Communication has been a problem, then?
A real problem. Most wreck divers are just doing their own thing. They’re not seeking publicity; they’re not in it for an ego trip (some are, of course, but most aren’t). So, there’s not a lot of publicity about it.
Would you say it’s a competitive field, people looking at what others are doing and wanting to be the “first” or wanting to be acknowledged? That’s certainly the case in the cave diving community.
It’s funny, when I first got into diving, I thought it was the greatest sport in the world because everyone was working with everyone else, and everyone was trying to see that everybody had a good safe dive—no competition. I very quickly found out that wasn’t true.
There were people who wanted to be the first to discover a wreck, or the first to collect an artifact. Artifacts have ruined more friendships than anything I know.
On the other hand, a certain amount of competition is probably good. It means people are interested in exploration and are willing to go out and do something—take action. That helps advance the sport.
It’s my impression that the cave diving community is generally better organized than the wreck diving community, and, I would guess, has a much better safety record. Is this true?
If that’s true, I think it’s mostly because of better communication among cave divers than among wreck divers—communication of techniques. And that means safety efforts would naturally evolve faster.
But there may be another factor involved in the safety issue. By and large, wreck diving tends to be done in an uncontrolled environment. There are a lot of factors that can compromise safety. Storms can kick up very quickly at sea when divers are in the water; currents can come in when divers are decompressing. A lot of things can go wrong. It’s the changeable conditions that wreck diving necessarily encounters —being out there in the ocean or on a boat—that compromises safety. There are a lot of injuries just on the boat—getting on, getting off—that kind of stuff. All in all, I think it’s probably true that the safety record among cave divers is better. But it doesn’t have so much to do with the diving as it does with the conditions under which the diving is conducted.
What are the skills and expertise required to be a serious wreck diver?
Number one is awareness. There are a lot of potential hazards in wreck diving that can be created simply by being unaware of them. For example, entanglement in monofilament—fishing nets—is a very serious problem for wreck divers.
After awareness, I would say it comes down to experience. When you talk real wreck diving, you’re talking about a combination of penetration, deep diving, and decompression diving. Put all three together and you’ve got quite a package.
You have to be an expert at decompression diving. And you’ve got to have the proper equipment for each one of those disciplines, including emergency back-ups, like decompression reels and ponies.
Equipment is important. That’s something you learn only through experience. Get out there and do it; find out what equipment is necessary for decompression when an anchor line breaks loose, for example. You can’t stage bottles like you can in a cave, so you’ve got a problem there if you want to set up a deep dive. And, like the caves, you can’t come right to the surface. So, once you gain awareness and then gather experience, you also need to be properly equipped.