There is often a great communal spirit on a dive trip. Everybody on board the boat shares a common passion for the undersea world and, for those few days you’re together, it can feel like being part of a gang. Sometimes, however, that may create additional peer pressure to dive when you really shouldn’t — no one wants to be ‘that diver,’ but it is vitally important to know when to abort a dive.
Being aware of group peer pressure and mindful of your decisions about diving is a valuable skill, however. Making a dive in the incorrect circumstances can, at best, be unpleasant. At worst, undertaking the dive may be dangerous to you and your dive group. Each diver must accurately assess their own skill and comfort level and — if there’s any doubt – abort the dive. In fact, many responsible operators state that a dive may be aborted at any time, for any reason, with no questions asked, to avoid a smaller concern spiraling into a larger issue.
With that in mind, here are several factors to consider when deciding to make or abort a dive.
Fit to dive
Fitness of body and mind are essential for safe dives. Some dives are straightforward, undemanding and require minimal physical effort. Rolling into a warm, secluded bay with minimal current is a restful experience. However, not all dives are that relaxed. Advanced diving often comes with greater physical and mental demands.
The challenge may be a long, hot walk along a beach in full gear; a lengthy surface swim against water movement; or having to fin against a strong current during periods of the dive. More demanding diving may include a speedy negative entry or heavier equipment. If you feel either your fitness — or your dive buddy’s — isn’t up to the task, it’s probably wise to abort and dive another day.
Being in the correct state of mind is also essential. Pre-dive stress may lead to poor judgement which, in turn, may lead to panic at depth. In the worst cases, this can lead to the rejection of equipment and uncontrolled ascents. If you’re suffering from severe pre-dive stress for whatever reason and you can’t successfully mitigate it, consider aborting the dive. Diving safely requires a calm and clear state of mind.
The third aspect of your personal readiness is ensuring you eat the correct diet and get enough rest before and during your dive trip. Travelers often make themselves ill with alcohol, drugs, poor diet and exhaustion on trips. Diving when hungover carries increased risks of DCS due to dehydration. Your judgement and ability to respond to emergencies may also be compromised. If you’ve had a late night with friends the previous evening, use some discretion and abort the dive until you’re fully rested and recovered. Your body needs the correct fuel to dive safely.
It’s easy to be goaded into diving beyond your skill level. Often the perpetrator will assure you that ‘it will be fine’ or promise that they’ll ‘look after you.’ The reality is that the responsibility rests with you to ensure you have the skills and equipment to make the dive safely.
As an example, there is no physical barrier stopping an unqualified or novice diver from undertaking deeper, more complex or more challenging dives involving a broader skillset without the correct training. Peer pressure or a false sense of security can lead to a phenomenon known as the ‘Dunning-Kruger effect,’ which distorts an honest self-assessment of readiness for the dive ahead.
You need specific knowledge and training for deeper dives or those beyond recreational limits, wreck penetration, cave diving, drysuit diving or any number of other diving specialties. If you don’t have the training, don’t make the dives. You will only be putting yourself and other divers in your group at risk. Abort the dive.
Having the correct tools for the job — and the training to use them correctly — is essential. For example, if you’re at a busy dive site with current and boat traffic, a DSMB and reel, computer, and compass are key pieces of safety equipment. Buddy separation, disorientation, water movement and boat traffic above are hazards that you must manage for a safe and effective dive.
Ensure your equipment fits and functions correctly, and have it serviced per manufacturer’s instructions at regular intervals. If you’re using of rental equipment, make sure it’s not ill-fitting and familiarize yourself with it pre-dive. Don’t be rushed. Address any concerns before entering the water and if you can’t, abort the dive. Don’t dive unless you have all the correct tools at your disposal and the knowledge to make use of them.
When it comes to diving, environmental conditions vary hugely from location to location, day to day, and with each passing season.
If the conditions in which you’re being briefed to dive look tough or beyond your comfort level, call the dive, regardless of what your certification card says. Here are some conditions that may cause particular stress.
- Reduced visibility: Low visibility, poor light and turbid water can cause disorientation and difficulty maintaining buddy contact.
- Temperature: Both the temperature and the associated equipment changes may act as stressors. Significantly lower water temperature may necessitate thicker exposure suits, hood and gloves to avoid the dangers of hypothermia. Or, you may need a drysuit, which requires additional training and orientation.
- Aquatic life: The perceived hazard of certain types of aquatic life may cause stress. If you can’t reframe the stressor through knowledge and discussion, abort the dive. Potential encounters with sharks, sea snakes, fire coral, jellyfish, eels, and stonefish make some divers anxious. Increased anxiety may lead to erratic behavior.
- High winds: Winds can cause increased waves, surf and surge, making surface conditions difficult and entry or — more likely — exiting the water difficult.
- Strong currents: There are often strong currents at more advanced sites. Larger pelagic life is often drawn to cleaning stations and split points by the water movement and the food it brings. Swift descents, excellent control, good buoyancy and effective buddy contact are critical at these dive sites. If you feel you don’t have the appropriate skill or comfort level — or you have an underlying problem such as sensitive ears that preclude a speedy descent — abort the dive.
Evaluate the conditions before every dive and make sure they fit your capabilities. If you feel uncomfortable or stressed about the dive ahead, don’t do it. Dive another day.
The ticking clock
Sometimes it’s wise to abort a dive due to pure logistics and time constraints. You shouldn’t feel uncomfortably pressured, cajoled or rushed. If you don’t have time to prepare and do a pre-dive buddy check to your satisfaction before diving, you probably shouldn’t be diving. Abort.
The laws of physics are non-negotiable and sometimes it’s best to abort the dive, rather than risk your health. If there is the chance you may be active or returning to a high altitude after diving, consider aborting the dive.
For example, if you’re flying after diving (or traveling to altitude), you must take this into account. If the end of your dive trip is imminent and it’s questionable if you’ll have sufficient time to off-gas before flying, make the sensible decision and skip the final dive. Similarly, build in some time after your final dive to off-gas before driving over the mountain pass to get back to your resort to avoid putting yourself at risk.
We all love to dive and it’s always difficult to turn down a chance to get in the water. Peer pressure and enthusiasm may lead divers into situations that escalate into a serious diving-related incident. Honestly assess yourself, your buddy and the dive ahead and put safety and discretion first. It could save your life. There is always the opportunity to dive another day.