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Being a Good Divemaster October 24, 2008

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Emergencies, Training.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’m down in the Boston area on business Thursday and Friday for an annual visit to head office. One of my colleagues down here has been helping me out so I took him out for some wine & dinner Thursday evening. Joe used to be a Marine, and served in Desert Storm. We talked about diving, and to my surprise he expressed some fear in taking the plunge, so to speak. We talked about the panic-inducing mask removal and replace exercise that we have to be careful with, in case the students try to bolt for the surface, which he thought sounded pretty scary. Then he told me about a chemical warfare exercise he’d done where noxious gas was introduced into a room in which the soldiers had to remove their gas masks, count to 10, replace and clear.

I said he’d have no trouble with the mask exercise.

To my mind, the main responsibility of the Divemaster is the safety of other divers. With students in 30 feet of water, with sufficient support, it isn’t all that difficult to do. Make sure they have enough air (as well as yourself), take things slowly, don’t let them bolt, make sure a regulator is in their mouth, their buoyancy is under control, etc., make it look like fun to keep anxiety from creeping in, etc.

This summer, acting as a safety diver on a wreck course with all students certified at least advanced and nitrox, I was at a 90′ deep wreck keeping an eye on students as they entered and exited, swimming just above the deck which had enough gaps to see them swimming with the instructor below, and be able to enter if needed. I had my full tech gear on with double tanks on my back, manifolded and each with it’s own regulator, as well as a stage bottle clipped to my BC.

One student only had 800 PSI air remaining when entering the wreck but his buddy, who had a 125 cu foot tank and was an Assistant Instructor (one rung above me the Divemaster, although without any tech training) beckoned him inside. He was also with an instructor who also had tech gear so I let it go. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but that’s water under the bridge. The relatively short swim-through and the numerous exit point were factors, I suppose.

When the student emerged – alone (the air-bearing buddy being delayed during his exercise) he had only 400 PSI left. When I got to him he was down to 300 PSI, and I could tell he was concerned although not about to panic. After a minute of waiting for his buddy I took him over to the ascent line, gave him my primary reg, went to my backup and escorted him to the 15′ safety stop. Why did I share before he was completely out? Because with no air he was dependent on me, with 300PSI left he had an option if for some reason I was no longer available to him. More options are good. Two air sources are better than one. Once he was finished with his stop, I sent him up on his own air.

Did I save his life? Of course not – I can’t claim credit for that. What my intervention did, I think, was break the chain of events that might have led to a life-threatening emergency. There were other options available to the student. His buddy showed up not long afterwards with lots of air remaining. There were other tanks lying on the deck (valves off but full of air), or by skipping the safety stop 300 PSI is enough to make it to the surface without running out of air at an ascent rate of 60 feet per minute. But any of those options could have increased stress and reduced the margin for error. So that’s what the being there is about. When supervising, if you have to save someone’s life you may well have failed to manage the situation so to avoid a life threatening situation – and while your actions may be life saving, you’ve fixed what should never have been broken.

The greatest thing about being a Divemaster is taking responsibility for others. The hardest thing is that you’ll never be perfect. The important thing is to always try to be.

I enjoyed swapping stories with Joe and it furthered my appreciation for the incredible things that human beings are capable of. By the time we’d finished I think he’d come around to thinking that he could become a diver. I hope he does.

As for me, I still have much to learn.



1. deepstop - October 27, 2008

I just sent this to Joe. Hopefully hearing about disabled veterans learning to dive might be an inspiration for him to try it himself.


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