British dry wit Comedian Jimmy Carr claims to have put a classified-ad in a newspaper that read along the lines of, “Good looking, young, millionaire seeks gullible stunner.” We can all be gullible at times, especially when undergoing training with a trusted instructor, but how well can you trust your instructor?
I still remember a young teenage diver doing a series of dives with diving guru Rob Palmer. Rob was a pal of mine but it still didn’t stop me from protesting that they should not be going to 120m on air. “We know what we’re doing,” the kid had said. What he meant was that he trusted Rob. It was Rob that died on one of the following dives.
Of course, buying training or owning the equipment should confer a degree of expertise but it not always so, especially if you have an instructor whose credibility is invested in incorrect information. I have never owned a rebreather but I’ve done a quite few dives on different ones. When I offered an opinion on a rebreather forum I was shot down because I did not own a unit. One of my detractors was an airline pilot. Presumably he didn’t own the airliner he flew but he owned the rebreather he died with shortly after our paths had crossed.
BskyB and the HSE jointly released a haunting video that recorded the very near miss one of its cameramen had with a CO2 hit. It makes sober watching but the diver in question reveals that he was taught to tip out the partially used material from his scrubber, break up the lumps and put it back. This is an absolute No, No. We have covered the subject in this magazine as long ago as 2005. He nearly paid with his life. His instructor should be pilloried if that is what he teaches people to do.
It’s time that training agencies came clean. As well as telling people how easy it is, they should tell people how easy it is to die if they do it wrong and diving instructors should be subject to much more control.
I continue to see wrong information disseminated by both amateur and professional instructors alike. That’s from simple things like rigging the octopus on the wrong side of the diver so that its very difficult to donate in case of a real out-of-air situation, dumping air from the BC by means of the oral inflation valve at the end of the corrugated hose thereby letting water back in the other way, tightening up the cracking pressure of a regulator to make it harder to breathe from and thought to conserve air, and so on. I still see people diving at the limit of their no-stop times rather than “get into decompression” and I see them rush from 6m or so in order to get to the surface rather than risk entering the red zone on their pressure gauge and off-gassing gently in the shallows with the last quarter of their air because they were told they had to be back on the boat with 50 bar. A huge trust is put in the buddy system when too often many poorly trained buddies are little more than useless in the heat of the moment.
The most obvious error taught is the overweighting caused by instructors who need their heavily breathing trainees to kneel comfortably at the bottom of a shallow pool. They then wear the same amount of ballast on real dives. Someone should make it mandatory that all trainee divers have an understanding of neutral buoyancy. You only need to pull one dead diver out of the water to feel passionate about this subject – and I am.
Instructors are not infallible. The wreck of the Thistlegorm was pulled apart by ignorant dive-guides, presumably instructors, tying off heavy dive boats to vulnerable parts. Did they really think a 150 tonne boat bobbing on the waves would be held in place by being tied to a motorbike or some flimsy rusted railing?
I have done Instructor courses and exams with a couple of different training agencies. I was startled by the lack of skill of some of those that passed the grade. Some of them had never even dived in the sea. One young person, not yet eighteen years old, argued that if he could do all the skills he was qualified to be an instructor. I thought that at his tender years the responsibility for other people’s lives might be too onerous. Years later when we met and he’d matured, he told me how right I was. Thanks Steve.
One girl candidate was such a poor swimmer, I swear she was stationary for long periods during the stamina swim test. Another asked me what the Recreational Dive Planner was all about the night before the Instructor Exam. Evidently he’d learnt to dive without needing any decompression theory. He, like the others, was a fully-fledged instructor by the next day. These instructors are then let loose on an unsuspecting public.
What is done to keep the consequently rogue instructor in check? Nothing. In the early days of rebreather training one instructor distinguished himself by being responsible for the training of a high proportion of those that later became casualties. The manufacturer wanted his instructor badge taken from him but the training agency insisted it would be bad publicity for them so he stayed teaching.
When you decide to learn to dive, you are both vulnerable and have a tendency to be gullible. How do you know what you are being taught is correct? The short answer is that you do not. It’s a matter of trust. However, when things go wrong, the instructor should be investigated. In the UK the HSE has some responsibility for this but the UK is only a tiny area where diving is being taught. More importantly, the training agencies should insist on applying better quality control to those that practise in their names.