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Help, I'm Entangled

"Can My Students Cut Themselves or Their Buddy Free Underwater?"

By Chris Napier

Low Water Inspection
Whenever possible look at and consider possible entanglement hazards when the water is low. During flood seasons this area will be underwater. The local dive team can mark on a map where that concrete block with the 3 vertical rebar pieces are so they can be prepared for it should they have to dive there.

I recently attended what I consider to be some of the best no-nonsense performance oriented training in SCUBA. The course was Lifeguard Systems (LGS), Rapid Deployment Search and Rescue I/Recovery/Blackwater run by Butch Hendrick and Andrea Zaferes of LGS and Art Oates from the Houston Police Dive Team. The course is designed for public safety divers, but I believe the course has a lot to offer almost any diver who wants to expand their knowledge, skills, and underwater experience.

On the first night several simple questions were posed to the class one of which was, how many had cut things like string, monofilament, wire, or rope underwater? My first reaction was "too damn many times," but I noticed very few hands were raised. I know instructors talk about cutting underwater, but how many of us make our students "do it" underwater. The cutting box drill was introduced in this class and is something that I feel should be incorporated into advanced courses.

The Cutting Box

You can make a cutting box from a variety of material, usually from things you can find around the house. LGS uses a milk crate; I use a wire basket. The wire basket offers the advantage of negative buoyancy, but since it will eventually rust, something made from plastic might be better. My box adds some complexity to the drill, since getting hands and tools into the wire frame to cut is a little more difficult (especially two hands in one hole). This requires my students to look, feel, and analyze the situation before acting.

The following are just some of the things you can put in the box. I suggest you develop or adapt your own list based on your local hazards.

The Drill

Since I do not have the flexibility to devote a dive specifically to this exercise, I came up with several options that allow me to incorporate the exercise into an existing dive.

Before the drill, warn your students of possible hazards and make them wear gloves. And of course, if they are using a knife brief them on the usual safety stuff, cutting away from themselves and their buddy, blade and tip consciousness, and sheathing the knife.

Loop Chains Divers showing their artwork from the LGS Blackwater cutting station. The hardest part is finding and then cutting and tieing the fishing line into the chain they make out of each of the various entanglements on the box. If they can not find the monofilament pieces among all the other entanglements hanging off the box, then how will they find it on an entangled primary diver? How can they serve as a backup diver? Loop Chains

I have developed a set of standards, dependent on certification level. Advanced students are required to surface with one piece of each material tied into interconnecting loops, whereas a student working towards a leadership position is required to surface with four pieces of each material tied in interconnecting loops. I reduce these standards when divers are below visible surface light. I typically allow 2 to 4 minutes per piece. Although speed can be beneficial in entanglements, I'd rather my students not be too hasty.

Grass Hazards
Grass can be a particularly dangerous hazard if the team is not trained for it. Severe grass entanglements can prevent a diver from reaching cutting tools and the pony regulator, and can even rip out the diver's mouthpiece if the diver makes a sudden head turn.

My goal for having a standard is not to say they can cut XYZ material in so many minutes; it's to provide them with experiences in assessing the best way to maneuver to cut something, cutting a variety of material, and making it fun and informative (through difficult in making little loops). I want them to take a moment to determine what their situation is, reason their way out, and take the approach taught by John Shaw (IPSC National Champion and President of Mid-South Institute of Self-Defense Shooting): "slow is smooth and smooth is fast." Put in other words, be smooth and be deliberate; do it right once--if you do it wrong or try to take short cuts you'll have to do it again and the clock's ticking; you may not get a second chance - Butch Hendrick uses the same philosophy in his S&R/R training-do it right once and move on to the next search pattern.

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