Having looked over my news feeds lately, I am starting to wonder if Scuba Diving is becoming a more dangerous sport. I know that scuba diving is safer than most sports, horse back riding is more dangerous and even golf. The training and our skill development allows us to reduce the risk and gives us a degree of risk management making it a safe sport. It is what is happening at the surface that concerns me.
In the last few weeks, I have seen a number of news reports of serious injuries caused by divers getting hit by boats. Two German divers in Majorca Spain lost limbs after being struck by a boat. One diver had his arm severed at the elbow by the boat and the other had a leg removed surgically since the doctors could not repair it. In a separate later incident also in Majorca, A diver had his back cut open by a launch that ran over him.
One man in Florida was run over by a 60-foot yacht, he was not seriously injured but his gear was sliced. Also in Florida was a report of a diver being struck by the boat he just left. News reports were uncleared what had happened other than he was seriously cut. The accident happened close to shore and the boat was met by EMT and the person flown to a nearby hospital.
A young woman in Hawaii was brought to shore on a dive boat after being injured by a propeller. And a diver in Australia was hit in the back of the head by a jet ski. Earlier this year there were deaths in Thailand and the Philippines.
This past weekend, I was enjoying a river tour and saw a pleasure boat moored flying a huge diver down flag. The boat was outside of the main channel and in a wide open area. In the few minutes it took to pass the boat, I saw ten jet skies pass within twenty feet of the boat. All at a speed well over the 15 miles per hour speed limit for the area. I talked to a dive shop owner later and asked about any concerns. He told me that there are four dive sites in that area that are listed for advanced/ experienced divers. The diving itself is not difficult, just a concern for surface traffic. Divers are to descend and ascend on those sites by the mooring lines. The feeling is that an experienced diver is less likely to lose the line and made to surface away from the dive boat overhead. If I ever dive any of those sites, it will be a week day when there is little boat traffic. Seeing the jet skies and knowing there were divers below was scary.
Improve Your Situational Awareness
I had a friend who had her drivers license revoked after her fourth accident within a year. None of the accidents was her fault, but a police officer had commented on the report that a competent driver should have been able to avoid the accident. The same officer had investigated a previous accident. She appeared before a motor vehicle department judge who agreed and said her lack of situational awareness was a danger to herself and others.
Situational awareness is being aware of what is happening around you in terms of where you are, where you are supposed to be, and whether anyone or anything around you is a threat to your health and safety. I am not blaming any of the individuals that were cited as examples as having poor situational awareness. There is not enough information reported to determine what really happened. Thesame can be said of those operating the vessels to a degree.
Situational awareness applies to the entire time we are diving, however, I think most of us relax a bit and let our guard down once we have surfaced and stabilized our surface buoyancy. We are back into a near normal environment. There is another element that can come into play here. However, before I mention it, I want you to watch the video.
Inattentional blindness, also known as perceptual blindness, is the failure to notice a fully-visible, but unexpected object because attention was engaged in another task, event, or object. It is the most common caused of automobile and motorcycle accidents. A car driver can look directly at a motorcycle and because they are not looking specifically for it, they might not see it.
Another view of the same problem is that we might not notice something is different. Movie buffs may recall the movie “9 to 5”, where the supervisor pulls a box of rat poison out of a bag and adds some to a cup of coffee for the boss. She was distracted and assumed it was a sugar substitute that came in a similar box. It looked the same, and the mind fills in the blank. On a more serious note, there have been many cases where medical personnel, checked some medication and administered it not realizing it was wrong.
In a previous article, I talked about diver down flags. Some of that article concerned boat operators not understanding what a diver down flag is and not respecting it. However, another aspect to consider is that they might have looked but inattentional blindness caused them not to see the divers or their flags. They might not know what the flag means, but seeing a person before your boat is a good reason to change your course. Still, divers get run over and the boat operator might not even know.
What Can We Do?
What can we do to make sure we are not a victim? First always use a dive flag or DSMB when you are approaching the surface away from your anchor or mooring line. It will increase the likelihood you will be seen.
Work to improve your situational awareness. Make sure you really are safe when you relax at the surface. Take a good look around and really see. The last minute or two of your safety stop, look and listen. Boat noises can travel a distance underwater but telling the direction can be difficult. Just as your mind can ignore things it can see, your mind can ignore sounds you hear as well. Be aware of your depth as well. Smaller boats may have a draft of 6 even 10 feet, so hanging at fifteen feet may sound safe. However, 15 feet is common for a tug boat.
Work to improve your situational awareness. You do not need to be underwater to be concerned with it. It is just as important on land as under the water. There are many good safety resources that are available to improve your situational awareness. The improvement you make will not only be useful when you surface but for the entire time, you are diving.