Saturday, September 24, 2005

Soap Box

Sadly a student on a night diving course disappeared in Hout Bay South Africa (see report on CDNN). It would seem that diver and buddy felt that the seas were too choppy and aborted the dive and made their way back to the boat. The one buddy made it back onto the boat, but the other buddy apparently drifted away from the boat. An intensive search was launched, but as of the time of writing, the diver has not been found.

Please read the rest of my comments in the light of the fact that I do not know exactly what happened on the dive, do not know the instructor or anyone related to the incident etc.

One aspect of the report on CDNN that bothered me was that there was a indication that the diver was lost in "another" PADI course. I know that there is friendly rivalry amongst instructors from the various training agencies and we like to gently rib each other about each other's agencies.

However, there is also a group of people who are malicious and do not like to see anyone or anything be successful. I call this the crab effect. The crab effect is explained by this story. There was an old man catching crabs and he put them in an open basket. A kid walked by and asked the old man if he was not afraid that the crabs might climb out of the basket and escape. The old man replied that as long as there was more than one crab in the basket, the other crabs would drag down any crab that tried to escape. I think that as humans we sometimes try to drag down anything that is more successful than we are.

It is well known that PADI trains more divers than the other agencies combined (in the USA). It is also well known that PADI does a lot of marketing and has changed the diving training to make diving more accessible to the general public. However, it would not be correct in my view to say that PADI had dumbed down diving to the point of saying that PADI divers are "unsafe at any depth".

The key difference to any course is how the instructor conducts the class. Think of how teachers are trained. School teachers receive generally the same training to be licensed yet there is a vast difference of the teachers who you remember and who made an impact to your life and the teachers who were just going through the paces. I think it is fair to say that SCUBA instructors could be seen in the same category. Some instructors are passionate, caring and very competent, and some are just going through the paces.

At the same time one could argue that it is up to every instructor to ensure that he or she conducts safe diving courses. I cannot believe that the average instructor trained by PADI would be less concerned about student safety than the average instructor trained by agency X. The training agencies can only do so much to prepare and train instructors.

Sometimes I have conducted courses and felt that I was herding cats. Even in highly structured military environments, you cannot completely control how people react. In recreational diving, we do not treat people like military recruits. We cannot completely control how people think, react and respond to conditions. You can brief people till you are blue in the face and you will find that some will do whatever they want no matter what you say. Under stress, people forget what you say, or remember only a part. Some people treat dive briefings like airline passengers listening to the preflight safety briefing.

I am aware of a volunteer firefighter who unfortunately died during a night diving class this year. It so happened that the course was a PADI course, but the person had a medical condition and his death had nothing to do with PADI. I cannot believe that PADI should be responsible for sudden unexpected health emergencies.

Before every course, students have to complete a medical questionnaire. However, I know that there are people who are macho enough to answer the questions with ignorant bravado just to get the "paper work out of the way". I am not saying that this was the case with the unfortunate firefighter at all. I am just relating my observations of students that I have worked with.

Saying that someone died or was injured on another PADI course (as opposed to another agency) is like saying that traveling by bus is safer than driving a motor car since MORE people are injured in car accidents than in bus accidents. Obviously this statement is not valid since many more people drive in motor cars. In the same way, since more people are trained by PADI than the other agencies combined, it is inevitable that on average PADI will be mentioned more than the other agencies when there is an incident.

What I am aiming for with this post is a call for objectivity. If there are concrete things PADI and the other training organizations can do to improve safety we should and must talk about those things and incorporate them into our training courses. Lets drop the rhetoric and pointless blame game and work together to make diving safer for the divers we train.

1 comment:

Willy Volk said...

CDNN has had it in for PADI for a long time. You have to take their articles with a grain (or 2) of salt.

As you mentioned, it's silly to blame PADI for this death. Two students tried to return to the boat; one student managed to climb on board; while waiting to board the boat, waves swept the other diver out to sea. How is that PADI's fault? I might suggest that it was the TRAINER's fault for taking students out in water so choppy that they felt they needed to abort the dive.