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Who is responsible for what?

Discussion in 'New Divers and Those Considering Diving' started by Jim Lapenta, May 4, 2009.

  1. Jim Lapenta

    Jim Lapenta Dive Shop

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Canonsburg, Pa
    I hope to convey to new divers and those considering taking up this activity just what it is you are getting into. This post is the result of reading and participating in a number of recent threads where new divers have died. I am giving careful thought to this as I write it in order to not be overly alarmist but still convey the seriousness of dive training and the sport of scuba diving.

    First of all I sincerely hope that it makes one think and ask questions of their instructor, dive master, boat operator, resort, and fellow divers. It, in my opinion, can not be overemphasized how easy it is to become so enamored withthe idea of diving that things can be overlooked that can and has resulted in the deaths of many new divers over the years. It is also my opinion that a great many of these deaths could have been prevented. This post's purpose is to look at how that could have been accomplished.

    First of all we need to look at where these incidents actually began. Many times it began before the diver even entered the water. Perhaps as soon as the decision to begin training was made. At this point the divers chose a shop or instructor to train with. At this point we should look at why they chose this shop/instructor. It could have been because of a friend, relative, ad in the yellow pages etc. But in any case it is likely that until that time they had not done any research regarding agency, training method, time required, etc. In short they did not know what they didn't know.

    Everything they know or knew about diving most likely came from that one person or business. As such it is all too common for a new diver to be astonished to find out just how many agencies, training methods, and programs there are. I myself had no idea what was available to me and my instructor was careful to avoid discussing the subject of different methods of training. I was clueless. Had I known what I know now my path to instructor would most likely have been very different.

    But in any case it came down to, that in my early training, believing that someone other than myself was ultimately responsible for my own safety. Nothing could be further from the truth. Up until I recieved my c card it is true that the instructor was responsible for my safety. And during training, even to this day, that is somewhat true when undertaking a new course that involves new risks and challenges. Once that card is received however it is an entirely different story. At that point it is the divers responsibility to look out for their own safety. As certified divers we should be capable of diving with a buddy of equal skill in conditions similar to or better than what the training was conducted in without the assistance of a DM, A/I, or Instructor.

    If this is not the case then that diver should not have received a c card. The diver should be fully capable of planning the dive, doing all the necessary pre dive checks, executing the dive, and exiting safely from the water. This is the responsibility of the diver along with being able to make the decision to NOT DIVE should conditions or the dive plan be beyond the skill, training, or comfort level of the diver. In cases where a Divemaster or other guide is employed it still falls ultimately to the diver to dive or not. Many times this is not conveyed to the new diver by his/her instructor. As a result the divers again do not know what they do not know. They end up doing what are known as "trust me dives". Many times nothing untoward happens on these dives. But unfortunately the odds are against this being the case every time. And when something does go wrong it may go so wrong as to result in serious injury or death.

    Now we enter into a realm where the lines of responsibility may become blurred. Perhaps the DM should not have let the person dive or taken them on the dive? Perhaps the op should not have let them on the boat? Perhaps the divers buddy should have said something or maybe other divers on the boat who may have known of the lack of training or skill level of the diver? In any case the results do not change. A diver is hurt or dead.

    This sport is fun, exciting, educational, relaxing, and if practiced within the limits of one's training and experience- SAFE. BUT to go beyond one's experience level, training, and even comfort level too fast or too far is inviting disaster. Every instructor should impart to their student that this sport can kill and do it in some very nasty ways. You were told or will be told to not hold your breath. But was it stressed as to why and what could happen if you did. Terms like lung overexpansion injury or pneumothorax or embolism were or will be used.

    But do you really know how serious these things are? Do you realize what happens when a lung rips and air rushes into the chest cavity or sack around the heart and bloody froth comes out of the mouth. Or an air bubble enters the blood stream and travels to the brain resulting in a condtion similar to a stroke with all the after affects of a stroke such as paralysis, loss of memory, loss of muscle control, and death.

    Who is responsible for an occurence like this? The diver is! They were told not to hold their breath but did anyway, why? Maybe they panicked. But if they panicked why did they panic? Most likely they were in a situation they were not ready for. Who is responsible for that?

    If on an OW training dive the instructor should have realized the diver was not ready and postponed it in lieu of more time in the pool or classroom or both. But maybe the diver was ok until they hit OW and became nervous. But if they said nothing of their apprehension then that was the divers fault. If they communicated their nervousness and the instructor did the dive anyway then that still falls on the instructor. But once out of training it is the divers responsibility to dive or not dive.

    When a diver for whatever reason elects to do a dive beyond their level of training and experience and this is known to the op, DM, boat captain, or instructor who may be guiding but not instructing on the dive they should not let the diver dive or insist that they be accompanied by a DM or other pro. But even then had the diver received proper training it is likely they would have enough sense to follow that training and not do the dive without making arrangements for further instruction or a guide.

    It falls to the diver to insist on training that will allow them to do the dive. This mindset should have been instilled in them during OW training. If it was not then the fault lies with one of two people. The instructor or the diver. The instructor is responsible for making sure that the diver knows exactly what could happen to him/her regardless if it results in a diver perhaps electing not to continue training. If the diver does elect to go on then it should be made clear to them that they are responsible for all aspects of their diving from the time they receive their card.

    The Dm on the boat does not plan your dives. They give a briefing on the site, emergency procedures, boat etiquette, and times allotted for the dive. They may even get in the water. many times they do not. In any case no matter what you may hear or assume, THE DM IS NOT RESPONSIBLE for keeping you safe! Neither is your buddy! You are.

    If you are not comfortable with this stay out of the water! If you are not comfortable with being responsible for yourself your training was seriously lacking, you were not paying attention in class, or you need more time in the pool and should not be diving in open water. At this point it is your responsibility to go to the instructor and communicate your concerns.

    It is my contention that once a diver is certified he/she is responsible for their own safety. The task then of the instructor is to instill this sense of personal responsibility in his/her students. If this is not done the class needs to be reevaluated to insure this is the end result. To turn students loose in the water less than capable with the idea that they will find out they need more training and come back to learn what should be basic skills is a disgrace and a clear demonstration of greed.

    Dive ops that allow unqualified divers to do dives beyond their ability are a disgrace to the industry. It would be better to choose more benign sites or require the divers pay for a personal guide or instructor than risk the headache of a coroners inquest or police investigation. Not to mention the two bit shysters that seem to come out of the woodwork looking to make a quick buck from others tragedies. Being that there really is no governing body that regulates the industry, and should not be, it is up to the industry itself to insure that ONLY properly trained and qualified people are in the water.

    This unfortunately is not the case. Programs based in profit or marketing and designed to get people in the water as fast as possible are the norm. There are still though, programs which offer a more comprehensive and thorough training program to divers. It is up to the diver to decide which they wish to enroll in. It is up to them to decide how much training they wish to get. It is up to them to do some research to find the best fit for them. They should spend at least as much time as they would choosing a new car. It really does come down to the potential diver to decide what their life is worth. And decide just how much training they feel is needed to preserve their safety.

    And what are we doing when we dive? Playing in the water? Swimming around underwater without having to surface as often? Seeing cool new stuff? Doing something different than alot of other people? Yes to all of this. But we are also doing this. We are entering an alien environment that is normally hostile to human life without mechanical means. We cannot breathe underwater. We rely on a few pieces of metal and plastic to keep us alive by allowing us to breath a finite amount of air that we must also carry. Sounds a little more serious that way doesn't it. Did your instructor point it out that way to you? Chances are they did not. Why not? It might have caused you to rethink this whole business. If so, GOOD!

    This is not a game. Your life depends on the training you receive, the decsions you make based on that training, and the decisions you make after training. You, the diver are responsible for your own safety regardless of what anyone else says. Your buddy could get lost, the DM may get hurt, lost, or busy with another diver. If an issue occurs, no one but you will be there to save your ass. Think about that. You may need to save your own life. If that does not make you rethink the idea of who is responsible for your safety you might want think about finding another activity. It is not fair to your buddy, the DM, the captain, the op, or the resort to make them responsible for your life. You don't pay them for that.

    The boat is a taxi to get you to and from the site safely. The driver is no more responsible for you when you step off than the taxi driver who drops you at a hotel. You would not sue the taxi company if you exited the cab, walked into your destination, and fell down a flight of steps.

    The op has no way of determining your comfort level in the water if they did not train you. They assume since you have a card or a referral that you are ready to dive or do your checkouts. If they want to take you to 100 feet on your first dives and you say ok and then die who is at fault? Did they hold a gun to your head and force you to dive? Did you exercise the option to say no that you can do at anytime.

    The cave community has rule that any diver can end a dive at any time with no explanation given. Once the signal is given the dive is over. period. end of discussion. Too bad this is not passed on in many OW classes. Peer pressure, money, wishing to not look bad, all seem to take the place of intelligence and common sense. Divers not realizing how a new environment or type of dive can change things. It has not been adequately instilled in them that this is serious business and not as easy as many of us make it appear. Years of training and experience have taught us that nothing should be taken for granted.

    Good instructors make sure that this is part of the training of new divers. Skills are done over and over until they become as much instinct as anything else. My greatest reward as an instructor is to task a student and see them react to a distraction or outside stimulus as a minor inconvenience instead of a big problem to the skill they are doing. I have recently had a student go from being unable to breathe from a reg with their mask off without water going up their nose to doing a no mask swim two lengths of the pool and then do a bailout with absolutley no issues at all. This did not happen overnight and was the result of much hard work, a clear understanding of the skill to be done, and WHAT COULD HAPPEN if they were to have their mask kicked off at 50 feet and they freaked. The last had the biggest effect in them working through the urge to freak and finding out it's not that bad.

    More to come tomorrow. I'm tired and need to go to bed.
  2. djanni

    djanni Photographer

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Cozumel, MX
    I read that as a heart-felt commentary. I commend you for taking the time to write it and I agree with you. In areas where a guide dives with the group its easy to have a false sense of security.
  3. Riger

    Riger Barracuda

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Dubai

    Thank you for taking the time to put this out there. This surely reflects the thoughts of many. You will never know how many lives/accidents this will prevent in the future.

    Very Best Regards

  4. NorthWoodsDiver

    NorthWoodsDiver Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Florida
    If your not comfortable and capable of doing a dive, from start to finish and including the planning phase, totally solo then why do it with a buddy? Thats generally along the lines of what I say. Pretty much sums it up IMO.
    Thea Strassburg, ComputerX and KWS like this.
  5. tfsails

    tfsails Divemaster

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Richmond VA
    Reading your post made me re-think how little I knew when I took my OW course and how much I depended on someone I hardly knew. You're spot on--a newbie diver doesn't know how much he doesn't know. Thanks for taking the time to put this all together. It probably should be required reading for all OW students.

    willowah likes this.
  6. TSandM

    TSandM Missed and loved by many. Rest in Peace

    It's a good essay.

    When we graduate from OW class, we have spent days trusting our instructors and their assistants. Those people have told us what to do, where to go, what site to dive, how deep we should be. It's VERY easy to continue that dependence, once you are certified. I did it . . . I reached out to very experienced divers to accompany me, because I didn't feel safe with other new divers. And I went where those people told me to go, including following an instructor to 130 feet on the 10th dive of my life. I was passive and respecting authority.

    One of the things Jim is trying to say is that it isn't good to do that. Yes, you WILL do that in classes, and trust that the instructor has assessed you and your skills well enough to know the dive you are planning to do is either safe, or within his capacity to salvage. (I have taken cave training, where a poorly prepared or dysfunctional student can really cause injury, either to himself or to others.) But in typical tourist dives, each of us should consider what we have been told the limits of our training are, and match that to the proposed dive, and decide whether what is contemplated is safe.

    The reasons people don't do that are many. They aren't really convinced diving can have risks. They don't realistically know either their own abilities, or how to assess what's needed to do the proposed dive. They enjoy the idea of risk, often without considering the downside of losing the bet. They place misguided trust in someone with a professional label.

    If a thread like this makes people think a little longer before jumping in the water to do something that's way beyond their current experience or training, it's a good thing.
    KWS and Lizard Leg like this.
  7. bigken462

    bigken462 Solo Diver

    Jim, thank you for your post. With your permission I would like to place this valuable write up in my local community facebook page for our local Barracuda Dive group.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this.

  8. Seanpaul

    Seanpaul Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives:
    Location: Switzerland
    Jim, thank you. Excellent post. Mods - is there anyway this can become a "sticky"? I think it needs to be out permanently.
  9. Jupiter31

    Jupiter31 Loggerhead Turtle

    "The cave community has rule that any diver can end a dive at any time with no explanation given. Once the signal is given the dive is over. period. end of discussion. Too bad this is not passed on in many OW classes. Peer pressure, money, wishing to not look bad, all seem to take the place of intelligence and common sense. Divers not realizing how a new environment or type of dive can change things. It has not been adequately instilled in them that this is serious business and not as easy as many of us make it appear. Years of training and experience have taught us that nothing should be taken for granted."

    Not being cave certified, I did not know this - but you are correct; this would be a GREAT thing to teach, and there is not a reason it can't be incorporated into OW training.

    There are times, especially when you are new, for a variety of reasons, "its just not happening...." and would be better to end a dive.
  10. pollywogg

    pollywogg Regular of the Pub

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Delray Beach, FL
    JimLap, first of all, I just want to say thank you for putting this out there. The recent posts regarding diver deaths/injuries have been alarming to say the least.
    I feel blessed to have been trained the way I was. My instructor is ex-coast guard, licensed commercial diver, and an independent NAUI instructor. It has been drilled into my head that, when it comes to diving, noone is there to keep you safe but you. I have been told since day 1 that, for whatever reason, if you feel shaky, apprehensive, or uneasy about the dive, don't dive.
    Also, not that my instructor has seen everything, but given his depth and breadth of experience, he has a near infinite amount of 'don't do this or else' stories. I have heard, and in one instance seen pictures, of gruesome dive injuries. That is enough to make you take diving seriously.
    Diving is a fun and safe sport, but, at depth, its easy to get into more trouble than you could ever get yourself out of.
    alisonkcole likes this.

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