Spending Time Above Sea Level, and Spending Time Below Sea Level

I’ve recently been meeting more and more people, both around dive centers and at airports (because where else do people hang out??) that take a passion in both diving and flying. Most recently on a dive we shared the boat with a Southwest pilot and this was the ‘feather on the camel’s back’ moment that finally motivated me to write about it here (a tantalizing thought for an article I’ve entertained for a while)


I had grown up around the New England waters to a father who learned to sail on small daggerboard boats in Hungary. A landlocked post Soviet nation Hungary is not known for its sailing (or diving) accolades but thanks to his passion I was granted with a childhood that revolved around the marine environment. Where my father liked sailing, I enjoyed flying.. and those of you who know me well know I took my first flight lesson at 14 with $100 I’d saved up. Rode my bike to LWM and that mowing cash earned me an intro flight, and no, my parents had no idea! I digress

The time spent on the water made me curious about scuba diving. New England has a trove of rocky shorelines and relatively shallow water (50-100 ft). Most of the anchorages we’d pull into up and down the Maine coast would have a dive boat with a flag up. Always a curiosity of mine though not something I started doing until a few years ago after I took my own ‘introductory’ dive lesson and fell in love. I’ve now dove locally, including Catalina, to as far west as Hawaii and as far east and south as Colombia, Belize, Florida, etc. I promise I’m getting to the point here, but do realize this reads (so far) like a recipe you’d find online that is not getting to the point; BUT – context was relevant

I’m still very much a novice to the sport but see many parallels to the world of aviation.. and, as I mentioned at the lead in, there seems to be a not-uncommon confluence of interests between those who fly and those who dive (and sail! but save that for another time..)


Safety and Mindset

First and foremost I’ll start with safety, this will be a theme that comes back to all my points.. In the world of aviation we take care before the flight to ensure we have a solid plan in place. Before we take to the skies 91.103 (NWKRAFT) covers the tech points but I’d like to draw attention to the IMSAFE portion as it relates to the ‘P’ in PAVE. Both flying and diving require plenty of rest and a safety conscious mindset. Did I sleep enough, am I hydrated? Are there external pressures? And so forth. Assume the pilot, err, diver has passed their own assessment you have to look at the environment and the dive itself. Is this flight, or dive, within my personal minimums? What’s the visibility, currents, and sea state like? Do I have a buddy? Do I have a plan for the max depth, dive time, route, and ascent profile? Your air (much like your fuel) is your ultimate life line. We legally can’t fly below 30 minute of gas (day VFR ASEL before people chime in) and realistically most like to land at least with an hour. So far my own personal minimum is to plan my max depths to 85’ and begin my ascent profile (with safety stops) at no less than 1,100 PSI.. mind you a typical one tank dive usually has a dive time of about 45-55 minutes. Mindset is important both at the start and throughout the dive. There’s no room for panicking or tunnel vision either in flying or under the sea and much of flying and diving is partially a self control mind game as well



While scuba diving lacks the ‘legal’ qualifications that pilots have there are established organizations (PADI for instance) that have laid out a comprehensive course and training profile with various levels of skill level including open water, rescue, etc. I am going to take this a step further though, that PPL certificate wet in your hands, or that fresh PADI card, really arm you just enough to get you in trouble. The training journey is a continually on going process to keep learning and to continue to fill up that experience bucket in a safe manner! Neither of these sports is like ‘riding a bike’ – both require a level of proficiency that only comes with experience


Equipment and ADM

Any time we take to the skies we’re putting a tremendous amount of trust in our machines, even more so when going IMC. We’ve done our preflight checks but ultimately are trusting that we won’t have a wing fail, an engine oil drain plug come loose, a valve get stuck, etc. We also train for these possibilities and how to manage them and exercise ADM without panic. While the vast majority of accidents are pilot error, it is important to understand how to mitigate risks, even those risks that are human caused (did someone say checklist?). Most pilots reading this should be aware of the risk matrix; IE, how likely is something to happen and how catastrophic is it. This risk matrix evolves with the type of flying you’re doing. Going out to Catalina, or flying at night (or both!) that unlikely engine failure has more severe implications than doing a day flight around the pattern at Ramona. Divers have redundancy, two regulators, manual BCD inflate, ability to rapidly shed weight, etc. and depending on the dive the risk matrix will look different. A 30’ max depth day dive off a beach looks far different than a multi tank cave dive! We train for this, trust our equipment, but ultimately have to be ready for that situation when something does go awry. Staying calm both above and below the surface can be your ticket to life



You’re probably starting to see the parallels here, especially as they relate to the IMSAFE and 91.103 requirements. The environment is a huge one here and one that heavily impacts my go/no-go assessment, probably the most if I’m being honest!

Divers have to be aware of currents, visibility, temperature, and overall lighting conditions. Pilots, have to be aware of winds, visibility, and lighting. That night dive, or night flight, is going to have a different set of preparations than your basic day flight, or dive. Currents are a huge factor in diving and relate to the visibility underwater as well as the amount of effort (or not?) you’ll spend and in turn how quickly you go through your air (or fuel). Depending on the dive (or flight) visibility you can quickly become ‘VFR to IMC’ in a matter of seconds.. the marine layer closes in sooner than expected or the diver infront of you kicks up silt! This leads us into navigation..



This comes back to our initial point about the dive plan. Are you going off a beach, or a boat? Is the boat going to be moored or anchored or will they drift and look for you when you surface? What is the nature of the reef or wreck you are diving? As much as it may feel like an aimless underwater meander each dive has a plan entry and exit point and reef to follow, etc. No, GPS will not work underwater (nor will a VOR!) but your compass sure does. Being able to navigate, understand the reef, and your general orientation are critical. I work to stay ‘ahead’ of each dive. Even though the majority of my dives (though not all!) have been professionally guided it helps to understand where you are navigationally. Staying in front of the plane, or dive, you are always planning for that what-if



To me this is more cerebral and less technical. To me flying and diving are the only two activities where I get in the ‘zone’ and the rest of the world’s issues fade away. When you are flying, or diving, you’re in your own environment. The surface world issues are simply out of mind. When flying I’m enjoying the freedom and loving the technical aspect of it, whether that’s an IMC approach, landing at a unique airport like FLABOB or Kernville, or simply admiring the beauty of Owen’s Valley. Diving gives me the same sensation, the technical aspect is mentally stimulating when monitoring your air, depth, and time, while balancing that against the free beauty that the underwater world awards you with


If you haven’t flown, or dove! I encourage you to give both a try (just wait at least 12 hours if you’re going to go diving first before you fly 😊 ). I happen to know a CFI and can recommend some dive instructors!

You may also like...

System Administrator

Slow Down, Speed Up

I’m always amazed at how much I don’t know. I fly nearly every day, either professionally at 37,000′ or in a light airplane down at 3,700′.

Read More »

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top