Lessons Learned

There are many reasons you might feel rushed or impatient before a dive, but it is up to you to ensure that you never allow external factors to compromise your safety.

A recent experience reinforces two basic diving principles: Always dive with a buddy, and always do your predive safety checks.

My daughter, Sarah, who is frequently my dive buddy, and I were diving off a boat at Jupiter Beach, Florida, where there are nice reefs and a sandy bottom at about 80 feet. It was a stormy day with high swells, intermittent heavy showers and a lot of clouds. We did the first dive with no problems, but during our surface interval the swells picked up again to the point that my daughter was not feeling well. When the time arrived for the second dive, we skipped most of the safety checks, only checking that our air was on, so she could get off the boat and into the water. During the dive briefing the divemaster said that the group would be entering the water negatively buoyant to quickly get below the swells and into calmer water.

I slowly descended slightly behind the divemaster and in front of my daughter. As we neared the top of the reef, I put a few bursts of air into my BCD, but my descent didn't slow. Uh-oh, I thought. After two more unsuccessful tries I realized that the worst that could happen would be to land on the bottom at 80 feet. I turned and got my daughter's attention, signaled to her that I was having a problem, and then alerted the divemaster. My daughter swam up behind me, and I could feel her adjusting my gear. After about 30 seconds the divemaster signaled for me to try my inflator hose, and this time the air I put in my BCD stayed there. We continued the dive without further incident and enjoyed seeing the sharks, turtles, moray eels and reef fish.

Back on the boat we critiqued the situation. When my daughter swam over to investigate, she saw bubbles coming from my regulator but went to double check that my tank was fully open. Once she was behind me, she could see that the cover of the shoulder dump was off, so the BCD could not hold air. Luckily, the valve's design kept all the parts together, so all was well after my daughter screwed the cover back on.

When I got home, I called my dive instructor and shared my experience with him. We critiqued the event again, and I came away with the following lessons:

A thorough safety check, having a plan with your buddy and being attentive to
the briefing will lower your risk once you get in the water.
Inspect your gear. Never skip your predive safety checks. My daughter and I regularly dive together, so we were complacent about conducting thorough predive safety checks and in a rush to get off the boat and into the water. While I had neglected to check that dump valves work before every dive, I will do that now. My air check routine will always include testing the inflator hose and valve covers, not just the tank valve and regulators.

Always dive with a buddy. While my rescue diver training prepared me to remove my BCD underwater to look at it if needed, it is much better to have someone examine my equipment while it's still on me. Staying close is an important part of buddy diving. I have been in groups where dive buddies were at least 30 feet apart, but the further the distance, the harder it is to get your buddy's attention and the easier it is to become separated.

Don't panic. Our training prevented us from panicking. I knew the worst thing that could happen was landing on the bottom and taking off the BCD to more thoroughly check things if needed. My daughter realized I had air to breathe, so there was no immediate out-of-air situation, and she responded calmly.

Listen to the dive briefing. The divemaster told us that the maximum depth was about 80 feet. Since it was dark due to the cloud cover, and depth is not easy for me to discern with my corrective lenses, I might have panicked had I not known that the bottom was close. Even as a master scuba diver, I still have things to learn and remember. As divers, we have basic safety principles for a reason. This incident could have been much worse if we were diving a wall and there was no bottom nearby; I am glad that my daughter and I had been thoroughly trained to address the situation.

A few months after this event we were diving again and reminded each other to check the valve covers and shared our story with others on the boat. We will always have a dive buddy close by and will continue to be more thorough in performing our predive safety checks. Taking the extra time for both yourself and your buddy before getting in the water is important for every diver on every dive.
Sarah Hasty’s Perspective
The weather and seas were very rough that day, and the crew made it a point to get me off the boat first since I was feeling sick. My dad and I briefly checked that our air was on, and then we were eager to get diving. The current was strong enough that we moved at a brisk pace without even kicking. I make a point to always be aware of my surroundings and to know where my buddy is at all times. My dad and I have logged about 60 dives together and quickly recognize each other's distress cues.

As we were descending, I saw him fiddling with his gear; within a few seconds he turned back to me and signaled that he was having a problem. My brain perked up, all senses of feeling seasick vanished, and I quickly swam to him. I noticed he still had his regulator in his mouth and was breathing, so I knew he was not out of air. Because we were dropping quickly and the current was strong, I grabbed his BCD and inflated mine to keep us from hitting the reef as we closed in on it. He then signaled that there was a problem with his BCD, and as he pressed the manual inflator I saw large bubbles coming out of the right shoulder dump valve.

Never having adjusted a dump valve before, I was hoping I could fix it. Luckily, all the pieces were intact, and I was able to screw it back into place. I signaled for him to try inflating again, and we were back in business; the rest of the dive went smoothly with me continuously checking to make sure nothing else would go wrong. The whole situation lasted only a few minutes. Because I stayed close to my dive buddy and kept him in my field of view, I was able to respond to his distress signal within a few seconds, assess the situation and correct it with ease.

© Alert Diver — Q1 Winter 2019