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April 2006 Vol. 32, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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When Divers Get Benched: Part II

rules made up on the fly

from the April, 2006 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Although you carry a C-card, you’re still subject to dive operator scrutiny — can you attach your regulator to your tank in three or fewer tries? They also expect you to follow their rules, which is fair enough, as long as they tell you their rules. We don’t have much regard for operators who employ arbitrary rules that they announce and enforce only after you’ve paid up and climbed aboard.

Last year Tim Lewis (Portland, OR) and his family visited Maui in Hawaii where his 17-year-old daughter completed an open water class and was issued a temporary proof of certification until her final card came from PADI headquarters. Days later, the family was aboard the Pride of Maui, says Lewis. The divemaster said he would not accept newly trained divers as the temporary c-cards were worthless, mere souvenirs and not meant to grant diving privileges. Three new divers were only allowed to snorkel.

Lewis argues: “If the organization felt that these temporary cards are invalid, they should be honest enough to placard their pier, their vessel, and their brochures with this. This is especially true Hawaii, where so many people get their initial training.”

To announce a disqualification once someone is onboard, is deceitful, at best. While a C-card isn’t always an automatic ticket to dive, a good divemaster should think like George Purifoy, owner of Olympus Dive Center in Morehead City, NC. He told Undercurrent: “We pay more attention to the way divers suit up and the questions they ask than what cards they carry.”

Similarly, William Maley (Laguna Niquel, CA) booked a trip to Farnsworth Banks on the dive boat Atlantis out of Huntington Beach, CA. Once underway, says Maley, the captain announced that “he would not take us there because this was an advanced dive and three divers did not have advanced certification cards.” Log books were not sufficient to convince the captain. After a divemaster agreed to escort the three, the captain claimed the weather was too rough, which Maley thinks was a ruse. Since when has an advanced diver card been required for an advanced dive, especially since one can go directly from basic certification to advanced with little if any additional experience? It’s outrageous for a dive operator to enforce such a policy without disclosing it in advance.

A more enlightened policy is offered by Peace Scuba, which operates a live-aboard out of Ventura, CA. Instructor Autumn Cleverley told Undercurrent that as oil rigs and outer islands are advanced dives due to strong currents and reduced visibility. When divers book a trip for the first time, a Peace staffer asks their level of experience — they want at least 50 dives in California waters. We take them at their word,” says Cleverley, but divers are also warned that divemasters will observe them and may bench them if they notice problems.

Bud Worsham, proprietor of All About Scuba (Fairfield, CA) told us about a customer who was prevented from diving on a cruise when he admitted he hadn’t dived for more than a year. “Our shop is now advertising a refresher course to help prevent that happening again,” says Worsham. While there’s no industry rule, several training agencies recommend refresher courses every 12 months. Certainly an operator can establish a rule, but he’s got an fiduciary obligation to inform a diver before hand — it’s unethical to take his money, then shut him down. And what’s sacred about 12 months? Compare a diver with 500 dives under his belt who hasn’t been wet for a year with one who got certified six months ago and hasn’t dived since. Different stories, for sure. Nonetheless, when you arrive at a dive location you may be asked when you made your last dive and if the operator believes it was too long ago, your diving might be affected.

Deborah Lyon was on an Aqua Safari boat in Cozumel when a divemaster tapped a passenger on the elbow, “and asked him to leave the boat.” The captain had received a radio report that the diver had been drunk at a cafe the night before and the company felt it was not in his best interest to dive. He was assured the price of the dive would be refunded. He was disgruntled, but left without a fight.” Lyon says “when a boat operator running on a thin margin will say ‘no’ to someone who’s a safety hazard, that’s the company I want to dive with.”

Perhaps, but it seems that this guy was busted on hearsay.. Says Lyon: “don’t push the limits on a small island where everyone’s related!”

Yet, there are times that benching a rule breaker makes sense. Sharon Reeves (Capitola, CA) was diving with Anchorage Divers in Dominica last July when a certified diver argued about the need for a checkout dive. Finally, he agreed to get in the water, but refused to remove his mask, or perform any skills requested. Agitated and aggressive, he soon ran out of air on a shallow dive but didn’t signal to anyone. “Instead,” Reeves reports, “he grabbed his wife’s regulator and began breathing from it, leaving her searching for her own octopus. The divemaster refused to allow the couple to continue diving. I for one am very grateful.” But, it seems they shouldn’t have let him in the water when he balked at the skills test.

Next month: How medical conditions bench divers

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