Author’s Note: Dr. Jacalyn Danton is a PADI Master Dive Instructor and IDC Staff instructor with numerous specialty certifications. She is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine in private practice, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, a qualified Distinguished Marksman and former member of the U.S. Army’s competition team, and a registered distributor for North American Power. “Doctor Jackie,” as she is known by friends, is also an ordained clergy member. She volunteers her time to various organizations.
Planning a dive trip to Florida, or thinking of combining your advanced open water certifications with a family vacation? Then you should meet Dr. Jackie, the Dive Diva of Boca Raton on the Southeast Florida coast! She is a PADI Master Dive Instructor with more than 2,000 logged dives in the U.S. and literally around the world!
Jackie began her diving career 32 years ago. “I was on a vacation in Hawaii,” she explains. “I tried snorkeling and fell in love with the clear water, seeing fish, and the sensation of diving.” Jackie then began scuba diving lessons through someone she knew in the Army Reserve. It wasn’t long before she became a certified instructor, herself, teaching Scouts.
Jackie’s first deep ocean dives were in the Red Sea off of Elat, Israel. “It was amazing,” she says. “The colors of the corrals and the fish were more than anything I could ever imagine. The salinity of the water made the colors more vivid and visibility at times was as great as 100-plus feet.”
A Partial List of Place’s Jackie has Dived
- Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt
- The Mediterranean
- Elat, Israel
- Tel Aviv, Israel
- The Bahamas
- Cayman Islands
- Columbia, South America
- US Virgin Islands
- Florida (Coast & Keys)
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- New York
Jackie enjoyed the dives off the coast of Elat so much that she returned five times. She also is an accomplished wreck diver, having dived wrecks off the coast of North Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey, Long Island, New York, Hawaii, Aruba, Barbados, and the lakes of Pennsylvania.
Some of Jackie’s most memorable dives have been wreck dives. “I’ve had so many,” she explains. “My most memorable was off the coast of Morehead City, North Carolina, diving a wreck called the Papoose which was a freighter lying upside down with a bottom depth of 120 feet. The ship was sunk there by a German U-Boat in WWII. There was a family of sand tiger sharks living there.”
Another wreck off the NC coast was a WWII German U-Boat, which was lying on its side on the ocean floor in 100 feet of water. “The first time I dived this wreck the sand tiger sharks would come within five to six feet of the divers, and not pay us any attention,” Jackie says.
Jackie has dove the Mercedes off Ft. Lauderdale, FL, at 90 feet, and a sunken Coast Guard cutter off the Florida Keys at 120 feet.
Although Jackie is dry suit certified, she prefers wet suits for her Florida location. “I usually wear a 3 mil. shorty with a dive skin,” she says, “and a 5 mil. with hood for the winter.” She uses a BC with an air two, plus an extra second stage for instructing. “I have my regulator and hoses set up as an octo,” Jackie explains.
Jackie uses a “tri-vis” mask with a snorkel. She doesn’t have a prescription mask, instead she used to rely on contacts, but then had corrective surgery and her vision now is good under water. When she dives she uses split fins with boots, and a dive knife, with an 80 or 100 c.f. aluminum tank on Nitrox. On her console she has a dive computer and a separate pressure gauge, dive watch, and compass, in case her PC goes down.
When Jackie dives she carries a light, bag for whatever they find, a spear gun or pole spear, and still or movie cameras. “When I’m teaching I can’t take time to take pictures or hunt, “ she adds, saying that she want to “focus on her students and their safety.”
Even with all her experience, Jackie’s advice is to never dive without a buddy. “God forbid, something should happen,” she says.
Another memorable experience Jackie had was 15 years ago in the summer, when the Gulf Stream had come up the coast, running along the shore off Morehead City, NC. “There was warm water and visibility was to 100 feet,” Jackie says. “We were diving right aft of the stern and there was a group of about 25 sand tiger sharks, swimming in a circle. We were at a depth of about 110 feet and joined in with the circling sharks, 12-15 foot sharks began swimming next to us in the circle. Maybe they thought I was a lawyer and they were showing professional courtesy.”
“After we swam in the circle with the sharks for a few minutes, we went to the center of the circling sharks and found a mound on the sea floor, and there we found thousands of shark teeth piled up in the mound,” Jackie says. “After I filled my pockets with sharks’ teeth, we went up and toward the wreck. I went into a big empty, room in the hold under the ship, and an eight to 10 foot shark followed me in. Then I noticed my dive computer was flashing. That’s when I realized I was in decompression status.”
“As I was slowly ascending the anchor line I made my first deco stop at 30 feet, then to 20 feet, and then to 10 feet as instructed by my dive computer,” Jackie continued. “By the time I got to the last stop I was low on air and had to use the long hose second stages that the dive boat had over the side for just such an occasion. By the time I boarded the boat my computer was in the green meaning I had safely completed the dive without danger of the bends”.
Even though Jackie is an extremely experienced diver, that’s not the only close call she’s had. “Many years ago another girl and I were diving off the New Jersey coast with me in a dry suit when we went down on a wreck,” Jackie says. “We were at 90 feet, and I used up a lot more air than I was used to. I saw that I might not have enough air to make it to the surface, and my dive buddy didn’t have an extra second stage on her regulator.”
Jackie signaled to her dive buddy “low on air-share air” just like it was a dive test, and she was the instructor. “We had to ‘buddy breathe’ to the safety stop at 15 feet,” she says. “At the shallow depth there was more available air and I was able to go to the surface with my own tank.”
On one early trip to the Red Sea most dive operators used tanks with J valves. On one particular dive, Jackie didn’t have a dive buddy. The Dive Master teamed her up with a 12 year old new diver. She says, “We went down to 80 to 90 feet, then ‘played’ at 20 to 25 feet near the end of the dive. It was getting harder to breathe,” she added. “I put my thumb on the ‘J’ valve, but it wouldn’t open.”
“My dive buddy was chasing a fish about 50 feet away,” Jackie says. “I sucked up as much air as I could breathe, then made an emergency swimming ascent.” When her dive buddy came up, she found that he had put her “J” valve in the open down position. Her young dive buddy didn’t know that Jackie’s pressure gauge was broken and she was relying on the use of the “J” valve.
A Funny Thing Happened…
On a later Red Sea trip with her son who was about 10 years old, they were diving off the shore in 20 ft of water. Visitors from Europe would sun themselves on the beach with many of the women going topless. On one occasion a woman with large breasts went into the sea for a swim to cool off. She didn’t realize that she had a viewing audience diving 20 feet below! When Jackie’s young son looked up and saw the breasts hanging down he became wildly excited, pointing frantically at the woman. Jackie began laughing so hard the regulator slipped from her mouth and she had to recover her second stage while still laughing at her son’s scuba discovery and resulting wild antics.
Jackie’s most rewarding experiences have been with her students. “I love watching my students active and passively reacting with the fish in reefs, and how the fish interact with other fish,” she says.
As far as her personal dive goals, Jackie says she would, “love to be able to dive the Great Barrier Reef, and to dive in a cage with great white sharks.” The largest group she has ever dived with at one time was 20 people, while shore diving on the Red Sea.
Besides shore and boat diving, Jackie has also been on “liveaboards.” “I’ve been on Blackbeard Cruises several times,” she says. “We cruised from Miami to the Bahamas, moving from reef to reef seeing new dive sites every day.”
Jackie’s preference between boat diving and shore diving depends on the location and the circumstances. “When I’m shore diving I have to carry all my own heavy equipment down the beach and out beyond the waves,” she says, “so it depends on where you’re going. Off Florida, storms have beaten the Hell out of the first shallow reef line. It then becomes an Olympic swim to the intact reefs. Therefore boat diving is preferred. In the Red Sea and Bonaire shore diving is easier for short swims to the reefs and more multi-level dive possibilities.”
Jackie continued, “With boats a giant stride entry will put you right above the reef or wreck which is the objective. You take into account currents and other conditions, so you can be anchored or do drift dives depending on the velocity of the current and visibility of the water.”
Jackie doesn’t have many regrets with her diving career, but says she would have done one thing differently. “I would’ve gotten a PADI Master Instructor to teach me from the beginning, instead of the mediocre one I had, because I had to certify all over from the beginning to learn proper safety procedures.”
“Doctor Jackie” would like to dedicate this article to the memory of her long-time dive buddy and former student, Dan Singer, who passed away after battling cancer on July 4, .2012. She had taught Dan’s whole family how to dive. Jackie says, “He was only looking forward to feeling better and going out on his next dive with me and his kids.” She adds “I know his soul will be with me (when I’m diving.)”
If you’d like to plan a dive vacation for the Disney World area in Florida, southeast Florida coastal reefs and wrecks and the Florida Keys, or would like to receive referrals to complete your open water course, advanced course or specialties, you can contact ”Doc” Jacalyn Danton at: [email protected].