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The snorkel test

by leaffin at 01:26 PM on August 19, 2005

Starting around October last year, I had an itch to go to the Bay Islands in Honduras and learn how to scuba dive. I finally got around to going there this last May. I was going to be there for a week tops, but I stayed for seven. Eventually, I got roped into getting my divemaster certification, which is professional scuba diver status just below assistant instructor. It took me about 4 weeks finish the class, and that was pretty fast. It involved making about 2 dives a day, passing various written and practical tests, and mapping a dive site. It was all pretty fun. It was like being in class for something you love, like playing video games or cooking.

However, there was one thing that I was dreading. No, not the scuba exchange or “stress test”, where you practice buddy breathing with another person (you only use one regulator and pass it back and forth between the two people) while taking off and trading all of your equipment including masks and fins with that person. Oh yeah—and the instructor grading you turns off your air, throws up sand to reduce visibility, and undoes your tank strap so it just kinda hangs in mid-water instead of being strapped property to you. It actually turned out to be a fun challenge.

It was the snorkel test I feared. It reminded me of a college or frat ritual. It takes place at a bar after you’ve finished all of your requirements. In Utila where I did all of my diving, there’s a bar called Tranquila’s, and they have the gear on hand behind the bar. Several nights a week, you’ll see a snorkel test in progress there. They have a mask and snorkel with a funnel attached to the top of the snorkel. At my dive shop, they always mix up a concoction that involves just about every kind of liquor behind the bar, including some blue stuff, so the whole thing is electric blue. Then the victim sits on a bar stool with the instructors on the bar behind them pouring about 10-15 shots worth of the stuff down the funnel. When they’re done with that, they have a few beers they pour in the top. And then the poor newly-inducted divemaster stumbles around for the rest of the night.

I like to drink, but I like to take my time and drink things I enjoy. Shots aren’t really my cup of tea unless they have names like “Dirty Girl Scout” or “Scooby Snack”. So, the thought of loads of booze to be entering my system at one time scared me to death. I swore that I was going to have about 2 gulps, then let the rest of it spill onto the floor. But when it actually came time, I took it like a trooper and gulped down all of it. Until I started to taste the beer. I normally like beer, but with all that other stuff already sloshing around in my stomach and bloodstream, I aimed it right towards my dive instructor. I missed, but at least I tried. I remained sober for about 15 minutes, and I don’t remember a thing afterwards.

I’m kinda glad I did it, but I don’t ever want to do anything like that again. But I am a divemaster and have survived all of the divemaster rites of passage. I guess that’s what I get for never having done a beer bong or keg stand in college.

comments (14)

I am baffled by this post. Why do you have to do this beer-bong-like ritual to get certified as a diver? And what happened aftwards? Oh yeah, you don't recall. We could guess??

by anna at August 20, 2005 8:26 AM

Anna, the snorkel test is definitely not PADI-endorsed (PADI is one of the international dive organizations that certifies people). Divers tend to be partiers, too, so someone came up with the silly snorkel test idea. The Divemaster program is minimum of 3 weeks of work, but more like 4-6 weeks. So, when you're finally done, everyone wants to celebrate with you. And get you trashed.

Afterwards, the guy I was dating took me home, put me to bed after giving me lots of water, and he went out to another bar. I guess I was not very pleasant to be around and ordered him out.

by leaffin at August 20, 2005 11:27 AM

A likely story.

by anna at August 21, 2005 9:49 AM

Anna, the snorkel test is purely a safety measure, designed to famliarize prospective divers with a very dangerous effect that they should plan to avoid at all costs while diving. It's refered to as the martini effect, the rapture of the deep, or more commonly: nitrogen narcosis. It's what happens when you get too much nitrogen dissolved in your blood. So you see it's very important that one knows what a severely affected mental state consisting of impaired judgement and confusion is, so that one knows precisely what to avoid. Her mates were just trying to give her a good education.

by chris at August 21, 2005 11:56 PM

I've been preparing for that all my life.

by anna at August 22, 2005 7:45 AM

Thank you Chris... a much better explaination than mine. :)

by leaffin at August 22, 2005 9:13 AM

As a small correction, nitrogen narcosis has nothing to do with how much nitrogen is dissolved in your blood. It has to do with the amount of nitrogen you're breathing in, and although researchers don't know all that much about it, they think it goes to your brain and has an effect on nerve transmission. It's not dangerous-- you just go shallower and it disappears. Getting "narc"ed is fun, so long as you know it's happening.

The Bends has more to do with nitrogen dissolving in your bloodstream ... or rather, little bubbles of nitrogen floating in it, although you can also get a pocket of nitrogen trapped in different parts of your body. That's much more serious.

by Leaffin at August 22, 2005 9:19 AM

You're welcome Leaffin. Just trying to help a girl out :) As a small correction, remember that there is a direct relationship between the concentrations of gases you breath in, and the concentration of those gases dissolved in your blood (and thus reaching your brain and other tissues). So although nitrogen narcosis has to do with high amounts of dissolved nitrogen, the Bends has to do with ANY gas that is dissolved in your blood stream whether it's nitrogen or not. The bends happens when a gas ceases to be dissolved in your blood stream (or tissue) and comes out of solution while going from a high pressure environment to a low pressure environment. Sort of like opening a bottle of coke. While closed, the liquid inside is under high pressure, with lots of CO2 dissolved in it. Once you open it, the liquid faces a low pressure environment (the atmosphere), and the dissolved CO2 starts coming out of solution, spontaneously forming bubbles. When a diver surfaces too rapidly, their body is like a bottle of coke being opened. The amount of gas dissolved in a liquid is proportional to how much pressure the gas exerts on the liquid. For divers underwater, it takes a lot of pressure to breath, more pressure means more gas molecules for the same lung volume, and in this case your blood stream is the liquid. On the way up and down, you have to give your blood stream time to equilibrate it's gas concentrations with the chaning pressures in your lungs at different depths.

Anyway, I think people consider getting narc'd dangerous because many divers die when one can't afford any lapses in judgement. For instance, while navigating inside wrecks - getting disoriented can really screw you. Or even in the case of Dave Shaw in that attempted cave rescue, narcosis as only a small contributing factor may have had fatal consequences.

by Chris at August 22, 2005 2:09 PM

Thanks again, Chris. I can see that my understanding was only half-assed.... I guess I knew the things you mentioned a couple of months ago, but those two months have whittled my understanding down to the basics. And I haven't even been getting stoned these days.

by leaffin at August 23, 2005 9:32 AM


by John at August 27, 2005 10:48 AM

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by john at August 27, 2005 10:51 AM


by anna at August 27, 2005 11:57 AM

hey thanks for the good word, come on back if ya ever wanna try again, THE TRANQUILA CREW, BROOKS, DANIELA, MONICA

by brooks at September 13, 2005 12:20 AM

Wow, that's amazing... one of the owners from the bar I did the snorkel test at found this site! That's some great google-ing!

Thanks for the invite, Brooks. I'd love to come back; we'll see if it happens. I'm the chick who dated Welsh Rob (who is frequently sitting at your bar) in May/June, if you remember me.

by Leaffin at September 13, 2005 5:02 PM

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