In a recent discussion, a group of instructors and I were talking about an article recently published by the BBC (Link to BBC Article) where a group of instructors went diving together to find nudibranchs at 40 metres. The questions kept coming up: Is diving dangerous? How do experienced divers find themselves in trouble?
In the article, you get a brief glimpse of the story that these instructors went beyond their normal diving limits, encountered a problem and panicked in the process of trying to find a solution. Eventually, two of the four divers made it out safely, while the other two had some complications, one of which led to the paralysis of the diver who was interviewed for the article.
Is it as simple as that? Four very qualified divers, or even diving instructors, have a problem that leads to a life-threatening situation? Is diving that dangerous?
Basic Dive Training
As PADI Instructors, we have specific content to cover while doing introductory dive training such as the PADI Open Water course. This course specifically teaches divers about how to dive safely; it emphasises, again and again, the importance of “planning your dive and diving your plan”. The content of the course also mentions phrases like “stay well within your training limits”.
While this may seem obvious, that’s what you should do; but, more often than not, these rules are broken by the more experienced of us. But why? Diving instructors could have hundreds, if not thousands of dives, many of them to 30 or 40 metres; so how is it that they are breaking the rules? Aren’t they trained to go that deep?
First, let me start with the definition of a deep dive and how to prepare for it.
What Is A Deep Dive?
A deep dive is defined as any dive between 18 and 40 metres under the surface (for recreational divers). When fully trained recreational divers plan and execute a deep dive, there are a set of steps that the divers must follow before getting in the water. While I’m not going to go into too much depth (pun intended), I would like to outline that procedure.
- A deep dive must have a clear objective:
- Why are you going on a deep dive?
- What is the main objective of being that deep?
- Setting personalised limits:
- What is the personal depth limit for each diver in the group?
- What are the minimum no-stop limits for this dive?
- At what level or air supply will the group start their ascent?
- Equipment set up for the deep dive:
- Is all your gear in good working order?
- Do you have spare/emergency breathing equipment?
- Have you set up a reference ascent/descent line?
Once you’ve established that you have your objective, maximum depths, and equipment set up, now is the time to conduct a proper briefing for the dive and check again whether everyone is prepared mentally and physically.
Breaking The Rules
While diving instructors might have the proper training to dive up to 40 metres, it is usually not recommended for recreational divers to go beyond 30 metres. It’s important to remember that recreational diving instructors are recreational divers and their objectives should also be recreational. This means that all the procedures of a recreational deep dive must be followed.
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“For your information, a non-recreational deep dive is called a technical deep dive, and doing a ‘tech’ dive requires further training, education and calculations beyond the recreational limits.”
In the case of the divers from the article, they were going down to look for nudibranchs and other marine life. It is very clear that the divers ignored all three factors when planning their dive, starting from the out-of-air situations, which means there was no air left for ascending safely, followed by the absence of emergency breathing equipment. The biggest problem was that there was no plan of what to do in case of an emergency; it was clearly stated in the article that they needed to communicate while still underwater to formulate a plan.
How Did These Experienced Divers Find Themselves In Trouble?
The simple answer to this question is: they broke the rules.
- Diving without a clear objective.
- Not establishing clear personal limits, i.e. experience, depth training, comparing air consumption.
- Not having the correct equipment required for the dive, in this case, a safety line with a reserve air supply.
I’ve been in many situations very similar to this one: a group of super-experienced divers going on a fun dive together with no students or customers, wanting to “push the limits”. While even coming close to the limits is not recommended, it’s kind of in our nature; it’s the same reason we drive slightly above the speed limit or go off-piste on the ski slopes. We like to explore and our curiosity pushes us to go further and test the limits.
But there is a right and wrong way to give in to our curiosities, and there is a time when you just need to say NO!
Is Diving Dangerous?
No, absolutely not! If you are doing recreational diving, you have nothing to fear! This also means you are bound by all the rules that you started using since your first diving course. By sticking to the rules, diving is one of the safest sports you could be partaking in.
How Can You Ensure Your Safety While Diving?
- Stay well within your training limits: I cannot emphasise this enough; if you train to go to 18 metres, plan your dives to be no more than 18 metres. There is no shame in it whatsoever and it’s ok to say NO I do not have the required training for this dive.
- Seek training to satisfy your curiosities: It is human nature to be curious and want to explore further depths, places, marine life, and adventures. Make sure that if any of these curiosities are outside your limits, find the suitable course that will help you achieve your goal and train for it. There are so many specialised courses out there specific to every different kind of diving. This will, in turn, increase your limits and capabilities while diving.
- Find diving buddies that are at the same training level and ability as you: Many problems divers encounter are due to nonconformity in training levels. For example, if your friend/partner introduced you to diving and they’ve been doing it for years, it is highly likely that your limits may not be exactly the same. In this case, both of you must dive to conform to the abilities of the least-experienced diver. And for the more experienced diver, you must understand that your partner might not be able to respond to situations with the finesse that you may be expecting.
- Explore new dive sites with local guides: This applies to any diver of any ability or experience level. If you are new to a dive site or location, sign up to do a guided dive with a local divemaster or instructor. Not only will this improve your experience of the dive site, but they will be sure to point out all of the non-obvious points of hazard or risk.
- Try new equipment in controlled settings: One of my favourite hobbies is underwater photography. With this hobby comes a rather wide range of new equipment that I am slowly introduced to. While the most obvious reason for me to take my camera underwater may be to capture those creatures that I don’t yet have on my portfolio, I always take my camera in a controlled setting first when I’m trying new equipment. It ensures the marine life, my gear and myself are all safe from damage. This is a very important tip for any diver trying any new piece of equipment. Take it to your local pool, or your local dive site to try it out.
- Attend dive briefings before your dive and abort if you are not satisfied with the quality of the briefing: If, after the dive briefing, you feel like you still don’t know what you are going to be doing underwater, ask the question and find out more about what you are going to expect. Enquire about the essentials, such as the depths, time, turn around pressure, who your buddy is, what are the emergency exit procedures. These are all essential to your wellbeing and if they were not included in your dive briefing, make sure to get the information before you get in the water.
If you are interested in continuing your dive training and taking more courses to satisfy your curiosities, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and find out which course is best for you!