How do we prevent them?
I have a Facebook group dedicated to analyzing, discussing, and hopefully preventing diving accidents. In this group we not only discuss accidents, but also offer tips and advice on how to prevent them. Simply posting reports of accidents does little to prevent them. We need to analyze them and offer advice on how to avoid similar situations that led to the incident. In that vein we have a files section with articles and essays contributed by group members who wish to share their knowledge and experience. On some forums there is a great deal of censorship when in comes to this subject. Moderators want to delete off-topic posts. The problem with that is that whoever decides that a post is off-topic may not have the experience and foresight to determine what is not relevant to the discussion.
One person's idea of "not relevant" may indeed be the item that gets another thinking about their own diving and allows them to see issues. For that reason censorship is kept to a minimum and in some cases side discussions are highly encouraged and welcome. We have nearly 700 members around the world ranging from new OW divers to instructors and highly regarded experts in the dive community with decades of experience who contribute. In addition to this there are members who do not dive at all. They are law enforcement, public safety (such as EMT's and Paramedics), doctors, nurses, and those who are around water all the time who just want to learn and pass on their knowledge. This makes us a little different than those forums on actual diving message boards.
Situtational Awareness or SA
In my last post I went into what I feel is an overhead environment and how there is a lack of understanding about what they are and what part agencies play in this area. Here I will submit my recommendations for overhead training and the foundations I feel are necessary for that training to be successful. The number one quality an overhead diver needs to possess is situational awareness or SA as it will be referred to from this point. This cornerstone of the foundation, above all else, will aid the diver in executing safe dives in overhead environments. SA allows the diver to asses all aspects of a dive. From the time the decision to dive is made up until it is time to exit the water and subsequently log the dive.
SA encompasses all aspects of the process. It is what should make the diver realize they need special training to safely dive in these environments. When a diver looks at a site or dive plan and realizes that they will have no direct access to the surface at some point during that dive it should make them stop and think. They need to do a self assessment of their skills, training, experience, and comfort level. They need to look at the same qualities in the persons they will be diving with and decide if such a course is a good idea. Unless the diver has had some type of overhead training previously the answer to whether to dive or not should be a resounding NO!
Too many new divers are taught to put their trust in someone with more experience and training to plan the dive and then go along with that plan. Many times that person is a "dive professional" with a DM or instuctor rating. That the DM or instructor themselves has perhaps only basic training and little experience in a particular dive is of no matter. They are looked up to as some kind of expert that will keep the diver safe. SA will cause the diver to stop and question one of these so called "pros" and make an informed decision of whether or not to follow them. It will also require the diver to come up with their own plan and not blindly follow like a mindless sheep. (click title to expand article)
SA will allow the diver to do an honest self appraisal and discover that, without proper overhead training, the diver is effectively playing Russian roulette with more than one bullet in the cylinder. In some cases it is like playing it with an automatic and hoping for a misfire or broken firing pin. When you are able to do an honest evaluation of yourself and discover and accept your limitations you are well on the way to becoming a successful overhead environment diver. This assessment will cover not only your physical skills and knowledge of diving but should also take into account some other factors as well. Your own emotional and mental state plays a huge role in whether or not a diver can be safe in such and environment. It is obvious that individuals with claustrophobia are not good candidates for caves, wrecks, or under the ice dives. Mild forms of this do not always disqualify a diver from SCUBA but should from overheads.
Is the risk explained clearly enough in Basic OW training?
Recent events in the national and international news are the inspiration for this essay. On Christmas day 2013 a father and son, neither of which had proper cave training, entered a sink in Florida known as Eagles Nest. It is known that this was not the first time they had done this. It has also come out that in addition to lack of cave training, neither had any formal certification beyond Open Water. Even more unbelievable is that fact that the son had no formal certification at all. It appears that all of his training came from books, the internet, and his father. As a result both pushed their luck too far one time too many. And they paid the ultimate price. Both died and had to be retrieved from the cave by other divers. The recovery divers lives were put at risk by the actions of these two.
When I first heard of this my initial reaction was to place all the blame on the father. Then it became apparent that the son also knew that what he was doing was dangerous and yet still followed his father in the endeavor. There is a tendency to give him some leeway due to his age (15 yrs old) but I cannot do that. Given the amount of time and postings on a message board that he made, he had to have been aware of the danger and yet made a conscious decision to continue his path to destruction. He bragged about going to depths and places that no responsible instructor or even other diver would say was ok. So I do give him equal share in the blame. Now there is at least one family member calling for the closure of the site to divers. I can only see this as an attempt to cover up the poor decision making demonstrated by his now dead family members. And for those who care to read some new reports we can see that poor decision making was more or less a family tradition with these two.
But another area where I can see some responsibility is in the diving community itself. We have allowed certain entities to make diving appear to be some benign activity that anyone can do and not highlight the very real risks involved. SCUBA diving has the potential to kill even shallow, clear, open water divers very quickly and in some very nasty ways. Yet little is made of these risks in the name of not scaring people away from the sport. I have had instructors tell me that I can't talk about the risks in graphic detail with new divers. That I can't show pictures of dead divers. That I need to focus on the positive aspects and downplay the risks. To them I say, NO! I will not down play those risks and will continue to be blunt and open about how things can go bad in an alien environment. (click title to expand)
Why would you even consider it.
In another thread I stated that I would be posting about this. What got me on this track was the weekend I just spent with a student working on his SEI Master Diver certification. We initially planned to spend the weekend just working on his dives for the course. What happened however turned the weekend into a learning experience on how to identify problems with Open Water instruction and identify possible dive accidents waiting to happen.
It is no secret about how I feel concerning abbreviated courses. What I saw this weekend only reinforced those opinions and in one instance had me sure that we were going to see a serious incident. By the grace of whatever deity there may be, this did not happen. Or only by pure dumb luck it didn’t. What I am referring to in this instance is the incident that happened on Saturday morning during our first dive of the day. We were in the water early as we knew that it was going to get crowded fast. Big groups of OW students were coming in and the vis was going to get trashed fairly soon. About halfway through the dive we had just practiced a swim thru of a school bus and had circled around to see a group of 6 OW students with an instructor and a DM bringing up the rear. Vis was now getting reduced and the group was coming thru single file. After what happened in the Rawlings incident it occurred to me that these people must not have heard of it. How any conscientious instructor could or would risk taking a group of students around single file is beyond me if they had heard of it. No one was buddied up, students were bouncing like a line of yoyo’s with very poor buoyancy skills and the vis was such that the ends of the line could not see each other.
It was the last that was most disconcerting as my student and I watched a young lady at the back of the line start to lose control and ascend somewhat rapidly. Luckily the DM was there to catch her by the fin and stop her near runaway ascent. What was unlucky for her was the way in which he did it. He grabbed her fin, then her ankle, then worked his way up to her tank valve and literally shoved her down about ten feet to the bottom. As he was doing this she had her inflator in her left hand and with her right appeared to struggling to equalize. AT NO TIME DID THE DM MAKE EYE CONTACT WITH HER! She was kicking trying to maintain some depth and only when she happened to turn to see what had a hold of her did she seem to relax some. He then was pulling her along by the tank valve trying to catch up with the rest of the group that was now out of sight. The instructor never came back to see if anything was wrong. There was no way he was aware of what was happening at the back of HIS GROUP OF STUDENTS, and the DM was in no position to assist the student directly in front of the girl with the problem. Given the time of day I would surmise that it was the first dive of the day and in some systems this is supposed to be a short tour after assessing the student’s reactions. Why you would take someone on a tour with such poor control is beyond me. Why they would not still be in the pool is beyond me.
The event that I just described could have resulted in a few things. First had the DM not caught the girl she could have been hurt in a runaway ascent. Second she could have suffered a serious barotrauma from being dragged down by the DM and not been able to effectively equalize. A ruptured eardrum in 65 degree water could have resulted in severe vertigo and outright panic. At the same time this incident could have taken the attention away from another student who may have stopped to see where the DM was, lost sight of the group, went to look for the DM or group, got separated, panicked, and had his own serious injury. And no one would have known. Because no one was buddied up. What this instructor did was tell every one of those students that any talk about the buddy system was BS. And he did on their first OW dive.
Another cause could have been equipment related. What led me to this thought was what I saw on the surface. Between 4 different groups of students I counted 22 new divers and not one octo holder or method to clip off their spg console among them. I saw new divers and a couple instructors splash with octos hanging behind them, down at their sides, and a few trapped on the left side of the tank. Gauges were likewise dangling and swinging wildly as they jumped in. I saw two octos and one console bounce off the dock as divers entered just a bit close. Not once did an instructor say anything to any student about securing their gauges. I also saw no buddy checks being done. Had I been able to positively identify the shop or instructor I would have said something to someone with them. In the case of the girl I would have filed a QA complaint with whatever agency they were with. But again it was so crowded and I had my own student to attend to.
The incidents of what I call incompetence were not confined to OW students. We were gearing up when a group on the same dock was getting ready to go in for an AOW deep dive. The students were being briefed when one of the instructors asked what the procedure was if they overstayed their NDL? Three of them answered and all three were wrong. Why are students going on their first deep dive not knowing what the procedure is for overstaying their NDL? My OW students know how to pull their tables out and look up the emergency deco info for this. Other agencies teach an extended safety stop. There was also no talk of gas planning so if they took an air hog on this dive he could conceivably have an issue with running low or out of air. Why don’t they know beforehand how much air they use? It’s called a SAC rate and in my AOW class we use previous dives to determine this and calculate how much air they may expect to use.
There were some other things that I may detail later but for now what I am trying to say to new divers is ask yourself if anything like this occurred on your OW dives and think about how close you may have come to getting hurt. Ask yourself if you think you should have been taken on your checkouts when you were. Yes, they are a new experience but it should not be that different from the pool in terms of basic skills. Especially in inland quarries in calm water. Yes, it’s colder and vis may be worse but it is not that different in terms of clearing your mask and recovering your reg. You are not supposed to be learning these things on your OW dives. You are being evaluated on your level of competence with them. If you are not comfortable doing them you should not be there. You should still be in the pool.
Instructors who lead their students single file in OW are asking for trouble. You are looking to have someone get lost or separated. For what? To expedite a class by not teaching and, most importantly, reinforcing proper buddy skills? Those of you who think it is ok to dive with gear unsecured should have your gear trashed. You are in fact encouraging it. And when, not if, something fails you have no one to blame but yourself. Heck shops that think they don’t need to provide octo holders and clips for consoles could rip students off by making them by their own as part of their personal gear! At least you’d be trying to say taking care of gear and no danglies are important or, like the buddy system, just paying it lip service.
Shortcuts get people hurt. Short courses show time and time again how they produce divers who barely know how to survive. And when you neglect training in proper buoyancy, trim, proper weighting, rescue skills, and actual buddy skills you risk the lives of your students and give the entire activity a black eye.
Regardless of whether or not it still meets standards.
When, How, and Why it is important
Communication between divers is an essential part of the diving experience. So why is it that so few divers seem to know even the most basic tenets of effective communication? They often think that communication about the dive begins at the dive site, instead of when it should begin. That being when the decision to dive is made. In addition they have less than a complete understanding of how to effectively communicate about the dive. Were you told that to effectively communicate you must have a clear understanding of the dive in question? Including the skill and comfort levels of each diver? And other than the clear goal of enjoying the experience were you told that communication is a critical safety consideration? (click title to expand to full article)
When, How, and Why it is important
Do we find another buddy, change the dive site, or depending on how far outside their level, we may decide to do the dive and just be more conservative. All of this is now part of our dive plan and we haven’t even left the house. During this we are now communicating with our soon to be dive buddy and the process has begun. How effective this process is now is dependent on both divers being open about their needs and goals. In order for neither to be surprised they need to start going over the plan in more detail and consider many factors. (click title to expand to full article)
No just another BC option for divers and students - Part one
It is often said in many areas that there is nothing new under the sun, just different variations on an old idea or theme. And so it is with certain aspects of dive gear. In this instance we are talking about Buoyancy Compensation Devices or BC’s as they will be referred to from this point on. Many of us remember the old “Sea Hunt” TV series with Lloyd Bridges as Mike Nelson. Mike never used a BC per se. What he used was a simple harness and back pack with his single tanks and the same with doubles. He wore a weight belt and, for emergency ascents, used a CO2 fired lift bag or marker buoy. Technically these items were his BC. Proper weighting, breath control, and a means of getting positive or staying afloat was the early BC. It was simple, streamlined, elegant, and easy to adjust to the individual diver.
No just another BC option for divers and students - Part two
The entire unit is very uncluttered and streamlined. Also of note are the D-rings that are positioned to be used to clip off accessories. The one on the left shoulder strap has a loop of bungee to secure the LP hose for the inflator. On the left hip is normally a D-ring of some type to clip the SPG to. The one I use on my left hip is a custom design I had made to accommodate stage bottles, a reel, or tools, as well as the SPG. It has two 2 inch D-rings. One facing 45 degrees to the rear and one facing 45 degrees to the front as well as a smaller one inch ring on the bottom to hang a small sledge hammer or other tool used for wreck diving and artifact retrieval.
Also of note is a D-ring on the crotch strap. This is used to tether to a scooter or to temporarily attach a reel when necessary. Another D-ring is also located on the rear of the crotch strap and used to clip a reel or surface marker buoy. A cutting tool is a required item for instructors and I normally have three. One is the knife just forward of the SPG D-ring. You can see the rivets of the handle. It is held on the belt with inner tube and protected by the excess material from the waist strap. It is compact and easily accessible with both hands. My other cutting devices are a set of EMT shears contained in one of my pockets on the leg of my wet or dry suit and a line cutter on the strap of my wrist computer on my right hand. With the BPW and the Express Tech a few items are the same.
No just another BC option for divers and students - Part three
The closest I now come to any type of integrated weight system is the steel plate and for dry suit diving are the 4lb stainless steel plates that bolt to my regular plate. Another argument I have with integrated weights as taught by a number of entities and that is the failure to teach proper distribution of weight. Instructors will put all the weight into the BC. In the tropics this is not such a big deal where divers may only need a few pounds as ballast. But in colder climates and when using thicker suits and as much as 26-30 lbs may be needed it creates a very dangerous situation. Even if the BC has the so called trim pockets in the rear, most hold 5 pounds each at most. That means the rest needs to go into the integrated pockets. In the case of using 30 lbs that means 10 lbs in each pocket. Some pockets can take this amount while others are strained by it. If one were to fall out or be lost at depth the result is a loss of 30 % of the divers ballast and a possible uncontrolled ascent. Lose both and the divers fin tips may clear the water as they shoot up! In addition the large amount of lead makes the BC very heavy and hard to handle on the surface. I prefer to have divers distribute weight wisely between the BC, integrated weights if used, and a belt or weight harness to lessen the chance of these things happening. At most a diver should only ever need to drop a couple pounds at depth to start to get positive. They can jettison additional weight on the surface where it’s safe to do so.
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