a must, dive it, with the doubles.
Do your research! Know what to expect when you walk-in to class. These classes are an investment in time and money. Do not think you are going to walk in, do a couple of dives, and get a card. You will need more gear then you have as an open water diver, and it will take more time then your openwater class ever did. Do the time and find out what is involved. While doing your research, find an instructor. The same rules apply as with finding an openwater instructor.
Check your mental fitness. Are you ready to learn new skill? Are you ready to be taught and evaluated? If you are the kind of person that thinks they are dong everything the right way, you may want to re-think your decision. You must be open to constructive criticism and ready to take it at any time. Egos have no place under the water, and must be left on at the surface, on shore, and preferably at home.
Check you physical fitness. Technical diving is more strenuous then openwater diving. If you have any health issues get cleared by your doctor, you may want to find a hyperbaric doctor. DAN maintains a list and will steer you in the right direction. If you get winded walking a flight of stair you may also want to reconsider. Carrying a set of doubles and a stage up an incline or even the ladder on the boat is strenuous. Make sure you are fit, you do not need to run a marathon but , you need to be able to carry and swim with all the gear involved. Discuss this with your instructor for more guidance.
Finally or first, start slow. Enroll in an Intro/Intro type class. Not all training agencies call them Introduction to Technical diving. But they have something along the same lines. This class will show you the basics and give you a feel for what is involved. It is also a great indicator if you are ready. If nothing else you will leave the class with new skills that will make you a better diver.
In closing, when are you ready? When you’re ready. Start slow, take an intro class. Do your research, know what to expect and find an instructor. Check your fitness, mental and physical. Get in the water, it is all about the skills and drills. Only you will now when you are ready. Do not figure it out at 160ft, in 40 degree water, after you have a regulator malfunction.