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May 2005 Vol. 31, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Divers still get left at sea…

from the May, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Our Undercurrent correspondent had an unnerving adventure while on Windstar’s French Polynesia trip. This is his story: We left in two RIBs to do a drift dive outside the reef on a glorious day-after-Christmas morning. We separated into two groups with one dive guide each, leaving a boat driver to handle the two boats, and dropped into the warm water. We had some surge and a light southerly outgoing current. The dive itself was uneventful, a nice, tropical drift dive.

After a safety stop, we ascended to find ourselves beyond the barrier reef with breakers too severe to penetrate and no boat in sight. We inflated our BCDs, shot a blast of air into our Dive Alert BC horns, and waited a few minutes to be picked up — with no luck. One of the dive guides attempted to inflate the lone dive sausage the two dive guides were sharing between them, but it was a large one meant to be inflated with a second stage purge, and the ten-knot wind kept blowing it flat. Traffic was nonexistent due to the holiday. Two divers had safety sausages and Dive Alerts, and we inflated our smaller but more effective sausages by mouth. Some time later, an aluminum skiff with fishermen started up the pass to the south of us, but they diverted when they saw our waving sausages and heard our Dive Alerts. They motored by, calling out something unintelligible which included “non radio,” then reversed and sped away. Soon they returned and shouted at us again, then motored off for good.

A few minutes later, a large and lovely red inflatable chugged out the southern channel, came to us and began taking on some of the group — half of us, as there wasn’t room for everyone. (Apparently, the unintelligible shouters had gone to a shore dive operator and told them some divers were at sea, and they responded, though they had nothing to do with us dive-wise.)

We’d bobbed around beyond the reef and a good mile from shore for almost an hour, and, although we weren’t home yet, we were certainly feeling much better. Eventually, we were all picked up with nothing more than sunburn. But, if not for the skiff, the safety sausages, and Dive Alerts, things might have turned out differently, especially since our original boatman, who was perhaps two miles north of us, was pensively looking out to sea, awaiting our impossible return!

What can you do to protect yourself from a similar possibility? Ask some questions and pry a bit.... Expect a safe dive operation to have:

1. A dive plan filed with someone responsible on shore so a contingency plan can be activated if there is no contact within a certain time period.

2. A method of positively checking divers out and back when leaving shore or a “mother” ship as well as on smaller boats or with groups.

3. Dive guides with large inflatable safety surface signals that can be seen a long way off and will stay up in wind, a Dive Alert, and a strobe for afternoon/night dives. Remote dives may even call for a waterproof EPIRB emergency radio beacon that can be activated to call for help.

4. A requirement that all divers on drift dives should be required to carry safety sausages and noise signals. A mirror and strobe for night operations are also advisable.

5. A boatman (preferably one per boat) who is trained to follow bubbles (and at least recognize currents!) or, in tricky drift situations, to follow a surface marker buoy attached by long line to each group’s dive guide. The boatman should know how long the dive is supposed to last and have a radio to call the shore base or boat in case of emergencies.

6. A large surface marker can also be useful for divers covering a larger area should a boat be required to recover a diver who has been blown off by currents.

7. Flotation for all passengers as well as oxygen and first aid gear.

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