As I sit here and pore through yet another court case involving a diver that has died, a surge of frustration arises. Nearly every week we hear of a diver dying, and for the most part, these deaths are avoidable. One mantra that keeps running through my head is, “You’re part of the problem” and when I say “you’re” I mean the whole industry; resort locations, dive boats, retailers, right down to the dive professionals. The good news is – we are also part of the solution.
Before you get all agitated and think I am excluding myself let me stop you right there and rewind a little. I was in the retail business and led group trips, I’ve been on live-aboards and supervised divers, I have taken dive boat trips as a diver/instructor, and now I am with an agency and develop the training protocols. In short, I have seen this industry from just about every aspect and yes have turned a blind eye to things, shaken my head at others, and in some cases stopped what I thought was not going to have a happy ending. Let me break this down from my perspective.
Scuba diving professionals: you have an obligation to ensure the best practices of diving are adhered to. What does this mean? When you witness or are privy to a diver or fellow professional getting ready to perform something that could lead to injury or death, stop them. This means any unsafe practice, performing dives they do not have the training or experience to perform, and diving in unsafe conditions. For years I have heard people say, “Why do I need training in that? I’m the most experienced around” or, “That course is useless, I’m not going to teach that to my students”. Guess what, while the name of the certification may appear “useless”, the experience the diver gains by watching your good diving practices isn’t. How many accidents have you seen where a diver using a dry suit was injured, only to find out they were never trained on a dry suit? How many times have you seen divers hit by a boat (the most recent incident cost the operator 12 million US dollars) only to find they don’t hold a boat diving certification. So you may ask, what could that course have taught them? A good instructor would have taught them all the knowledge and experience they (the instructor) take for granted, such as, even if you think you heard the “pools open” call, look at what the boat is doing and make eye contact with the Captain/DM. Still sound like a useless course? A dive professional’s role in the industry is to train divers, so sell courses and train divers so they can be better divers.
Let’s get this straight, you are not a taxi – you are a DIVE BOAT. If you take people out snorkeling you are a SNORKELING BOAT. The analogy of a taxi was gone in the 90’s and never really should have been there to begin with, now it is used as an excuse and weak attempt to skirt liability. I am sure there are those of you reading this saying that you dive from a private and not commercial boat, if you are in US waters and are compensated in any way you 1) need to be an appropriately licensed captain and 2) are operating a commercial venture in the eyes of the US Coast Guard. Take responsibility, operate like a dive boat, this means that filling a seat on your boat requires the correct certification for the dive site you will be bringing the divers to, and not just: Visa, Master Card, or American Express. Want to transfer some liability? Verify the divers are certified, or that you have verified their experience by having them dive with you on less challenging sites before you bring them to deep sites, wrecks, high currents, etc.
Dive Retailers You are organizing trips, selling equipment, and training divers, you are by most accounts the source of information for new and experienced divers, Internet aside. When organizing trips, make sure the divers you are bringing or sending on those trips have the appropriate training to do the dives. If they don’t, get them trained. A new diver trained in inland waters or calm waters should not be shipped off to a tropical destination with high current drift dives or a place like Truk Lagoon where the primary reason for being there is deep wreck diving. If for no other reason, and there are plenty of other reasons, use the training as a profit center. Divers learn a lot just by watching their instructor and the instructor gets a chance to see the diver in the water and help them.
Your function is to ensure the standards you produce and the materials that support them are appropriate for the level of certification. You also have the duty to follow-up on and take action, when required, for quality assurance matters when reported by consumers or other dive professionals. Dive professionals – you have to report these and not with hearsay but with actual proof that the agency or agencies can act upon. All too often agencies, and this is not a “woe is me” comment, are given very little information if provided any at all. Often times I have had people tell me a dive professional has been practicing unsafe training for years, when I ask if they ever reported it I get, “Oh, I don’t want to get in the middle of that” or “off the record” or, and this is my favorite, “I thought you knew”. How are we supposed to know if no one ever tells us? Another industry joke, “It was reported by the SCUBA Police”.
After 17 years of reviewing all these dive accidents and fatalities, where basic skills failure has taken the life of another diver (mostly fathers), or failure to perform basic maintenance on equipment has caused loss of life or permanent injury (mostly fathers) because the service “costs too much” (What’s Your Life Worth) I can comfortably say history does repeat itself because you can change the names and dates on the accident report forms and I have a big stack of the same, almost exact, reports.
So how do we solve this? Promote training and stop looking at it as just a way to make money. If you don’t need the money, teach the divers for free or give the money to someone who does need it. Don’t take divers on your boat that aren’t properly trained for the sites you are going to put them on. When selling equipment, make sure the diver is certified to use it, if they are not, roll the price of training into the sale of the product.
If my tone is a little blunt and gets your attention, good or bad, good – it’s supposed to. This industry needs to wake up and take responsibility and stop passing the blame on to someone else. The blame game was just tried out in court and the stakes were high, 25 million high, for a diver that was not trained for the equipment they were using, was aware it needed to be serviced, and was not diving from a private boat, yet the industry still took a black eye.
So we have a choice, we can keep doing what we have been doing expecting a different result (the definition of insanity) and run this industry right down to the deepest part of the ocean or, we can start taking responsibility and stop these divers from hurting or killing themselves. This has to be done at the individual level, no more blame game, that is not the solution. You don’t like the agency you are with? Don’t like their training philosophy? Don’t believe in their standards? Then leave them! The quickest way to put a company out of business, and yes that includes us, is to stop supporting them. Cut off the money, cut off the business. In one sense this is like politics, if you don’t vote you have no room to complain about who won. In this situation, if you don’t take action you have no room to armchair critique. And that’s another thing, you think sitting in the comfort of your home or office and commenting, based on speculation, on the most recent accident is going to help, or that the unscrupulous attorneys aren’t going to read what you write. Yes, attorneys use Facebook, are on the forums, and can read. Do you think for a minute that the insurance underwriters, the very ones you complain about every time you have to renew your insurance policy, aren’t reading your comments? Here’s a clue, they are! Put yourself in the shoes of an insurance underwriter, if you read how one dive professional(s) was bad mouthing another dive professional for their dangerous behavior, would you want to insure them at the cheapest rate?