Debriefing after a Dive – Waste of Time or an Important Habit?

You know how it goes. You're on the dive boat and prepare for your dive. Well, you should have prepared before but for argument's sake, let's say you do it on the boat.

Then you enjoy your time underwater and admire the sights to be seen. You get back on the boat and stow away your gear. Time to relax… Or, is it?

Is your dive over as you're out of the water and stowed your gear? Is it time now to socialize and chat away? Or does it end when you take your dive buddy/buddies and discuss what happened during the dive? What was good? What went wrong? What should be done differently?

Divers communicating underwater

Only by taking the time to analyze what happened during the dive will you be able to get down to any mistakes that were made and to avoid them in the future. Not reflecting on the dive results in you repeating the same mistakes again and again as you never consciously discussed them.

Debriefing after a dive allows you to do precisely that. You get input from other divers, and you'll be aware of mistakes that were made which you want to avoid. Similar, going over the dive allows you to discuss situations that arose which could have been handled better.

Now, most dives don't have any big mistakes as part of them. The ones that do usually don't end well for the participants. It is a known fact that if you replay situations, you encountered or that others encountered and mentally prepares for them and how to go through them you will less likely make wrong choices or even panic when those circumstances hit you underwater.

Group of divers ready to debrief

Having a debrief with a large group is usually beneficial for anyone involved if all contribute and discuss potential risks like sudden strong currents, etc. Just talking through such situations will allow you to become a better diver as you mentally prepare for them. In turn, you will be better prepared to react to those situations when you encounter them during a future dive.

Another important aspect is that you can compare air consumption. Consciously working on reducing your air consumption will allow you to extend your time underwater. And no, it's not about avoiding being the one to call a dive but to be able to enjoy longer periods under the sea!

These are the lessons you can go over to master different and difficult situations underwater. But there's another critical aspect of the debriefing. That part is where you can discuss communication issues underwater.

Remember when you were diving and you needed what felt like an eternity to get the attention of one of your dive buddies. Addressing this in a dive debrief raises the awareness of everyone involved that they have to pay attention to their partners!

It's not only to address if one or some of the divers in a group didn't pay attention to signals. It also has to cover when you and your buddy had a hard time understanding the messages of each other. Bringing that to the surface and coming up with a plan to improve the signals between you which in turn will ensure that you have a safer and more satisfying dive in the future. Because who would want to waste time underwater trying to understand what specific hand signals your buddy was giving you?

Being able to go over these experiences in detail can prove to be invaluable. They should be constructive and not a session to blame others for doing things wrong. Using them to improve your diving and techniques should be the goal for all involved.

How to debrief

The best way is to go through the whole dive. You want to start from the pre-dive planning, gear preparation and go over all the pre-dive checks you did. Bring up any inconsistencies or problems that happened.

Go through all of the steps and actions in chronological order. Small problems specifically at the beginning can lead to significant issues later on in the dive. Being able to identify them through the debrief is a tremendous learning opportunity and can teach anyone involved how to determine those issues in the beginning and then have a safer dive.

Don't only concentrate on the problems or near-problems that you all encountered. It's also important to look at the things that went well before, during and after the dive. Positive things can be improvements that you recognize in your buddies diving. For example, improved navigation skills of a diver in the group are something to point out in a debrief.

Pointing out improvements in your buddies and having a chance to discuss how they started to improve will also allow you to get tips and tricks on how to get better with your diving techniques. Lastly, it will motivate the other diver to continue to improve. Diving with better divers does eventually result in a safer and more enjoyable experience.

dive gear on boat ready for prep

Debriefs only with a big group in a training environment?

You’d think that having a debrief after a dive would only make sense after a dive with a large group or with a trainer. That’s very far from the truth.

Having a debrief after a recreational dive with your dive buddy can add a lot to your experience. Even a rec dive can be a moment to improve and learn something new. You might not get into that much detail with your buddy as you would in a larger group, but it can still be invaluable to have a debrief.

One topic you might have to discuss is whether your relative position to each other is how it makes the most sense. Sometimes divers end up right above each other. That pretty much makes it impossible for the diver at the bottom to see the body above him or her. Use the debriefing to bring up times during the dive where the positioning was not helpful.

The most commonly found debrief topic is usually the communication. Or, the lack of it. Or, how you misunderstood the signals of the other. It's good practice to bring those moments up and work through them so you can avoid them in the future. If you go diving, you want to experience the world underwater and not have to try to figure out what the hand signal of your buddy meant.

Who should lead the debrief?

It’s good practice that the most experienced diver or the instructor leads the debrief. If that’s you then make sure that you give everyone in the group a chance to bring up any issues (positive or negative) that they had during the dive!

Nobody in a dive group is perfect. Everyone will make little mistakes, have improvements or go through misunderstood signals. Bringing those up means that participants have to be good at bringing those issues up as well as willing to receive any criticism or suggestions. It’ll help all involved during the next dive!

Having debriefs from now on?

There's no law that there have to debrief after a dive. They can add a lot of value to the experience and allow all involved to gain trust and to improve their techniques rapidly.

Having a debrief routine as part of your dives with your buddy will make the next dives more enjoyable. You can discuss all those small issues you experienced, and that'll get you to become a better pair when diving. Addressing them in the open with your buddy or a whole group will significantly improve the trust between each other. A factor that should not be undervalued!

Initially, those debriefs might feel a little uncomfortable. You might have to criticize your buddy or be criticized. This is still a much better alternative than to endanger each other underwater or to waste precious dive time because you're trying to figure out what the other is trying to signal.

Make sure that you do your part in such a debriefing of staying positive and not let it end up being a blame session. A positive debrief that goes through the details will improve the diving experience and safety of everyone in the group!

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