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Lessons Learned

Gregg Tanner

Instinct and reaction can be developed over time, but to keep your skills sharp, practice and a routine should be in every divers dive plan. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about doing the 25 skills circuit, but things that we do on every dive. Gear checks can vary from, "got your gear, let’s go" to a thorough check. There are now so many styles of BCD’s and alternate air systems, that unless you and your teammate purchased your gear at the same store, the odds that you are identically outfitted are slim to remote.

I am a diver of 15 years, (an instructor for the last 4) and have well-rounded diving experiences. Blackwater requires different procedures than water with high visibility. Diving on the East Coast differs from the West Coast, and diving in Europe, and the Red Sea have their own special attractions, but they all have one thing in common; you have a dive plan. In the event an equipment failure or an entanglement takes place, a backup plan can be put into place.

I recently attended some lectures at Underwater Canada in Toronto, and one of the speakers was Butch Hendrick, President of Lifeguard Systems, Inc. I had attended some of his lectures a few years ago, and had implemented some of his safety suggestions. I had been diving with a pony bottle for the last year or so, but had never used it. One of the things that Butch had mentioned was that recently a very experienced Public Safety Diver had died, because of a regulator malfunction. The diver had a totally redundant system, but in the heat of the moment, when his primary system went down, he couldn’t activate his backup. The answer was simple, lack of practice. This hit home, because I was doing the same thing. Wearing the gear, but never practicing using it.

I started out in the pool, removing my pony and replacing it, turning it on and off, finding it by feel only. As Butch suggested at the end of the dive I would switch over to the pony regulator, for the ascent, until it became routine. Now what am I leading up to?

Recently I was doing open water checkouts in Canada, and things were going along fine. At the end of the fifth dive, we were going for our underwater tour with one instructor leading, the students in tow, and myself in the rear. Around 20 minutes into the dive, I saw bubbles coming up from my chest area. Looking down, I thought it was the inflator valve on my drysuit. A quick tug and it was ok, but now more bubbles were coming out.

I reached down to my console, where my air integrated computer was, and saw bubbles coming out of the housing. As I turned the computer over for a quick inspection, I watched the digital pressure reading go from 1800 to 0 in a mere heartbeat. This all took place in about 5 to 7 seconds. In that time I sank to the bottom of the dry-dock (21 ft) stirred up the silt, and was in a cloud of bubbles. Having no visibility, my tank dumping air, and loosing sight of my students, I was in a real life out-of- air, major equipment failure. Reaching down for my regulator of my pony, it was right where it should have been. Back on air, and regaining my whits, I saw a student coming towards me. We met up and I give him the surface signal. Once up I told him the dive was over. I blew a high pressure line, and at this time my co-instructor surfaces with the others. My student said that he looked behind him and just saw bubbles and silt, but when he saw me on the pony, he didn’t think anything of it. (I had told them that I routinely go to the pony at the end of a dive). The actions that were done were purely instinct, by feel only, in a no-visibility, somewhat stressed environment, with 3 finger mitts on.

They say the odds of having an equipment failure or any other malfunction is pretty rare. The computer was new in January 1998, and had about 10 dives on it. A manufacturer defect is suspected. Although a problem may be rare, being able to react to the situation on instinct should be everybody's goal.

For a related article, see "Ascend on Your Pony."

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