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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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June 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 29, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Case for Downloading Your Dives

but then again, why bother?

from the June, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Reg Valentine, who founded the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC), operated a dive center on the Italian island of Giglio in the '60s. There were no dive computers or word processors then, so Reg logged all his dives in minute detail, in a neat calligraphic hand in characteristic turquoise green ink.

Many years later, archeologist Mensun Bound was sitting in his dentist's waiting room in England when he spotted a rare Etruscan vase sitting on a shelf. He asked his dentist where it came from. It seemed that the dentist was a scuba diver and took vacations every year in Giglio. Divers there often dived an ancient wreck site where such vases could be found.

That's how the Giglio wreck came to be put on the map. Dating from about 600 BC, it was the oldest marine archaeological site ever discovered. The problem was that it had been naÔvely yet systematically plundered by leisure divers, and many of the valuable artifacts were by then in private hands. If it had not been for Reg's meticulous log-keeping, none of those artifacts would have been given to the museum where they belonged. In fact, all divers handed over their trophies, apart from the man who retains an important Etruscan soldier's helmet in his bank vault in Germany.

When I started diving, I too kept meticulous records of every dive. When I was a dive guide on a liveaboard boat, I reached dive No. 1000 and realized that the second thousand was going to take just as long to do, and I lost interest. I still have those logbooks, but I rarely look at them, and certainly don't spend winter evenings browsing in a self-satisfied way through records of dives.

"I downloaded his last dive from the computer [the deceased] had been wearing on his wrist, though it was probably illegal for me to do so."

Today, we all use diving computers, and virtually all of them allow the dives we record to be downloaded to a laptop. The downloaded information includes a time/depth graph, together with things like water temperature, and a graphic representation of the tissueloading of the token model tissues employed by the computer's algorithm (of course, this is not actually your own specific tissue loading). In effect, a dive computer acts as the 'black box' of an aircraft.

Unlike most sport divers, technical divers are so engrossed in the technical challenge of doing a deep dive and coming back successfully that when asked, "What did you see while you were down there?" they can only answer with such things as breathing mixes, run times and deco-stop durations. Many of these folks spend hours pouring over dive profiles and marveling at their proficiency at going deep and coming back undamaged. Of course, some do suffer decompression injuries, and the time/depth graph, plus the ancillary information, can go some way to offering an explanation as to what might have happened.

On the other hand, most of us sport divers -- surely most who read Undercurrent -- go diving for the experience of encountering what is down there, using our computers to reduce the risk of decompression injury. Most of us have gotten away with it. Some people are less lucky. My good friend Mal Bridgeman was recently on the twelfth dive of a liveaboard trip off Egypt's southernmost Red Sea coastline when he realized he was exhibiting signs of decompression sickness. "My mind started evaluating whether I was bent," he said. "I re-ran the profiles in my head and recalled nothing suspicious. I was convinced I had not needed stops beyond the normal safety stops. There had been no rapid ascents. I had been well hydrated. I had slept well. There had been no excessive currents to deal with." It was a long journey back north to get hyperbaric help but at least the downloaded dives from Bridgeman's computer indicated he had done nothing untoward to precipitate the bend, and the recompression chamber doctor was able to successfully treat him accordingly.

More tragically, David Graves, a well-known journalist working for a British newspaper, drowned on the first day of a press trip to the Bahamas. I was present and very much involved in the recovery of his body and the sad, unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate him. Of course, I, among others, was acutely interested to know the circumstances of his untimely demise. I downloaded his last dive from the computer he had been wearing on his wrist, though it was probably illegal for me to do so. Later, the newspaper got involved in an attempt to bring a manslaughter charge against the dive center with which we had both been diving, and I found myself enduring a six-hour cross-examination in the witness box.

It so happened that the newspaper had commissioned a technical expert to investigate what had happened to their man. He too downloaded the profiles of the two dives Graves had made on that solitary first day of diving. I know this because by co-incidence I happened to share an office with the said technical expert. The downloaded dive profile from Graves' computer told the whole story of what had happened. He had swum off alone, run out of air and made a fast ascent to the surface, where he could have stayed had he dropped his weight belt or orally inflated his BC, but alas, he dropped and drowned.

The newspaper wanted to make more of a meal of it than that. When the coroner asked the lawyer representing Graves' widow for a printout from his computer, he was disingenuously told it would take around three months. It had taken me only minutes to download, but of course, I was unable to reveal I had that information in court since the computer information was not legally mine to possess.

Today, a Bluetooth connection will allow us to download a dive profile from our computer to our mobile device and/or tablet, then send it to the "cloud" for storage or to any interested party almost as soon as we have surfaced. In fact, we can even house our mobile phone in a watertight housing and, with the right app, use it as a diving computer.

Of course, many divers like to write a comprehensive report of every dive in their logbooks. Some enhance their reporting by putting a printout of the dive profile alongside. For most of us, the big question is, do we need to routinely download every dive and examine the dive profile afterwards? My answer would be, "Do it if it makes you happy." As for me, I'm too busy downloading my photographs.

John Bantin is the former technical editor of DIVER magazine in the United Kingdom. For 20 years, he used and reviewed virtually every piece of equipment available in the U.K. and the U.S., and made around 300 dives per year for that purpose. He is also a professional underwater photographer, and author of Amazing Diving Stories, available at www.undercurrent.org

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