Buzzing from the nice sleep and tasty fare served up at the Temple Cookhouse, we boarded the dive boat. The dive briefings, barring some confusion over compass headings, were satisfactory.
We were to dive the Pirate’s Booty at 24m depth first. The conditions were quite fair, at 26 degrees Celsius and overcast skies. Expected visibility was 3-5 meters below surface. My friend WKJ and a rescue diver named MOLAN would form one pair. The other pair consisted of one Instructor, a DMT, and a trainee OW diver.
Subsequent banter on the dive boat affirmed MOLANs rescue diver status. His helpful nature and textbook knowledge impressed me, and made me look forward to the dive. After waiting for the other group to depart, the three of us kitted up and commenced our descent. The surface visibility was 5-7 meters, however, it dropped considerably as the depth increased. We finally touched bottom with 1-2 meters of visibility at 23.8 meters depth. All three of us showed the OK sign and were good to go.
Much Ado About Nothing
Fresh from reading Martin Edge’s tome on underwater photography, I wanted to undertake this as my test dive for the new photography procedures. The poor visibility reduced my scope of operation and I decided to focus instead on Macro Photography.
Decidedly unhappy with my not so stellar photography skills, and after cursing my camera’s limitations, I honed onto another area to focus on. While trying to find the perfect spot, MOLAN decided to adopt his textbook ways and tell me that he thought that I required to inflate my BCD by a tiny amount. I gestured to him that I understood what he’s saying but wouldn’t do so until completion of my Photo-ops. I assume that WKJ observed the whole sequence of events without intruding.
On turning around to focus on my photography, I saw MOLAN swim calmly ahead towards the other group. Not thinking too much about it, me and WKJ continued with the dive and finally surfaced after 38 minutes bottom time. I was greeted by some not so happy faces upon surfacing. Further enquiry later, I ascertained that MOLAN had aborted his dive because he had lost us and was back on the boat. What infuriated me further was when me and WKJ were asked to keep our dive buddies within eyesight the next time and as to why we didn’t follow SOP and surface immediately.
UN Breaks the Surface Tension
WKJ played mediator and the palpable tension between MOLAN and me was diffused after a round of peace talks. We allowed MOLAN to lead our subsequent dives and we took the backseat. After the day’s diving and the hullabaloo which accompanied it, we were informed while logging our dives by the instructor that MOLAN was indeed an inexperienced diver and that we should forgive him about what happened on the boat.
The incident got me exercising my grey cells about everything that is wrong (and perhaps right) with the initial certification process in recreational diving. But first let’s have a look at the actions which should have been taken in accordance with the extant SOPs.
Should, Could and What Happened
General recreational SCUBA standards dictate that on losing a buddy, one must carry out a buddy search for not more than one minute of time. Failing which, one should commence ascent and abort the dive. In an ideally wretched situation, both the buddy’s would undertake the one minute search and surface thereafter.
In our case, MOLAN ventured off to meet the other dive group. As both WKJ and I had seen him propel himself towards the other group, we continued with our dive. While it can be argued that conceptually it is a diver lost situation, logic dictates that we saw him move towards the other group and hence didn’t lose him. Personally, I felt then that my disregard to his advice had left him rather miffed. Perhaps that’s why he’d decided to move on and stay with the other group.
Additionally, WKJ and me have been diving together since a year. A shared common weakness for single malt and beer apart, both of us understand each other like yin and yang – both over seas and under seas. Considering the aforesaid factors, we both decided to continue with our dive safely. However, when we surfaced we realized that MOLAN had actually met the instructor with the other group, signaled to her that he’d lost his buddies and carried out ascent. Either he tried to shake us up, or he was being genuine. In any case, his haphazard behavior was enough to nonplus me.
Sensibly, after intervention by WKJ we allowed him to lead the subsequent dives and avoid any more recurrences.
Surface Evaluation and Debrief
We later realized that MOLAN, although a rescue diver, was not experienced – let alone lead dives on his own. He was lucky that he had a set of buddies who had been diving together and understood each other to the last T underwater.
To put things in perspective, WKJ has dived in Indian and international waters and has seen numerous conditions. In spite of that, we both exercise a high level of precaution prior, during, and after our dives and consciously try to stay away from unfounded bravery (stupidity?). In my opinion MOLAN, who has recently started diving, got ahead of himself. The rescue diver certification built a false sense of bravado in him – which is the first ingredient in the recipe for disaster.
However, there are certain things which I could have differently and will do in the future. For starters
- Ask any new buddy about their exact diving experience and not just their certifications
- Be firm and polite with the new buddies
- Stick to my own team/crew, whenever conditions allow
- Be more calm during the surface interval
I also realized that the certification procedures and the process to validate or verify the experience needs an overhaul. While I understand that it’s a business and commercial activity, we must also take cognizance of the fact that life is at stake. Towards that end, I am in the process of writing a piece on my envisaged changes in the certification procedure for recreational diving. Until then, that’s my lot. Take it easy and enjoy!
All names have been ‘callsigned’ to maintain privacy.