Accident research experts would be the first to point out that divers frequently do some very dumb things. Even though these men and women have been properly trained and have a wealth of experience, they make some obvious blunders in judgment. Even though they should know better, veteran divers make mistakes which even a basic scuba student could easily avoid.

An example is the case of the old-time diver who got bent on a dive boat trip off Catalina Island several years ago. He knew he had exceeded his maximum bottom time, but bagging that last abalone was important. By the time he had finished stowing his dive gear, he knew something was wrong. His coordination was off, his mind was a little fuzzy and he was feeling sharp pains in his right arm. Rather than report this suspected bends hit to the skipper, the diver quietly retreated below deck and crawled into an empty bunk. The pains grew worse and he buried his head in the pillow to keep from groaning out loud. By the time he boat reached San Pedro Harbor, the diver was in total agony. But he still refused to reveal his problem. He simply gritted his teeth and staggered down the ramp with his gear bag and tank. He made it to a nearby telephone booth and was able to call his wife for help. Because of the delay in treatment, this diver suffers from residual effects and still carries a painful reminder of his bout with the bends.

Then there is the case of the East Coast diver who drowned with a load of lobsters. He was one of the best lobster divers around and had a reputation for filling his bags in short order. He was working a wreck in 120 feet and had three bags of lobsters tied to his wrist. This was not unusual, except that there was also a strong current running. Because of his fierce pride, the diver refused to drop his weigh belt. Only amateurs did something like that. Perhaps he should have inflated his BC, but, he wasn’t wearing one. Not wearing a BC was another status symbol of the old pros along the coast. Struggling against the current and the drag of his lobster catch, this diver finally run out of air and his lobstering career ended.

When good divers do dumb things

How about the case of the scuba instructor preparing for a wall dive on a Caribbean reef? He and his dive group had just arrived the day before and were eager to sample the deep, clear waters of this sensational drop-off. If wasn’t until everyone was completely suited up that he noticed his submersible pressure gauge was broken. There was a slight leak at the swivel fitting and the indicator needle had come off the dial face. Normally, he would have changed gauges, but everyone was ready to go and he was holding up the dive. The instructor decided to proceed with the dive in spite of the broken gauge. Surely there would be no problem since he was the instructor and could no doubt outlast the air supply of his newly graduated students.

The dive group descended to 120 feet and started cruising along the wall. It was indeed awesome; visibility seemed to extend to 200 feet. Unnoticed by the instructor, the air leak on the submersible gauge had increased considerably. Although some of the other members of the group noticed the escaping air, they were not alarmed; they thought the instructor knew what he was doing. Then it happened. As they started to ascend, the instructor discovered his tank was completely drained and his regulator stopped working. At first he tried to buddy breathe with a nearby student, but a series of fumbles forced him to make a frantic free ascent from 110 feet.

In all of these case histories, the pattern is the same. An otherwise intelligent, experienced scuba diver makes a serious error in judgment which eventually leads to a dive accident. Sometimes it is fatal. Why do divers do dumb things? Because of the deep seated fears which exist in all of us.

As basic go through training, they develop self-confidence. They learn new skills, eventually master them, and finally feel secure in knowing they can handle the task without a problem. After graduation, the diver gains more experience and self-confidence turns to pride. The diver develops a reputation for being a competent diver. It is at this point that the diver becomes vulnerable to a new kind of fear. Because of his pride, he now feels more fearful of ridicule from his diving associates than from the actual dangers involved.

It is this fear of ridicule – fear of disappointing others or not living up to one’s personal reputation – that eventually leads to problems. Rather than face embarrassment, the diver often prefers to risk his life in a dangerous situation. Rather than delay a dive and inconvenience the rest of the group, a diver will take unnecessary chances with defective or ill-fitting equipment. Rather than admit he may have the bends, a diver will secretly endure the pain and risk the possibility of becoming a permanent cripple. Rather than dump a $60 weight belt, a diver will risk remaining on the bottom forever.

What these divers fail to realize is that the consequences of such risk taking are equally embarrassing but usually more permanent. When a good diver drowns from some stupid mistake, the entire diving community is embarrassed. There should be no shame in aborting a dive for either mechanical or health reasons. This is what a good diver is expected to do. There should be no shame in dumping a weight belt, inflating a BC or asking for help. It is what we have been trained to do in case of difficulty. A diver should never feel too proud to ask for help when he or she needs it.

The one thing we must always remember is that the greatest danger to a diver is himself.

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