What are and should be our priorities as divers in the water?

By George Wegmann, Educational Consultant, PADI Asia Pacific

The PADI system of diver education imparts divers and instructors with mastery of dive skills within a certain time frame. The system works so well, that sometimes instructors mistake the format, or the template if you will, for the content. This occurs when the letter of the skill performance requirement gets confused with the intent of that specific standard or objective.

divers underwater

A case in point would be the alternate air source skill that is taught in the OWD course. This skill has a number of steps, such as signalling the buddy, locating and securing the alternate air source, positioning the mouthpiece correctly as well as deploying the hose properly, then breathing from the alternate air source, communicating with the donor that all is well and making sure there is a secure contact between the donor and receiver, in order to prevent the alternate air source from being inadvertently pulled out of the receiver’s mouth during the ascent.

Sometimes instructors are too focused on the various steps or the details and they forget the priority about this skill—which is to allow a diver who has run out of air to easily get air from another diver and do a safe slow ascent—the steps on how to signal, secure and deploy the alternate air source being secondary to that critical step—getting the mouthpiece which still has air into the out-of-air diver’s mouth as quickly as possible. Everything else is a not-so-important detail!

Here is another example, sadly taken from real life: an instructor conducting a continuing education course is ascending with the group of six students. At the safety stop depth of 5 meters, one of the students loses control of his buoyancy and drifts up towards the surface. The instructor signals to ask the student if he is OK, student signals something wrong with low pressure inflator on the BCD. The instructor signals student to ascend, remain on the surface whilst the instructor elects to stay at the safety stop depth and does not send the assistant nor the buddy to join the diver with the runaway ascent—who is later found deceased on the surface floating face-down, BCD inflated, air still remaining in the cylinder. In this instance, the instructor chose to sit out the 3 minutes at 5 meters, which is not a mandatory stop, did not implement the buddy system nor maintain direct supervision of the student diver which would have been the priorities here.

The in-water priorities in recreational diving are simple:

  • Air supply—air gives time for the distressed to calm down, think and then react in a controlled manner.
  • Buddy system—some situations need assistance in order to be resolved. Physical contact is very reassuring in any emergency situation as well as being a source of help. The majority of diving fatalities begin with a separation from the buddy or the group.
  • Buoyancy control—proper weighting as well as streamlined swim trim leads to more relaxed and air- efficient diving. The skills of emergency weight drop, oral BCD as well as LPI inflation in an emergency are critical and need to be mastered at the Open Water Diver level, as more than half of diving fatalities are found with their weight systems still in place and BCD insufficiently inflated.

Focussing on the 3 priorities listed above during both dive training and fun diving activities will break or disrupt the chain of events that can lead to a potentially serious or fatal accident.

Dive safe!

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