Kicked-up silt can send visibility crashing from 100 feet to zilch in an instant. Here’s what to do when the lights go out.
STEP 1 Freeze
Especially don’t move your fins. It’s your movement that has stirred up the silt. If you can avoid making the situation worse, the silt will probably settle in a minute or two.
STEP 2 In Open Water: Add a Little Air
If there’s no overhead restriction (as in a cave or wreck penetration, for example) add just a tiny bit of air to your BC. You’ll rise off the bottom, lifting your fins out of the silt. You may quickly rise out of the “soup” so you can see again. Keep breathing and keep an eye on your depth gauge so you don’t initiate an uncontrolled ascent.
If you’re under an overhead restriction, be cautious of ascending into it, as you may just knock down more silt. Keep your fins still and scull gently with your hands to move away from whatever you’ve touched. Inhale or exhale to adjust your buoyancy. Use the guide line you’ve laid to find your way out. Pull on the line to move, if it will stand it. If not, use small sculling or frog kicks, keeping your fins high.
STEP 4 In All Cases: Stay Calm
If you lose visibility, it’s easy to get panicky. Remind yourself that there’s no reason for anxiety. If you begin to feel vertigo, concentrate on the water in your mask or your bubbles to establish your orientation. Or close your eyes so they no longer send false information to your brain. If you’re in a confined space with no guide line, staying calm is all the more important. Assuming you have plenty of air, take enough time to assess the situation before you blunder off in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, the silt may clear enough to reveal light from the entrance. Or, if you make contact with the floor or ceiling, the slope may tell you which way is out.