Part II “If you have something to breathe, you can solve the rest of your problems” - Chatterton

Life Principles and the Deep Sea: A Written Series based on interviews with Elite Diver John Chatterton 

 A series by Phylinda Moore

Notice: This interview series contains strong language.

Part II “If you have something to breathe, you can solve the rest of your problems”

 Apart from the dives the rest of the days are spent mixing gas and preparing equipment but also primarily in the classroom, where technical knowledge is covered, the morning’s dives are analyzed, and the psychology addressed. John says, “you can only train for so long and so much.” John’s presents his commandments early as they are touchstones he will refer to throughout the class.


The Thirteen Commandments According to John Chatterton


  1.     Be your own savior (this one used to be “Go unfuck yourself”)
  2.     One is none. Two is one. Three is two.

III.   Don’t get lost, and when lost don’t get “loster.”

  1.   A dull knife is just a spoon.
  2.     Every dive is a training dive

VII.  You can’t see anything with your head up your ass

VIII. Be the panther, not a freaking monkey

  1.   One size does not fit all
  2.     On the wreck, discover knowledge
  3.   Never plan to do anything in the water that you can do topside

XII.  If you have something to breathe, you can solve the rest of your problems

XIII. You are only as good as your last dive

XIV. Don’t get yourself killed


He stresses that, “number 11 is very important for us.” One additional phrase he is contemplating adding, “if shit starts to go down don’t keep riding it down.”

He adds, “if you’re working at avoiding the problem in the first place, the shit is not going to be as deep.”

 “Perfection is impossible. We will strive for perfection.”

 He begins to cover the technical aspect of the course, the timing and the mixtures of gas, and says there has been any number of tools introduced to attempt to standardize this information. But he stresses that they will be “moving into this with caution and suspicion. Tables, computer profilers, are not worthy of our trust. Everything depends on human psychology and keeping focused. If you don’t, you die. If you put your trust in anything else, including equipment, someone else’s logic, anything, it’s likely you will not be a diamond under pressure.”

He doesn’t want you to put your faith in even a single right answer. He says, “If there is one right answer we are too focused. There is no ONE right answer. It’s about cracking the code. There is not one right answer. There are a bunch of right answers. But there’s a wrong answer. There’s also a bunch of wrong answers.”

“No one knows the correct algorithm for the dive formulas. There are too many factors and they don’t and can’t factor in on a molecular level. The defense department’s charts are only a 95% success rate. That means there is a 5% chance you will get the bends, die, or both. Dive profilers don’t always get it right.

Planners do not equal logic. You ultimately are in charge of your fate.”

 Nor does John like phrases like ‘best mix’ because it implies everything else is not as good. He dismisses approaches that are black and white. The “science isn’t black and white.” He believes, “you might have other considerations that would make something else a better choice. We all dive a little bit different. If it doesn’t work for you find something else that works for you.”

So how will they stay alive? They will be conservative in planning and follow these three rules: 

  1. There is no ONE right answer. This allows you to feel better about the number you get. The numbers will save your life or kill you.
  2. We can spiral out of control with our oxygen very easily.
  3. Don’t do the dive without the ability to get out of the water. 

“Check your plan. Measure with a micrometer, mark with chalk and cut with an axe. Guessing leads to mistakes.” He emphasizes a rule that whatever method you use, run all the numbers. We are “interested in our run time not our bottom time. If you have a good plan and you run alternate plans you’re going to feel better, and better, and better about your plan.

“Time invested is building confidence in the dive. Weigh the odds. If you spend enough time on decompression you wont get bent. Taking more time is, relatively speaking, cheap insurance.”

“I’m going to do all the things I have to do stay alive to be in a position of psychological strength- running the numbers, running more numbers, checking my equipment, getting well rested, in the right frame of mind, everything I need to do to be in a place of psychological strength.”

“There is a difference between positive thinking and wishful thinking.”

 “We absolutely need to bring a little bit of humility into the water with us. We can’t have zero confidence. We can’t be overconfident. We must have justified confidence.” 

John says your self talk must be, “Don’t get good, get great. Outsmart your biology. How can I trick myself into doing the right thing?” in wreck penetration you “can’t afford to get lost. “You need to be able to tell yourself, “this is as far as I’m comfortable going today.”

 “If you get distracted by other things you make bad decisions. If you aren’t feeling it you are at a disadvantage psychologically. You can’t take that kind of baggage into the deep water. We must have positive thinking and justified confidence.” 

Minimal expenditure of energy in the water is best. “Small amount of physical exertion translates into increase in breathing.” “minimize physical exertion and that is truer as we go deeper.” 

Co2 narcosis leads to a system of events and trying to recover is very difficult. “working too hard in the water, Co2 causes anxiety.” He says he learned this lesson from his commercial diver days where they would listen for the slightest changes in increased effort and respiratory rate. “diver take a vent” and “diver what are you doing?” to remind them to be mindful and stay relaxed. If they didn’t they would call the dive immediately.

 Don’t think of large “adjustments” when it comes to your buoyancy adjustments. It is your “elevator device” and can make your adjustments with the least amount of effort. “make small adjustments.”

 “You can solve problems if you maintain composure. To maintain composure is the problem solved.”

 Your self talk can’t be negative. It needs to be an “entirely different conversation.” Because “struggling physically equals a shit sow underwater. If you feel like crap, ask yourself what you are doing to make yourself feel like crap? Don’t do it. Do something else.”

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