DAN Medical Frequently Asked Questions

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Weight Belt Adjustment

Issues with a weight belt caused a diver to be separated from his dive buddies during a night dive. Three experienced divers, all familiar with night diving rules and procedures, decided to complete a night dive in approximately 65 fsw (20 msw). They planned to descend and then move along the ocean bottom to complete their dive. The last diver descending experienced tightness in his weight belt and decided to loosen it. He was using a nylon weight belt with removable/adjustable lead weights that was held closed with a cam-action plastic bulk. Because of the BCD, the diver could not see the buckle on his weight belt and tried to locate the buckle by feeling for it. He found it and released the cam lever; the weights shifted and pulled the end of the belt completely from the buckle.

He tried for a minute to re-thread the belt end back into the buckle, but did not succeed. At this point the diver realized he was ascending to the surface and stopped working on the weight belt and began to descend in order to catch up with his dive buddies. Unaware of his difficulties, the buddies had continued with the dive and were now approximately 50 feet (15 meters) away from the distressed diver. The diver became task loaded with holding onto his belt and weights, trying to descend back to the bottom and simultaneously using his light to alert his two dive buddies that he needed assistance. He became anxious and at the edge of panic. Finally, buddies noticed his light signals and went back to assist him with fastening the weight belt. The three divers then completed their planned dive together with no further incidents.
Diving at night requires a thorough pre-dive preparation. Dive buddies have to stay close to overcome the lack of visibility. The diver who experienced difficulty with his weight belt seemed to be unfamiliar with the configuration of the clasping device and the arrangement of the weights on the belt.
The diver did however have the training to stay calm during the event and was able to get the attention of his buddies by signaling with his light.

Learning how to adjust a weight belt configuration is a skill typically learned at the open-water level. Weight belt adjustment is normally taught for out of water, mid-water and at the bottom of the water column. This is an important skill to learn because when divers wear wetsuits, the wetsuit will begin to compress as the diver descends causing the weight belt to become lose. The diver will then need to tighten up the weight belt so as to not let it dangle or slide off the diver. This experienced diver seems to have understood what was needed to adjust his weighting system while diving; however, he appears to be unfamiliar with the type of buckle he was using and could not do it without visual control.

As part of the pre-dive briefing, it would have been a good idea to instruct all the divers to make adjustments to their gear if needed, and have each buddy check the adjustments before continuing on the dive. It is advised that divers stay in buddy pairs and not a trio. When divers dive in a trio instead of pairs, the third person in the group may easily lose contact with the other two, each thinking the other was paying attention to the third diver. Especially when diving at night, it is important to keep closer track of each other as visibility is restricted.

Lessons learned:
  • Divers should have been in groups of two to allow for better supervision of each other.
  • Have a contingency plan, share it with your buddy, and comply with it.
  • When using new gear, become familiar with its operating procedures before diving with it. Practice with a new gear configuration in a pool or shallow and protected water before diving in open water.

- Brian Wake


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