There really is never a bad question but always think about the question before you ask it; put yourself in the instructor’s fins. Questions are an important tool for instructors when teaching, they let the instructor know what the diver is thinking and chances are good that if one person has a question, others have may have the same but are hesitant to ask.
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.
by Cristiana Rollino and Maids Wallace (SDI/TDI Instructor 5280)
Many thanks to Maids, a beginner in scuba diving, who has not only managed to translate this account in to English, but who has also understood my struggle in the world of technical diving.
Attilio used to tell his friends: “She’s not interested in fish… she likes shipwrecks!” I was branded a tomboy.
I sincerely do like shipwrecks because they epitomize nature’s quiet but unrelenting take over of everything that contaminates it. They lie on the seafloor, oblivious to the dramatic event which has sunk them. They are sometimes a tangible confirmation of a real war or an other-world image in a documentary, their shape deformed by fire, by the explosion of a bomb or a torpedo. They are colonized by marine life which is unaware of the history of its dwelling place. My curiosity about shipwrecks, many of which lie below the 40 meter mark, led me to attend a “Decompression” course and subsequently “Normoxic Trimix”, both held by TDI. So, this is also the story of my wary approach to technical diving.
The simplest part was using bail-out tanks. Bi-tanks (10 + 10 liters), however, posed a more serious problem. Despite modifying the equipment configuration many times, I kept descending head first: even though I kept counterbalancing with fins and back muscles, I used to get out of breath and sometimes had narcosis symptoms. At last, a sympathetic soul on a diving forum suggested I shorten the crotch of my inflatable jacket and add a tail weight, thus eliminating my trim problem.
The Mediterranean basin was frequently a theatre for battles between the Italian Regia Marina (Navy) and the British Royal Navy during the Second World War.
Wrecks from that period can be found in the seas south of Sardinia and divers from all over Europe go there to investigate.
Many of them, like us, go to “Pro Dive Diving Center”, run by Susanna Sabbioni (SDI Nitrox Instructor) and Stefano Bianchelli (SDI/TDI Instructor Trainer, specializing in rebreather training), which can supply gases for tanks and a competent guide. That’s Stefano himself, who knows the area very well and whose technical ability is widely recognized. He’s got a bit of a crafty look but he’s really very helpful and good natured.
The dive center is situated in Villasimius, a small village renowned for its marvelous sandy beaches: Simius Beach and the adjacent Giunco Beach , where the salt marsh lagoon hosts colonies of pink flamingoes.
The Loredan (-54/65 m) and the Isonzo (-43/57 m) (Fig. 1 and 2), which were part of a convoy torpedoed on 10th April 1943 by a British submarine, were our first diving destinations. The most curious wreck, however, was, in my opinion, the armed cargo ship Salpi. It was torpedoed by a British submarine on 9th February 1942 in the waters around Cape Ferrato and lies at around -47 to 60 meters depth. We planned our dive for 22 minutes at 58 meters with Trimix 18/40 and decompression with EAN50 and EAN99.
We descended along the rope, which reaches the central part of the ship. A big cannon was sitting on the stern (Fig. 3) and it was possible to get into the various holds (Fig. 4). There was a well preserved explosives magazine in one of these and it was possible to make out the lines of bullets laid out tidily (Fig. 5), ready for use. Two big anchors were visible just in front of the magazine.
The most extraordinary thing was, however, the load of loose grain, which filled one of the holds. It was at least one meter high! (Fig. 6). It was just like grain one could buy at the market; one could sink one’s hands into it. It was covered with a 20 cm jelly-like layer, floating over the grain like a cloud; perhaps it was secreted by the grain itself.
Why hadn’t the grain been eaten by fish? Perhaps there aren’t omnivore fish at that depth, or perhaps metabolic fermentation processes are drastically slowed down. Unfortunately, a scientific explanation was not forthcoming, even though I asked marine biologists.
In another hold, a 4 cm layer of paraffin was floating near the ceiling. It had probably been used to make light. Stefano claimed that it was perfect for lubricating the zips on our diving suits…an inglorious end for a historic relic.
I was enthusiastic about this dive (Fig. 7), but it’s well known that our emotions are but fleeting moments, memories recorded in our brain so that they can fill our future.
Fig. 1: The Isonzo cannon
Fig. 2. The Isonzo cannon
Fig. 3. The Salpi cannon
Fig. 4. Wheeled carriages
Fig. 5. Charges
Fig. 6. The grain in one of the holds
Fig. 7. Going back up to the rope
Basic Wreck Diving
Basic wreck dives would consist of swimming around the outside of the wreck, with the occasional peek in the wheelhouse or cargo hold. That does not mean there is not a lot to learn, even though the plan is to stay on the outside, or that there is not a lot to see. For divers wishing to survey the wreck or watch the marine life it attracts, this is the perfect spot. The outside of a wreck is also where we get those dramatic photographs of the bow stabbing towards the surface, hoping to sail again. For the diver wishing to view a piece of history, diving on the wreck can show you what some will only read about or see in pictures. This type of wreck diving has been enjoyed by many and for some divers this is as close as they want to get to a wreck.
The equipment needed for a basic wreck dive is pretty much the same equipment used for any dive. There are some pieces of additional equipment that may come in handy: a large slate for drawing the wreck and noting depths and features, a small reel, and a lift bag or surface marker buoy (SMB) just in case you lose track of the anchor line or get blown off the wreck.
Advanced Wreck Diving
Advanced wreck diving is really an extension of basic wreck diving. Advanced wreck diving starts on the exterior with a survey that familiarizes the diver with how the wreck is oriented: on its keel, on its side, separated into halves or with a twist. No two wrecks are the same and all suffer different damages due to how they sunk, how long their journey was to the bottom or the severity of the storms that have battered them over the years. There are even vertical wrecks and wrecks clinging to the side of walls. Learning how to effectively survey the wreck is an extremely important part of any wreck course. This visual image, is the only thing the diver will have to rely on, since his compass will not work. Even wooden wrecks tend to have massive hunks of metal or boilers, which send the compass into a spin. But here is the point where advanced wreck diving waves goodbye to basic wreck diving; it is where we go beyond “the light zone.”
The light zone is where ambient light enters an overhead area and artificial light is required in order to see. Once a diver enters an area in a wreck where a light is required, the rules of wreck diving change. A diver in this area must have the knowledge and skills they need to go into and come out of a wreck should the worse possible scenario, a complete silt out, occur. In order to do this, divers must know how to use a reel for navigation and how to properly tie off lines so they will not get cut during the dive. But this is also where the fun starts for wreck divers craving to study the more intimate details of the wreck or seeking that hidden artifact that no one else has seen.
Many wreck divers don’t feel they know all there is to know about a wreck until they have explored every room, seen the engines that pushed this once mighty vessel through thousands of nautical miles. There are also those who want to see the artifacts, some still lying in place as if the ship had never sunk. To some, the best part of the wreck dive started before they even entered the water, it was the hours of researching and planning that lead up to the dive. But before a wreck diver can see these sights they need to undergo serious dive training and have an experienced TDI Wreck Instructor explain the safety protocols. Remember that worst case scenario of silting out? For divers who spend their time on the outside of a wreck, this silt would only come from the fin thrust as it hits the bottom or deck of the boat. For divers entering the wreck, this silt comes from above and is called percolation silt, cased by the exhaled bubbles as they dislodge rust, insulation or other debris trapped on the ceiling.
Another big area of difference between basic and advanced wreck diving is the equipment needed. Advanced wreck divers should carry at a minimum two lights a primary and a back-up, two cutting devices, two reels, two lift bags and a redundant air supply. While this may sound like a lot of equipment, a TDI Advanced Wreck Instructor can teach divers where to stow this equipment and still keep very streamlined in the water.
Wrecks have a mysterious calling to many people. Wrecks that occurred due to war or sank because of a violent storm draw divers in, some say this is because it closes that chapter in our lives. Others would go there because they read about it in history books and they wanted to see it firsthand. Whatever the reason, or if you are going to view the wreck from the outside or inside, it is always best to take the course from an instructor who has been there and done it. Sometimes the best lesson learned from a course is not what is in the book or the skills you had to perform, it is merely what you learned by diving with and watching how an experienced instructor handled himself underwater.
Every wreck has a story, even the ones that were sunk intentionally. So do yourself a favor…find out what that story is! Safe diving!