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   Diver Communication - Part One

    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)

           Let’s take a more in depth look at when divers need to communicate.  As stated previously many new divers have the idea that communicating in detail about the dive is done at the dive site.  In fact this often results in less than ideal outcomes for a number or people.  Unless the pair are regular buddies and practically knows what the other is thinking, waiting until then often results in items being overlooked.  Most of these are minor but, as we all know, minor issues have a way of turning into major problems when we throw being underwater on scuba into the mix.                

            As an example, a recent incident involving dive buddies had some potentially serious consequences that by luck were avoided.  A newly certified diver was on their first boat dives post certification with a self described “experienced diver”.  The new diver reported being extremely nervous about the dive before even entering the water.  Unfortunately this was not communicated in an effective manner to the buddy and the divemaster.  Halfway down the line the new divers buddy experienced an inability to equalize.  Fearing damage to their ears they tapped the new diver on the shoulder, indicated a problem, and made an immediate ascent back to the boat.  Under normal circumstances this would have been the proper thing to do and both would have ascended.  The new diver stated that they then froze as they could see other divers below them but could not decide what course of action to take.  Coupled with the pre-dive nervousness; the event resulted in the diver breaking down and having to stop until they could get control of themselves and subsequently joining the group already on the bottom.  They completed the dive but the new diver stated that it was not a pleasant experience.  The new diver did the second dive with the group but was so put off by the entire experience that they have not dived since.               

             So as we can see the “normal” course of action to ascend upon not being able to clear was not in fact normal for one of the buddies on this dive.  The lack of communication regarding this situation had less than desirable results.  It resulted in a new diver having to do dives they were not ready for and did not enjoy.  Given the amount of anxiety the diver displayed the results could have been much more serious.  All of this clearly was the result of a lack of effective communication between the divers.  This is evidenced by a number of things; the first being that neither diver seemed to know how to effectively plan a dive.  This was demonstrated by the new diver not knowing what to do when the diver who was having problems ascended.  Had the divers been communicating as they should have the new diver would have known what to do.  As with many other shortfalls that seem to be seen in new divers, and some not so new divers, the beginning of this is often rooted in their initial OW training.               

            When classes are shortened to put more divers in the water faster critical items of information, as well as some skills, often get left out.  The number of questions I see on message boards dealing with basic items of information, skills, and responsibilities are a clear indication that many divers are not getting the information they need to safely conduct dives with a buddy of similar training independent of a professional.  I have to conclude that the lack of communication begins here.  The instructor is not communicating with the students all the information they need and as such they are not taught to communicate effectively with each other.  So when do divers need to start communicating?               

             In this instructor’s opinion the first time they come to an OW class is when it should begin and it should be part of every session from then on.  It should be the OW instructor that initiates the conversation and encourages it throughout the class.  Communication is only effective when all parties are part of the process.  So when an instructor neglects to get students involved in the process the downward spiral has already begun.  The proliferation of internet based courses gives some the idea that communication with an instructor need only take place for a limited time.  Admittedly it seems that in a few cases involving unscrupulous operators this is the case.  The student completes the majority of academics on line, comes in for a quick review and test, and then heads for the pool.  Here a few hours are spent quickly going over skills and then checkout dives are scheduled.  But it is not only in the on-line courses that this one way communication takes place.   On the checkout dives students seem to not know how much weight they need, are still having issues assembling gear, are not using assigned buddies to gear up, and have only rudimentary skills.  This is not an exaggeration as I have personally witnessed all of the above and worse in classes preparing to get in the water.  Once in the water they are hurried through skills kneeling on a platform or the bottom, swims are quick and short, and in a clear illustration of poor planning and communication; divers are led on these swims single file.  You cannot communicate with your buddy swimming single file!   

            So in this short series of dives the instructor has, if unwittingly, told divers that this is a time when they do not need to be communicating no matter what was said in the pool or academic portions of the course.  This has the effect of saying to them that what, if anything, was discussed previous to the dives has little to no importance.  The conscientious instructor will see to it that none of this has to happen.  Even if the student chooses to do the academic portions of the course on line the instructor can still see to it that the importance of communication is emphasized.  They can do this by initiating communication at the earliest opportunity and keeping the lines open.  Many on line courses at the basic level ask the student to choose a facility or instructor to complete their training.  This is when the actual lesson in communication should begin.               

            The smart shop will immediately assign an instructor to the student if they have a staff from which to choose.  If the shop has only one instructor as is often the case with smaller operations, that instructor will initiate a line of communication with the new student.  And once that line is opened the instructor will keep it open and encourage the student to reciprocate.  Any time there is a question or comment on the academic course the student should be encouraged to call the instructor to discuss the issue.  Notice I said call. Not text, not email, but call.  These actual conversations will form the fundamental lesson of when to start communicating.  The lesson is that when divers need to start communicating is when they make the decision to dive.                 

            This is perhaps the most overlooked lesson in diver communication that I have personally experienced.  Divers need to communicate to plan dives as early as possible.  This may mean actually beginning days or even weeks in advance.  It seems all too common that many divers don’t actually plan their dives until they get to the dive site.  Or more often they are planning their dives but do it unknowingly since they were never taught that what they may be doing is part of the dive plan.  It is my opinion that any item of information or concern is part of the dive plan. Starting with the very first thought of diving.  That little seed in your mind that you would like to dive this weekend, next week, or next month is in truth the beginning of your dive plan.  So now that we have established when the plan begins we can talk about how to communicate that plan to your buddy.               

            SCUBA is not the same as deciding to go for a walk.  You don’t just pick up and walk out the door, jump in the car, drive to the site, and get in the water.  A number of things must be considered when the decision to dive is made.  How we consider them is often dependent on a number of things that we will now look at.   One of the easiest ways to plan any dive outing is to make a list.  There is no set format for this list and every diver’s will look different.  The location of the dive may be the first consideration so that would be number one.  Next is likely to be who we are going to dive with.  Many divers have a regular buddy and the choice of who is a given.  But what if we do not have a regular buddy?  For many divers this is often the case and adds another level of complexity to the plan.               

             Now we have to decide on who we want to call to join us.  This is assuming we are not going to just show up and hope someone is there.  This can be done but it does present issues that effect planning and we’ll look at those later.  For now though let’s go with the idea that we have several people we can call.  So who will it be?  Right now we have more items to consider that can seriously affect the dive.  We have chosen a site; will it be suitable for the buddy we choose to take with us?  We need to add as part of the plan the training, skill, and experience level of our chosen dive buddy.  When we do this we may find that they are not ready for the dive we’d like to do.  So now the plan must evolve again.


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