Monday 18 March 2013

Assertiveness for Divers, 1

This post was inspired by this article: "4 Reasons Divers Die". I've been a follower of this series of articles ever since I started diving (and it must be said that the opening paragraph of that article sums up most of them). When it comes to diving, I take the view that whilst it's great to learn from your mistakes, when it comes to breathing pressurised gas 30m between the ocean surface, it's even better to learn from someone else's mistakes.

Douglas, like his predecessor at SCUBA magazine, Michael Ange, lists four main reasons divers die:
  • Poor health
  • Procedural errors aka not keeping in practice and failing to remember what your Open Water instructor taught you about dropping your weights / recovering your reg / making a safe ascent, etc.
  • Environmental factors aka not being prepared for the conditions, linked to failing to evaluate the conditions. If you learned in the Red Sea, regardless of how many dives you did, it may be wise to try your first dive in the UK in a quarry or off a sheltered shoreline, rather than jumping off the boat at the Farne Islands into water of around 10 degrees C, wearing twice the gear you are used to, into waters that feature currents bearing nicknames such as "Fastest Route to Norway". (I hasten to add, the Farnes are safe to dive even for relatively new divers - so long as you're used to the cold, the visibility, and the fact that when the boat driver says "Don't go round the headland", he means it.)
  • Equipment failures aka failure to actually maintain your equipment. Well-maintained open-circuit scuba gear very rarely fails; fail to maintain it, and either your regs or your BCD will let you know all about this.
If I'm allowed to, I'd like to add one more key preventative measure to the list above (keep your health up, practise your skills, be realistic about the conditions and your ability to dive them, and keep your gear well-maintained). Assertiveness.

I really think PADI should teach this on the Open Water course, although I can understand why they don't. New scuba students are often nervous enough without something else to add to the list.

But in the real world, when your instructor is not there to watch over you, assertiveness is key. I can think of three ways to apply this:

  1. Assertiveness with the dive operator
  2. Assertiveness with your buddy
  3. Assertiveness with yourself

1. Assertiveness with the dive operator

You will need this when you dive abroad. You will need it when you walk into a dive operator you have never been to before, in a country you have not dived in before, and especially if you are going to do boat dives, where the boat picking you up is probably going to be your only route home.
You will need this (or at least I do) to enable you to push beyond taking the operator's glossy photos or website at face value and ask them: does the boat have oxygen? What sort of dives do they do, and how many guides are there on them? What level of skill are they suitable for? When you're on the boat, where's the liferaft and the lifejackets?

Handy hint; if they don't ask to see your logbook, or ask when you last dived, this is a sign that you should go dive with someone else - if they're that sloppy about the divers they're taking out, how careful are they with the equipment?

You may need assertiveness not to care if you encounter huffiness, or incredulity that you're asking these questions - many people don't. And you need to be prepared if you end up having the following conversation at the start of the dive:

[dive briefing ends] Divemaster: "Any questions?"
Me: "Where is the oxygen on the boat?"
[lengthy pause]
Divemaster: "Were you diving yesterday? Do you feel you may have decompression sickness?"
Me (out loud): "No, I just thought I'd ask."
Me (in head): "No, and I bloody hope I don't get it whilst I'm on your boat."

Oxygen is the number 1 treatment for decompression illness (catch-all term for gas embolism or getting the bends or both, essentially the most serious consequences you can have from diving and potentially fatal). This guy was taking a boat of ten divers in choppy seas out for a 30-minute ride to do a 25m dive to a sunken Messerschmitt in the Mediterranean, which is not in the same risk category as technical diving, but with a bottom time of only 20 minutes, qualifies as "deep diving" where it would be relatively easy to overstay your bottom time and increase your risk of DCI.

Pop quiz: If there's no oxygen on the boat, you get a DCI hit, and the total time to get you back to the nearest oxygen cylinder, assuming it's waiting on the quayside for you, is:

time taken for boat crew to realise you have a problem and haul you back onboard
time taken to recall everyone to the boat and get them back on it, one-by-one
time taken to get boat back to shore

How long is it going to be before you can get the treatment that could save you from permanent paralysis, or worse?

I'm going to go with "around an hour". Fun, huh?

Incidentally, on the second dive of the day, the case with the oxygen cylinder and mask was sitting rather pointedly on the main deck of the boat. Kind of amusing, since that guy also tried to tell us it was under one of the seats on the boat. (We checked. It was not.) A wee bit late.

More follows.

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