Case Summaries

An Unexpected Solo Dive

Strong current causes a diver to become separated from his buddy and group

Reported Story

My usual dive buddy was not going on this particular dive and I got paired up with a buddy I had never been diving with before. Because my new dive buddy was also an experienced diver, I didn't think I had anything to worry about. There was a very strong current and during the descent, I became separated from the rest of my dive group. My dive buddy and I were in sight of each other at approximately 50 feet (15 meters) apart. He decided to continue with the rest of the group without me. My mistake was that I thought I would see everyone once we descended. Because of the current I ended up in a different location than my buddy and dive group.

I found myself at 96 fsw (29 msw), in the middle of the Pacific Ocean by myself. No one else was around. My first feeling was panic, and my immediate thought was to surface. Fortunately, I did not rapidly ascend to the surface and I relied on my dive experience and training to know what to do. First off, I had to get out of panic mode and into safety mode. I told myself, "I was the only one that was able to get myself out of this mess." Being at 100 fsw (30 msw) or more is nothing new to me, I love deep dives, but it is scary when you are in unfamiliar waters unexpectedly solo. I did a controlled and slow ascent, and remembered to take my safety stop at 15 fsw (4.5 msw). I surfaced and waved down our dive boat to come and get me.

It was not until about 30 minutes after I had boarded the dive boat and disassembled my equipment when my dive master came up to see if I was OK. He then asked if I wanted to immediately go back down. I was shocked by how long it took him to check on me and by his question to dive again. I told him I could not descend because I had already been down to 96 fsw (29 msw) and needed to complete a surface interval.

My dive buddy got back on the boat, and told me that when he saw me it looked like I was in trouble and was going to surface so he decided to continue with the dive. I told him that if he thought I was in trouble he should not have separated from me. I explained to him that because he continued without me I could not have helped him either if he was in trouble. I reported this incident to the main divemaster who at the time was with a group of inexperienced divers. He said I would not dive with this buddy or the other divemaster on any future dives.

As if this was not bad enough, the scenario happened the very next day to another experienced diver who went diving with the same dive buddy and divemaster as I had. Fortunately all turned out well, but it could have been a huge disaster. I consider this incident as a learning experience. I learned I am capable to use my dive experience and training in emergency situations. I also now dive with a knife in my BCD at all times to be a more prepared diver. You just never know what can happen out in the big blue. I later reported the dive incident to the main divemaster at the resort I was staying at. Hopefully the issues were addressed and future incidents avoided.

Comment

Diving with a buddy is an important safety measure that increases dive safety when best practices are followed. This process needs to begin at the surface, before divers enter the water. Dive buddies should plan the dive together. Discuss important elements of the dive such as depth, bottom time, and breathing gas management. Also, if either or both buddies plan any underwater activities such as photography or fishing, this must be communicated and plan your dive accordingly. If you and your buddy cannot agree on the dive plan, it is best to uncouple and find another buddy with the same dive objectives.

Complete your pre-dive check with your buddy and make sure you both are familiar with the placement and functionality of each other's dive equipment. It's a good idea to review dive hand signals to avoid any miscommunication. Good diving practice includes buddies staying in close contact throughout the entire dive. The ability to see each other from a distance is not enough to ensure safety; buddies should be able to reach each other quickly in case of a dive incident or emergency. Buddies should be able to rely on each other, but not fully depend on one another or the dive master to complete the dive. Each diver is ultimately responsible for their own safety. The culture of dive safety is improved when divers speak up about unsafe situations. Alerting fellow divers of incidents and potentially hazardous situations can help promote dive safety and possibly avoid future incidents.

- Brittany Trout