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January 2010    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 36, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Reader Advice for Not Getting Lost at Sea

from the January, 2010 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

After reading our October cover story about Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures and how our writer got separated from his group in a strong current and spent two hours bobbing at sea, readers wrote in to express their concern – and give advice about how he could avoid a second mishap.

“A diver has to give some thought to survival before it becomes survival,” says Robert Boyd (Ransom Canyon, TX). “Ask yourself, ‘What can I use each thing I have on me for if I need it for survival?’ When I began drift, wreck and night diving, I had redundant systems from the get-go. Yes, it cost more to double or triple everything but I always tried to stack the deck a little more in my favor. My son and wife both thought I was a crazed fool when I insisted they carry sausages, horns, whistles, strobe lights, flashlights, spare air and mirror-signaling devices on all dives.”

Most recommendations were about buying a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) to add to dive gear. Everyone had their favorite. “I highly recommend the PLBs made by ACR Electronics,” says Craig Munson (Lakeland, FL). “They can tell the search party exactly where you are within 10 feet anywhere in the world ( Another good item is a waterproof strobe light approved by the Coast Guard.”

John Fraser (Saipan, Mariana Islands) has ACR’s Aqualink PLB but it has some flaws. “It’s waterproof but not to the recreational dive limit of 130 feet. I did ask ACR about carrying its PLB inside several waterproof plastic bags, but they said the unit might be accidentally activated by the water pressure alone. So I carry mine in a waterproof plastic bag inside an OtterBox 9000, which is rated to 100 feet ( The drawback is that the box is too big to put in a BCD pocket and is positively buoyant. I have to attach the box to the outside of my BCD, and it really gets in the way. The new Aqualink is smaller than ACR’s previous one but will not fit into the smaller OtterBox 8000. I would very much like to see a PLB waterproof to at least 130 ft and small enough to fit inside a BCD pocket.”

While good PLBs are expensive at $500-plus for beacon and canister, Harry O’Neil (Great Falls, VA) recommends McMurdo’s new FastFind series, priced under $300. “I’d recommend the model 210 only, as it includes a GPS feature that sends your coordinates via the international search-andrescue satellite system. ( I also bought an OMS canister, model 298, for $50 and made a harness to attach it to one of my tank bands ( The only downside is I must remove my BC to get to the canister, but I’ll have plenty of time to do so if I ever need to use it. Given the money we spend on dive equipment, cameras, travel and insurance, a PLB is a drop in the bucket. Plus, the battery is good for at least five years.”

Some readers asked for more clarification from our writer about what happened on the dive. For instance, did Abernethy do a head count? “Yes, there was one, a careful one, on each dive. As mentioned, there was no alarm on the part of the crew until I didn’t appear after an hour and ten minutes into the dive. They knew I was under and were waiting for me. That’s why they called the Coast Guard after that time.”

Why did he ditch his tank, still full of air? “Dropping the tank was not due to weight, it was to free myself of the encumbrance so I could swim more easily.” As for losing the mask, did he make the dumb mistake of pushing it on top of his head? “The mask loss was, yup, a stupid mistake. The mask was not on top of my head, to my knowledge, but must have instead come off just as I surfaced. I wear it very loosely when diving, allowing water pressure to keep it on my face.”

No, he has no plans to sue. “I think it is a vital, reasonable right to sue for injury and/or damages when warranted. I do abhor the wanton filing of lawsuits that has poisoned our economy. That’s why I have no intention of filing a lawsuit against the Abernathy dive operation, even though I believe there was some negligence involved in their case.”

His dive mishap got the attention of “The Story With Dick Gordon,” a radio program from North Carolina Public Radio, and his interview aired in November. Listen to his tale, titled “Stranded at Sea,” by going to archive and scrolling down to the November 24 program.

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