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Passing the Swim Test

Discussion in 'New Divers & Those Considering Diving' started by Trace Malinowski, Dec 1, 2017.

  1. Trace Malinowski

    Trace Malinowski Cave Instructor

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: Alexandria Bay, NY
    The most intimidating and daunting part of learning to dive for some students is simply passing the swim test. Agencies belonging to the RSTC (Recreational Scuba Training Council) or those agencies that use RSTC standards usually require a student to demonstrate a minimum watermanship ability by performing a 200 yard/183 meter swim and a 10 minute water tread/survival float. Alternatively, a 300 yard/275 meter snorkel swim might be allowed in place of the regular swim.

    While there are always exceptions, I normally encourage students to strive for the regular surface swim using the crawl technique. The reason is that it is part of a building-block approach to the snorkeling and scuba skills they will learn in open water class. My students start with nothing and we build the scuba unit one piece of gear at a time. It is a less stressful way of learning to dive and by the time the rig is complete to go to open water training the student has already learned to compensate for lost equipment. For example, they learn to breathe through the snorkel before getting a mask making breathing through a regulator during mask removal exercises much easier. They learn to use one fin before using two which means they've learned how to swim with a lost fin before we've worked on normal kick techniques. They learn to buddy breathe, sharing a regulator, before using an additional second stage (octopus) regulator.

    Following this methodology, it makes sense for me to test watermanship by employing the standard swim test rather than allow the "snorkel cheat" in most cases. I was at the Venetian Pool in Miami one day with a friend of mine who was a high school phys ed teacher. We were watching a guy do a multitude of rapid push-ups with poor form. My friend commented, "When you cheat, you only cheat yourself." But, like I said, there are exceptions. As an instructor, my job is to help make people's underwater dreams come true, while encouraging them to perform at the best of their abilities, set their own high standards, and to ensure that students who've earned a C-card have demonstrated the maturity, confidence, and skill set to be worthy of being called a scuba diver.

    Another reason I prefer to get students swimming the crawl is that I hope it will get them swimming. Not only is swimming a great form of exercise, but it is also an important rescue tool. Most diving emergencies find their way to the surface and often we are not kitted up like in rescue class when the call for "Help!" comes. Lastly, if we develop strokes like the crawl and breast stroke early in a diver's career, those divers who would make excellent divemasters some day, but who might be apprehensive about swimming on day 1 of a scuba class, may become comfortable with swimming long before they have to swim 400 yards or more in a DM course. In other words, we might be losing out on awesome future pros because we don't instill confidence from day one.

    For students who might be timid swimmers, rusty swimmers, or who want a little coaching, or for instructors who wish to help with the basics, I came across a very nice building-block presentation of the crawl stroke on YouTube by Christian Anseaume, a French triathlete.

  2. Akimbo

    Akimbo Just a diver Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    My personal observations lead me to concur for a slightly different reason. Divers that are dependent on equipment are more likely to panic when gear fails. You will never see autopsy findings that blame a broken mask or fin strap but we all know that panic kills more divers than poor gas planning.
  3. Kevrumbo

    Kevrumbo Banned

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: South Santa Monica Bay/Los Angeles California, USA
    "Gliding" vs "Plowing" through the water in Freestyle -How to Front Crawl "DIR":

    One style is more efficient than the other -physiologically as well as hydrodynamically- and a lot more fun too!

    Total Immersion (TI) Technique:

    Last edited: Dec 1, 2017
  4. Bubblesong

    Bubblesong ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Massachusetts
    Access to pools to practice is also important. In addition to healthclubs, public pools and ymca’s, some school, colleges and hotels offer free or paid times, so it is worth it to call around.
    aquacat8 likes this.
  5. TMHeimer

    TMHeimer Divemaster

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Dartmouth,NS,Canada(Eastern Passage-Atlantic)
    Trace, I like your excellent approach. When I took OW we did the "cheat" snorkel thing. I used my arms. When I (obviously ) finished first, the instructor said you can't use arms. I asked if she wanted me to do it again and she said don't bother. Another reason for requiring the crawl is that if you take DM you of course have to just swim the 400. While I was on the HS swim team some 39 years previously, I hadn't swam at all during those years, though did tons of snorkeling, body surfing, etc. Swimming is probably the greatest exercise, but unless you are a competitive swimmer with goals in mind, doing pool laps is %^$&ing BORING....so I didn't do it. My technique was way off for the DM test and I needed advice from my competitive swimming brothers to correct it. Then after doing a lot of pool laps over months, I did get a "3" on the DM swim. I applaud you as well for recommending PROPER crawl technique. How many times did I observe OW students just somehow gutting out the 200 with any old "stroke" and passing. What does that prove? Well, I guess that you could swim that distance in ocean water, crawl out and have a heart attack.
    I've often argued that proper swimming has pretty much nothing to do with scuba, but should be known by anyone doing anything around water too deep to stand in. As Jim L. says, it is a Life skill.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2017
  6. nolatom

    nolatom Captain

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: New Orleans
    Swimming is worth learning to the point that you enjoy it. I too favor the crawl, however you learned it, plow, glide, whatever.
    Learn to breathe bilaterally! A big help and you can see to both sides. For me, "stroke, stroke, stroke/breathe left, stroke, stroke, stroke/breathe right"
    And good goggles are a must. They help you relax and enjoy the "view", even if it's just the bottom of the pool.
    Also--on the dive boat, if you feel like going for a swim, check with the captain or DM, and go do it. If you finish early and folks are still in, you can watch them. It's like "extra" water time, on a nice day.
  7. dmaziuk

    dmaziuk Regular of the Pub

    Breaststroke (or sidestroke) is actually easier for those who can't swim well. Breaststroke kick is also what you need for 10-minute float. So I think it's great if you get students who already can crawl, or have the time to teach them crawl from scratch. Do you ever get someone who can barely swim and no time to give them swimming lessons?

    Edit: I mean, your title is "passing the swim test". To me this sounds like a bit of a disconnect: I wonder how much overlap there is between people who need to train to make 200 yards no time limit and people whose front crawl technique needs work.
  8. jlcnuke

    jlcnuke ScubaBoard Sponsor ScubaBoard Sponsor

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: acworth ga
    For those not in great shape, backstroke and breastroke I find to be the least taxing also.
    claymore likes this.
  9. dmaziuk

    dmaziuk Regular of the Pub

    I'd have non-swimmers go sidestroke as that gives you best of both worlds: backstroke you can't see where you're going, breaststroke can be really taxing on the neck if you want to keep you head up all the time. Keeping the airway out of the water seems to be the big thing. I think that's the key issue, all one needs is dunk their face in the water and get their mouth out only as far and for as long as it takes to inhale. Call it total immersion if that makes it easier.

    (Edited tor typo/brainos)
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2017
  10. TMHeimer

    TMHeimer Divemaster

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Dartmouth,NS,Canada(Eastern Passage-Atlantic)
    A fellow DMC did some side stroke to finish the 400. He didn't need more points than a 2. I always ask what the purpose is for the OW 200--to see if you can properly swim (any stroke), to see if you can get there using any method, to see that you can survive a short time if the boat sinks (that gets into the "float" test too), or for the instructor to see if you are "comfortable in water", whatever that means. I've always been comfortable in water, though my crawl technique as mentioned, took a hiatus of decades. I think the test exists because someone dreamed it up.
    I saw some really bad examples of students not even able to finish the 200 using any method. Will always boggle my mind why they would sign up for scuba.

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