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Diver Down: Harmful Excuses

Diver Down: Dive Accidents, Close Calls and How You Can Avoid Them

Each Diver Down case presented on is written by the author of “Lessons for Life” the #1 column at SCUBA Diving Magazine from 2001-2009.  Each case is based on a real incident that has been thoroughly investigated through official sources and the accounts of participants and witnesses. Names and some minor details have been changed to protect victims and their families.

By Michael Ange

The warm tropical water parted gently as Donald stepped into its familiar, refreshing embrace.  His drop into the water was not as smooth as usual but aside from the slight snag of his gear on the boat ladder, it seemed uneventful.  He had no concerns as his BCD was bringing him predictably back to the surface – when he noticed violent bubbling and a stunning blow struck him in the side of the head.  He struggled to regain control and locate the source of the rushing roar on bubbles behind his head.  Repeated blows to his head, neck and shoulder repeatedly interrupted his efforts.  The pain was significant from each strike and he wondered what marine life would cause such a pain.  He struggled to look around, trying to find the problem when the glass from his faceplate shattered into his eyes . . .   

The Diver

Donald was an active diver in his early thirties with a fair amount of diving experience.  His job brought him to the tropics frequently and he seized every opportunity to dive whenever possible.  He had logged several hundred dives and in fact no longer bothered to keep a record of his frequent Caribbean dive excursions.  He was not however a big fan of continuing his diving education and therefore had never progressed beyond the open water level.  Although he was a few pounds overweight, he was in fairly good physical condition and considered by most of his peers to be an excellent swimmer.

The Dive

Donald was in familiar stomping grounds making another dive off the coast of Caribbean Mexico on a site he had visited.  He and his dive buddy Jose, a colleague from his company’s local office, were regulars at the local dive haunts and were fairly well known with several operators running charter vessels into the local areas warm tropical waters.  They had completed their first dive of the day without incident and were gearing up for a second dive in very shallow water on a popular “tourist” reef.  As Donald stepped to the back of the boat and paused to put on his fins, he entered into a discussion with the Divemaster that had almost become a ritual.  The Divemaster cautioned him to secure both his console and octopus, which as usual were dangling about his knees as he prepared to enter the water.  Donald, however, believed in minimal equipment.  Full foot fins, bathing suit and t-shirt, an aging but very “streamlined” BCD, without pockets, rings or any other “unnecessary” clutter, a mask and a snorkel.  As usual, he informed the Divemaster that he had no way to secure the hoses and that he wouldn’t get close enough to the bottom to drag his gauges or second stage across the Divemaster’s “precious reef” and, as usual, the Divemaster acquiesced as Donald stepped onto the platform to enter the water. 

The Accident

Donald positioned his mask securely in place, sucked on his second stage twice and stepped off the platform into the water.  Unfortunately, he left a trail of hoses behind and the hose on his octopus simply was not strong enough to support the weight of Donald and all of his gear.  The second stage lodged itself on the handrail to the ladder and when it could no longer take the strain the attachment fitting broke out of the second stage leaving the housing and unfortunately its valve on the deck.  Donald’s first stage continued to deliver 145 psi of pressure to the now open-ended hose and the escaping gas caused the hose, its metal fitting and the remnants of the plastic fitting of the second stage flailing around Donald’s head.  As Donald’s BCD brought him back to the surface, the hose struck him for the first time just above his right temple, nearly rendering him unconscious.  After this first blow, the hose, now fully above the surface of the water, continued to flail about striking Donald in the head, neck and shoulders randomly.  Inevitably, one blow was directly to the faceplate of Donald’s mask and the glass shattered leaving fragments in his right eye. 

In the few seconds that it took all of this to occur, the Divemaster was able to assess that Donald was unable to control the situation and he jumped into the water, approached Donald from below and reached up beside the tank, grabbing Donald’s hose, stopping its movement.  He then surfaced and shut off the tank.  Donald was drug back aboard the boat, given immediate first aid and transported to a local medical facility.  He suffered a number of cuts and bruises, possibly a minor concussion, and a very painful eye injury but he fortunately did not lose his sight or have any more serious consequences other than wounded pride.


Many of the skills and procedures we are taught as basic divers are vital from multiple perspectives.  Donald’s open water instructor had honed in on the security of gauges and hoses and stressed that dragging hoses were a danger to the environment.  He was absolutely correct, but like many divers, he failed to grasp the additional concern pertaining to dangling hoses – the danger to the diver and his equipment.  Both of these concerns are clearly detailed in nearly every training agencies initial training materials and are probably mentioned by most dive instructors.  Unfortunately, it is human nature to internalize aspects of a procedure that will allow us to avoid what we perceive to be less than desirable and disregard the rest.  Donald is a prime example of this problem.  He did not like securing his hoses because his BCD was not equipped for the task and he was opposed to buying clips or other devices that would “clutter” his gear.  Obviously, he was not a very environmentally concerned diver and as a result, he disregarded the rule of securing your hoses during every dive.  He rationalized to anyone that brought it up, that he was an exception to the environmental rule because he was never close enough to the reef to cause damage.  It is unlikely that this is actually true but even if it were, he forgot that this environmental protection procedure also had a significant safety value.  Dangling hoses present a major source of entanglements, the potential to “hang” the diver from the boat on entry, and even the potential to hang a diver up when he is forced to do an emergency ascent.  Letting your hoses dangle also presents a major hazard to your equipment.  Gauges can become damaged; safe second stages can become damaged or clogged with sand or other debris from the ocean’s bottom.  When debris enters the regulator, you have now also created a safety hazard for your buddy.  Imagine running out of air, being starved for breathe for a minute or more, finally reaching your buddy’s octopus and with a great wave of relief shoving it into your mouth and purging lumps of dead sea creatures and bottom sediments down your throat.  Ultimately, protecting the environment protects us all and in some cases, your own self-protection can be more immediate than you might imagine. 

Lessons for Survival

  • Experience does not replace the basics.  No matter how far you progress in your diving career, remember that open water class is sort of like kindergarten – all the rules still apply for all the same reasons.
  • Every dangle is a tangle.  Never dive with anything, especially parts of your life support equipment, dangling from your tank or BCD.  Secure them.
  • You are part of the environment, so it just makes good sense to protect it – and in the process, you just may find that you are protecting yourself. 
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