Posted by Dick Analog on May 11, 2005 at 15:27:36:
In Reply to: Out of Air Situations - Here's my experience, what's yours? posted by Anonymous on May 11, 2005 at 11:32:39:
First, I’d like to thank Anonymous for sharing their experience, as well as offering their comments and soliciting thoughts from others. Second, I need to preface anything that I say from here on by making it clear that my level of diving experience is probably quite similar to that of Anonymous - i.e. less than 100 dives. Thus, my opinions and suggestions shouldn’t be assigned much weight compared to what we may hear from much more experienced divers.
I have not been involved in a real out-of-air (OOA) situation but it is something that I think about often. I’d say that Anonymous’ situation was handled about as well as anyone could hope for, and ended as a complete success. The consequences of a faster than optimum ascent from 20ft shouldn’t be serious if both parties are breathing normally during the ascent. The deal with the dive light – yes, I think a good case has been made for a lanyard-type retention system rather than a clip.
Of most interest to me are Anonymous’ comments regarding dive buddies.
This is something that I think about quite a bit, as well. In fact, the whole buddy issue has driven me to explore ways of mitigating the risks when the buddy situation is less than ideal. I count myself as very fortunate because on nearly all dives I do, I have an excellent dive buddy who I know, trust, and like. We work well together as a team, and do in fact have a plan in mind for each dive we do. Though she is considerably smaller than I am, she tends to go through air quite a bit faster than I do; she is very good about monitoring her own air supply and keeping me informed (and I read her back my psi when she reads me hers). I also try to get a visual on her SPG whenever I get a chance. We take a fairly conservative approach to diving when we dive together; for example, if we’re allowed 20 minutes of no-deco time on a deep dive, we make it part of our plan to ascend to shallower water when we still have 10 minutes of no-deco time left.
But what about the times when I can’t dive with my trusted buddy? Sometimes I have gone on beach dives without her and buddied-up with whomever I meet just before the dive. Other times, on charter dive boats, my trusted buddy may not have wanted to do all the scheduled dives because of mild illness, fatigue, or simply being too cold. In these kinds of situations I’ve buddied up with other divers, and without getting into details, have had generally unsatisfactory experiences. My overall conclusion, for myself anyway, is that if you can’t dive with a buddy that you know reasonably well and for whom you have a reasonable level of trust, your best (i.e. safest) alternatives are to either 1) not dive at all, or 2) dive alone. Obviously, alternative 1) provides the lowest level of risk; you can’t be hurt diving if you’re not diving. If you opt for alternative 2, you get to dive, but you have to deal with any risks posed by that choice. However, I will never recommend diving alone, to anyone. If someone chooses to do that, it is their decision and they must accept whatever risks that come with that decision. And safety matters aside, diving with a buddy that you know, trust, and like, is ALWAYS more fun than diving alone, in my opinion.
Here are some things that I do personally to mitigate some of the risks associated with diving, whether with a trusted buddy, or alone:
- Each time I enter a new depth regime or type of terrain on a particular dive, I quickly try to imagine what my or my buddy’s escape plan will be. I actually look toward the surface and visualize how I would go about getting my buddy and/or myself to the surface as safely as conditions will allow, whether it be an OOA situation or some other type of emergency. I believe that even visualizing an escape will help you should a real emergency arise.
- My buddy and I practice basic emergency skills on nearly every dive trip. We do regulator recoveries, mask removal and replacement, and shared breathing with slow, safe ascent.
- As silly as it may sound, when I get together with my kids in the swimming pool we have contests to see who can walk on their hands underwater the longest, who can pick up the most coins, who can lay on the bottom the longest, etc. While we’re playing these games, I often imagine myself in an OOA situation and try to remain as calm as possible while accomplishing whatever task is at hand and not breathing. It’s surprising how long 40 seconds seem after you have expelled enough air from your lungs so you can lay motionless on the bottom of the pool.
- I personally use an alternate air supply that is independent of, and redundant to my main air supply. I carry a 13cu.ft. pony bottle with a separate, readable SPG, and my octopus regulator feeds off the pony bottle. On the last dive of each dive trip, whether with a buddy or alone, I switch to the alternate air supply just before my safety stop and finish the dive on the alternate supply; this keeps me in practice and helps verify that everything is in good working order. Anonymous mentioned potential drawbacks to the Air II type alternate air source; for the reasons cited, I agree with their intention to go to a traditional octopus. However, I’m planning on getting just such a system (an Air II) because I want to be able to share air from my main tank, in addition to having my pony bottle available (via octo) for me or for sharing.
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