Friday, October 30, 2015

Editorials. Addressing the Issue of Diver Competence.

Dive Training Magazine
July 2012
Alex Brylske

It's inevitable that once we've done something for what seems like a lifetime, one begins to look at newbies with a jaundiced eye. How many of us haven't told our kids about the good old days when the grass was greener, the sky bluer and the air clearer? The fact is that the human psyche (probably as a defense mechanism) tends to remember the good and forget the bad.

I've had many similar conversations with old-salt divers, and I've found that what it really comes down to is their lack of understanding of how diving (including the diver himself) has changed over the years. When you and I started diving, divers were a pretty homogeneous bunch. The norm was reasonably good physical condition, a high level of comfort in the water and training that would make a Marine Corps drill instructor envious. And most important of all, we dove a lot. You could say that diving was more or less all we did for pleasure. Well, look around on any dive boat and you'll see how much that's changed.
Today's diver can't be pigeonholed. They include big and burly types as well as kids, older folks (like us) and people who never imagined they'd ever purposely jump into water over their heads. What's made this possible, of course, is vastly improved equipment technology. Equally significant is that today's diver enjoys diving, all right, but not to the exclusion of other recreational interests. This means that instead of making 50 or 100 dives a year (common in days past) the average diver today, I'll wager, probably makes fewer than a dozen dives a year.

There's also a lot of confusion about exactly what training can realistically achieve. Divers are initially qualified through a certification process, but they remain qualified only through continued experience. In no field can certification alone guarantee competence. The overwhelming majority of the horror stories that you and I have both witnessed come from these "occasional divers." With lengthy downtime between dives, skills will decay. This is why divers should understand the implication of curtailing their diving for long periods, and be willing to admit and accept the need for some remedial measures. That can mean taking a formal refresher class, or just diving under the supervision of a professional until they regain their sea legs. Unfortunately, many divers never heed this advice, or never understand the degree to which their skills have eroded until it's too late. (Hence, all the rescues you mention.) Additionally, if divers are unlikely to heed the advice to maintain skill competence, this shortsightedness is likely to spill over into poor decision making. I wish that there was an easy way to address this problem, but it's just impossible to dictate common sense. Fortunately, the high level of professionalism shown by dive professionals keeps many of these bungling divers from becoming accident statistics.

In the final analysis, the argument about whether divers are more or less competent today than in the past can go on forever unless you establish some criterion for measurement. I've always liked the one criterion that nobody can fudge or misinterpret -- death. How many divers die while diving today versus years ago? The good news is that, as measured by fatalities, diving is far safer today than it was years ago. For example, in the 1970s the average fatality rate was between 100 and 150 per year. Today, it's fewer than 100, and there are far more dives being made now versus back then. Regardless of the incompetence one might witness, take solace in the fact that diving has actually become a safer sport than when you and I first started.

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