TOP TIPS: Are you a risk-taker?

Martin Sampson takes a look at the different kinds of diving enthusiast, and asks 'what kind of diver are YOU?'

Divers take risks. That's a sweeping statement, I grant you, and I'm guessing that quite a few of you are thinking: "I don't, I'm a safe diver". In essence though, we're trusting some clever technology and deliberately immersing ourselves in a cold fluid we can't breathe. A substantial number of land lubbers out there regard us with a mixture of awe and envy, not to mention complete derision because they think we're as mad as a box of prawns. The rest of us, booted and rubber-suited, think we're normal. Of course, there is potential for harm and injury, but we all intend to go diving safely, don't we? It's just that sometimes, at the dive site, this doesn't happen.

In 1986 I dived with one of the first decompression computers. It was called 'The Edge'. At that time there were only three computers on the market. The Edge and the Decobrain both cost around £600. The third was the Dive Dynamics 'Aladin', that was about £250. A popular misconception about dive computers at that time was that you could do any type of dive profile, including 'saw tooth' profiles involving multiple ascents and descents. After a few cases of decompression illness proved that wrong, the popular phrase 'he was bent on an Aladin!' was coined. Suspicion fell on the reliability of the Aladin. But the Aladin computer was outselling the other two units because it was more than £300 cheaper. If you had decompression illness while using a dive computer, it was much more likely that it would be with an Aladin on your wrist. It took a little longer for the diving community to appreciate that thousands of dives were being conducted with greater levels of safety because, for the first time, we had a reliable way of monitoring our ascent rate.

Fast forward to today. Recent fatalities using rebreathers involved some pretty elementary errors. For example, failing to change a scrubber canister in good time, or failing to go through a pre-dive check list and then discovering a major fault in the worst possible way. The use of rebreathers is a rapidly emerging aspect of diving, but the potential risks inherent in the use of rebreathers themselves, say carbon dioxide toxicity, are not specific to any one type of unit any more than DCI is linked to any one dive computer.

In the last few decades, quality in design, engineering, materials and ergonomics have all improved.  But no matter what piece of kit you choose, it is likely to have a limitation of some sort. It may be one of design - perhaps a lightweight regulator that is designed with travel to warm waters in mind rather than the Arctic Ocean. This is where training and information come into play. Good-quality instruction will help you become aware, not just of the limitations of the gear, but also your own limitations. No matter how good the training is, your ability to retain it decreases dramatically without continued practice. Are you the sort of diver who thinks: "I haven't been underwater for four months, I think I'll book a refresher course?"

Over the last 30 years, time pressure has also changed, but not for the better. We tend to lead busier lives, made all the more-immediate by 24/7 communications and social networking. Many divers get through the daily stress of Monday to Friday by promising themselves a weekend's diving. A late Friday night fuelled by high expectations (among other things) is followed by an early start on Saturday and a 200-mile drive to the coast. The possible outcomes are varied, but could include:

  • Getting a speeding ticket on the way to the dive site because you over-slept.

  • Not diving at all because you left your regulator hanging in the shed.

  • Not being able to get buoyancy control right because you couldn't relax.

  • Passing all responsibility for navigation and planning over to your buddy or instructor because you're too tired to think about it.

  • Having a problem with a piece of kit because you forgot to check it.

  • Diving with that faulty kit because 'Hey, I've been looking forward to this dive all week'.

  • Being cold, dehydrated, or simply too tired to do a second dive.

  • Completing an uncomfortable dive without major incident and accepting that you survived therefore you must have enjoyed it because everyone else did.

  • Realising that actually, today of all days, I just don't feel up to it so I'm not going to dive.

That last outcome could only have been bettered by realising on the Friday night that what you needed most was 12 hours sleep and a lie-in on Saturday morning. Perhaps one day of relaxed diving on the Sunday would have been better than trying to cram in two days of diving.

Diving and other adventure sports are popular because when they are properly planned and conducted you have to focus in order to achieve your goals. While focusing on those you become free of Monday-to-Friday stresses. From the car sticker school of psychology: 'Leave it all above you - go scuba diving'.

At some point in your training you were almost certainly told to abort the dive if you are not happy.  It would be even better to develop the self-awareness and sheer nerve to be able to say to your buddy: "I'm sorry, I'm just not up for this today". If your buddy can't handle that, find a different one. 

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