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March 2006 Vol. 21, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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No More Diving TodayDivers

why divers get benched

from the March, 2006 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Occasionally Undercurrent gets complaints from divers who have been barred or suspended from diving, for one reason or another, at a resort or on a live-aboard. This is a rare occurrence, but it can have ramifications for everyone on a liveaboard or at a resort.

Most dive operators dont publicize their disciplinary policies, but the Peter Hughes fleet provides a detailed breakdown on its website, saying they reserve the right to refuse service to any diver whose behavior is believed to be a danger to the safe operation of the vessel. Divers who exhibit objectionable personal conduct, excessive alcohol use or lack of sufficient diving skills or knowledge can be refused air fills at the Captains discretion. The company further hereby reserves the right in its sole and unfettered discretion, to decline to allow any Guest to participate in certain diving activities based on medical information, documentation and/or authorization(s), or the lack thereof.

Some operations will close down
a diver for a rapid ascent, even
when the diver shows no signs of
the bends or an embolism

Bill Christoffers, owner of Conch Club Divers on Little Cayman, points out, No dive operation, boat captain, divemaster, or instructor wants to deny a guest his or her diving. Our focus is to ensure our guests have the best diving experience possible so they will return. We only have a few cases a year where we ask a guest to leave the group and only then if one or more of three guidelines are repeatedly violated: violating the dive profile, especially if a divers computer locks down for a deco violation, purposeful touching of anything underwater, and diving without a buddy.

A rogue diver, states Christoffers, can disrupt a dive boat, create a negative and tense atmosphere for the guests and crew and be a danger to himself and others.

To see what divers think about getting barred, we queried our subscribers via our monthly email. Several disciplinary incidents seem to have been handled judiciously, but there were horror stories, too.

Rules is Rules

Virtually every dive operator asks guests to return with a certain amount of gas left in their tanks, usually 500 psi, sometimes more. At Voyages Resort on Australias Heron Island less than 700 psi can be a punishable offense. Scott Johnson (Palm Springs, CA), on board the resorts dive boat, he saw a diver come up with 550 psi and was warned. The next dive he came up with 450 psi and was suspended from diving for three days. Johnson says the diver appealed to the GM of the resort but without luck. The manager of the dive operation ruled.

The boat captain told Johnson that authorities inspect resort dive logs. If they see too many violations, a divemaster or skipper could be fined or lose their licenses. However, Johnson notes that no such limits were enforced on the Mike Ball boat he took to the Cod Hole on the same vacation, when they allowed him to dive his own profile.

Many divemasters check divers computers for violations, which may limit diving. Some time ago, Nicholas McGregor (Owatonna, MN) was aboard the Okeanos Aggressor diving Cocos Island. After a difficult dive involving great exertion due to currents and an extended deep stay, McGregors buddys Aladin computer went into decompression mode. And when he surfaced after violating his computers parameters, it locked for 24 hours, as it is designed to do.

McGregor says the divemaster made sure his buddy did not have any signs of DCS. However, he wouldnt permit him to dive until his computer came out of lockout mode. My buddy had another computer that he was willing to use, since he felt great and we were not going to dive until the next morning, McGregor reports. Of course, switching computers in mid trip would throw off subsequent decompression calculations. Wisely, the divemaster insisted. While the original computer was locked out, McGregors buddy would not be permitted to dive.

The divemaster got through to McGregors buddy by telling him that he would probably be lynched by the other 17 divers if he let him dive. They had each spent a great deal of money to go on this trip, and to make the boat return because of one divers error -- which was easily averted by not permitting him to dive -- would have been ridiculous.

Some operations will close down a diver for a rapid ascent, even if the diver shows no signs of the bends or an embolism. During a dive on the Yukon off San Diego, Janine Maira (Palm Springs, CA) saw her buddy signal he was out of air and bolt for the surface. She raced after him with her spare regulator. Clearly, says Maira, that was not a good choice of action at 85 feet, but I was worried that he was going to pass out. She didnt catch him, and slowed her ascent once she saw him break the surface. However, she skipped her safety stop in case he needed help. The divemaster jumped in the water and towed him back to the dive boat, Lois Ann.

Around the same time, another diver had also signaled to his buddy that he was out of air. She turned to look for the anchor line, reports Maira, and when she looked back he had bolted to the surface. (Both incidents underscore the need for rapid response when a diver gives the outof- air signal.)

Maira recalls that Eric, the divemaster on the Lois Ann, was kind and concerned and never did he scold anyone for their actions. He privately talked with all of us and strongly recommended that we not do the next dive and we agreed. I dont think other passengers knew what was going on, since it was handled discreetly. I dont think it affected their diving in any way.

A couple of years ago, Kenneth Cohen (New York, NY) was at the Galapagos Islands on a Peter Hughes boat. At one point, he had to ascend rapidly to catch his wife who had lost her weight belt. She was OK, says Cohen, but I had violated the computers safety mode. The captain administered oxygen, watched him and explained the need to avoid diving for a day. His actions were perfectly proper and professional, says Cohen, an MD. I was glad that he kept me from doing anything stupid.

More and more dive boat crews are asking divers to sit out after a rapid ascent, even if they are asymptomatic. The theory is that without being able to off-gas during a slow ascent and safety stop, residual nitrogen bubbles remain in the body. These silent bubbles can grow or cluster with other bubbles on a subsequent dive.

Joel Dovenbarger, Vice President of Medical Services for Divers Alert Network (DAN), heartily endorses waiting 24 hours after a rapid ascent, especially following multiple dives. Says Dovenbarger, Rapid ascent is as much a violation of the dive tables as staying too long at depth.

Undercurrent writer Doc Vikingo points out that less than half the cases of DCS manifest within an hour after the dive. Onset is within three hours in 60 percent of the cases, within eight hours in 83 percent and within 24 hours in 98 percent. Risk remains over the next 24 hours or so. Sit-outs provide an opportunity to review what went wrong and consider ways of preventing a recurrence, says Doc.

Bruce Wienke, creator of the RGBM (Reduced Gradient Bubble Model) used in many dive computers, finds a 24-hour surface interval extreme. He told Undercurrent that residual bubbles will disappear in three or four hours, unless youve clobbered the schedules. He also points out that his RGBM model remembers a rapid ascent and shortens the divers time-depth profile on the next dive to make up for it.

One thing is for sure, says Doc Vikingo, whether or not such policies prevent divers from getting bent, they often cause them to get bent out of shape.

Some operators insist on strict adherence to the buddy system. Rod Dingess (Statesville, NC), whos been diving for 35 years and is also an instructor, sent along three such cases.

Last year, Dive Provo in the Turks and Caicos had to call in divers and go looking for one who went off by herself along a wall. Says Dingess, She was found within 10 minutes. She was gently reminded not to go off by herself. She apologized to everyone and elected not to make the second dive. The crew was calm, and handled the incident like it was an everyday occurrence.

Not all divers are so cooperative. On a boat dive with Coastal Scuba off Myrtle Beach, SC, one diver refused to be matched up with a buddy, per the expressed rule, and was loud and belligerent. Dingess says the diver simply back-rolled off the boat, then exceeded the agreed-upon dive duration by 30 minutes. When he surfaced, Capt. Buddy met him at the dive platform and told him he would not dive again this day. He got angry and demanded repayment for his lost dive. Buddy showed his signed liability form, and told him he had forfeited his money when he dove alone.

At Lion Dive in Bonaire, one fellow in his group was an instructor, had technical training, and a solo dive certification. He touted his card as his reason to be excused from the rules of the boat, says Dingess. The crew told him that what he did on unsupervised shore dives was his business, but if he dived solo from the boat he would lose his boat dive privileges. If he had not been such a loud, obnoxious buffoon about the issue, they might not have evoked their power, says Dingess, adding, After that, if he signed up for a trip, the rest of us canceled. The dive shop got the message, and told him he was persona non grata.

Unfortunately, not all dive operations are so enlightened. At the Turks & Caicos Club Med, Suzanne Berger (Agoura Hills, CA) was buddied up with a fellow who had fewer than 30 dives and no computer. Because the divemasters were busy teaching a class, says Berger, they expected her to look after the newbie. When we returned to the boat, she says, the other diver had slightly exceeded his tables. My computer showed I was well within my limits, but because we were buddies we both had to sit out the next dive. Berger went out with Turtle Divers the rest of the week.

Obviously, there can be many reasons for denying a diver access to the water, and they vary between operations. In the next issue, well look at more subjective cases, when divers were barred or suspended due to insufficient skills or fitness problems both physical and mental. And, what to do to ensure you are never barred.

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