Dive Decisions

Sometimes a story isn’t one grand adventure but rather a series of smaller experiences along the journey. I don’t have any harrowing tales of how DAN® saved my life, but I have several stories about how my training and a constant review of the safe-diving techniques presented in Alert Diver have contributed to many good decisions. It’s made the difference on a number of dives.

Identifying a Need

I have always had a general awareness of the importance of making good decisions, but the first time I really considered the ramifications while diving was one morning at Lake Pleasant in Arizona. The reservoir is good for training because the water is cold below 30 feet, and visibility is seldom better than about 20 feet. That morning my regular dive buddy, Curt, and I were joined by a third diver neither of us had met before. This guy had all the best gear, including a full face mask with an integrated regulator. I figured he must be a pretty high-end tech diver. I donned my $50, former-rental-fleet wetsuit, feeling a little envious of all that great gear.

Diver in background of anemones

The plan was to follow the old road down to 85 feet, check out the submerged statue, and then leave the road to descend to a maximum depth of 100 feet. We planned to turn back at 1,250 psi and ascend slowly along the road to a safety stop at the dive buoy.

Everything went well until we hit 100 feet. At that point I began to feel uncomfortable but didn’t know why. I signaled to Curt, who gave me the OK sign, and then I looked at the other guy; he appeared to be pretty anxious. I immediately signaled for everyone to ascend to 65 feet and hold there.

At 70 feet the third diver showed me he was low on air and then panicked and started kicking hard toward the shoreline. In that instant I had a decision to make: wait for Curt, who was slowly ascending, or try to help the other guy. The question that flashed into my mind was: “Who might die without a buddy?” I took off after the other guy and grabbed his BCD with my right hand while holding onto my gauges with my left.

I knew I needed to help him without endangering myself. The rough idea was to slow him down, maintain a good compass heading and control our ascent. It was clear the diver needed encouragement to slow his ascent, and I wanted to be available in case he needed air. He finally relaxed when he saw sunlight through the water at about 25 feet, and we surfaced safely at the buoy a few minutes later. Curt broke the surface shortly thereafter, wondering where we had gone but not panicked as we had standing separation protocols. It was not a pretty dive, but no one got hurt.

In retrospect, we made good decisions when the emergency presented itself. Now, though, I make sure I get a thorough understanding of the skills of any new diver when we make our dive plan. Don’t make assumptions on skill or comfort levels based on gear you see; have the discussion.

Prioritizing Gas Supply

Sponge-encrusted hull of a shipwreck
A skilled diver is adaptable, knowing what to do when low visibility, quicker-than-expected air consumption or other unforeseen challenges arise.

On another occasion, two friends and I were diving the HMCS Yukon off San Diego, Calif. We were practicing a few skills around the stern of the ship in about 80 feet of water. We stuck to our dive plan, and all had gone well to that point. My buddies were using larger cylinders than me, so I was the first to reach 1,000 psi, the pressure at which we had agreed to surface. There was a problem, however; I had finished my drills, but the others had not and still had equipment deployed. They would not be ready to ascend for several more minutes. I was tempted to stay down a little longer to help them, but the obvious danger was I would be reducing my gas supply and getting in a position where I would need to conduct a much faster ascent than the one I had planned. My training kicked in, and the answer was simply “no.”

I checked with each of the other divers to ensure his safety and signaled that I was at 1,000 psi. I began my ascent along the buoy line to 45 feet for a deep stop I had planned; visibility was good so I could see them while I waited. They both reached me as I finished my deep stop, and we all exchanged OK signals before I continued my ascent to my safety stop. Ten minutes later everyone boarded the dive boat having accomplished a safe dive.

The familiarity with my buddies’ skills and habits allowed the dive to proceed as it did. We stuck to our plan, but we’ve since improved our planning as we now try to incorporate more “what ifs” (What if I hit 1,000 psi and you still have gear deployed?) into our thought process.

Calling the Dive

On another dive at San Diego’s Wreck Alley, this one on the Ruby E, my buddy was a relatively new diver who had recently gotten his advanced open-water certification but had mostly dived in tropical waters at resorts. The Pacific Ocean was 61°F that morning, and visibility barely 5 feet. My buddy and I and two other divers descended onto the wreck, hoping for enough visibility to allow us to see something.

The other two divers began exploring the wreck and disappeared into the darkness. I wanted to make sure my buddy was all right before we let go of the buoy line. When we made eye contact, I knew he wasn’t. I signaled OK, but he shook his head vigorously; he was very nervous, but I could see he didn’t want to be the one to call the dive. I pointed at him and then made the surface sign; he nodded.

I held his arm, and we made a controlled ascent along the buoy line, making each of our stops. We reached the boat safely without incident.

While there are no spectacular stories here, the fact remains that safe, successful diving is the result of good decisions. Our most important skills in action are the ones we employ every day. DAN continues to be quietly there with education and medical information to reinforce my dive training and inform me of new developments in the diving world. I hope my diving career will be uneventful and DAN’s assistance to me will continue to be the expert advice I have come to expect. I also hope that no matter how much experience I have, I never stop learning and improving.

© Alert Diver — Q2 Spring 2012