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June 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Why Donít Some Divers Drop Weights in an Emergency?

from the June, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Undercurrent:

"Has anyone ever tried to get a feel for how divers think about the decision whether to drop weights and what factors they consider?"

"I'm embarrassed to admit it, but more than once I've been in a situation where I was having difficulties, and I was trying to decide whether I needed to drop my weights or not, and I found myself worrying about the cost of my weight belt and the hassle of telling the dive operator that I had lost 12 pounds of his weights."

"Obviously, a rational person would dismiss those two issues immediately. After all, one is talking about possibly drowning. But still, those thoughts went through my mind."

"Am I unusual or typical in worrying about something about which I should not?"

Samuel Johnson (Greensboro, NC)

Dear Sam,

No, you're not unusual. And while I know of no new research, nearly 40 years ago Undercurrent carried a story about research conducted along the beaches of Los Angeles County. In those days, L.A. County had a diver certification program, and divers wore a horsecollar BC without automatic inflators, wore too much weight, and the tanks had funky j-valves for "reserves." I wrote about their research, in which they found that the main reason for divers in trouble not dropping their weight belts was the cost of the belt and the perceived lack of pride in losing it. So, your response is not at all uncommon. In fact, many dive operators today will tell you that if you have to drop the weight belt you rented from them, you don't have to pay for it. They understand the reasons behind our reluctance.

That said, today's diver has fewer reasons to need to drop the belt. If you are properly weighted to be neutrally buoyant, you will not need to drop any weights until you reach the surface and find you are unable to inflate your BC. A neutrally buoyant diver will start to become positively buoyant if he fins up only a short distance, because the residual air in the BC will expand due to reducing water pressure.

Of course, if you are significantly overweighted and carrying gear that is negatively buoyant, you may need to add air to your BCD to rise. If you can't add air -- say your BCD is faulty -- can't kick up, and don't want to drop your heavy gear, then all that is left is dropping the weight belt, which is worth more than a few dollars less than your life.

That said, many troubled divers who reach the surface are unable to stay there without inflating their BCDs or dropping their weights, and then they tragically drop and drown.

And, of course, it may be that the only way to float an unconscious diver may be to release his weight belt.

-- Ben Davison

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