An abstract concept that most divers claim to practice but one that they seldom think about in any depth, the phrase ‘diving safety’ is a classic example of an oxymoron. (For the benefit of those who believe that an oxymoron is an overweight diver festooned with cylinders who insists on making deep, deep air dives, it’s actually a figure of speech in which the terms seemingly contradict one another.)
For many people safety is never an issue. Taught to believe that diving is, “fun, safe and enjoyable”, they depend on Dive-Masters and Instructors to take charge of every aspect of their dive, including assembling the equipment and acting as an underwater guide and protector. For people who think this way, diving is no more dangerous than hopping into a taxicab and hoping that the driver’s sober and knows where he’s going.
Although it’s fair to say that the majority of recreational divers in supervisory positions welcome this responsibility, they often adopt a too protective attitude. Rather than stressing that the decision to dive should be an individual one based on ability and knowledge of the potential risks, (and that ultimately everyone must accept responsibility for their own well-being), there’s a tendency to cocoon those with less-experience from diving’s dark realities.
While some folks might regard such seemingly conscientious behaviour as admirable, the downside is that rather than persuading the novice to take diving seriously, it only encourages them to ignore the basic principles of safety learned during training.
Even worse, it gives rise to the belief that not only is it OK to have somebody with apparently more experience think and make decisions on another person’s behalf; but that safe diving practice is somehow a measure of how long a person’s been actively engaged in diving rather than what they’ve learned.
Often overlooked in all of this is the fact that while experience may be a good teacher, it’s usually preceded by poor judgement. (Those who manage to survive poor decisions usually describe the incident as ‘bad luck’, but as anyone who’s given any thought to the matter knows, ‘luck’ has even less relevance to diving safety than advice like, ‘Always keep the number of ascents that you’ve made equal to the number of descents.’)
Encouraging people to think about diving for themselves isn’t dangerous; it only becomes so when those same divers ‘think’ that they’ve arrived at ironclad solutions to safety.
Some years ago, a popular diving magazine conducted a survey inviting readers to comment on the buddy system and what – in their opinion – constituted a good buddy. Strangely enough, the novice divers gave answers like: “Somebody who shares similar underwater interests to my own.” “A person who sticks to our agreed dive plan.” Someone capable of providing assistance in an emergency.” And, “a person who modifies their dive to suit the speed and ability of the least experienced member of the pair.”
On the other hand, far too many of the supposedly experienced divers gave answers like: “A good buddy is somebody who doesn’t worry if we become separated and they can’t find me.”; “Someone who can keep up with me.”; “A person who owns a better underwater light than me.” And, “it’s safer to dive solo than having to worry about somebody else.”
A few even maintained that equipment configuration was the sole criteria for selecting a buddy – a thought process remarkably similar to that of some standard-dressed divers of sixty or more years ago who argued that anyone wearing a helmet that attached to the corselet with anything less than twelve-bolts was unsafe.
The fact is that diving demands a holistic approach to safety, one that takes into consideration every aspect of the dive, including equipment configuration, training, physical fitness and mental attitude: an approach that’s often opposed by those who claim that it’s far too rigorous to apply to normal recreational diving.
As a complex activity, diving may never be completely safe. But with only a little thought it can be made safer. Just remember, never let your dive gear, your buddy – or anyone else – take you somewhere that your brain didn’t get to at least half-an-hour earlier.