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Tech Diver 07/19/2004 01:37 PM

Are you prepared for emergencies?
In speaking with many recreational divers and discussing course content with instructors I found it interesting how many people have neither been taught nor have pondered what to do in emergency situations. This thread is not meant to tell anyone the one-and-only way to be prepared, but is intended to generate some good constructive discussion on various emergencies. For example:

Unlike in training videos, where an out-of-air diver calmly makes a gesture across the neck, real-life gas emergencies usually entail a diver in total panic, ripping your regulator right out of your mouth. Even after grabbing your reg, the diver will usually still be in panic and might bolt for the surface. Will you be able to quickly and calmly find your backup reg? Do you know how to bring a panic-stricken diver under control?...(yes, there is an effective way). Do you practice donating a regulator on a regular basis?

What if you surface and the boat is gone. Do you have an inflatable surface marker? Is it large enough to be seen and does it have a reflector that can be detected by radar? If it gets dark, do you have a light by which to signal a passing boat?

If you get entangled in fishing line or in a net, do you or your buddy have a pair of shears or knife to free yourself?

What if your inflator fails open and you begin to rise. Have you practiced disconnecting the Schraeder valve while simultaneously dumping gas?

What if your inflator fails closed and you begin to sink. Have you practiced inflating your BC or wings orally without resorting to dropping your weights (which can get you into more trouble)?

If you loose your mask will you be able to read your gauges to do your deco or safety stop? Do you carry a backup mask?

Do you plan your gas usage by using the rule-of-thirds? Do you keep track of the gas usage of your team members?

gregmoeck 07/20/2004 04:36 AM

I almost died in Roatan Honduras one night. I got sick, decided to turn back. We were 60-40 feet on a wall, shore diving, I was leading a group of 7 people including myself. I got dizzy, decided I was going back by myself. I'm totally cool diving solo, so I told someone and took off back around the walls to the sand which would lead me back to the shore. Half way I got all freaked out and started to panic. I was tangled in all of my gear as I tried to deflate my BC. I was hypervenalating, reaching the surface fast because my lungs were full... I couldnt get my deflator in my hand, I could feel my heart jumping out of my chest... I finally got it together and reached the sand at 20 feet deppth. I laid down in the sand and chilled out. I was safe but let me tell ya, getting dizzy and everything at depth changed my mind about diving. It's freakin dangerous. Now I never go below 40-50 feet, even on my latest trip to the cayman dive lodge. I realize it's the last 10 feet that is the most dangerous so why not go 100 feet? Well, I just feel better at 40 :)

luminary 07/20/2004 07:23 AM

In my recent trip down to Dominica, there were two situations that happened that could have ended badly.

The first was purely an accident. It could have been avoided, but not by my control. I was swimming along peacefully stopping here and there to take some photos when all of a sudden, BAM!, I got kicked in the side of my head, knocked my regulator out of my mouth and my mask off of my head. Not a good thing in 90' of water! Thankfully I'm very comfortable with and without my gear and I was able to recover.

The other incident had the capacity to be much more serious. The dive profile was to make a big circle out from the boat and around the reef starting at about 70' down.. I had my camera gear and my wife was diving with her video gear. About 25 minutes into the dive, in about 35' of water, I noticed her having a lot of trouble staying down. I swam over to her and held on to a rock and her to let her calm down and deflate her BCD. At this point, we're not sure what happened, but I think she was starting to panic and pressed her inflator instead of the deflator because her BCD inflated fully. Not good. After that, things began to spiral downhill. She paniced even more started jerking around. Some of the wires from her lights got tangled and pulled out the inflator hose to her BCD.

At this point she was about ready to bolt to the surface (my arms hurt for several days from holding her down). I made her drop her video gear, plugged her hose back in and calmed her down a bit. We still couldn't get her BCD deflated, mainly because she was still freaked out and I couldn't hold her, hold the rock and deflate her gear all at the same time. After some consideration and a review of my guages and the situation at hand I decided that we needed to ascend, even though it would be fast and would be an emergency ascent (at this point we were in less than 30' of water).

There are a couple of lessons that I learned from this (and hopefully she did too, we did "debrief" afterwards with the divemaster).

1. She needs to be a bit more comfortable with her gear. She completely forgot about the lower back deflator which would have corrected the situation before it got out of hand.

2. Her video gear is not more important than her safety. She was too focused on it once things started getting bad. Were this to happen again, I'd either clip her gear off onto my harness, or just leave it on the bottom and retrieve it after safely surfacing her.

3. It didn't occur to me until we were at the surface to use my knife to puncture her BCD. In retrospect, I think what I did was still the best option, but were this to happen in deeper water or in a more dangerous profile, I would not hesitate.

4. We had been diving 32% EAN on all of our dives. However, we had basically been diving air profiles since we were the only Nitrox divers on the trip and we basically stuck with the group. I can't tell for sure, but I'm pretty convinced that the additional safety factors involved in the higher mix was influential in not having any injuries.

5. It would have been better to leave her inflator hose disconnected after it was pulled out. There was already some problem with the BCD being too inflated. At the time, we did not know if it was user error or a problem with the equipment. If it was the equipment, reconnecting it was the wrong thing to do. However, I would not have been able to explain this to her while she was panicing underwater, so even if it was technically the better thing to do, reconnecting it was important in stabilizing the situation.

I can't stress how important the after dive discussions, both with ourselves and several other divemasters and instructors was.

gregmoeck 07/20/2004 12:00 PM

Wow, Great Lessons. Thanks for sharing your stories. I agree, regulator knocked out at 90 feet could be bad. I'm almost convinced regulators should be strapped on somehow like a mask. This would be handy if you passed out, at least you could breath.

Paul B 07/20/2004 02:20 PM

I do most of my diving in New York near the city. Our visability is usually measured in inches and rarely reaches four feet. I think most divers who usually dive in pristine water would panic here. On one of my Caribbean dives when my daughter was getting certified the instructor surfaced immediately obviousely frightened because he said there was no visability when I could clearly see him at thirty feet down. We have to do everything by feel and were 1/4" wet suits which limits turning your neck. I believe that if you can dive here, you can dive anywhere with no fear and be very competent in clear water. I myself have a couple of hundred dives in tropical water but the real diving is here. Hand signals are useless here so we bang on the tank, if you dive with a buddy, he is tied to you with a line, if he is not tied to you , you are diving alone.
Obviousley, we do not dive here to look at the beautiful fish, we dive for lobsters and there are 200 shipwercks around Long Island and because of the visability most of the stuff is still on them. We do often get stuck in fishing line and must use a knife or take off your tank, we also swim into large pipes or ship boilers without realizing it. When you stop swimming, the mud overtakes you so that 10" of visability becomes zero.
I do dive with an inflatable surface buoy. If the boat disappears, my wife is in trouble, it's my boat.

maractwin 07/20/2004 02:27 PM

Here's something that happened to me on my last dive trip, and illustrates why I always carry a snorkel no matter what certain people may say about them. And now I always carry a safety sausage too.

We were boat diving in the Bahamas, on a slope on the exposed side of the island. The boat anchored in about 60' of water. When we entered the water was moderately calm and there wasn't much current, so the plan was to go out and back along the slope. There were about 10 of us in the group, all with at least intermediate skills, a local divemaster and an instructor who traveled with us.

At the end of the dive the boat was visible above us as we made our ascent. However, the current had picked up near the surface, undetectable on the reef. By the time myself and 3 other divers realized we were caught in this current, it was too late to reach the boat. The other divers used the anchor line for their safety stop. Given that we had just completed a 90 foot dive and the amount of air we had, we completed our safety stop and surfaced rather than descend below the current to try to make it back to the boat. We were fine, but ended up at least a quarter mile from the boat in what was now somewhat choppy water. The boat had to wait for all of the other divers to return before coming to get us, so we floated and continued to be washed further away.

I may have had enough air for the wait, but it would have been close. But I pulled my fold-up snorkel from my pocket and was able to wait without worrying so much about the waves passing over our heads. It was only after the boat did come to pick us up that we found out that the dive master and instructor were really worried about us. We were in exposed rough water a long way from any boat and they had seen sharks on the surface (which we hadn't noticed).

In the post-dive de-briefing, we were reassured to learn that we had pretty much done everything as we should. Two of the divers did not have snorkels and had to pay careful attention to the waves as we waited. And none of us had a safety sausage. While our boat knew where we were, if there had been other boats in the area, they would not have been able to see us.

Luckily, that's the worst problem I've ever had while diving. And I hope to keep it that way.


Tech Diver 07/20/2004 03:40 PM

In anticipation of a drifting-off scenario I always carry two bright orange floatation devices: an open circuit marker buoy for drifting decompression and a six-foot closed circuit signal buoy with SOLAS radar/light reflector tape. I also carry an 18w HID canister light as well as a two backup lights (one bungied to each harness strap). The lights are primary for shipwreck penetration but I have them with me at all times in the event that I become stranded in the water during the night. During the Winter here in Massachusetts, it is quite common for us to have days when the current is 2 or 3 kts so it is wise to be prepared.

Tech Diver 07/20/2004 03:58 PM

If anyone has suggestions or tricks they have learned from their experiences please feel free to share them.

For example LUMINARY describes getting a reg knocked out of the mouth. A simple piece of bungie cord called a necklace is what I use to keep my backup reg dangling around my neck. An illustration of what I describe can be seen at:

In another post GREGMOECK describes not finding the inflator to his BC. Again, a trick is to attach a small bungie loop to the strap of your harness or BC at the height of your armpit, and pass the inflator mechanism through it so it won't move out of reach. An illustration can be seen here:

Hope this is useful,

gregmoeck 07/20/2004 06:31 PM

Great Idea's Peter. I will have to do something like this.

otolith 07/20/2004 10:26 PM

Wow, thanks for the stories. Just got certified in water with about 3-4ft of visibility, and it was amazing how easy it was to get separated from your dive buddy.

SO how do you read your guages or dive computer without a mask?

gregmoeck 07/21/2004 05:14 AM

you can see just fine under the water without a mask. it does not sting until your eyes dry out. No need to panic if you loose your mask, everything is fine.

Tech Diver 07/21/2004 06:23 AM

Unfortunately, I am not able to read my gauges without a mask so I always carry a spare. This is particularly important for me because most of my dives involve the use of decompression schedules. However, there is a trick that does actually work: cup your hand while pressing it firmly against your eyebrow, then catch some air bubbles while looking down at a 45 degree angle. The air works like a mask but it only lasts for a few seconds if you wear gloves. It takes some practice but it can be done.

Tech Diver 07/21/2004 11:25 AM

Greg, here is a much better photo of the "captured" inflator:

gregt 07/21/2004 11:28 AM

This is a great thread. Thanks guys. :thumbsup:

porky 07/21/2004 01:16 PM

Yes! I agree this is a great thread. Very informative!

nitroxdiver009 07/22/2004 12:28 AM

"i found that your buddy is never near by when you need him like in an out of air emergancy( whitch happend to me at 120 feet ish

according to my computer i was a little bit over the ndl
My buddy wasnt insight so i decided to go up slowly... guess what at around 90 ft i couldent hold my breath any longer.. my first idea was to grab my BC oral inflator and breath from it. and use it like a rebreather... sure it dosnt have a scrubber but you can rebreath the same air atleast 10 times and be perfectly fine. I had time to do a 2 minut safty stop. and got to the surface fine.

I dont recomend breathing from your BC since it can be toxc but i had nother way.

I only breath about 4 times a minute so i usualy dont run out of air.

I found that the reason i ran out was cause i had a leak in the first stage.


I belive that you shoult stick to your training. not trained to go past 60 ft dont do it not trained to go in to a ship wreckDONT DO IT.
( ship wrecks are my fave)

Tech Diver 07/22/2004 11:13 AM


Originally posted by nitroxdiver009
I found that the reason i ran out was cause i had a leak in the first stage.

One of the standard procedures we do in technical diving is a "bubble check" near the surface just before we descend. If someone is leaking, we "call" the dive. A small leak may not seem like much near the surface, but at depth it amounts to a far greater volume (remember Boyle's Law).

Another procedure we have is not diving solo (Yes, I know this is a whole other topic for discussion). By using "the rule of thirds" in our gas planning, the team has enough gas to support another diver. That is, you turn the dive when either you have reached your planned time limit or you have used up one-third of your gas supply. The second-third is used for the return, and the last-third is used in the event a team member has a gas loss.

Another part of team diving is to make visual contact EVERY 20 TO 60 SECONDS. That may seem excessive to many people, but we are dealing with human lives here. If your buddy is not around to support you, you may want to consider diving with someone else or discuss with your buddy what are your expectations so you can work as a team. It is sometimes said that the single most important choice of dive equipment is your buddy.

nixtroxdiver009, it sounds like you came very close to not making it back. Breathing from your BC was quick thinking. Glad you are still with us!

MargaritaMan 07/22/2004 07:14 PM

A few more thoughts if I may:

I got certified as a college elective so our course was nine weeks which gave us a lot of time to cover "emergency procedures" which is more than I can say for a lot of dive shops out there who seem to be more interested in the card and the $$$.

I am currently in Hawaii for two weeks visiting family and just got back this morning from my second time free diving. I did 50' which I felt was pretty cool for a rookie. I think the self control involved and discipline required is incredible. The guys I went with were from Miami and flew all the way to Hawaii to compete in Haliewa for a free dive fishing contest this weekend. To see these guys hang at 100' WITHOUT a tank blew me away. I think my point here is that you should try free diving sometime as I think the lesson(s) will really benefit my SCUBA skills.

And if you are a rookie the points listed by other members are spot on!!


nitroxdiver009 07/22/2004 08:37 PM

the time i had the problem was with a new buddy( normal buddy didnt show)
i usualy cheack my stuff befor i decend but my buddy decided to go down righaway . so i followed him.

i usualy do keep in contact
if my buddy wanders off i go withhim even if it isnt what we planed to do

i think i was narced or somthing that time.

i also stay overweighted so if my buddy decides to go for the surface i can deflate my BC and grab him and slow him down if not stop him.

otolith 07/22/2004 10:41 PM

Wow, great information.

Tech Diver 07/23/2004 12:13 AM


Originally posted by nitroxdiver009
i also stay overweighted so if my buddy decides to go for the surface i can deflate my BC and grab him and slow him down if not stop him.
I understand the logic behind overweighing yourself. However, consider the fact that controlling one's buoyancy requires making continuous adjustments against an inherently unstable system. That is, when you begin to sink or rise you do so at an increasing rate because of the changing volume of gas in your BC. By overweighing yourself you wind up with more air in your BC than you normally would (to counteract the extra weight). So a change in depth affects your BC gas volume by a greater amount resulting in more instability. This extra amount can be fairly significant.

Controlling buoyancy is like balancing a billiard ball on top of a smooth mound; the ball wants to roll off. Lots of gas in your BC makes the mound very steep, while a small amount makes the mound very gentle.

As for pulling your buddy down, the technique I was taught was to grab him from behind, and with your arm across his chest YOU use HIS inflator to control the buoyancy for BOTH of you.

Paul B 07/23/2004 02:08 PM

Tech Diver, I have a question for you. Did the PADI course get much easier over the years? My first dive was in Sydney Australia in 1970 and I was PADI certified in 1974. It took ten weeks, three hours a week with half of that in a pool the rest in a classroom and three open water dives in zero visability in NY. We learned medical aspects, decompression, beach diving, boat diving, rescue diving, repetitive dives, dangerous animals and what not. My wife and daughter was certified about 7 years ago in the Caribbean and learned close to nothing in a few hours

Tech Diver 07/23/2004 04:15 PM


I don't really know if PADI has relaxed its requirements over the years, but the information you were taught in your PADI OW class is FAR more than I received in mine. Whether that is due to course structure or the quality of the instructor, I am not sure. I have seen an awful lot of dive shops offer an accelerated PADI OW course where you get your certification in just one weekend (I personally do not agree with such fast-track training for one's first certification). I don't want to start bashing PADI but it seems to me that they are more interested in turning a good profit than turning out good divers.

I have had the exact same reaction as Mad Scientist. That is, until I got into the details and rigors of training for technical diving, I never knew just how ill prepared I was through my PADI OW and AOW classes.


nitroxdiver009 07/23/2004 05:59 PM

o inly over weigh my self tho when with a new buddy. once i know him and know how he responds to problems i let up. usuaaly i am neutral with very little air in bc( almost a flick of the inflator is enough. when i am taking picts i tend to do alittle extra weight since it makes it easier to stay still

Paul B 07/24/2004 05:17 AM

Peter, my "C" card reads "Basic SCUBA Diver", my wifes care reads "Open water diver" I don't know the difference and apparently PADI does not either because I wrote them on two occasions about it and did not get a response. Her dive charts are just no decompression tables. I have the three charts for decompression and repetitive dives. Her actual class was about 4 hours. I think PADI wants to give you a very basic course then charge you for all the other courses. I guess it's not too dangerous as long as these people know their limitations.
I have never had a terrable emergency while diving except once swimming into a 100 year old ship boiler and having a little trouble getting out (about 6" vis) Once I caught a lobster, the biting kind, we don't have those "sissy" lobster here, and when I went to put it in the bag I noticed the bag with a few lobsters in it were gone. My partner who was tied to me went back for it and I caught another lobster. While I was laying on the bottom on my back waiting for him the lobster grabbed my inflator hose to my BC. With a lobster in both hands I tried to pull him away and of course the hose on the BC came out of the fitting. My buddy came back and with 36 lbs. of weight on I could not swim too good so we had to surface to fix the BC. I did not want to drop my weight belt because we have all kinds of stuff attached to it so I tied my inflatable buoy marker to it, before I dropped it, I inflated the marker and I rode it to the surface and repaired my BC, then I followed the line down and put the weights back on. I know, not that exciting, but here where it's pitch black at 25' in a 1/4" suit it gets tough.
Anyway I got all the lobsters and my weight belt.

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