Warm water diving more dangerous than cold water diving?
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Warm water diving more dangerous than cold water diving?
I was talking with my dive buddy yesterday about this a little bit, but I had really started thinking about it while I was in Provo (Turks & Caicos) in February.
Why would I say warm water diving is more dangerous? It seems to me that it is much easier to get complacent or casual when diving in warm water locales than it is diving cold water. What do you think?
When we were diving the walls off of French Cay, we would be at 90'-100' before we even knew it. There would still be plenty of ambient light (I didn't use a dive light the entire week of diving there), and you could even see the surface for down there. I could easilly understand how someone could be down there, not really have a good idea of how truly deep they were, and get into a postition where they get themselves lower on air than they should be considering their depth. It's also easy to get more spaced apart from your dive buddy, since you can see them from so far away.
Contrast that to diving in cold water. At least around here, once you drop below 60 fsw it's a night dive for all practical purposes. At 100 fsw or more, it's really dark. The vis is 20' on a good day, so you tend to stay a lot closer to your buddy. The cold also tends to limit dive times for a lot of folks, too.
I just find it interesting that a lot of divers might not even think twice about dropping down into the Blue Hole in Belize on an AL80, but think we're insane for hitting the I-Beams (located in ~90 to 100 fsw) at Cove 2 in Seattle. 100 fsw is 100 fsw, weather the water temp is 86 F or 46 F. It just seems to me that warm water diving is more dangerous only because it's "easier" than cold water diving, which leads to complacency and a lack of respect for the alien environment we're diving into.
I think that diving anywhere can be dangerous if you don't pay close attention to the things you need to be paying attention to. It's easy to forget critical things in warm or cold water.. in warm, clear water it can be your depth.. in cold, dark water, it can be where you are, how cold you are, what's about to try to eat you, etc.
Its possible, but I doubt it. Cold water diving is more complex, so there is more that can go wrong, and low visibility contributes to tension and at times panic, which is probably the major cause of accidents. But on the other hand, cold water divers must be more dedicated, and probably have more opportunity to dive, since they are diving the local scene, so are probably more skilled than their warm water counterparts (me).
Actually Johnny, what is trying would be more of a risk in warm water than salt water. Aquatic life in the Great Lakes (as you know) is more prone to be of the brown fish/green fish/ or rare brown AND green fish. The worst thing to take off part of a finger would likely be a snapping turtle.
For the most part, I agree with the concept that the largest risk in warm water is complacency. I have dove the Turks/Caicos on one trip and the Ft. Lauderdale on one trip. Outside of that the warmest water that I have dove is in Brockville, ONT. It is way too tempting to get undisciplined in warm, crystal clear water. I had a dive buddy in Florida tell me that she didn't like her buddy right next to her. You can see a long ways in that ocean. Well, that line of sight doesn't make the swim any shorter to share air if someone has an air flow problem. Something that you take foregranted in cold water that air flow issue (in the form of a free flow, usually) is likely to happen.
In cold water, hypothermia can cause bad decisions and most of the people that talk about narcosis do not talk about pleasant feelings when they get narced like they seem to in warm water. Freeflows are always possible (even though good regs make them far less likely, they do not completely eliminate the possibility) due to regs freezing up. Heavier gear tends to lead to higher RMV's so larger tanks are required. The list goes on. Panic issues tend to be more prevalent in cold water. DCS/O2 Tox issues seem more likely as well
Each side has it's own risks and both must be respected. Discipline in one's diving as far as respecting the fact that humans can't breathe water is the key in both environments.
It seems to me that more things can go wrong in a cold water environment.
You are wearing a heavier weight belt in cold water for single tank diving, therefore it is more likely that the belt will slip off or disconnect, and then you would be skyrocketing to the surface.
Many people dive in cold water with a wetsuit. This allows for significant variation in buoyancy depending on the depth of the dive. Getting back to the surface then all depends on the successful functioning and operation of the B/C-wing. Accidentally dumping your air when needing to inflate could send you on a one-way ride into the abyss.
The cold water also tends to chill and numb some divers, and thereby affect their judgment as well.
Cold water also causes leg cramps.
A good diver can overcome any of these difficulties. However for a novice, it seems like warm water diving is definitely safer.
I think there are two ways to look at the original question. Is cold water diving inherently more dangerous, I would say yes, for many of the reasons above and indication of colder water as a contrbuting factor for DCS. However, given the more advanced nature of cold water diving, especially darker cold water diving, I also think that it tends to attract more experienced, better-squared away and more attentive divers, on average.
Notice I said on average. There are loads of awesome divers in both environments. You just don't see the same proportion of "I dive once every two years on vacation" or "I have to hurry up and finish this maragarita 'cause the dive boat's leaving in half an hour" divers itching to get into a dry suit or a thick wet-suit and jump into murky, hypothermia-inducing water.
So in my opinion, you are more likely in general to have the added, unpredictable hazard of dangerous divers in the warmer environments, where as originally stated the complacency factor draws in unthinking participants, many of whom will blithely exceed their qualifiactions and the vast majority of whom will thankfully (luckily) not pay for doing so. Mutiply that by the proportions of dives taking place in warm versus cold environments and you can guess the balance of accident incidence.
Same diver, environment for environment, no doubt in my mind that the cold, dark water carries more risks.
There may be something to the complacency thing; in climbing, most fatal accidents happen on relatively easy terrain, often after completing something of much greater difficulty. People relax and unrope and start moving too casually where they still need to be careful, and a little slip on loose rock or debris can get you started over the edge.
But there are significant differences in the *objective* hazards from one type of diving to another, over which the diver has no direct control - you can respond to them, but you can't make the visibility better, or the water warmer, or the current weaker, or the catchy and tangly things go away. Objectively, I think cold water diving is inherently more hazardous, mostly because of the cold itself, and secondarily because of the relatively poor visibility - admitting that there is a lot of generalizing there about differences in visibility between warm and cold water. After that, I would expect most of the differences in hazards are probably specific to the particular area (wrecks, kelp, currents, etc.).
I once dove with a guy from New Jersey who was of the opinion that, because of the poor visibility in the waters that he came from, the only thing worth doing was diving wrecks. Right away that thinking ratchets up the hazard level for his diving. But I think the worst thing he ever described to me was practically swimming into the mouth of an enormous grouper that bolted and nearly beat him to death trying to get away, causing him to lose his mask. That's one of your hazards of low visibility diving. When I run into the grouper that has my name written on it, I want to see him coming.
Stirling, I think you are on to something, but when you are climbing something hard, you are more likely to be experienced. Same with wreck diving. That being said, the people who die hang gliding tend to be very experience people pushing the envelope. I guess you could ask insurance adjusters, who probably have data on accidents that includes level of experience. Anyway, you want to know the big difference? Girls in bikinis cause more distraction than girls in dry suits.... Tim
Different issues to attend to avoid dangerous situations. I would say an experienced cold water diver is more prepared for diving in warm waters than a diver in the opposite situation.
Although I'm scared *****less of sharks, I feel I'm totally capable of doing open water diving anywhere, really. But would YOU plump into a hole in the ice in february next to the Russian Kola Peninsula, if you were asked to?
-I would, if I were asked! Nothing to IT! (Almost...)
I can say without fear of contradiction that cold water diving has been completely safe for me, because I don't dive if it is dark, cold or murky.
I was an avid diver at 17 in Florida but stopped 30 years ago when I moved to the Northeast. I just started diving again in Bonaire in beautiful, warm and clear water. I am happy to sail and kayak in Northern waters but doubt I will be doing any diving.
To address your question, each type of diving seems to have its own set of dangers. I am not sure how one might rank the risks of hypothermia in cold water against complaceny in warm. I used to sail in winter time. It did require a lot of preparation and care specifically because it was a dangerous thing to do.