Weights Problem for Inexperienced Diver

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TimEllis

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I had a bad and potentially dangerous experience on my first dive in almost 10 years, which I did in Roatan, Honduras, with a supposedly reputable dive shop. Before the dive, I took a refresher course with the shop, which included figuring out my weighting. I cautioned the instructor that I appear to weigh a lot less than I actually do and that I had not been given enough weight initially in past diving experiences. Low and behold, the instructor initially guessed I needed much less weight than I did, and she needed to keep adding weights (in the shallow water where we did the refresher) to get things right. I made a mistake by not myself noting the amount of weight we finally figured out that I needed.

When I went to gear up for my first dive after the refresher, things did not look right. My girlfriend (who was diving with me) was given a BCD other than the one she used in the training course, and I thought there was not as much weight on me as we had determined I needed. The dive shop workers insisted that everything was exactly as it should be. I proceeded with the dive, assuming I was just overly anxious and being overcautious, as a result of not having dived for so long.

From there, everything unraveled. I could not get myself to sink after fully deflating the BCD. The divemaster told me to use a tow line to pull myself down and continue to try to drain the BCD, which did not give me a free hand with which to equalize. Once near the bottom, I could not swim forward without floating upwards, and I had to exert a lot of effort to try to "push" the water up and myself down. Eventually, as a result of all this strain, I began to experience fatigue. I also got to a point where I could no longer equalize after going up and down so much, and I was too busy trying to stay down to continually clear my mask. I signaled to the divemaster that I wanted to go to the surface, after showing him that I was floating upward even while staying completely still underwater. At the surface, I told him I wanted to abort the dive. At this point, I was completely fatigued and it was difficult for me, who am typically a strong surface swimmer, to get myself to the boat.

I recounted what happened to the dive shop manager upon my return. She and I checked my records against the weight on my belt and found I had been given four pound less than I needed. I am safe and fine, and all is well that ends well, but now I feel very anxious about diving again in the future. I am going to Indonesia this summer, and I was hoping to dive at some of its wonderful sites, but I feel considerable trepidation about the prospect of this. Has anyone been through something similar to this with an inexperienced diver? What are the best ways to address it? Where would be the best places in Indonesia to repeatedly do guided easy dives in calm conditions to get used to diving safely again, without spending a ton of money?

Thanks,
Tim
 

Bladebreaker65

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Not your fault! DM should have never forced you to pull yourself down line. Yes keep track of weight in your log book and conditions. I am a believer in get more practice at home rent some gear go to the deepest pool you can find and blow bubbles. Its ok if its only 4 ft deep just learn to relax play with diff gear. Muck dive lakes low viz makes you focus on your gear. Do this as much as you can then when you spend money for those vacations you are more relaxed and in control of your own decision to dive and what you are prepared to handle. Take some courses at your local dive shop it all adds up to dive time exp points bonus!
 

Curious_George

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As with any post, it takes a lot of guts to share when things didn’t go exactly right. Appreciate you for the willingness to put yourself out there in this manner.

No doubt a comedy of errors were made by the supposedly experienced people leading the dive. Sorry to hear that.

I would suggest to shift your focus toward a premise that you are in charge of your own dive at every step. Instead of being "given" weight and not verifying, you "take" whatever you need or you don’t dive. Instead of being a victim, you are in control. You have autonomy to thumb the dive anytime it doesn’t follow the way you were trained.

With that perspective, keep practicing and get ready to have fun in Indonesia.
 

toddthecat

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That's a bit of a predicament in the sense that, after 10 years, you'd be pretty far out of touch with the basics. But on the other hand, the person guiding you should have got it right (or as close to it as possible since it is ultimately down to the diver to know what they need.)

Ultimately, the onus is mostly on you, especially considering you acknowledge this is not the first time you've had difficulty with determining what you need for weight. I could argue either side, really. Not sure how many dives you've logged but it doesn't sound like many. After that long, and without being able to adjust your own weight properly, you should consider going through Open Water again. Better safe than sorry and considering weighting is a basic OW skill, you are running a pretty serious risk by not being able to perform basics and relying on hand-holding from someone you recognized as not acknowledging your issue.

Looking back on all that, I'd say everyone contributed to that mess. Please, for the safety of others if not for yourself, consider going through again. You indicate that you recognized an issue with your GF as well but everyone kept carrying on down the wrong path. That's how catastrophic situations occur.

Also, I sent you a DM. Just a quick question out of curiosity because I have a sneaking suspicion...
 

Altamira

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It will not take long for you to figure out how much weight you need, and that number may decrease as your proficiency increases. I am one of those divers that needs more weight than most DMs think I need, so I tell them the amount I need. After the first dive, I never get any more “suggestions” as to my weight requirements. Also I hear a lot of comments about the inaccuracies of dive weight calculators, but for me, the divebuddy.com calculator is very close +/- a pound.
 
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TimEllis

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Thanks for all the replies and suggestions. For now on, if and when I dive, I am in charge and I call off the dive if I feel any uncertainty. I did the refresher course and the dive with a fairly casual interest in the activity, which is also why I have not gone diving in ten years. I was not going out of my way to dive, but I was in Roatan anyway for a family vacation and figured I should give it another shot.

In the refresher course, I had no problem practicing all the skills we reviewed. The course was, however, a lot more cursory and brief than what had been advertised or what I expected. It was advertised as lasting several hours, and we ended up spending 45 minutes in the water, much of which just consisted of the instructor's asking us to reposition ourselves to deeper or shallower depths. There was a cursory (I mean, really, 15 minutes or so) review of theory, and an opportunity to ask questions about stuff we had forgotten, to which we received vague answers. (I teach for a living at a university for a living and know how to ask and answer questions to make others understand.) We also spent a half hour or so with the instructor fumbling over setting up our equipment with us. I would have figured out my own weighting, and watched a YouTube video to refresh myself on this, but the instructor said she would do it for us. The shop also set up our equipment before our dive, even though I asked them not to do this because I wanted to practice doing it myself. Not a professional operation or one that equips divers for future success, imo, though I take responsibility of course for not keeping track of my own weighting.

Even though I was not overly keen on diving before this trip, I had a spectacular experience with snorkeling on Roatan, and I found that I was spending up to two hours at a time in the water because I enjoyed it so much. Based on loving snorkeling, I'm now much more keen on diving than I was before, and I want to get good and comfortable with it so it's an option for me. I love the idea of working on diving, with rented equipment, in a pool. I already have my own mask, snorkel, fins, and wetsuit. I suppose one could even probably buy a basic BCD and regulator and weights and then sell them when done practicing.
 

Belzelbub

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The divemaster told me to use a tow line to pull myself down and continue to try to drain the BCD, which did not give me a free hand with which to equalize.
Holy crap. Yeah, as you suggested, you should have noted the weight you needed. This advise from what is supposed to be a dive professional is just absurd. If you are positively buoyant at the start of the dive, it's only going to get more positive from there. You may get a slight bump to the negative at the bottom if wearing a wetsuit as this will compress some, but you'll still have an issue at the safety stop. At that point, the air in your tank will be less, so you'll be more buoyant.
I am going to Indonesia this summer, and I was hoping to dive at some of its wonderful sites, but I feel considerable trepidation about the prospect of this. Has anyone been through something similar to this with an inexperienced diver? What are the best ways to address it? Where would be the best places in Indonesia to repeatedly do guided easy dives in calm conditions to get used to diving safely again, without spending a ton of money?
I'm not sure what options are open to you in Nebraska, but the best way to get over this is to practice. I'd recommend not waiting until your trip to get more comfortable. If there are local options, even just pool practice that will help. Keep in mind, though. Your weight needed in freshwater will be less than you will need in saltwater, but if you get your weight dialed in in freshwater, you can use any of the online calculators to figure out what you'd need in salt then, and it should be pretty close. The online calculators tend to over estimate in my experience, but if you get your actual needs worked out in fresh, you should be able to back into what you need for salt.
 

RBrentSt

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Honestly, you may have learned more on that dive as a "refresher" than if everything had gone perfectly. Several good take-aways, and you lived - that's a win! As a new diver, I've had a couple of those lessons. Ultimately, if something doesn't seem right to me, it's my responsibility... Unless I can somehow blame my dive buddy (wife). :)

If it's been 10 years, it might be worth investing in a used copy of the OW manual too. There could be some value in revisiting theory and procedures that might not have been extensively covered on the refresh dive. It seems like most refresh dives are aimed at divers out of the water 6-24 months, so I wouldn't necessarily expect them to be several hour mini-OW courses. Unless that's what you paid for?

Let me know if you find any good dive spots in Nebraska. I'll head over. I'm in Iowa.
 

Khrissi

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Worth also noting, salinity, i need 2 pounds less in Mediterranean than in Red sea, glad it hasn't put you off tho 🙌 K
 
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