by Mark Powell
Why do divers do stupid things? Well the short answer is because they are stupid. Now I know that the majority of the readers of this article are going to be divers and it’s not usually a good idea to start off by insulting your audience but bear with me. If you look at some of the recent diving incidents that have occurred such as the tragic double fatality of a father and son who died while cave diving on Christmas day, or the diver who refused to analyse his gas an ended up breathing 100% oxygen at 30m or the rebreather diver who jumped in with oxygen, diluent and handsets all turned off then you can see why I might say that. The British Sub Aqua Club publish a summary of diving incidents every year and a brief glance at this will show that dives do a whole range of stupid things. Not only that but they do the same stupid things over and over again. Most of the mistakes made each year are the same as the mistakes made the previous year. The short answer is that divers do not follow their training. It would be very easy to stop the vast majority of diving accidents if we could just force divers to follow their training. If you do what your instructor taught you during your course then you will avoid the vast majority of problems that occur. The thing is that you already know that, I know that, everyone knows that and yet hundreds of divers every day do things that break what they were taught in their training.
Is this because divers are genuinely stupid? or is it because they just act as if they are stupid? I believe that divers do stupid things because they are human and humans make mistakes. However that doesn’t mean that mistakes are inevitable. If we understand why we make mistakes we can potentially avoid them. If we recognise that each and every diver has the potential to make mistakes then maybe we will be a little more careful and a little less complacent.
We all have the potential to do stupid things because we sometimes get complacent, because we rush, because we are not very good at assessing risks, because we are often over optimistic. We do not always call a dive when we should, letting multiple little problems build up until they become a major incident. We trust our own powers of observation and can easily get fooled into trying to solve the wrong problem. Finally we often let other people influence us unduly.
I have tried to bring some of these ideas together and have given a number of talks on this topic at dive shows throughout Europe and the US. The video above was shot at TekDiveUSA (www.tekdiveusa.com) in Florida recently. This conference brought together technical divers from all over the world to discuss exploration, diving medicine and diving safety. As part of the conference I was asked to put together a short film which summarised why divers do stupid things. I hope this film helps explain why there is always a risk that we might do something stupid and hopefully will help you to avoid doing anything stupid in the future.