You and your middle-aged buddies have been anticipating this scuba diving trip to the Keys for months. You received your Open Water scuba certification a year ago in a fresh water lake and haven’t been diving since.
Over the winter you got a great deal on some used dive gear at a garage sale. You haven’t exercised during the long winter and 20 extra pounds have snuck up on you. One of the guys has an 18-foot open-bow boat. Let’s go diving!
Each year thousands of folks have safe, fun scuba diving experiences in the Florida Keys. Unfortunately, the fellow at the start of this story might be setting himself up for an experience that might go wrong. Let’s see what he and his buddies can do to have safe dive trip.
Your buddy’s boat might be great for the lake, but is it properly equipped for a dive trip on the ocean? Is your buddy familiar with the ever-changing sea conditions in the Keys?
Will he, or another capable operator, stay on the boat during the dives to deal with potential problems?
If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, it would be a good idea to use a commercial dive operator. The boats are inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard, have safety and first aid equipment, marine radios, emergency oxygen and highly-trained licensed captains who are very knowledgeable about sea conditions and dive sites in the Keys.
If it has been a while since you went diving or if you have never dived in the ocean, it would also be a good idea to take a refresher course and to use a certified dive master or instructor to lead you on the dives.
With its waves and currents, the ocean is very different than a small fresh water lake. Without additional training, supervision or appropriate experience, your Open Water scuba certification only qualifies you to dive in conditions similar to which you trained.
The dive master can help you with gear assembly, pre-dive safety checks, dealing with potential problems, navigation and finding all those interesting critters in the reef. He or she also has the dive safety equipment you should also have, including signaling devices (whistle, mirror, inflatable signal tube) underwater timer and computer, and dive knife or dive scissors.
During your training, your dive instructor mentioned important steps to stay safe. Make sure your gear is okay. Equipment should be properly maintained, serviced regularly and inspected before every dive.
See your doctor about any medical condition that may limit your ability to dive safely, and don’t dive if you have a cold or are sick.
Maintain a level of general fitness so you're prepared to respond to unexpected situations like a long swim back to the boat. Only dive if you are comfortable with the planned dive. Don’t let peer pressure force you to dive. There is nothing wrong with saying no.
Above all, keep current by practicing your diving skills. The Divers Alert Network (DAN), an organization that provides emergency assistance and medical information resources for divers, lists several procedural errors common to diving accidents including buoyancy control problems, rapid ascents, missed decompression stops, ear equalization problems, and, most critically, failing to properly monitor the air supply resulting in low-on-air or out-of-air situations.
For more on diving safety see: https://www.diversalertnetwork.org/
Don Rhodes, in addition to a career in government affairs, has taught scuba for 28 years. He and his wife retired to Tavernier three years ago where he works as an instructor for Conch Republic Divers.
Cutline:A line of spadefish swim by sea fans at Hens and Chickens.