Skip to content

Don’t Become a Statistic: Know your abilities and start with a refresher course

DiverWire is pleased to welcome back Josie Koler from The Weekly Newspapers in the Florida Keys. Josie will be writing regularly about diving-related issues and topics. Here first story: Scuba Refresher Courses.

SCUBA isn’t comparable to to riding a bike. Once you stop, the skills, and perhaps you, can get lost at sea. So, when The Weekly Newspapers was offered a “refresher” course at the instruction of Dr. Patrick Rice, Ph.D., Florida Keys Community College’s new Dean of Marine Science & Technology, we did an underwater back flip, did some day-planner re-organizing and some pool practice, before suiting up to dive in the FKCC Dive Lagoon.

“Probably the most important thing is your comfort level,” affirms Dr. Rice, a man who immersed himself in the water at a young age by watching Jacques Cousteau and Flipper.

Dr. Rice’s resume and controlled learning environment are what lured us to him. He started diving while earning his Bachelors of Science in Biology at the University of Texas in his hometown of Texas, before joining the Peace Corps to gain experience.

While talking about his tour in Thailand, followed by two years on the island of Fiji incorporating means of farming for villagers, Dr. Rice shows his savvy SCUBA skills.

“As for your gear, outfit yourself with a compass and a knife. You could get tangled up and you need to be able to cut your way out,” advises Rice, who’s been attracting as much attention as the Vandenberg itself, since he dropped anchor in Key West two years ago. His pioneering research in shark repellent technology has garnered an entire morning’s worth of live hits, on MSNBC. Now you know why this squeamish dive reporter feels calm in the presence of this “buddy”.

“Most of my work is research, performed 90% of the time out of the water. But I love to dive; I’m drawn to the water, so this is fun for me.”

As part of the FKCC community he will be one of the experts in charge of monitoring the movement of the General Hoyt S.Vandenberg.

“I already dove it, it was cool. Now, when I enter the water it will be a technical dive. At 100 feet, it’s about the task at hand.”

We suited up poolside and went over all of the gear, including how to hook the regulator to the tank, before doing a stride entrance into the chlorinated water.

“Always put your regulator in your mouth,” Dr. Rice instructs, “and mask on your face. Hold them both with one hand. Do not throw your gear into the water and suit up. A current could grab hold of it, and it’d be gone.”

In the H20, we performed mask clearing, regulator recovery, buddy breathing and buoyancy control.

“This is key especially when you’re diving near the corals because you can kick and smash the coral.”

We left the comfort and clarity of the chlorinated pool to head into the murky, warm lagoon.

“We’re going to do a 360°.” Rice continued the one-on-one instruction. “Use the ledge as a reference.”

Yikes! Looking into the water visibility is low at best. All I can make out are Dr. Rice’s blue Omega Fins and some dirt on the wall. We let the air out of our BCD’s and sunk to see some of the remnants of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha.

The ship is a Spanish galleon discovered by Mel Fisher. It had $450 million worth of gold and silver when she sunk off the coast of Key West due to a hurricane in1622. The “treasures” were accumulated from the slave trade. After divers excavated the Atocha Mother Lode, there were still a lot of nautical treasures. The timbers, which made up the hull, were transferred to the FKCC dive lagoon. The lagoon has a thick sentiment layer, a natural preservative.

“There isn’t a lot to see besides Barracuda and some fish, but this is an ideal spot for divers to submerge themselves in to work on using their compass and navigation,” states Dr. Rice.

BCD refresherAnd work on your abilities. Florida Keys dive shop owners, operators, dive masters, boat captains, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, ambulance drivers and the hospitals see time and time again: visitors dipping down to depths beyond their capabilities. Ill-preparedness, lack of experience, unchecked gear, and diving beyond the individual’s physical abilities are usually to blame for a dive gone awry. After freshening up your skills and hitting some light dives, swallow your ego and hire a guide! They usually cost about $70 – $80, a very inexpensive insurance plan.

For more of Josie’s stories, go to


Leave a Comment