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February 2004 Vol. 30, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Why Divers Die: Part III

over weighting is a common contributor

from the February, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

This is the last in a three-part series on Why Divers Die, based on actual cases from DAN. By presenting them, we hope to keep our fellow divers informed of errors divers make so that they will not make the same mistakes themselves.

Too frequently, I've seen traveling divers wearing twice the weight they need because they don't understand the techniques of properly weighting themselves. Yet divers who don't weight themselves properly are at considerable risk.

For example, a 19-year-old was making her first dive since certification and her first dive in cold water. She and her buddy planned a dive to 50 feet, but she shot past him, eventually ending up at 200 feet -- and drowned. He tried to retrieve her, but she was overweighted. He then headed to the surface, where he was treated for DCS.

A 54-year-old diver went with her husband to 32 feet and became separated late in the dive. She was found on the bottom with the regulator out of her mouth. Her tank was empty. A heavy catch bag and weights in the pocket of her buoyancy compensator, in addition to her weight belt, weighed her down.

This 53-year-old, experienced diver and her dive instructor were making their second dive of the day. Her buddy ran low on air and ascended without her. She surfaced with an empty tank but wanted to return to depth to decompress. She held a tank, regulator, and buoyancy compensator with her hands while she returned to depth. The equipment floated up to the surface four minutes later; her body was recovered from the bottom 30 minutes after that. She wore a dry suit, but it was improperly configured. She was significantly overweighted, and the quick release valve for her integrated weights was inoperable.

A 63-year-old male, with seven lifetime dives, made a dive with two buddies to 145 feet for 15 minutes. He ran out of air and buddybreathed with another diver, but then panicked and grabbed his buddy's primary regulator. Soon his buddy ran out of air and surfaced unconscious, but alive. The decedent's body was recovered 15 days later. Not only was he overweighted, but there was a hole in his buoyancy compensator as well.

There are Solutions

Years ago, I came across a study reporting that a major reason divers don't drop weight belts in an emergency is that they are expensive. Rather than risk losing a few dollars, they risk their lives. So it would make good safety policy for any dive operation to inform their divers that if they have to drop their belt in an emergency, they can do so without any penalty.

"She held a tank, regulator, and buoyancy
compensator with her hands while she returned
to depth. The equipment floated up to the
surface four minutes later."

But the weight belt is just part of a weighting system and needs to be considered in the context of all gear. Reader Chuck Tribolet (Morgan Hill, CA) writes: "For normal diving, there's a simple solution to being negative without your BC. The most popular tank, the Luxfer Aluminum 80, is four pounds positive when empty. So, assuming you are weighted right, you will be four pounds negative when you take off your BC. Simple solution: move about six pounds from your belt to your BC by switching to a steel tank, using a stainless steel backplate, or strapping some lead on the BC. Then you will be a couple of pounds positive when you take off your BC."

Know How to Use Your Gear

Some equipment problems can be chalked up to inexperience. This 41-year-old male had made five lifetime dives since being certified six months previously. He and a buddy made a shore entry dive to 70 feet for 15 minutes wearing dry suits. The decedent was low on air at the end of the dive but seemed to be doing fine, according to his dive buddy, until he lost consciousness during the surface swim back to shore. It turned out his regulator was improperly attached to his tank.

A 49-year-old student in an advanced open-water certification course with 15 lifetime dives made a shore entry night dive and carried his mask and fins into the surf. When his buddy had to return to the beach, the decedent continued the dive. No one saw him again until his body was recovered without his mask and fins.

Carelessness kills, so whatever your level of skill as a diver, it's important to respect your equipment. Regular maintenance between dives and a thorough predive safety check are the best safeguards against life-threatening equipment problems underwater.

-- Ben Davison

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