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May 2020    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 35, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Can You Trust Your Dive Guide?

are they as careful and responsible as they should be?

from the May, 2020 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When we review reports from our dedicated readers -- and when we think about our own trips -- it's clear that dive guides are not always as careful and responsible for their charges as they should be. So, we're working on a piece about that and want to hear your own stories.

These days, as divers can get certified by watching videos and taking a couple of quick dips in the ocean, there is a preponderance of folks who like to say they have gone diving just as they might say they've gone skiing or white-water rafting. Mark up another activity on the life-chart. However, when rafting, you are in the same boat as your guide, who is in control. Scuba diving isn't like that --you really are on your own.

Many of our readers are highly experienced, having made hundreds, if not thousands of dives in all sorts of conditions. Others are less advanced. While you may be in the water as part of an organized group or supervised by a group leader or dive guide, unless you have had a widespread experience, you may need looking after on some dives. But, if you place your trust in the guide, who is also looking after a bunch of other divers of varying abilities, and trust that he or she is indeed looking after everyone and making all the right decisions, you may be fooling yourself.

For starters, not all guides have had equal training; some are instructors, some are divemasters, and in third world countries some might not even be rescue divers. They might know how to find a blue ring octopus at 60 feet for you, but if it bit you, they wouldn't have the slightest idea what to do next.

Back in the day when diving was considered dangerous (and hugging strangers was safe), dive guides accepted their responsibility seriously, and there are still those who travel that road. However, many younger guides have been brought up in the time of 'scuba-is-fun' and 'zero-to-hero' instructor training, and may be less conscious of their responsibility for the safety of others. Even when I took my PADI Instructor course in 1992 -- at the age of 45 -- there were teenagers qualifying right alongside me. Clearly, some were not sufficiently responsible at that age to look after others in the water. In fact, when once I voiced that opinion, one took issue with me -- although years later he conceded I was right.

So, have you been in the water with a dive guide who seemed oblivious to individual members in his group? How often did your guide appear to be pursuing his own photography rather than paying attention to the well-being of his or her charges? Would you trust these people to be there for you if you got in trouble? Do you know whether the guide you're trusting has a serious diving certification? Have you ever asked to see it?

We have no choice but to put our trust in a dive guide.

Like many, I've swum around the engine room deep in the wreck of the Kansho Maru in Truk Lagoon, led by a local guide in whom I had complete trust. "Two of us asked an Odyssey dive guide to give us a tour deep inside the engine room. I did point out before we left that I was almost twice his height, so might be unable to get through small apertures. He laughed!" (See my article at https://tinyurl.com/ybaq32tf)

I've also been lost inside the wreck of the SS Umbria in Port Sudan because the dive guide, not a local, was surprisingly unfamiliar with it. That was scary. (https://tinyurl.com/ybmyeuc6)

These days, I see three distinct groups of dive guides: those well-trained and knowledgeable of their dive sites, young local people who appear to be comfortable in the water but might not have knowledge of the finer points of diving physics (the PADI Divemaster certification is very basic and relates mainly to aiding a certified instructor conducting training courses), and divers who have turned up in some distant exotic shore and talked their way into a job with a dive operation. These folks are there to have fun. They are the ones who are less attentive, and it's all OK while nothing untoward happens.

Youth and Experience

There will always be a difference between youth and experience. There is also a distinction in the kind of places they work and the professionalism of the shop. High-end resorts usually have higher standards with better-trained dive guides than back-packer resorts.

During the last few years Undercurrent has reported sad incidents that led to tragic results; for example, where a diver left the group to go deeper than he should or one who encountered problems and was left to make her own way back to the surface, when one might reasonably ask, where was the dive guide? There have even been cases where an instructor has taken a beginner into the water in clearly inappropriate conditions. We trust the dive guide and alas, sometimes this trust can be misplaced.

None of us is as competent as we would like to think we are. Most amateur divers, however keen, log only limited hours in the water during any one year. We all get out of practice. Good dive guides are well-practiced because they are in the water every day, and, like good waiters in restaurants, attentive to every need of the client but inconspicuous when not required. Most of all, they should be absolutely trustworthy when push comes to shove and things go wrong. The inhospitable environment that is underwater is no place to find yourself left to your own devices when problems arise.

Have you experienced a less-than-responsible dive guide recently? Write and tell us about it. Write to BenDDavison@undercurrent.org -- not forgetting to mention your town and state.

- John Bantin

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