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Diver’s Biggest Problem: Apathy and Over-Confidence
markingrassia - 1/02/2017 9:54 AM
Category: Health & Safety
Replies: 8

Now closing in a hundred dives in the first two years since earning my OW cert, I still have a ways to go to become an expert in the sport. But, after watching hundreds of other divers, maybe that’s a goal I should never achieve.

Being a perpetual student seems to be a safer consideration.

My experience with diving revealed an unexpected observation; not why there are diving mishaps, but why there aren’t a great deal more of them. It seems there’s a correlation between safety and experience. Often, the more dives a person has, the less they feel obliged to follow the safety lessons taught in their initial scuba diving classes.

Over confidence is just human nature. Once we’ve conquered a fear of something, we tend to take it less seriously or, dismiss it entirely. But there is a difference in conquering a fear and losing respect for activities that involve a potential danger—as does diving.

Apathy happens when we simply stop caring about something. Our diving equipment is so, well-engineered and constructed, it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. And with each non-incident dive, it’s harder to see the value for continued, repetitive pre-dive checks, planning, and buddy diving—all that seems to be considered ‘rookie diver stuff.’

Take ‘John,’ for example, (John is an alias for a real person, who I won’t call out in public) a seasoned diver with over 1500 plus dives. I was teamed up with John when I went solo with a dive charter in Florida last year. I was happy to be assigned with someone with so much experience. I was hoping to learn something from this sage diver, but what he taught me was not what I was expecting.

John, and I did make a dive plan, went over hand signals and checked each other’s’ gear—mostly because I insisted on doing so. (Initial red flag). John, dove in the water without his regulator in his mouth nor wearing his mask or snorkel, donning it only when he was ready to submerge (Red flag number two). Then before I jumped in John power dove to spearfish a wreck at (100-110 ft) leaving me behind (Third red flag). When I did manage to catch up to my wayward dive partner, he never looked back to see me (Red flag number four). He was so, absorbed in spear-fishing he passed through narrow spaces created by fallen debris and eventually disappeared around the stern and was gone. John then surfaced without notifying me (Red Flags number five and six).

On a subsequent dive, John was told to stay near the wreck by the Dive Master, as the water was murky and choppy; however, confident John, on the ocean floor took off on a tangent along a debris field without me. Again, he disappeared from my sight. My no-deco was under ten minutes at that depth so, I had to ascend. When I got back aboard and didn’t see John, my stomach turned to knots. Some time later the captain spotted John 3/4 of a mile away. John, was out of air, exhausted and had a nasty leg cramp. A crewman had to jump in and haul John out. (Seventh and final red flag).

I eventually told John, that I was uncomfortable with his diving practices and that I’d be buddying-up with someone else.

By the way, John, was a self-described as a former Senior PADI instructor with 1500+ dives. Over Confidence can happen to anyone and apparently does.

But John isn’t alone nor, is he an extreme case of Diver’s Apathy. I’ve been teamed up with other ‘experienced’ divers that routinely take unnecessary risks. Many run their air down to sub 400 Psi before ascending. Others’ with taped-up BCD’s, rigged broken fins and leaky masks jump in confident their fixes will keep. Still others, including dive masters and instructor’s stick their hands in crevices, taunted and antagonized sea critters and enter dodgy wrecks and caves.

And then there are people with medical issues; with poor fitness, obesity, smokers, asthmatics, cardio-pulmonary patients, and people on blood thinners and diabetes medicine who announce they are not in the best of shape and ask you to keep an eye out on them. And even though they know that most diving accidents are due to medical issues, they lie on their medical waivers and ‘jump in’ anyway. I met one man with two bypass surgeries under his belt who was on a cocktail of medicines. I don’t know for sure if he got an ‘okay’ be his doctor, but you have to wonder.

Then we get to the procedural lackeys. Rarely if ever, do I ever see experienced divers doing pre-dive equipment checks and going over dive plans, hand signals and such. Half the time I see ‘buddy’ divers separate and later, ascend separately.

Worse, are the people who push the envelope exceeding their diving experience and training. I have a GOPRO film of a young diver, a Dive Master Trainee who was alone on the sea floor at 110 feet practicing removing and donning her BCD rig—no one was anywhere near her. I was horrified, and wondered what would happen if her BCD and tank floated off in the current? Where was her buddy?

And indeed, there are a lot of diver accidents that happen because an overconfident diver went too deep for too long or, simply became preoccupied and wandered off from their buddy as their gas headed down to ‘0.’ I have assisted three divers who were in various degrees of trouble, because they became separated from their dive buddy when a piece of gear became lose or, had buoyancy issues, problems that could have been fixed on the surface with an equipment check.

Bottom line, 90% of diving accidents happen due to a diver’s apathy and complacency. If you are physically marginalized, don’t dive. If you’re not experienced or trained to do dangerous dives, don’t make them. Find a dive partner that takes diving safety seriously. Do your pre-equipment checks and make a dive plan with your buddy before EVERY dive, and then when diving stay with that buddy. Practice your hand signals. Practice handing off your backup regulator with your buddy and ascending together. Keep your equipment maintained.

Stay fit, get regular physicals and if your doctor says ‘no diving,’ then listen!

In other words, whether you have 10 dives under your belt, or 1000 follow the safety routines you learned in your Open Water Classes, and your chances of a diving mishap will be almost non-existent.
markingrassia - 1/02/2017 10:56 AM

Yes, I’ve met a lot of divers who are so, experienced, they feel comfortable riding the needle down towards ’0.’ If you are diving solo, as you were, that is your prerogative, though I would think ill-advised to others in that while you’ve dove a certain environment 1000 times, sea conditions and things on the bottom can change.

My bigger concern, diving with the below 500 PIS crowd is that if I am their buddy, and we are both at 500 PSI at 100 feet, what happens when one of us needs to buddy breath? 500 PSI is not enough gas for 2 grown men to make a safe ascent on — especially if one or both is panicked or tired from exertion.
markingrassia - 1/02/2017 11:18 AM
My favorite ( I was SDI Certified) is telling newbie’s to inflate their vests before they jumping in on all dives, then orient themselves to a landmark, coordinated with the other divers, give an okay signal then descend together. My first post-OWC dive was in 3-4 ocean foot waves where we had to vent all the air in our BCD’s before we dove in so, we didn’t bob around and get sick on the surface. I was like, "that’s not what they taught us in OW class." But, in the end, you go with the Diver Master.

Yes, diving with a really green diver is distracting because you need to keep an eye out for them. But, others kept an eye out on me so, I don’t mind returning the favor.
lerpy - 1/02/2017 12:05 PM
Mark, you have made some very good observations. There can be a lot of complacency when it comes to diving, and complacency in diving, as in many other industries, can have serious consequences. Your experience with an insta-buddy is not uncommon. Unfortunately at times we get put with other divers, that really have no interest in diving with somebody, or simply do not respect the buddy system and why we as divers have adopted it.

You can learn a lot from divers with more experience, and more training, but there are certainly those that have more experience and training, that do not follow what they have learned, and when in your situation, do not recognize that a buddy might be looking to them for guidance on a particular dive, and what the are showing you is bad practices.

It is out there, and I have had my fair share of insta-buddies that have the complacency or sheer disregard that you speak of. Hell I had a situation on a boat in COZ on a night dive where a guy went on and on about how wonderful a diver he was, and actually openly made fun of me because I had a strobe on, rather than maybe asking me why and possibly learning something.

As for medical forms, you are so right about that. Working on a boat I have seen plenty of forms that you know are not truthful. But the other factor people get into is, " I have paid for this dive, so I am doig it no matter what". I get its hard when you have paid good money to go on a trip to then back out of a dive or a day of diving, I have done it several times, and then I went back when feeling better. The site will always be there.

The other big factor for new divers, or divers that are learning is that many training agencies, simply train you to dive at the OW level. You don’t get a really good breadth of knowledge or experience. Often people learn in warm calm waters, and learn protocols for diving that environment. They them come to a place like where I dive and work on boats in the great lakes, and feel their skill set is the same, and it is to a degree, but again if those people think that they got it no problem, they can find themselves in trouble. Part of that is having a good operator that gives good briefing and takes the extra time to address concerns of such divers.

As I say you have made some great observations, and good for you for stepping away from that buddy. The fact that you have these observations and took that action shows you are a competent diver that is not going to knowingly get into a bad situation.
LatitudeAdjustment - 1/02/2017 3:38 PM
" I still have a ways to go to become an expert in the sport."

Careful, when you or someone else thinks you’re an expert that’s when things go wrong :(

A few years ago Greg made some changes to the site and changed my experience level to Expert, my first thought was OMG I’m going to die :(

Years ago it was the guy with the most dives on the boat who didn’t keep the DM in sight per the briefing, didn’t take his sausage and it took us 1:44 to find him.

Years ago I was supposed to dive the U-Boat off Block Island, the boats Captain with thousands of dives got tangled in monofilament and drown
diverray - 1/04/2017 5:07 PM
I can understand if an experienced diver doesn’t want to buddy with an inexperienced diver, depending on what the diver wants to do on the dive. That decision should be made on the surface, however, so that both parties know they are solo divers, or one can make other arrangements. To agree to be a buddy, then abandon the buddy is poor form, and dangerous.