Dive Master Training: Problem Solving

Yesterday was a hot mess of a boat set up with lots of instructors telling me conflicting instructions and by the time the boat left, I was pissed off and ready to go home.

I hate being micromanaged and bossed around. It sucks. That’s the hardest thing about being a DMT at 40 instead of 26. 26 year olds are more accustomed to being talked down to and they handle it better. The one thing I wanted more than anything yesterday was to have someone say “Are you in the middle of something?” before they told me to do something else. I mean, if I’d been sitting at the table, hanging out and playing on my phone, by all means boss me around. But when I’m buried in the tank room, with fins under my arm, putting weights on a belt with a full tank standing in the doorway because I have to grab it on my way out the door, rest assured that I’m not just screwing around. I have an agenda and a purpose and probably a time limit because the boat is waiting for me so they can leave. And even then, at least ask me instead of telling me.

Today’s boat set up worked out much better and then we dove Hole in the Wall, which is a really deep dive, with a full boat and a couple different instructors leading different groups.

At the last minute, Da Bull put me with Rick, a new AOW student who historically had trouble with buoyancy and was what we call a “breather,” someone who goes through air really quickly and has to end every dive early. Under those two conditions, Rick was the worst case scenario for a deep dive with a lot of craggy swim thrus but he really wanted to do it and his instructor thought he’d be ok.

Da Bull took me aside and said “Rick is your responsibility. Keep an eye on him, help him manage his buoyancy, handle any problems that come up and when he runs low on air, do a safety stop and bring him up.” Babysitting customers who are breathers or have buoyancy issues or need some hand holding is a common assignment for DMTs in our shop so none of these instructions sounded like a problem.

From the beginning of this dive, Rick had a lot of trouble with buoyancy and he also had a tendency to charge forward and get separated from me. Normally I’d just keep an eye on him but there were a lot of single file swim thrus on this dive and I kept having to hold him back to keep him from separating other buddy teams or running into other divers. He finally calmed down a bit and did fine until the end of the dive when we were coming out of a swim thru and immediately going down into a cavern entrance and I held Rick back to keep him from running into other divers but by the time we got to the top of the swim thru, the group was gone.

I had never dove that profile on the dive and I didn’t know where the cavern entrance was, so I went the wrong direction and by the time we got to the top of the reef, there was no sight of anyone. We looked around for bubbles with no luck and then I had to make a choice. The rule if you’re separated from your buddy is you look around for one minute and then you do a safety stop and surface. If both divers do that, chances are good they’ll find each other on the surface. However, we were a buddy team and I’d been given responsibility for Rick and while I was pretty sure the same rules applied, it would mean Da Bull leaving his group in the cavern and surfacing to find us.

Fortunately we were really shallow by that point and I had a surface buoy. We both had plenty of air so we spent a few minutes looking around, figuring we couldn’t be that far off but after about 5 minutes I didn’t want to keep him down in a place where I wasn’t familiar and didn’t know how get out of. So I brought us up, our boat captain found us and we got on the boat and several minutes later, Da Bull came up with his group.

Da Bull and I talked afterwards and he emphasized that a separation like that also means a one minute look around and then surface. Da Bull had actually surfaced looking for us in case we were in real trouble but when he didn’t find us on the surface, he went back down to get the rest of his divers. He wasn’t angry because the last thing he remembered telling me was that I was responsible for Rick so when he didn’t see an emergency on the surface, he assumed I was taking responsibility. He also said that I couldn’t be expected to know the dive site since I’ve never dove that profile before and it was a bit tricky since there were just enough divers that we couldn’t see Da Bull at any point in those swim thrus.

I learned A LOT from this one experience.

I was proud that I didn’t panic and Da Bull seemed to think I’d made most of the right decisions under the circumstances. I felt bad for cheating Rick out of a longer dive but I opted to keep him safe over giving him a longer dive and I think that was the right choice. Had I to do it over again, I would have paid more attention to the map during the dive briefing so I knew where the cavern entrance was and I probably would have come up sooner and met Da Bull on the surface so he didn’t worry.

But no matter what, everyone came up and we can all dive again at a future point. At the end, that’s what matters.

2 thoughts on “Dive Master Training: Problem Solving

  1. 1. Scary.

    2. I’ve only recently learned to read maps in 2 dimensions with any ease. 3 dimensions? And then translating the memory of that into something meaningful while underwater? People can do this?

    3. “Buoyancy issues” — is that a problem with being too buoyant (a bobber) or not enough (a sinker)?

    • yes, as my mother will happily tell you, navigation has never been my strong suit. I’ve had to work on it a lot doing as much traveling as I have over the past several years. Underwater navigation is a special kind of hell. Some people are very good at it. I’ve definitely gotten better and I can see how I could at some future point be decent at it. But… not right now :) And also yes, buoyancy issues encompass the bobbers and the sinkers. Divers strive for neutral but it requires breath control and awareness that beginners usually lack.

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