IT WAS A DUSK-TO-NIGHT DIVE--A REC DIVE, NOT A TEK DIVE, AS I'd soon be glad. We'd finished another dive about an hour before; I swapped tanks quickly, hopped in the water and swam out over the reef. My buddies weren't with me, so I decided to drop to the bottom and wait for them there. It was only about 60 feet deep, and the conditions were good.
Dumping the air in my BC, I started down. As I passed 10 feet, my regulator pulled hard and then stopped delivering air altogether.
Not good! Fortunately I wasn't any deeper because essentially I was diving alone, and a buddy's alternate wasn't an option. With three strong kicks I rose topside, exhaling as I went. Not surprisingly, my BC wouldn't power inflate, so I puffed it up orally so no one would have to chase my weights.
In my then 17 years of diving, I'd never had my regulator fail like that. And, as it turned out, I hadn't had it fail this time, either. The dive store had put an empty cylinder in with the full ones, and I'd exchanged an empty for an empty.
Question: Whose fault was my near-accident?
Can there be any doubt? Incredibly, I've had people suggest it was the dive store's fault. Yeah? On what planet? Yes, the tank was supposed to be full. But who set up the gear and didn't check the air? I did. Who entered the water without doing the predive safety check? I did. Who went into 60 feet of water without a buddy? I did.
The truth is, as a certified diver, I'm responsible for my safety. I'm supposed to check my air when I set up my gear. I'm supposed to perform predive safety checks. Underwater, I'm responsible for how deep I go, how long I stay, how much air I have, staying within my limits and on a recreational dive, staying with a buddy. The dive store owed me $3 for an air fill and an apology for missing the dive. They did not, however, owe me an apology for my near accident when I should've been ashore, dry and irritated, because I'd checked my air and never gotten in the water.
While tek diving, I've had mouthpieces pull off second stages, lost brand-new gauges and had reel jams. Are these the manufacturers' faults? No. I'm responsible for making sure my mouthpieces are on right; that straps aren't going to break; and that I control my reel. On one dive, I almost ran out of intermediate deco gas using double the gas prediction, as I struggled to stay with a teammate who didn't manage his own gas well, then had trouble maintaining a midwater stop. Was that my teammate's fault? Even then, no! I had no obligation to greatly risk getting me into trouble just because he couldn't dive well.
This point isn't simply rhetoric. All divers, rec and tek, make mistakes. When we acknowledge our mistakes, we can learn from them. But some divers refuse to acknowledge their responsibilities for insidious errors--the ones that compound a minor problem someone or something else caused, leading to a worse situation or even an accident. Maybe it feels better to blame someone else than to admit a mistake, but it's a dangerous attitude.
People who refuse responsibility for their own safety have no incentive to change, because they "didn't do anything wrong." In other words, if I blame the dive store for running out of air, then it wasn't my fault for not checking my air, not doing a predive check, and not diving with a buddy. If it wasn't my fault, next time, I'll still not check my air, predive check, nor will I dive with a buddy. If it's not my fault, next time I won't check mouthpieces or gauge straps, nor will I learn better reel use techniques. Why should I? I didn't do anything wrong. For that matter, guess I'll go dive whenever and wherever "Mr. Dives Beyond Thirds" wants.
Obviously, this is nonsense. Rec or tek, you can't control everything, but you can control you. This has two important safety consequences. First, by accepting your responsibility for your safety, you learn from your mistakes, even the insidious ones. Second, and more importantly, you don't take anything for granted (like I took it for granted that my tank was full), so that minor problems you didn't cause become major ones, because you do something stupid.
There's a third consequence of you controlling you, and that's basic honesty. It's not right to blame others for trouble you bring on yourself. Own up to your mistakes, so you're honest with those you dive with and those you know. And most importantly, so you're honest with yourself.
Karl Shreeves is VP Technical Development for DSAT and PADI, an active cave diver and a Tek Deep Diver Instructor.
Shreeves, Karl. "Own your mistakes. (Totally Tek)." Skin Diver June 2002: 89+. General OneFile. Web. 28 Oct. 2009.
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