My brother and I have completed many dives together and know what to expect from one another. My brother probably has 400+ dives and regularly assists with dive classes. I have been certified since I was 14 and am 61 now. In the last 10 years, I started diving a lot and probably have 200 dives logged — 17 this year.
One day we were diving in a lake. Our plan was to keep the maximum depth at 35-40’ and stay at 30-35’ most of the time. Visibility at that depth was about 8-10’. I started with 3000psi in my cylinder and my brother had 2400psi. We were 36 minutes into the dive when my brother indicated he was low on air (300psi). He wanted to breathe off my tank to stay down longer since I had more air than him. I have a BCD with an alternate regulator integrated in the inflator. This is pretty short so I figured it would be easier for me to use that myself and give the right side to my brother.
I took a solid breath and handed it over. I grabbed my BC-integrated regulator and blew out first and then took a normal breath in. This is where the dive went wrong and turned into about 90 seconds of panic. I assumed that I had cleared the water but didn’t. My first breath I inhaled water. This caused a choking reflex which left me with little to use to try to clear the aux again. The second breath was half water and not enough air to survive. At that moment I thought about shooting for the surface. Understanding what that would have meant, I tried one last time to clear and breathe. This time I received enough air to start working out the problem. I was still choking from the inhaled water, but I was no longer in danger of drowning.
At that point we went for the surface. After reaching the surface I told my brother what happened. He asked why I didn’t just take back my reg. I said that I was afraid that I didn’t have enough breath left to clear it and that I felt my best chance was to work it out with what I had. Then he asked me why I didn’t just tap the purge button. This was the comment that made me turn white. Why didn’t I do that? The answer is that I hadn’t trained for it and it never occurred to me. I assumed sharing my air would be second nature and I had no concerns about the situation until it became critical. It was a life lesson learned that we all must practice the basics so that the basics are never forgotten. I had forgotten a basic life-saving skill that nearly caused a drowning. That was inexcusable. Had my brother been out of air and I shot to the surface it could have been catastrophic for both of us. We took a 45-minute break and did another dive, which I’m glad I did. Getting back on the horse so to speak.
Later in the day I noticed some tightness in the center of my chest. It was very minor, and I had no problems breathing. I think it was just because of choking on inhaled water. A few days later the tightness was still there so I called DAN for advice. It was suggested to go see the doctor since I was concerned enough to ask about it. I did so and had chest X-rays done. Thankfully everything was ok. I appreciate the ability to call DAN Medical Services for advice. Hopefully this message can be reinforced so that others don’t make the same basic mistake that I made.
This winter I will take refresher classes to brush up on all the basics. I can’t afford to forget any life-saving measures.
There are several lessons to be taken from this scenario. When clearing any alternate air source, it may take multiple exhalations to fully clear the device. When taking the first breath after attempting to clear, remember to take the first breath very cautiously. Some divers will just take a small breath and see if it breathes ‘wet’ or not. Others will put their tongue to the roof of their mouth to prevent any residual water in the regulator directly hitting the windpipe. There are some additional considerations when dealing with an alternate air source that is integrated into the BCD. If sharing air using these types of alternate air sources, the donor takes the alternate and gives their primary to the one needing air. The diver in this scenario made the right decision donating his primary regulator and use the integrated air source himself. It is further important to remember, that these types of regulators need to be serviced and maintained just as any other regulator. The devices, however, are sometimes overlooked in the maintenance cycle, because divers might view them as a BCD (which usually have longer service intervals), not as a regulator. Be sure to include this device when having your kit serviced.
While some buddy teams may desire to extend their dive by breathing off the cylinder of the diver with the most gas, this is not recommended. The primary reason for this is with two people breathing off the same cylinder, the gas consumption increases significantly. In the event of (another) emergency, there is less gas for one, let alone two divers to deal with the emergency effectively.
The main takeaway of this scenario can be drawn from the diver’s statement that he “hadn’t trained for it.” By ‘it’, meaning using the purge button to clear a regulator. It could be that he was taught this method, but it had been so long since that technique was used it had slipped his memory, or that he in fact was never trained to do it. Regardless, reviewing essential skills, like clearing your regulator, sharing air, etc. should be practiced with some regularity, especially when using new/unfamiliar equipment, and should be part of any buddy check if unaccustomed with each other’s setup. This diver made the right decision to plan a refresher over the winter to brush up on the basics. Practicing those fundamental skills is an essential part of diving safety.
— Jim Gunderson, DAN Training