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Basic Training: Swimming and Snorkeling

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By James Lapenta
By James Lapenta

By James Lapenta

Last month we discussed refreshing your classroom knowledge. Another item is your foundational water skills. Swimming and snorkeling, as well as breathold or free diving, are known as watermanship skills. Coupled with treading or, at a minimum, drown-proofing. Recently a discussion was held on the Facebook group that I founded to look at risk management and SCUBA accidents.

The discussion centered around the question of whether or not it was necessary for a person to be able to swim to do a “discover or intro” type experience. You would think that this would be a topic that wasn’t going to generate much in the way of differing opinions. That wasn’t the case. There were those who felt it was perfectly fine to take a non-swimmer on one of these experiences. Even in open water. Without getting into the argument of whether or not an open water discover is safe, it was felt by some that since the person had a BC and instructor with them, it was ok to do this.

Anyone who has ever witnessed, or assisted in the rescue/recovery of, a drowning victim who was a non-swimmer is going to disagree with the idea. I was taught to swim at an early age by my grandfather. He firmly believed that swimming is a life skill. Maybe not for someone who lives in the Sahara, but for anyone who is going to be near water too deep to stand in, and actually enters it, they had better know how to swim.

Instructors are not immortal, and we can have issues ourselves. BC’s ARE NOT classified as personal flotation devices and should not be considered to be one. With this in mind, what person in their right mind would think it’s ok for a diver or person who wishes to take up diving be a non-swimmer? Greed is the only motivator I can think of that would allow a dive “professional” to take such a risk with another person’s life.

SCUBA divers should know how to swim. Period. Even agencies that allow instructors to have the student do the basic OW swim with mask, snorkel, and fins, the student still needs to tread for some time. Also in that this activity takes place in, on, and around water, why would you think that the mask, snorkel, and fins will always be available?

You don’t need to be an Olympic caliber swimmer. The basic swim is not timed. It is, however, a test of your comfort, ability, and fitness to be in the water. It is a survival skill that if unable to do, may result in a dead human being.

Swimming is a learned skill. With the right SWIMMING instructor, most people who are not afraid of the water or have a physical disability can be taught to swim. Even those with a disability can often be taught to swim. Those who are afraid of water can also learn once the source of fear is identified and overcome with psychological help.

In the discussion, a statement was made about a particular group of people not being able to swim because of their ethnicity. The same used to be said about African Americans in the US. This statement, belief, opinion, etc. is blatantly false and is nothing more than an ignorant, racist, and bigoted assertion. A look at the Summer Olympics will prove that without any doubt. The problem these people face is not an inherent lack of ability, but most certainly a lack of opportunity and qualified instruction.

The swimming skills for SCUBA are not extensive and one of the easier skills to maintain. Many pools are leery about allowing divers to come in with SCUBA gear. They don’t want the liability and to risk the possible damage to the pool from dropped weights and cylinders banging into the tile. They do not have a problem with you getting in a few laps, doing some underwater swims, and practicing your treading as long as it doesn’t interfere with the lap swimmers.

One thing that I also recommend to divers is, if they get the chance, take a swimming lesson from a certified swim instructor. My girlfriend got me a session with one a few years ago for Christmas. Mind you I have been swimming for over 50 years. It was one of the best 45 minutes that I have ever spent. The instructor had me swim a couple of laps, then made some suggestions as to my stroke, kick, and positioning that wasn’t radical. The difference it made in the way I moved through the water was significant along with being less tiring and more efficient.

Every time I am in the pool now a few minutes are spent on those techniques so that they become as natural as possible. Even if it’s only two or three laps, I’m not going for speed or distance but form. Anyone who has access to a pool should also consider spending some time trying different strokes, kicks, and work to improve those. Most pools will also not have a problem with you bringing a mask, snorkel, and set of fins to do a few laps and practice your snorkeling and breathold diving skills.

The latter is another area where even an experienced diver can learn something new. Last summer I took a free diving class with free diving instructor Julie Anderson of Underwater Connections in Orient, Ohio. Though I missed my target depth due to a severe tooth squeeze to get the card, I managed a 2 ½ minute static apnea and a leisurely 25-meter underwater swim. I’ll be going back to get the depth now that the tooth is fixed. The course resulted in more comfort underwater, better breathing technique (less air consumption on SCUBA), and is a new activity that doesn’t require as much gear! I highly recommend this as well since much of the training can be done in the pool for those of us in cooler climates.

Before you throw on the SCUBA gear, go swimming. You’ll be a better diver for it.

About James Lapenta

James Lapenta – Scuba Instructor, Author

James Lapenta from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, a Diver, dive Instructor, Author and owner of UDM Aquatic Services has been diving since 2004.

He is a Scuba Educators Instructor # 204, SDI/TDI Instructor # 16810, CMAS 2 Star Instructor # USAF0012000204

For more on basic skills and education pick up a copy of either of my books

SCUBA: A Practical Guide for the New Diver or SCUBA: A Practical Guide to Advanced Level Training on Amazon. Dive Safe. 

Dive Safe.