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A Different Perspective on Safe Diving

Discussion in 'Basic Scuba' started by SeaHorse81, Oct 1, 2015.

  1. SeaHorse81

    SeaHorse81 Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: PA
    I wrote something a while back, in the wake of a dive-related death that hit me pretty hard. Once I had it written, I got whatever I’d needed to get from doing it at the time, then filed it away in the education/safety folder of my dive stuff.

    I’m just back from a week-long liveaboard trip and as is my practice before any trip, I did a quick review of all the safety and educational material before going. I came across the piece I’d written, having completely forgotten about it.

    When I read it, my personal experience in doing so was to find it very grounding, in a positive way. I’m aware that it can sound morbid, but there is also a point of view from which it is empowering, and that’s what it did for me with the trip I just completed. Perhaps it could do that for you, too. Here’s the piece:
    * * * * *​

    Death Comes Along on Every Dive

    Oh, it isn’t just diving – Death lurks at some distance from us every moment of our lives. It lurks at the greatest distance when we are young, inexorably closing in on us until the natural end of our lives.

    Bad choices and misfortune allow Death to temporarily close the gap. If Death can’t get close enough to take us at a given opportunity, it will retreat back to its normal holding distance until the next opportunity to step closer once again.

    The older we get, the closer Death routinely lurks. Each year brings less of a margin for us to work within and remain untouched.

    We allow Death to take a giant stride closer when we go underwater. We are in an environment for which we are not designed and in which we do not belong. Diving, despite its many wonders, is a thoroughly unnatural activity. It is for this reason that we leave so much of our accustomed safety margin behind on land when we descend below the surface.

    Mistakes or annoyances that might pass unnoticed on land can be the beginning of a life-threatening crisis underwater. You can’t get enough training or experience to make that untrue – it is simply a fact of Nature. Death is much nearer by when we are underwater.

    The only way to have the safety of being on land is to stay on land. If one is to go underwater, the safest condition there is to be in close proximity to a quality dive buddy. This cannot completely mitigate the invitation you make to Death to step closer when you dive, but it pushes Death further away than any other single thing you can do. Any number of issues that will kill you if you are alone can be easily survivable in the close company of a buddy, period.

    How close do you want to allow Death to be when you dive?

    * * * * *​

    Here’s how reading this piece affected me on the trip I just made: I felt more awake, more aware. Not more scared, but more prepared. Each time I descended (21 times in a week :)) and periodically while below, it felt sort of like I was giving Death the knowing, sidelong glance and saying, “Yeah, I see you over there and I’m not going to do a thing to make your job any easier today, so prepare to be bored.” It was a good feeling, and my increased presence of mind actually resulted in more enjoyment of the dives. Precious moments, those.

    I believe that everything we do when we dive matters in terms of our safety. Everything we do affects the distance Death has to travel to get to us on a given day. Little things make small differences in that distance and big things make big differences in it.

    Perhaps most importantly though, little things together can make a big difference. Take the examples of these things I’ve witnessed on recent dives: The hose that’s seen better days but is probably good for a few more dives. The valve that sticks some but which you can still operate by fussing with it a bit. The weather that’s uglier than you expected. The weighting you haven’t gotten worked out yet since changing your kit. Feeling tired or distracted. Being overly focused on how to work your new camera so that you don’t notice your surroundings (or depth) as much. Having a piece of gear that doesn’t fit right, or even hurts a bit. Having a piece of gear that isn’t located where you can easily access it for its purpose.

    Simple, easily-fixed things like these each allow Death to sidle just a bit closer. If anything actually goes really wrong, Death’s got a head start already. We don’t need to give it that.

    May you frustrate and bore Death to tears every time you dive, and have an excellent time while you're doing it. :)
    maat1976, Searcaigh, LindaSSF and 7 others like this.
  2. kevindsingleton

    kevindsingleton ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Western PA
    I didn't find that morbid, at all. Great post. Maybe we minimize the value of a dive buddy by calling them a "buddy", instead of a "partner".
    Altamira and bowlofpetunias like this.
  3. Lorenzoid

    Lorenzoid ScubaBoard Supporter Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: I just don't log dives
    Location: Atlanta, USA
    Really great piece. Thanks.

    "The older we get, the closer Death routinely lurks. Each year brings less of a margin for us to work within and remain untouched."

    True. You might also add that the younger one is, the more invincible one THINKS he is. No healthy 20 year-old SERIOUSLY thinks about death. Those who engage in hazardous recreational activities and are mature enough to take it seriously might know in their brains that they could die, and dutifully study and practice ways to mitigate the risks. There are probably 20 year-old instructors out there who parrot the party line about how what they are doing could kill them and how seriously they take it. But do they really BELIEVE they could die? That THEY could die--not someone else. I am not so sure.
  4. SeaHorse81

    SeaHorse81 Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: PA
    Incredibly good point, and one that hits very close to home in light of my recent experiences. I have a wonderful dive partner for local diving, but circumstances necessitate that I travel alone, so I never know who I'll end up with at the destination. It's been my observation that most of the time, the person I'm with has a buddy but I'm diving alone. I keep a close eye on them, which is how I know how much attention they are or are not paying to my status. They are usually not keeping me in mind at all. On the exceptional occasions when I have an actual partner in the water with me--someone who knows I'm there and is making it their business to know how I am--it's a completely different experience, and a much better one. I'm prepared to take care of myself (solo certified, even), but it's nice to know there's someone nearby who actually cares whether I live or die and makes it their business to assure it's more likely to be the former if something comes up.
  5. TMHeimer

    TMHeimer Divemaster

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Dartmouth,NS,Canada(Eastern Passage-Atlantic)
    Good interesting post. I too always wind up with an insta-buddy on the one or 2 charters I take yearly. A regular buddy would push Death back I would assume. Then there is the rest of my diving-shallow shore & solo. Being retired, I pretty much can pick my day (other than courses), so at least weather won't help Death. I THINK I am very conservative and safety-minded. During the ("old" PADI) DM course we had just finished the physics & physiology and the instructor asked if we now may think differently about our own diving. I thought not really--we covered the very basics of this in OW course--table NDLs was enough to get me conservative.
    Death will get you at some point, diving or not. Last year a student asked why I asked him to sign my log. I said that I may remember who he was when looking through it 30 years from now. He asked my age (60 then). He said good luck.
  6. bowlofpetunias

    bowlofpetunias Oh no, not again! ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Sydney Australia
    What a brilliant piece of writing!

    I will presume to add to your concept. Death has a DM. His name is Complacency. Complacency is an enabler. IMHO complacency plays a major part in virtually every dive death, dive incident and near miss. Inexperienced divers doing trust me dives, complacent in their confidence the DM's Instructors, Mentors knowledge and skills will take care of them. Experienced divers complacent with supreme confidence they can handle whatever comes up on the dive. Complacency in trusting our dive gear, fills and equipment. Complacency about our general health and fitness to dive reduce the gap too. Death is a reality we all must face one day we have no choice in that. Complacency is a reality we can choose or reject!

    When a diver thinks that their training, equipment, skills and experience have removed the risks from their diving they have given in to Complacency and he will be signaling Death to stay close by!
    Searcaigh, D_B, Altamira and 3 others like this.
  7. kombiguy

    kombiguy Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Palmetto Bay, FL
    Contrariwise, here is something I wrote earlier this year:

    Let’s talk about buddies, specifically dive buddies. At some point in our early training, the importance of diving with a buddy was stressed. We were taught to always dive with a buddy. We practiced buddy breathing. At least those of us of a certain age did. Newer divers practice air sharing. Buddy diving has become such an expected part of the diving culture that to dive solo is still considered a radical idea, and dive boat operators routinely assign “insta-buddies” to anyone on the boat without one.
    But I think it’s time to re-evaluate that idea. I do not believe that a dive buddy is essential, or even desirable in all situations, for a safe dive. In fact, I believe that a dive buddy can actually increase the risks of a dive. Insta-buddies are probably the most dangerous of all buddies, yet the practice of assigning them is almost ubiquitous.
    A dive buddy can directly affect the safety of a dive through unpredictable and unreliable actions in the face of a problem. Between two buddies, there will exist a disparity in training, experience, and temperament. One diver will have more, the other less. Unless the two have been diving together for a long while, the relative skill sets are unknown.
    Take, for example, a diver who has dived all over the world, in many different conditions, and has strong record of continuing education. On a dive boat, he may be paired with a buddy that is a newly certified open water diver. That results in an unsafe buddy pair. The more experienced diver is going to get frustrated having to “throttle back” to accommodate the newer diver, and the newer diver will be anxious that he is impeding the dive for the more experienced diver. These stressors degrade any safety margin allegedly provided by a buddy.
    The buddy system also suggests that divers will be able to recognize a problem with their buddy and do something about it. Ten or fifteen years ago, there was an analysis done of diving fatalities in Australia and New Zealand over the ten years preceding the analysis. The study found that 45% of the fatalities involved buddies who were separated by the fatal problem or who were separated after the problem commenced. Another 14% stayed with the buddy, but the buddy died anyway.
    It seems that this all started in the 1950s, when the YMCA developed their “never swim alone” rule. In my opinion, it has stayed with us for one reason. Fear. The fear of being out of one’s natural element and the fear of hazardous marine life. Fear is the motivation for the buddy system.
    There is an old joke about the purpose of a dive knife being to stab your buddy so the shark eats him while you swim away. The divers that repeat this joke are often using the joke to mask their fears of the deep. Many divers choose a buddy simply because they are alarmed at being alone, and not because there is a possibility of the buddy actually assisting in an emergency.
    If fear is, indeed the reason for the buddy system, then the dive industry needs to place more emphasis on overcoming that fear through education and more rigorous training, rather than just adding a witness to the mix.
    Few people defending the buddy system seem to address the critical point of whether it does, in fact, make diving safer as intended. Safe diving occurs when the diver’s skills, experience, and knowledge match or exceed the skill, experience, and knowledge requirements of the dive. A higher risk dive – one that is deeper, longer, colder, rougher, involves a current, involves dangerous marine animals, or is difficult to enter or exit from – need not be dangerous if the diver can identify the risk factors and overcome them with disciplined diver education and training.
    Now, having said all that, I do believe that buddies can be a safety tool. But not in the water. Your buddy should be looking out from the boat or from the shore while you dive. Most diving incidents occur at the surface; that’s where the buddy would be most useful.
    Any buddy is not safer than no buddy.
  8. bowlofpetunias

    bowlofpetunias Oh no, not again! ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Sydney Australia
    Interesting how proponents of Solo diving so often insist the buddy is a danger and proponents of Buddy diving see lack of a buddy as a danger. Statistics can and are used by both sides to support their position. Statistics work that way.. you can use them to justify just about anything you want. My research and personal expedience are not consistent with your contention that the best place for the buddy is on the surface. IMHO the best place for a buddy is within reach offering appropriate assistance.

    I think the point of this thread was not to create another thread arguing for or against Solo diving but to make people think of mitigating the risks of diving.

    SafER diving comes with skill, experience and training but if a diver thinks any dive is totally SAFE they are underestimating the dangers and or overestimating themselves and letting Death move closer!
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2015
  9. SeaHorse81

    SeaHorse81 Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: PA
    Kombiguy, there's a good reason that my initial post specified being "in close proximity to a quality dive buddy." Like BoP said above, this is not about the merits of the buddy system vs. solo diving, but about mindfully managing all of the variables you can to maximize the safety of each and every dive you make, whichever form you choose. It's about not getting sloppy. It's about never forgetting the reality of what we do when we go underwater. It's about remembering that we all sometimes--no matter how good we are--can benefit from help, and that having good help available in certain moments can make all the difference.
    bowlofpetunias likes this.
  10. Neilwood

    Neilwood Contributor

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Scotland
    Very interesting take on diving and the risks from the OP.

    My personal view (and it goes along with the keeping Death at a distance) is that the diver should always be aware of all the risk factors (as far as possible) involved in a dive such as :
    1) Are my skills up to date?
    2) Are there any specific risks in this dive such as currents/depth/cold?
    3) Are my skills sufficient to mitigate the risks from 2?
    4) Is my equipment functioning properly and adequate?
    5) Do I have sufficient exposure protection?
    6) How experienced (or otherwise) is my dive buddy?
    7) Am I proactive underwater? (Am I checking my trim? Am I checking my SPG often enough?
    8) Am I willing to thumb any dive when I get that feeling of Death coming closer?

    As for the buddy/no buddy comments above, if the diver is willing to add extra gear and skill to allow complete redundancy (pony bottles/ alternative buoyancy ie drysuit) then solo/self reliant can be safe but to my mind, diving is a community sport and some of the best bits are discussing the dives/gear/courses/other divers later (at the car or in the bar)

    Basically, as BOP says a few posts above, complacency is Deaths best friend - we as divers need to be always aware of it and be active in how we avoid it.
    SeaHorse81 likes this.

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