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August 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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When That Dive Training Came In Handy

letters from readers about how they handled diving crises

from the August, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In last month's issue, John Bantin's story "Can You Handle a Crisis Underwater," focused on how well divers are prepared for emergencies, and whether they remember their training so that they can make the right decisions. We asked readers to write in with their stories about how they, or fellow divers, handled crises underwater, and what lessons they learned. We got some good ones -- about buddy checks, monitoring your bubbles, and good types of new training -- that serve as examples for all of us to follow.

Doing Better Buddy Checks From Now On

Dear Undercurrent,

A few years ago, when I was relatively inexperienced, my dive buddy and I dove the Blue Heron Bridge in Florida. We set up our gear near the parking area and carried it 50 yards down to the inlet, where we entered the water. All was fine for about 30 minutes, then my regulator started to get hard to breathe. I checked my computer -- it had 800 psi, then quickly went to zero when I breathed. I went to my buddy, pointed to the computer and grabbed her octopus. We called the dive and surfaced (we were only at around 10 to 15 feet). Later I discovered this was a classic symptom of not having your air on all the way. Needless to say, our buddy checks are much more thorough now.

-- Bill McManus, Bartlett, TN

Thumbs Up for the Diamond Reef Challenge

Hi Ben,

Years ago, I took an scuba course in Lake Tahoe called the Diamond Reef Challenge, which was designed to comprehensively test a buddy team's skills as well as act as a practice venue for fundamentals. It takes diving education -- and raises one's awareness of how bad we are as divers -- to a new level.

Using a series of portable, underwater obstacles called Hover Stations, my buddy and I were to stay close together for close to 12 minutes (exhausting) while we performed basic mask clearing, buddy breathing, hand signals, etc., that we supposedly already knew, while hovering in very slow motion (our buoyancy and maneuvering skills sucked) without kicking the artificial reef. A painstakingly simple but brutal concept that was a tell-all about how unprepared my buddy team was, and especially the so-called advanced divers I've seen.

Why this program hasn't been adopted worldwide is telling. I doubt the training organizations want their members or students to know how "shallow" their certification courses are. These basic survival skills transfer to what Bantin wrote of in terms of being prepared for a crisis. Being aware of our limitations might keep us from making risky decisions.

Taking this course objectively proved to me that mastering the fundamentals takes lots of eye-opening practice, which the dive industry seems only to pay lip service to. If instructors used this in their classes, or at resorts during acclimation dives, more divers would better understand the reasons and know-how of what practice really means.

If parents knew about this, I doubt they would ever let their kids dive on their own without proving their skills are truly legit. And what if instructors and divemasters were required to ace this course before they could teach or guide? That would change things. Info about the Diamond Reef Challenge is on its Facebook page (

"You Better Take Good Care of My Daughter"

This last letter came to us via Paul Mila, an author of thriller and adventure novels, who was contacted by a fellow diver after hearing Mila doing a TV interview about his nonfiction book, Bubbles Up, a personal collection of dive tales. "He sent me this story about an experience he had when forced to buddy up with a stranger on a night dive, and I thought you could put it to good use in Undercurrent," Mila told us.

I was planning on doing a night dive in Cozumel by myself. Everyone else on the boat came with a buddy, including this big guy from Texas with two daughters in their late teens and early 20s. The divemaster said because it was a night dive, we all had to have specific buddies and told the Texan one of his girls had to be my buddy. He objected, but the divemaster prevailed. Just before we went into the water, the Texan barked at me in a big, booming voice, "You better take good care of my daughter."

About 10 minutes into the dive, an octopus attached itself to the girl's tank (I had never seen a behavior like that -- he may have been ill). While I tried to pry it off, it started to creep up the tank. She had no idea yet what was happening -- she probably thought her tank was coming loose and I was fixing it. I was trying to pry the octopus off without hurting it, but every time I pried one arm off, it put the other one back on her. It eventually got to her head, and a tentacle came around the front onto her mask. At that, she totally freaked out.

I started grabbing at it with more force, but eventually about half of it was on her face, covering her mask, and the other half on her head. She started to shoot up for the surface, dragging me -- and the offending creature -- with her, but I was able to stop her by grabbing the front of her BC and looking into her face while still yanking at the octopus. The little sucker finally let go (I guess he had had enough of our drama), but we had risen quite a bit, tumbled around a few times, and I could not see the bottom. All I could think of was the Texan's last words: "You better take good care of my daughter."

Without a frame of reference, I was not sure which way was up, and had lost track of how deep we were. Then I remembered from my training: Bubbles go up. So still holding onto the front of her BC and maintaining eye contact, I watched our bubbles and started to very slowly follow them up. I knew we had not been deep enough, or had enough bottom time, to worry about decompression sickness, so I just slowly brought both of us to the surface and to the boat.

By the time everyone else got back on board, we were dried off and in our t-shirts. The girl was still upset and noticeably distraught. As her father came off the ladder and saw her, he ran over to me, put his face next to mine and yelled, "What the hell did you do to my daughter?" The girl pulled him away and said, "Daddy, he saved my life." A bit of an overstatement but, it stopped him in his tracks. She told him the story, after which he shook my hand, apologized and thanked me.

-- Gary Gomola, Portland, CT

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