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October 2021    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 36, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Put Your Fins On Last and Avoid Taking a Tumble

from the October, 2021 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

I can honestly say that in several decades of being a diving journalist, taking a dozen dive trips each year, and making thousands of dives, I've been around when people suffered injuries underwater, even death, but I haven't seen any get injured before getting in the water. More than 30 years ago, I became a dive guide on the Lady Jenny V, which operated off the coasts of the Sudan, Yemen, and Eritrea. In such a remote and possibly hostile location, and without any outside help to call upon, my premier job was to stop anyone from getting injured on their diving vacation. This included stopping divers from doing silly things like putting their fins on before they kitted up.

"Put your fins on immediately before you enter the water," I would tell my charges. "A diver in the water without fins is not safe, but a diver walking about while wearing fins is a hazard to both himself and others."

As divers age, they're not as flexible as they might have been. Deftly slipping on fins at the last moment might be less appealing than putting them on while seated, even if there is a boat crew member there to help, as there will undoubtedly be when you climb back onto the boat after a dive.

I remember one diver, Nigel, morbidly obese at around 420 pounds, who was far too fat to put on his fins once his weight belt and tanks were in place. However, to let him loose on the crowded dive deck wearing his fins would have been akin to that out-of-control boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. If he had stumbled and fallen, not only would he have risked injuring himself but also taking down other divers around him. I made him walk down to the swim platform, where he gripped the dive ladder handle securely while another crew member slipped on his fins.

We've seen fins advertised that try to address the problem by having a blade that hinges up near the shin for walking. We've even seen fins with soles designed to encourage you to walk around in them. None seems to have caught the buying public's imagination - thankfully.

Spring straps or fins equipped with elastic cords can make pulling fins on easier, but for those divers who dive with double tanks or add a sling tank of richer nitrox to speed up decompression, the extra weight, not to mention the extra weight needed on the belt, can make stooping to pull on fins a trial for many, and it can be tempting to ignore the warnings. After all, many of us have reached an age where if we inadvertently drop something, we'd rather let it lie than stoop to pick it up.

Technical divers, loaded down with up to six tanks or four tanks and a rebreather, commonly put their fins on first, and that can lead to litigation when something bad happens because of it. Thanks to the Lex Warner case, in the adjacent article, boat operators will be looking for novel solutions to avoid diver accidents, just as diver elevators became common for diver recovery on boats and used for technical diving.

If you have trouble putting on your fins, ask for help. Don't be a Nigel and be tempted to put your fins on before you don your tank. It will only end, at best, in an undignified tumble, and at worst, a disaster for you and others.

- John Bantin

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