In this article, we meet technical diver Jill Heinerth and learn more about her influence in the technical diving industry. Heinerth was interviewed by a member of PADI staff, and this article was originally published on the TecRec blog on October 4, 2010.
What is your background and current involvement in diving?
I started diving in the cool Canadian waters of Tobermory, Ontario and now live across the road from Ginnie Springs. I guess I moved from the wreck diving capital to the cave diving capital of the world!
I’m an underwater filmmaker/photographer and still teach specialized areas of cave and rebreather diving.
How did you get into tec diving?
My first forays into technical diving happened in Tobermory. I wanted to stay a little longer and go a little deeper to see some of the lesser-visited dive sites.
Do have any specialized areas of interest?
Caves are absolutely my passion. I love swimming in the body of our planet and exploring where the lifeblood of Mother Earth comes from
What do think the greatest challenges are in this kind of diving?
Technical divers need to remain focused and practiced. Preventing complacency is critical for survival. When we amass a long career of thousands of dives, it is easy to have a bad day. It’s easy to allow complacency and human error to creep into your practices.
Humility is important ,too. Mother Nature always has the upper hand when you are pushing the envelope in a hostile environment.
What are the most important attributes of a tec diver for the type of diving you do?
Fear, humility and failure.
Fear. I want to go diving with a partner that has a healthy attitude that includes self-preservation. If they feel a little worried about a big dive, then I know they want to come home to their family at the end of the day and will prepare carefully and stay within their limits of training and experience.
Humility and Failure. By this I mean that a diver has to be willing to get within a millimeter of success and then abort if the conditions are not right. They need to embrace the lessons learned in failure and apply them to new solutions and better dives in the future. We learn through mistakes. It’s called discovery learning, and when we experience those mistakes, they tend to stick.
What are the most likely mistakes a tec diver can make in your kind of diving?
I think many technical divers today lack patience. Our world is on a rapid acceleration curve. People want to experience it all in a short period of time. Classes and practice help build a diver’s toolkit, but nothing will replace real experiences gained through lots of diving.
How do you prepare for a demanding technical dive?
Mental, physical and technical preparation are all important. I mentally rehearse a dive before I make it. I sit quietly and pre-visualize all the things that could go wrong. I walk my mind through successful resolutions of those issues, and then I put aside the stress, knowing that I will react properly if the need arises.
I prepare physically by staying in shape and getting well hydrated many days before a day. We need to drink one half our body weight in ounces in water each day, and that does not include soda and coffee. Few of us are ever properly hydrated, yet there is a suggestion that it is pretty tough to get bent if you are properly hydrated.
Technically, I prepare my gear well in advance to prevent time and peer pressures. I always use a checklist for my rebreather. It’s the most important thing.
What were your best or worst tec diving experiences?
My most exhilarating and most terrifying dives happened at the same time. I was diving inside an extensive iceberg cave in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. The full moon tide brought on an unexpected current that almost trapped my partners and I inside the ice. My glove had leaked and I was worried that if we ever got out, I might lose my hand. Mere hours after the dive, as we prepared to enter the cave again, the entire iceberg literally exploded, leaving a sea a shards of ice floating to the horizon. I guess it was not my time.
What influences your selection of dive gear?
My pet project is to make people aware that “third-party testing” of rebreathers is absolutely critical. Rebreathers are life support equipment and how they are designed can either make them work well or be absolute time bombs. If you are shopping for a rebreather, you deserve to see statistics that prove the safety of your life support equipment. You wouldn’t buy a car that didn’t pass basic crash testing, so why should you purchase an expensive piece of gear that allows you to manipulate your life sustaining atmosphere without evidence that it works? Human guinea pig testing is simply not acceptable.
What kind of person do you want diving in the same team as you?
I like working with creative people that are mentally versatile. I can train anyone in basic skills and allow them practice to perform well, but I look for someone who can be a multi-tasker, handling stress without taking things personally.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of getting into tec diving?
Dive, dive, dive. There is nothing that equals experience in a variety of conditions. Then, find an instructor with the same qualities. Ask your instructor for their resume and ensure it reflects experience and a similar philosophy in life and diving. Ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid to reach out by email or telephone to a mentor.