We’ve all been there – we get distracted during the build-up to the dive, and some vital kit component is overlooked. SIMON PRIDMORE presents some examples and, as ever, some sound advice
IT WAS DAY SEVEN of the liveaboard trip and the 20th dive of Darren’s holiday. He joined his team in the tender boat and they sped off to the site.
Darren donned his gear and ran through his usual pre-dive checks, while the guide dropped in to do a current check. It was only when the countdown began for all the divers to roll into the water together that he reached for his mask hanging around his neck… and it wasn’t there.
He raised a hand to stop the countdown and searched around to see if he might have inadvertently taken it off and put it down on the bench next to him, but he couldn’t see it. He had left it back on the liveaboard.
When the countdown resumed, all his fellow-divers dropped in without him.
Darren was devastated, not only because he had missed a dive, but because he felt that the incident made him look negligent and careless, and he prided himself on being a good diver.
He took some good-natured ribbing for a while, then everyone else forgot about it. But Darren did not forget. The incident weighed on his mind long afterwards.
He tried to analyse how it had happened. He remembered that, after the previous dive, there had been much excitement on the dive-deck, with everyone chattering about what they had seen on the dive.
He had taken his mask off and, without thinking, stowed it under the bench he was sitting on. So it was not with the rest of his kit when he came to prepare for the next dive and, impossible though it might seem, he hadn’t noticed he didn’t have his mask with him until he came to try and put it on his face.
He swore that such a thing would never happen again, and decided that the solution was to become more methodical in his dive preparations. He needed a routine.
Appeared in DIVER September 2018
Darren developed a process that made sure he remembered everything on every dive. He wrote it all down on a slate and made sure he followed it assiduously, step by step, always with the slate at hand.
He tried to avoid distractions, and would restart his routine from scratch if he were interrupted at any point in the process. It worked.
It took him a while before he was confident that the checklist covered all eventualities. He also had to adapt it a little from time to time, depending on which boat he was diving from and whether it was a day-boat or a liveaboard, and he also had to come up with some tweaks for beach-diving. But, he never forgot anything again, and he wished he had come up with the idea before.
Darren is not alone. Almost everyone who ever breathed air under water has experienced a similar moment and felt incredibly stupid. And, as in Darren’s case, it usually happens when you least expect it, just when you’re feeling that you’re in the groove, dive-fit and able to rely on your instincts – or so you believe.
I have seen people forget their computer, even their fins. I even have a friend who prepared his underwater camera system for a dive, loaded it into the tender, dropped into the ocean and popped back up to take the camera from the tender crew, only to see a gaping hole where the lens dome should have been fitted, but wasn’t.
It was still lying on the workstation in the liveaboard’s camera room. My shocked friend stopped the crewman, hopped back into the tender and asked the driver to take him back to the mother boat, where I was standing, wondering why he had aborted his dive.
As he approached, he held up the housing, showing me the vacant dome-port. He saw me smile and then it dawned on him why I was smiling.
“This doesn’t go in one of your magazine articles,” he called out. “Of course not,” I reassured him.
Sometimes divers don’t notice the thing they have forgotten until they’ve already begun their dive.
They notice their computer is missing when they first look to see how deep they are and find themselves staring uselessly at an empty wrist. Or three or four breaths into the dive, they try to take another breath and discover that they’re sucking on an empty hose.
They might have checked their gauge while they were gearing up and seen that it was full, but forgot to test that the valve was actually open, either by trying the handle or taking a few test breaths. They may even have forgotten to check the gauge.
WHY IT HAPPENS
When you first learn to dive, you are given a routine to follow in the form of the buddy-check system. It is usually presented as an acronym, which changes from training agency to training agency, designed to help you remember what to do to make sure your buddy has made all the necessary preparations for the dive.
At that point in your diving life, it seems inconceivable that anyone would ever go into the water without double- or even triple-checking everything.
However, for most people, it’s not long after your initial training before your confidence grows and the buddy-
You never forget the acronym but you quickly neglect the process that it was supposed to help you remember. You become comfortable with doing your own checks and you know that, as long as you concentrate, you’re completely capable of preparing for your own dive without help.
After a while, you stop concentrating because you assume that you’re now so experienced that the process has become instinctive. Then you get distracted, and that’s the moment you forget something.
Yes, you feel stupid and yes, you swear you’ll never repeat your mistake and, maybe, like Darren, you decide you need to replace the anxiety-driven attention to detail that made sure you were prepared in the early days with something else.
You may not go to the lengths he went to and write down the details on a slate, but you will probably end up doing what almost all experienced divers do and convert your pre-dive preparations into an established routine.
I see veteran divers and professionals doing this on dive-boats all over the world. Some might even claim, on being questioned, that they do not have a fixed routine. But they do. They have a list in their head and they follow exactly the same sequence of actions before every dive, minutely.
Adopt a routine: it matters!
Read more from Simon Pridmore in:
Scuba Confidential – An Insider’s Guide to Becoming a Better Diver
Scuba Professional – Insights into Sport Diver Training & Operations
Scuba Fundamental – Start Diving the Right Way
Scuba Physiological – Think You Know All About Scuba Medicine? Think Again!
All are available on Amazon in a variety of formats.