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August 2002 Vol. 17, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Drunks Aboard Your Boat

when jerks spoil the fun

from the August, 2002 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As the previous piece on Why Divers Die points out, the misuse of alcohol creates all sorts of problems for divers. Alcohol dehydrates, and dehydration is strongly suspected of impeding offgassing efficiency. The adverse effects of alcohol on mental ability, motor skills, judgment, and impulse control are very well documented. On the other hand, I would agree with experts like Brett Gilliam who say that a beer with lunch is no big deal.

Many liveaboard boats have an explicit policy: Your first drink of the day means youve had your last dive of the day. Peter Hughes Diving and the Aggressor Fleet have a more adult attitude, with no inflexible rules governing drinking and diving. Representatives of each told Undercurrent that drinking during the dive day was not prohibited, but did add that the captain may, at his discretion, stop a customer from diving And we cant recall hearing about an alcohol-related problem on these boats, though thats not to say they have had none.

Interestingly, the policy to provide unlimited free drinks as part of a package is not without its contradictions on a dive boat. While the policy recognizes that the passengers are responsible adults who have paid big bucks to come to dive, its also common knowledge that free booze encourages more consumption. The problem on a dive boat is not just that a drunk diver will go diving, but that a hung over, severely dehydrated diver may get into trouble the next day. (On the other hand, is the Aggressor Fleet changing its policy? Glenn Snyders, Virginia Beach, VA, onboard the Belize Aggressor in March, writes that his group of twelve were asked to buy more beer and diet soft drinks before departing because they are expensive. So why do they advertise drinks included?)

However, even if we stop worrying about people diving drunk or hung over, we can worry about how their behavior can affect others. An injured diver on a liveaboard may mean the diving for everyone is over. More likely, however, is this scenario, where a bunch of drunks just made for a miserable trip, as Undercurrent subscriber Dean Knudsons (Golden Valley, MN) reports about his March Blackbeard trip in the Bahamas.

Discount prices attract a variety of clients to Blackbeards Cruises, and not all are frugal and unassuming (or even divers). On board were five members of a construction crew who had received the trip as a Christmas bonus from their boss. They spent the average day wrapped in blankets sleeping on the deck, only to arise at 3pm and begin drinking beer, continuing to 4am each night, much to the dismay of the passengers who took the trip to dive. Several of the men were hung over and irritable from 7am to 3pm, often refusing to move from their topside sleeping spots even to allow the crew to handle lines, or to allow passengers to navigate from one end of the boat to the other. One urinated on the first mate in the middle of the first night and another screamed at the cook (the captains wife) in the middle of the night.

The captain actually warned them in a public announcement that he had permission to abandon them in Bimini. This did calm them, but they still managed to drink an astonishing quantity of alcohol. The shouting, screaming, profane language and stereo blasting made it difficult for the diving passengers to sleep, despite repeated polite requests for them to drink quietly. I was surprised to learn that this was their second Blackbeard trip. They had taken precautions to bring a large quantity of their own alcohol, since they had consumed all of the alcohol available on the boat by the midpoint of their previous trip.

Divers at dedicated dive resorts can face similar problems. At Belizes Turneffe Island Lodge in January, Sue Ann and Howard Hackworth ran into three jerks who were a pain in the *@!*. They were very hung over when they went diving at the Blue Hole and promptly drank beer when they surfaced (while we were in the water on two dives, they consumed the beer the other divers had ordered for the trip back). They kept dropping below the dive limits even with two divemasters with them the divemasters had to physically pull them back up twice. The third time the divemasters gave up and took us all up for our safety stop. They drank heavily all the time and the folks at the resort finally told them they couldnt dive if they were drinking. They thought this was ridiculous they chose to drink instead of dive pretty much from that point on. They would only do the middle dive and then drink all afternoon. One guy was a divemaster (he had no buoyancy control and was always running into everyone and kicking coral). His wife kept having runaway ascents. When we went for a night dive he told the divemaster she didnt need her own light crazy! The divemaster insisted she have one. The resort handled it well, and later, when they did dive, the resort sent them on a separate boat from everyone else.

Of course, the problem with boats and dedicated resorts is that you have no where else to go. If jerks are causing problems and management doesnt act, youre stuck.

In at least one case Cayman Madness partying and diving is pushed heavily in the dive community through advertising and magazine articles. Subscriber William Hall (Oak Harbor, WA) writes about last October Madness that it was too much of a dog and pony show for me. There were cheerleading and drinking contests and lots of other party-type things. Im fairly new to diving and quite conservative, so I dont really like to mix much alcohol with my diving. Therefore, going out in the evenings for partying didnt appeal to me. In situations like this, of course, theres no control over who goes diving the next day. However, one wonders whether such a week ought to garner headlines in diving magazines that are purported to be watching out for our safety.

If you wish to avoid excessive partying, stick to the tried and true exclusive dive resorts and boats (though even a place like Turneffe will turn up some party animals on occasion). If you happen to run into guys like the idiots at Turneffe or on Blackbeards boat, dont be shy. Talk to the people who run the boat or resort, explain how the obnoxious guests are spoiling the fun of others, and insist on your rights. A sensible operator will side with you.

Ben Davison

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