Personal Experience

Personal experience report

This safety report was sent to us by a diver

Ron Tubbs 

 Very Important Safety gear review. July 1 2012 Ron Tubbs gets lost. Second shallow dive to use the underwater communication system for a check dive aborted. If working this may have been the best safety gear I could have. Keeping in touch with your dive partner! My new safety device will be a bright green laser.   I have 35 years of experience and training to prevent and deal with scuba diving safety. Today I became separated from the boat and my dive partner. It has happened to my dive partners before and in the past it has been the cause of many scuba diver deaths all around the world. I wish to share my experience to educate others so this never happens to anyone else again.

 At least the knowledge will help others deal with it and prepare so no lives are lost. I thought I was prepared but no I wasn't. Or at least not as much as I thought I was.

The area is 120 feet deep, flat and baron with no physical structure to navigate by. Visibility was poor. We did a pre check for our dive and I told my dive partner that getting lost here has happened before and search patter diving is the only way to go here. Going on a compass direction then returning in a spoke patter is how we always dive this area.

We always double anchor too with big white marker bucket attached to the back deco line anchor. Depth is only 120 and decompression is minimum compared to many of our technical dives.We were prepared so the boat remained in the same place.  We use a 3/4 inch 600 foot front anchor rope with double the suggested length, weight and chain. Anchor rope length should be 3 times the depth. This prevents and dragging and coral damage from dragging.  We use a back anchor line for decompression, double anchoring and marking the dive area. The back anchor to prevent any rear current wave pulling and prevent the boat from sinking has twice the line as the bottom and is attached to a buoy  which has 50 feet of line between it and the boat.

The boat has three bilge pumps all automatic.I always carry the following dive safety gear on every dive. Marker buoy 8 feet, marker buoy reel longer than the deepest dives I do, strobe light a must for night rescue, Nautilus Lifeline VHF Radio w/GPS, web gloves, extra mask, whistles,  die marker cheap from your boating store but requires additional bag or case for deep water use, 50 foot orange marker strip, mirror and a very good BCD with no holes for inflation and surface flotation.

 More is needed why? After a shortened dive because I was lost I made the decision to surface early. I left the bottom and made my first bad decision. There was a big rock and I was going to tie off my buoy line to it to stay in the same area for my deco. I though well not much current and I can swim against the little current there is to stay even closer to the boat. Surface and then return to the boat.  This would normally have been fine but the current switched during the deco. I was swimming with the current not against it. I surface what I found out later to be nearly half a mile away from the boat.

The current picks up switches and I could not tell.  I surface so far away and the boat cannot even bee seen between the big swells.  I know which direction the boat s in so I start swimming for it. I am not too concerned I am in great physical shape and even though shore is a long ways away with sharky waters I feel I can make it. I do not want to end up on shore I want to find my boat which is impossible to see with the big swells. I get nowhere and instead go the opposite direction.

 I soon realize the current is stronger now.  OK time to use the VHF radio and call for help. This is rated to 300 feet deep so I used to believe all divers should have one for just this kind of problem. I open it up. It turns on and boots up. It works for a few seconds then dies! Well this is not the first time this device has failed. My dive partner Scott had the same thing happen to him and he spent 13 hours out at sea. This product at this time does not function good and should not be counted on! We are working with the company; they did give Scott two replacement units for the last one which died during his long drift. But they do not seem to work when you need them! I deploy my marker buoy and marker strip and the buoy has a leak. It has to be filled every 10 minutes.

I see boats in the distance and planes overhead but they do not see me. The Coast Guard passed up Scott on his drift many times. A flash light at night saved him finally. No one knows where I am and Scott dives a long time with his re-breather so he is still underwater. By now Scott knows I am in trouble but he can do nothing until he decompresses. I know he will call for help soon unless he himself is lost too. My mirror does not get their attention. My whistle is only so loud and I wish I had bought the signaling device which attaches to your inflater.  One boat passes me but it is a big boat with a big diesel engine.

There is no way they are going to hear me. They do not see me and just go by.I wish I had spent more on a bigger marker buoy as this one goes up only a few feet high. I begin waving it and forcing air into it to make it reach up higher. I have a bigger buoy but due to space did not take it with me instead settling for the smaller one.

During all this I forget to look into the water. I decide to do just that and my worst fear-sharks two of them and they are aggressive grey reefs. The look hungry and are checking me out. I have drifted into a scum line and they cruise these areas in search for food. The drift dives we have done in the past have also lead us to shark encounters and other scum lines. This is one of the best ways to find sharks I have found. Covering a large area by drifting usually results in a shark encounters.

 I yell at them underwater-it has chased sharks away before. I swing my arms and jerk my reel line and buoys to chase them off. The do not scare off easy but after a few minutes they leave. The semi calm "I will make it feeling" I have had up to now changes to panic.  Another boat comes my way and I wave the marker buoy frantically. Using my whistle and calling for help. I whistle and use my mirror. They do not see me! The turn more in my direction they turn again away from me.

They are only half a mile away and they do not see me! Finally they turn-they have seen me! I continue to wave and yell to make sure they know I am here! They are in a big diesel boat with lots of noise. Sound will not work here so visual distress is the best way to go and is what saved me from hours of drifting with sharks. They pick me up and return me to my boat one mile away where Scott is decompressing on the back anchor line. Thanks to the fishermen! I was drifting for only one and a half hours from the beginning of my ascent but there has to be a way to prevent this from happening again.

Tying off to the bottom is the best solution but we need to be prepared for all scenarios. I purchased an underwater red laser some time back but have not used it much. What if a laser was used to give a visual signal. Yes shined into someone's eyes for any length of time is dangerous and can blind but as a compact signaling device for daytime and night it could not be beaten. I have found such a device and immediately bought one. Green light is much better than red for visual recognition. 

 I do not recommend shinning it at a boat or planes but in a life and death situation it could be used to shine it in their direction!  It is by the way a federal offense to shine it at a plane. The lives of every person on the plane are at risk if you blind a pilot! As for the sharks shinning it at them should work as a deterrent. I would never blind a shark for just getting close! Just in their direction would work believe me. I would make noise and movement as that is all it usually takes!

They do not usually pose a threat and should not be harmed just out of fear. Years of diving around sharks-they do not get aggressive with people unless it is a mistake. What I suggest for all divers in addition to regular buddy diving standards and safety gear is the following: Marker buoy 8 feet, marker buoy reel longer than the deepest dives I do, strobe light a must for night rescue, Nautilus Lifeline VHF Radio w/GPS, web gloves, extra mask, whistles,  die marker cheap from your boating store but requires additional bag or case for deep water use, 50 foot orange marker strip, mirror and a very good BCD with no holes for inflation and surface flotation