DPV TRAINING: WHY DO IT? By Tom Doubleday
NACD Cave Diver 1787/ DPV S264



Over the holidays, I completed a DPV training course. Having purchased a Gavin DPV in 2003 at the end of my customary early summer visit to north Florida, I initially pondered the necessity of additional training to use this new “toy.” My credentials included being cave trained by Tom Mount and mentored by Larry Green. By the time I bought the “scooter” I had conducted over 300 safe cave dives and had become a careful and reasonably competent cave diver. In addition, I had a relatively broad base of experience in a number of environments and locales, both in caves and other forms of technical diving.

Never having been reckless in pursuit of diving goals, I thought that I’d start slowly, using my DPV in open water until it’s peculiarities were mastered. Then I could move safely into caves. Prior experience and familiarity with my new DPV would certainly make “figuring out” how to safely do this form of cave diving relatively easy. After all, wasn’t this just a variant of a type of diving with which I was already familiar and comfortable? Achieving full cave diver status had been the demanding part. All this had certainly been adequate preparation for DPV diving in caves. 

But then I came to my senses.

As it is often said, familiarity breeds contempt. Having been out of the “student mode” for a long time, my thinking regarding DPV training couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only was it entirely contrary to all prior reasoning for seeking training, but it was contrary to all of my actual training, as well. Time, comfort and experience had fostered “contempt” for additional training. It had allowed me to develop an attitude that I could “figure out” how to do this diving on my own. Well, maybe I could “figure it out” without additional training but what if I wasn’t successful? The “learning curve” for success was steep enough but for failure, it was eternal. 

I had always promised those who care about me to do everything possible to minimize the dangers involved in this hazardous but rewarding sport. It was solely my responsibility to loved ones to take all available precautions to not scar their lives by losing my own life. Dying in an accident riding a DPV, which may have been avoided with training that was readily available to me, would be an absolute vacating this promise. I was engaging in these “risky” activities to add quality to my life and my life alone. This in itself, was and is, an intensely selfish and self-centered choice. To do DPV cave diving as safely as possible was the least I could do to protect loved ones from emotional harm.

I had always sought excellent training before and never felt a need to “recreate the wheel” when it had already been done. But now, it appeared that prior to “coming to my senses”, that was exactly what I was doing. This was particularly absurd considering the fact that my primary mentor in cave diving, Larry Green, offered excellent training based on a wealth of personal experience. So I contacted Debra and she put me on Larry’s schedule. Diving with Larry and Debra was and is one of my favorite activities. And this class would provide more opportunities to do just that. Class was set for mid June, 2004.

The plan was to get the classroom activities and dives accomplished. If all went well, then it was off to Eagle’s Nest for some “fun stuff”. Larry, Debra and I hashed out this plan on a Thursday evening, intending on heading down to the ”Nest” on the following Wednesday. About 4:00 p.m. on the intervening Saturday, June 19, I was sitting at Bill Rennaker’s Cave Excursions getting tanks filled. Bill came out of the store and said “ They’ve got two divers, three hours over due at Eagles Nest. They’re trying to contact Larry Green.” Tragedy had occurred at the “Nest” for the first time since it was re-opened to the public. Now, Larry, Debra, and a host of very talented divers faced a grim, dangerous, and difficult task. And two families were changed forever.

My class was rescheduled for the week before Christmas, 2004. Larry took me from setting up my “scooter” through, well….., I’ll leave that up to professionals like Larry to impart to you. However, when I say “professionals like Larry”, that’s probably misleading. I really think that there is only one ”Larry”. 

Larry’s instruction was hands on, practical, and thorough. Besides aquainting me with all of the “big stuff”, it was amazing how many seemingly “little” but highly important things Larry brought to my awareness. What also became apparent was how much more I still have to learn. 

A side note to those who make the excellent choice to train with Larry; keep a hand on those reels. No one is immune. Isn’t that right Mr. Mount? For those of you who know Larry, you’ll understand. For those who don’t, it’s a safe bet that you’ll figure it out at some point during your training with him. In the end, if you achieve certification from Larry, you’ll be a much better informed and competent DPV diver.

Returning to a more serious subject, it is probably not a coincidence that of the last three individuals to die in accidents involving use of DPVs, two had not completed a DPV training course. This is not to berate, disrespect or denigrate these individuals or their capabilities in any way. It is possible that even with training, these accidents may still have occurred. But in the end, all of them left behind grieving loved ones who will always wonder why their deaths “had to happen”. Helping loved ones to avoid just such an experience is entirely the responsibility of each of us. Accordingly, it only makes sense to build the odds for survival in our favor to the greatest extent possible. For DPV use, adequate training is readily available and there is no need to “recreate the wheel”.

In the nine years that I have been involved in cave diving, the number of cave divers seems to be increasing exponentially. The number of divers riding DPVs also appears to be following suit. Judging by what I see, it also seems that many relatively new cave divers are quickly “moving up” to DPVs. 

If these observations are accurate, the need for quality DPV training takes on even greater significance. Beyond the cost in human suffering caused by deaths, in the excessively litigious society in which we live, loss of life also leads to lawsuits. Lawsuits involve tremendous sums of money as well as media exposure. The combination of these two can lead to legislated restrictions which may eventually curtail or prevent us from engaging in and enjoying this incredible sport. It’s impossible to imagine that any of us would want this outcome if it is avoidable. Again, building the odds in our favor to the greatest possible extent only makes sense. Quality DPV training should become an integral part of a solid strategy to maintain our sport as reasonably safe endeavor thus allowing it to remain relatively free from legislated restriction.

In the end, the choice for DPV training is left to the individual, as it should be. Typically, those who enter this sport are rugged individualists. However, if we are not vigilant in our efforts to keep ourselves safe, we risk subjecting those we care about to great suffering and expose fellow divers to a loss of access to this fascinating sport. Maintaining what we have will be far easier than regaining privileges lost. This is a lesson already demonstrated by the loss of access to so many sites previously open to diving and the difficulties in attempts to reopen them. We can all do our part to maintain this sport by simply being safe. Don’t attempt to “recreate the wheel”. If you’re thinking of becoming a DPV cave diver, seek training and encourage others to do so as well. It’s what is best for all of us.