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Infrequent divers
Posted: Tuesday, August 19, 2014 4:47 PM
Joined: 19/08/2014
Posts: 67

There are many types of certified divers, and while all are worthy of a divemaster’s or instructor’s attention underwater, people who dive infrequently often require more attention than others.

On paper, a rescue diver with 50 logged dives may seem to be less of a concern than a newly certified diver with eight dives. In reality, the new diver with eight dives completed her course last week and all the procedures she learned are fresh in her mind. The rescue diver completed his course 15 years ago and has only done five dives since, the last of which was four years ago.  Suddenly, this scenario is very different.

The easiest way to reduce the chances of a problem occurring in this situation is to conduct a Scuba Review for the rescue diver. This review is standard across the dive industry, and most dive centers generally insist upon it if the divers have not been in the water for longer than a year or two. The Scuba Review allows the divemaster or instructor to gauge the skill level of the diver, and they will be able to adapt the dives to best suit the diver’s comfort levels. If the diver clearly struggles with removing and replacing his or her mask underwater, taking him or her into a wreck or on a deep dive is not a good idea.

Some divers are incredibly confident in the way they talk about their diving abilities, even if they have not been diving for a while. But this does not necessarily mean that they can remember what to do should they have a problem underwater. The good news is that it is fairly easy to highlight the skills that could use refreshing. Asking them how they would deal with a free-flowing regulator or perform a controlled emergency swimming ascent quickly identifies whether or not their confidence is misplaced.

Another problem area for receiving certified divers is the dive medical. Rules on medicals vary depending on the country, but they are always required for training. If required, then divers will need a doctor’s approval. For recreational dives, many countries do not require divers to complete a medical. Instead, the diver normally signs on the diver’s liability release that they know of no reason why the diver should not dive and that he or she is fit for diving. Divers who were certified a long time ago may have developed a condition that requires medical approval for diving, but as they won’t have seen a medical statement when they sign the waiver, they may not be aware that their condition has implications for diving. With that in mind, it would be prudent for all divers to complete a medical statement for all recreational divers in addition to those in training.

All dive instructors and divemasters who have been working in the industry for awhile will have encountered divers prepared to lie about their medical fitness or divers who have not realized that their particular condition is an issue. Take for example the lady who had an asthma attack at the surface. She had completed a dive the day before with a different company, yet it had been 10 years since her last dive before that. At no point had she considered that developing asthma would affect her ability to dive.

Other common issues among infrequent divers include overweighting themselves, but still not being able to descend. In this situation, the chances are they are breathing deeply due to anxiety about the dive; they will not be vertical in the water, therefore trapping air in their BCD. Where possible, use a line for ascents and descents as this gives a lot more control, especially if there are equalizing issues, and also makes the diver feel more secure about being mid-water. Reminding divers how to conduct a buoyancy check before the dive will also help. It is advisable to watch them, as many divers will not completely empty their BCD, or will kick whilst completing this and will end up diving overweighted anyway.

It is possible for underweighted divers to pull themselves down using a line, only to discover when they let go that they do not have enough weight on.  They will generally expect the divemaster with them to solve this problem, when it could have been easily prevented had they performed the buoyancy check before the dive.

While it is the responsibility of the individual divers to perform a buddy check, many do not do this, or if they do, they stand in front of another diver whilst checking their own kit. The whole point of a buddy check is that it is a BUDDY check. Therefore, each diver should check the other diver’s equipment. If he or she hasn’t hooked up the low-pressure inflator properly or has forgotten to put the weight belt on, it will be highlighted at this point, while allowing the buddy to understand the configuration of the other diver’s kit.

Additionally, many divers forget that coral is a living organism and may grab it or pull them along. This practice should be discouraged, as divers can and will damage the reef. Encourage them to swim slowly so they see the small organisms they might have harmed and realize how alive the reef is.

Reminding divers of key hand signals is also important. Take for example the diver who, when asked how much air he had, gave a clear “ok” signal to his guide. Less than a minute later he shows the same guide a “something is wrong” signal and points to his regulator. The guide then looks at the diver’s air gauge, realizes he is out of air and provides the alternate air source for him.  Back on the boat, the diver admits that he was looking at his depth gauge when asked how much air he had left and thought he was fine. Fortunately, the diver did not panic, but many would have. To prevent this problem, always ask for the exact amount of air the diver has left, or even better, look at the gauge yourself.

Enhancing safety for divers is of great importance. These are just a few examples of how things can go wrong, especially when encountering infrequent divers. If there is any doubt about a diver’s ability, get them to complete a Scuba Review. It won’t take up much time, and most divers will appreciate the reminder.

Emily Petley-Jones is a PADI Course Director. She is also the managing director of Dive Superyacht.  

Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 5:40 AM
Joined: 25/02/2014
Posts: 5

What a great post!

My partner and I have been in Vanuatu for 5 weeks to complete our divemaster course and a little work. All of what you have said rings so true, we very quickly became cautious leading dives with divers who talked themselves up, where misleading on paperwork or skipped simple safety such as buddy checks and even safety stops.

One particular group we had were a bunch of experienced divers (AOW and upwards), we had a deep wreck dive to 38m and despite a thorough dive briefing they chose to ignore the Divemaster's plan and got themselves into quite a bit of difficulty (one diver lost control of buoyancy and rapidly ascended from 20m, some divers re-entered the wreck without a dive master, very scary).

Of course our favourite issue is when asking for air pressures they signal back ok, then minutes later they are ascending rapidly to the surface out of air!

Once again great article!


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