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September 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 33, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Deadman Diving: Not A Dive Agency Product

but are the dive agencies turning a blind eye to it?

from the September, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

A number of readers wrote us to say they're concerned about this new fad, "Deadman Diving," which we mentioned in the May issue. It's apparently sweeping across Asia, and ostensibly enjoyed by many Chinese tourists. What is it exactly? Some dive centers give untrained tourists an in-ocean experience by putting them in scuba gear, minus the fins, and having dive guides drag them around underwater and be the ones in sole control of their well-being.

Tim Williams (Dana Point, CA) told us he's witnessed something similar, with dive guides towing client divers by their extended reef hooks.

Jim Lyon (Los Gatos, CA), a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, says he's seen it all too often. In the Thailand resort town of Pattaya, he saw one instructor, ostensibly conducting a Discover Scuba Diving course, dragging two Chinese clients by their tank valves, with two more holding on to the first ones' arms. When Lyon questioned him later, the instructor said PADI allowed a four-to-one ratio for training. Not like that, it doesn't!

Lyon also told us about the practice of "tea bag" diving in China. "Divemasters on the beach in Qingdao will offer a dive to tourists during the summer. Tourists pre-pay for the experience. The divemaster gears them up, drops them in and descends [with them], ay too fast for the tourists to equalize. A tourist complains of ear pain, they are all brought back up to the surface and the dive ends. They are told, 'Diving is not for you. 'The experience takes all of five minutes and $60 for the unsuspecting tourist to be 'tea-bagged' -- dipped in and pulled out."

Craig Howe (Penn Valley, CA) wrote us about taking pictures while diving in Puerto Galera in the Philippines, then looking up to see a diver holding on to two others, who were waving at him. The first diver had both of them by the tank valves, and neither had fins. Howe was told they were South Koreans.

While he, too, was in the Philippines, Greg White (Cobden, IL) also witnessed a similarly odd dive near Miniloc in the Palawan Islands. Two people, fully equipped, were held by their regulators while a third (a dive guide, presumably) steered them around.

"I guess if people want to go back home and say they went scuba diving on vacation, then this is one way to do it," White wrote us. "Fortunately, there wasn't much coral in the area where we saw this, and I never saw them walk on anything. Somebody's always looking to make a buck from anything that tourists will pay to do."

We asked Mark Caney, vice-president of training, education and memberships for PADI Europe, Middle East and Africa, for a comment. He told us that none of these practices comprise a PADI product, but PADI officially declined to comment. We got a similar lack of response from the dive training agency SSI, and even Britain's BSAC was silent on the matter. Certainly we can take that as tacit approval, but why the silence?

Bret Gilliam, founder of the TDI and SDI agencies and a former board chair for NAUI, says the inherent problem lies with the rogue instructors. "Many of [them] may have had status as active instructors with an agency, but have dropped into inactive status by not paying annual dues, or because they know that they are conducting unsanctioned diving activities. If an instructor is not a member in good standing with a training agency, the agency has no oversight and control of that individual."

"On the other hand, if any instructor with active teaching status were to conduct such activities, the agency does have jurisdiction over them. If a complaint came forward from another instructor who saw the dangerous practices, or from a customer who complained, the agency would likely have this investigated by their "Quality Assurance" department. They could decide to suspend the instructor or revoke his or her instructor rating completely. In most situations, the agency would kick the instructor out and be done with it."

"But if the unsanctioned activities, however unsafe, are making money for the rogue instructors, they will not be inclined to listen to any criticism, and probably don't care if they were ejected from the agency. They'll just continue to do what makes money, and the customers really have no idea of the insidious dangers they face. The diving industry should stand up and condemn such activities, and try to get some help and oversight from local government authorities to stop the unsafe programs."

Unfortunately, "diving as a sport is largely unregulated, and the overwhelming attitude at the top is one of 'we don't want to get involved,'" says Gilliam. "The rogue instructors know this and are taking advantage of the 'hole' in the system where they can pretty much do anything without intervention. It's a sad and very serious situation that should be met with aggressive objection."

-- John Bantin

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