We’ve all been guilty of cutting corners when it comes to diving, especially the more experienced we become. We abbreviate or skip buddy checks; we assume the air in our tanks is sound without checking. Some of these bad scuba diving habits are just sloppy, but some can lead to true danger. Here are five bad scuba diving habits and how to break them.
Skipping the buddy check
The name “buddy check” makes an important series of tasks sound far too friendly, almost like it’s just suggestion rather than a potential life-saving routine. Let’s call it what it is, however — a pre-dive safety check. If you can’t remember the various acronyms from your open-water course, just visualize a diver and run through your equipment from head to toe.
Does the BCD actually inflate and deflate? Are all the escape valves tightened? Is the air turned on? Are any pull-cords or dumping strings trapped? Do you know how to operate all the fasteners and clips and how to remove the jacket quickly after a dive?
If you’re wearing a weight belt, is on properly? Are your integrated weight pockets snapped securely into your jacket if that’s your system?
You can get five breaths from a regulator when the tank is turned off. Do you only press the purge buttons and listen to the hissing sound, or do you look at your pressure gauge and breathe from the second stage? Ensure that your air is on every time, and make the buddy check count rather than just going through the motions.
Removing your mask and/or regulator upon surfacing
Most of us want to talk as soon as we reach the surface, and why not? You’ve just seen a whale shark and a couple of mantas! When we arrive at the surface though, we should delay our impulse to chat until we’ve inflated our jackets, signaled OK to the boat and made sure everyone in our party is also okay.
It’s all too easy to whip off your mask and take out your reg, only to get a face and mouth full of salt water. In rough conditions the boat has a limited time to approach, stop, help you and your group on board and keep the craft stable. As the minutes tick by the risk of injury from rear decks, rolling ladders and other divers increase.
Keep your surface habits tight and polished by establishing positive buoyancy immediately, staying together and keeping an eye and an ear out for the guide. Approach the boat deliberately, with your mask and reg in place, and time your exit to avoid others or any hazardous pickups. Once you’re safely back on board, chat away.
Going too deep
During open-water training, we learn that depth amplifies nearly everything, especially the amount of air we consume.
Although the dive guide has set a maximum depth of 82 feet (25 m), the group stays at 75 feet (23 m). Because you don’t yet have your buoyancy under control, you stray to 92 feet (28 m) where you swim, to the annoyance of others, for 15 minutes. Although you argue that it’s only 16 feet (5 m), you’ll be consuming more air than everyone else and cutting their dive short as well, so don’t make it a habit to go deeper than a planned dive profile
You’ll improve your buoyancy and air consumption through correct weighting and trim, and by reducing the energy you spend underwater.
Not analyzing your tanks
The boat is late leaving the jetty and the nitrox analyzer has a flat battery. Ahead of you is a trip to a shipwreck at 98 feet (30 m). Although you and your buddy were planning to dive on 32 percent nitrox, the guide tells you you’ll have to dive on air with everyone else, as the dive boat is in danger of missing the light.
But since you’ve been diving nitrox all week, you’re sure the nitrox tank you grab will be fine. It’s been reading 32 percent every time, and the guide is probably being overly cautious. So you turn the green and yellow content sticker around and hide it under the wide strap of your BCD. You decide to use the tank without analyzing it. You’ll gain a few extra minutes of bottom time and, just in case, you can always do an extra-long safety stop.
Inside the wreck at 91 feet (28 m) your vision distorts and your face muscles twitch. The taste in your mouth is sweet, slightly sugary even. Something is wrong — you turn to your buddy but he’s shaking uncontrollably with a convulsion. You have only one thought: What’s in our tanks?
You quickly grab him and hoist him towards the surface, stopping half way as he returns to consciousness. You’re at 52 feet (16 m) but you want to abort the dive. The guide spots you from below; you point to your ear. He lets you go and continues with the group.
Back on board, you quickly swap tanks, and grab a seat to calm down. Your buddy has a slight chest pain but nothing too much. A zodiac appears alongside the moored-up dive boat. The on board guide recognizes a friend and asks to borrow the zodiac’s nitrox analyzer.
He opens one of the nitrox tanks, places the sensor over the valve, and watches in astonishment as the digital display climbs to 50 percent.
The moral of the story: always check your tanks, and always watch the digital display yourself. A few extra minutes of bottom time isn’t worth the risk.
Not paying attention to the rules
There are four laws in scuba diving: Boyle’s, Dalton’s, Charles’s and…Murphy’s. The latter is the one most violated by scuba divers and the biggest cause of instant karma. Forget your camera and you’ll see a whale shark. Rush your pre-dive safety check, and you’ll drop your belt in the water. The list goes on.
Problems arise when you ignore the little voice in your head telling you to slow down as you unzip your bag, assemble your gear and prepare for your dive. In technical diving courses, I become that voice. I watch my students and steer them toward blunder just to test their knowledge of the rules. Take your time when you’re gearing up for a dive, and make sure you’ve crossed the Ts and dotted the Is.
By guest author John Kean
John Kean is the author of four books. He holds the PADI Master Instructor rating, along with TDI’s Advanced Trimix Instructor qualification. Since 1997 he has amassed over 7,000 dives, trained over 2,000 students and project-managed several world record deep dive events.