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April 2011    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 37, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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A Divemasterís Thoughtful Rant

What the divemaster is thinking - - and wants you to know, too

from the April, 2011 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As a diver, you surely know that your friendly divemaster often has an internal dialogue going on in his or her head. And it might not be so jovial, depending on your behavior aboard the boat. You might think that you're an experienced diver, and thus, one of the easier clients on the boat. Not necessarily. Sadly, many experienced divers are oblivious to how their actions affect the divemaster and the dive charter. Want to know what divemasters really think and what our beer-fueled bitch sessions sound like? Read on.

Divemasters notice what kind of gear you have. We're not gear snobs, honest, at least not in the way you might think. But if you have a high-end regulator, a $1,200 dive computer and a full-face dive mask, but no air horn, safety sausage or even a marine whistle, we've put you in the clueless category. Safety gear should be the first thing you buy, not the last.

And about that fancy dive computer, if you ask us to help you understand it, we're not going to be happy. First, there's a liability issue if I help you and get it wrong. So from a liability standpoint, I really shouldn't help you. Also, there are hundreds of dive computers in use, so why would you think that I have a comprehensive knowledge of yours? Lastly, your computer is making calculations and providing information to keep you from getting decompression sickness or an air embolism, which are life-threatening conditions, yet you didn't take the time to read the manual or get your retailer to teach you how to use it? But on the dive waiver you told me you're an experienced diver with hundreds of dives. Seriously?

If we tell you to use a down line, a tag line or the mooring line, heed our advice. We are familiar with a site's currents, prevailing winds and swells, and asking you to use a down line is not a comment on your dive skills. Drifting off while getting down, or while doing your safety stop, puts you at risk and us in the potential position of swimming you down. And often dive experience does not equal dive skill. Coming straight to the boat in pitching seas, when another diver is on the ladder, is dangerous. That's why we want you to use the tag line. Though there are times we'd like to hit you with a scuba tank, watching it happen because you swam under another diver on the ladder doesn't give us the same satisfaction as hitting you ourselves.

You may think violating the deco limits of your dive computer, especially by just a couple of minutes, is no big deal. Wrong. You've just put yourself at risk, and our entire charter at risk. If you show any DCS symptoms, no matter how slight, we're going to have to beat feet back to the dock. That ends the dive day for everyone on the boat. And at the very least, if you violate the deco limit of your computer, we're going to follow the standard recommendations and make you sit out for 24 hours. It's a safety and liability issue.

Most divemasters will ask you to notify them when you've used half a tank of air. And let's do the math, shall we? Half a tank isn't 800 or 1,000 PSI. It's 1,500 PSI. And if you tell me you're at half a tank and then just a couple of minutes later you're at 1,000 PSI, in no current, I know you were lying. And on the next dive, no matter how experienced you claim to be, I'm going to swim over to you and read your gauge for myself.

Want a guided dive? Then follow me - - seriously. I gave you the option of doing a guided dive or the ability to just do your own dive in a buddy team. You said you wanted to be guided, but now we're underwater and you and your buddy are long gone. Oh gee, thanks. Now I have no idea if you're doing your own dive, you're lost, or worse, in trouble. I get to guess and then determine what action I should take. And if I decide there might be a problem, I have to end the guided dive for the rest of the group and look for you and your buddy. So once again, your actions may harm the dive for the rest of the divers.

Listen to my briefings. So you didn't listen to the dive briefing because you think you know how to dive, and perhaps you've even visited this dive site before. But while I'm trying to gear up to begin guiding, you're asking me questions I covered in detail in the briefing. When I slap you with my fin - - accidently, of course - - I'll apologize, but I won't really mean it.

Flush your wetsuit. Hey, we understand, sometimes nature calls while you're underwater, and warming your wetsuit isn't an option, it's a necessity. But just like in any bathroom, you need to flush. So open up the neck of that wetsuit and let some water run through - - a few times, please. Divemasters and captains have sensitive noses; we know when you've taken a bathroom break on the dive. And at the end of the dive day, if you christened your wetsuit, take it off on the back of the boat and rinse it before you put it into the gear bag that the crew likely will be hauling from the boat for you.

While we're on the topic of gear, please don't treat the boat like your bedroom, spreading your stuff everywhere. Keep it organized and in your designated area. Hanging any gear on a ladder is a safety concern. Draping your gear on the tank next to yours impacts another diver. And don't put anything other than a camera on the camera table or in the camera rinse bucket. Spitting into your mask and then rinsing it in the camera bin ... um, not so nice.

Keep your cameras to yourself. Cameras are a topic unto themselves. Asking us to deliver your monster camera rig in pitching seas while we're trying to get the rest of the divers in the water can be problematic. We generally try to be accommodating, but if you want us to remove the lens cover, wipe the camera down, adjust the strobes, attach a lanyard, or other special assistance, you should be diving with a camera assistant. A divemaster can't do all this and effectively manage his or her dive group.

Don't be an SOB. SOBs, or same ocean buddies, make us crazy, especially if an experienced diver is nowhere near his or her less-experienced buddy. We see this regularly, with husband-and-wife teams, parent-and-child buddy teams, even long-time, highly experienced dive buddy teams. Dive cameras exacerbate the problem. If you're more than a few kicks away from your buddy, if a piece of gear fails or other mishap occurs, you won't be able to give or receive help. If we've allowed you to dive as a buddy with the divemaster, then you need to stay in close proximity to your guide. However, don't be a remora - - please give the divemaster enough space to maneuver.

Give everything some space. While we're on the topic, let's have a little discussion about space, shall we? Overrunning the divemaster or other divers is always a faux pas, no matter how much you spent on that monster camera rig. Overrunning, crowding or chasing a turtle, eel, seahorse or other creature is bad form, and drives divemasters nuts. It also ensures the creature will flee or hide, which means you've kept other divers from a great creature encounter.

Okay, those are the negatives. But there are plenty of divers who are a pleasure to guide, whom we'd welcome on the boat any time. So here are a few words about what makes a good day for a divemaster. We like divers who honestly tell us about physical weaknesses, inexperience or hesitations before the dive. We want you to enjoy the dive, stay safe and become a better diver. If you let us know what you need help with - - in advance - - we will generally do everything we can to make sure you have a great day. And we love divers who are into critters and get excited when they see something cool, or when a divemaster goes hunting and finds them something cool. We are animal lovers, and we wouldn't be doing this job if we didn't get a charge out of sea creatures, and the more we dive, the more we tend to love the weird stuff. We love a good dive story or tale of a hilarious mishap - we live for that stuff. We like divers who treat the boat like it's their own, with respect and care. And if you take a really good picture or video underwater or on the boat, please share it with us.

J. D. is a divemaster who has worked in Hawaii and the Caribbean. She has experienced every problem noted in this article, and most of these issues come up weekly with "experienced" divers.

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