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It should be no great surprise to many that I enjoy Scuba diving as a hobby, and that there are a myriad of courses avaliable to the qualified diver, some have specific restrictions on qualifications held prior to beginning the course others can be undertaken by any diver who cares to give it a go. Under the PADI training system it is often thought that the training is too focussed on getting you to do further courses and training in order to make more money for the company and dive centres involved, in many ways this is true, so several years ago it was with great interest that the first PADI 'technical course' was launched upon the PADI Recreational divers - the PADI philosophy until this point was to concentrate on only recreational divers and diving, which required no further specialised training after the Open Water, whereas those wanting to do deeper/longer dives had to look to specialised 'technical' training agencies to undertake these types of dive - that course was this the PADI Enriched Air Diver.
Enriched air is simply air which has extra oxygen in it, more often than not this is known as 'nitrox' so this is the term I will use throughout the review.
So why would you want to dive with nitrox instead of normal air?
Nitrox as it contains a greater percentage of oxygen has a lower percentage of nitrogen ('normal' air is usually a mix of roughly 21% oxygen and 79% nitrogen), and it is the absorbtion of nitrogen in to the body tissues which can cause the diver the greatest concerns, so to reduce the nitrogen able to get in to the body has to be a good thing right?
On a very basic level this is true, but as the course will show additional oxygen in your breathing gas will actually mean you have to do shallower dives, as oxygen can become toxic if breathed at depth.
Plus the reduced absorbtion of nitrogen will have benefits for people doing multiple dives in a day or over a short time span - ie those on holiday or diving as a part of their job (instructors, marine biologists in the field etc).
So what does the course teach?
How to use nitrox safely, how to recognise cylinders and equipment safe for use with nitrox, and how to plan dives using nitrox, and the importance of checking your own gas mix before diving with it.
This is an entirely classroom based course so is great for this time of the year when its too cold for many people to want to get out and dive (wusses, lol).
Before doing the course you should be given the course materials, which consist of a book and three more plastic slates which have 'tables' printed on them. Two of the tables replace the RDP for dives to be done with the most common nitrox mixes 36% and 32%, the third contains assorted information which can be used to calculate safe dive profiles with other mixes (ranging from 30% to 40% which is the max allowable under recreational dive training).
Reading the book does cover the entire course syllabus but will of course never replace your instructors to explain particularly mentally challenging bits (of which among my classmates we discovered many such bits), the most time consuming part of the course is the section which deals with how to use the tables to plan dives. It wouldnt be unfair to say that of the three of us who were attending the course not one of us had a brain which hadnt reached the point of protesting over hard useage!
As with all PADI courses at some point you have to fill in the 'Knowledge Reviews' from your book, copies of these should be taken and kept in your student file by the training centre. You also have to complete a short multiple choice exam, to pass you need 75% or to get 19 answers correct. After marking the exams any questions which anybody got wrong should be discussed with the instructor - though with the last few its more likely to be an error reading from the tables than an error in your knowledge, and should you have not passed the exam there is a resit paper avaliable.
Once you have passed and been signed off by the instructor you are qualified to plan and dive using nitrox, if you plan to use nitrox it is important that you carry your certification card as no reputable dive centre should sell you enriched air to use without seeing the certification card first.
I paid £125 for this course this includes all the materials, teaching and certification card. The course was run over a single day, from 9-5 and it has to be said was very intensive.
As always if I've missed anything or you want something clarifying please let me know! As the course is so very intensive I suspect I will have missed things or left things in a somewhat confused manner, which I would be more than happy to try to clarify.