The Incident: A relatively inexperienced diver, armed with only an Open Water Certification that equipped him with a basic knowledge of skills and equipment (for diving to a recommended depth of 18m), decided to book himself on a wreck dive to 30m at a site known to have a strong current.
When making the booking, the diver expressed his lack of experience and apprehension about undertaking the dive, but the shop staff still booked him in for the dive.
The dive crew provided a dive brief, including depths and currents, and advice that the visibility may be poor. The diver was not assigned a buddy, rather told to stay with the group. This concerned him, but he followed along with the others. Diving without a buddy was considered normal as the divemaster was usually able to keep small groups together.
As advised, visibility on the bottom was poor, the group ended up separated, and the diver was left alone. Unable to locate the other divers, he panicked and made a rapid ascent to the surface where he lost consciousness and had to be retrieved from the water by the boat’s skipper.
As a result of the rapid ascent, he suffered a gas embolism and was lucky to survive.
Who is responsible for this incident?
Is it the dive crew who failed to provide buddy teams and lost contact with the diver? Is it the dive shop who allowed this inexperienced diver to book onto a dive he wasn’t qualified to do? Or is it the diver who knew better than anyone that he was not prepared to undertake this dive?
While everyone plays a part in this scenario, the diver needs to take substantial responsibility as he is ultimately responsible for himself. Firstly, he signed up for a dive, despite being apprehensive, as he knew it exceeded his experience and training. He then went along with the plan to dive without an assigned buddy, despite not being comfortable with this, and knowing from his training that it wasn’t right. At any time, the diver could have, and should have, aborted but he didn’t. However, in his defence, it is difficult for an inexperienced diver to judge what the demands of the dive may be.
Of course, the shop staff and the dive team also contributed significantly: The shop staff should have questioned the diver further and knowing the conditions didn’t match the diver’s training and experience, they should have signed him up to a more suitable dive. Further, the dive crew should have re-assessed his suitability for the dive. They should also have assigned buddy pairs, particularly in poor visibility.
Unfortunately, this scenario is not an uncommon story. I have previously written about knowing when to call a dive, yet divers continue to push their limits.
Bottom line: If you are not fully prepared for the dive, both mentally and physically, or you are not qualified or experienced to do the dive, abort. There is no shame in calling a dive. It is certainly not worth injuring yourself, or worse, to complete a dive.
DAN World Regional Manager