By Bob Halstead
I am not fond of flying. As I strap myself in my seat my usually serene mental state is disturbed by niggling doubts:- will the wings fall off? did the pilot look drunk? why are the ground crew kicking the tires? Only by serious mental discipline can I overcome this paranoia and resign myself to my fate. Resisting the temptation to ask the hostess about the suspicious parcel just placed in the overhead locker above my head, I buckle up and shut up. At the back of my mind the black, but comforting, thought occurs to me that if the aircraft does end up in a million pieces on the side of a mountain – someone will have to pay.
When I strap on scuba and prepare to dive, a different set of thoughts are set in motion. Am I feeling OK?, do I have the skills, knowledge and equipment necessary to overcome the risk of this dive to make it safe for me? If I am diving with someone else – the dreaded buddy – will he or she decrease or increase the risk of the dive?
The Great Barrier Reef dive master has not provided me with any useful information about the dive site as she is too busy telling everyone not to go deeper than 18m, not to make a decompression dive, not to touch anything, not to surface without making a safety stop, not to get back on the boat with less than one quarter of a tank of air remaining, not to stay underwater for more than forty minutes and not to leave your buddy. The poor woman has to do this to comply with the “cover your ass” culture created by Queensland Government regulations, and you get the feeling that she would have liked to add “even better, do not to get out of bed this morning”.
What I would have appreciated instead would have been some information that could have helped me determine the particular risk for this dive such as a map of the site with depths indicated, and possible currents and peculiar hazards described. Also useful would be popular dive plans, distinctive features for navigation and a description of interesting marine life. This would have assisted me in creating a dive plan that is safe FOR ME taking into account my particular experience and abilities. Only I can do that. But time is short on a rocking boat, and this information has been sacrificed for the “rules”. I am a paying guest looking for adventure – advice is welcome but rules and orders are not. If I had wanted those, I would have joined the Army.
A scuba dive involves ACTIVE participation – an aircraft ride involves PASSIVE participation. For the aircraft ride if something goes wrong I feel I have a right to blame someone, but for the Scuba dive – if anything goes wrong IT IS MY FAULT. I do not have “rights”, I have “responsibilities”, and the recent “Responsible Diver” program promoted by dive magazines has been supporting this concept. I like diving more than flying because I HAVE CONTROL. I can even CHOOSE NOT TO DIVE if I do not like the look of the dive site, and if I do something wrong I blame MYSELF and apologise to the divemaster.
This is one of the advantages of being grown up – that we take responsibility for our own actions. I am quite proud of the fact that I look after myself – I do not need anyone to tell me to change my underwear, and I do not need anyone to tell me how deep I should dive, how long I should stay down nor how much air should be in my tank when I arrive back on the boat.
How RESPONSIBLE of the sport of diving that, from its earliest days, certification courses were created so that budding divers could learn in easy stages how to survive underwater. I have always been a great believer in NAUI’s marvellous creed “SAFETY THROUGH EDUCATION” – note this is Education not Regulation. No other sport has anything like the complex system of certification courses that diving has, nor requires certification before participation – HOW RESPONSIBLE WE ARE! Anyone can choose to climb Mount Everest, or ski down it – but to go diving you need a certification, and guess what, WE did this NOT any Government!
But what does this certification MEAN if, after receiving it, we are still treated like irresponsible fools – surely it is meant to signify a level of competence, and bestows responsibility on the diver. The dive master can offer reminders, particularly to the inexperienced, fair enough, but their main function is to provide information that will assist the diver to plan the dive, and organise for rescues in case the diver makes a mistake. They are not there to take responsibility for the mistake! But the Queensland Government is not recognising the established and proven standards of the certification agencies, it is bringing in its own. This disturbing action introduces the possibility of influence by vested interests not necessarily concerned primarily with diver safety. Corruption loves bureaucracies.
Notice too how appropriate our certification courses are for the activities they are intended for, and how this gets distorted once bureaucrats get involved. Evidently some still think that to take underwater photographs it is necessary to be trained as a construction diver planning a career in underwater welding, or at least to undergo the medical examination that a commercial diver requires. The one BIG difference they all ignore is that for Construction (Commercial) diving:-
THE RISK IS DETERMINED BY THE JOB.
Which is why I have the utmost respect for Construction divers who HAVE to dive in the most appalling conditions, BUT, with Recreational and much of Occupational diving;-
THE RISK IS CHOSEN BY THE DIVER.
I hope by now that anyone with a gram of sense can see that it is totally inappropriate to treat a diver like a passenger on an aircraft. Yet that is exactly what is happening – even to the extent of “your life jacket is under your seat” style briefings before every dive. As a passive paying passenger in an aircraft, if the airline screws up and I get injured then they have breached their duty of care, and they should pay for it. DIVING IS FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT. I might be prepared to demand compensation if the boat sank on the way to the dive site – I’m still a passive passenger – and I prefer to dive with organisations I know have effective rescue capability, but once I am diving I am my own responsibility. It cannot be any other way since there is no practical way for the dive master to control me when I am underwater and NO PRACTICAL WAY for the dive master to KNOW MY REAL DIVING ABILITY. All she can do is inspect my diving certification – which should be enough. It is up to ME to know my ability and to apply it appropriately in planning the dive whether the dive master gives a detailed brief of the dive site or not – that information is useful, but not essential.
Unfortunately our weak-brained bureaucrats cannot work this out. They think that if a diver gets bent it must be the fault of the dive master or boat owner or perhaps the instructor or the instructor’s training organisation or perhaps the equipment manufacturer or maybe stress from work or, and this is very sad, but do you realise the diver’s parents never actually had sex together. Wow ! That excuses everything.
Let me make this clear, if a diver gets bent IT IS HIS OR HER FAULT! Not only should they suffer the pain and inconvenience and cost of the injury – they should be FINED! (well, not really, but you get the idea). The boat owner should be able to demand compensation! Do not think that this is so outrageous – dangerous drivers of cars are fined if they have an accident, why not dangerous divers? Let’s take this further. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but (proclaimed) ignorance of the laws of diving apparently is – “The dive master never told me I could get bent”. Well I’m telling everyone now, to be a safe diver you need SKILLS (and good health), KNOWLEDGE, the RIGHT EQUIPMENT and GOOD LUCK. If you do not have them, and you get hurt then it is YOUR FAULT.
Dangerous divers are those who attempt dives for which they do not have sufficient skills, knowledge nor the correct equipment. If they get away with it, well that is their good luck – if they do not, and get hurt, make them pay! A diving certification means NO EXCUSES. I am sure responsible (=safe) divers will cheer, and if a responsible diver gets hurt through some unpredictable event, or an admitted mistake, we can show the appropriate mercy. How many of you have had dives ruined by dangerous divers who dive beyond their ability, or who make no effort to keep themselves in touch with responsible diving? Unfortunately the numbers of dangerous divers will swell under Governments that reward incompetence by transferring blame to others, and so will civil suits against innocent operators.
Ah! – for a perfect world – wouldn’t it be great if all Government bureaucrats were made to pay back the taxpayers for all their monumental blunders at public expense. Vote for me, folks, and it will happen. Justice for everyone is what I say – if they are victimising diving businesses then WE should be able to appoint psychopathic inspectors to give the Government offices a going over, and drag them to court – perhaps for endangering trees with their mountains of unnecessary forms, or for intellectual pollution with their inane rules, certainly for squandering precious public funds.
The very dangerous thing about Governments encouraging the transfer of blame from the diver to a third party is that it removes the incentive for people to become skilled at what they do. They imagine that “the dive master will look after me.” IT ALSO ENCOURAGES CIVIL SUIT AGAINST THE DIVE MASTER OR OPERATOR BY LAZY, STUPID OR CORRUPT DIVERS AFTER A BIT OF EASY MONEY. Governments also say that safety can be improved by filling out forms. Well I do not log my sex life and I am not going to log my dives either, they are just as personal – and just as private. Do not be fooled – filling out forms has to do with prosecutions, not safety!
It has been said that amateurs practice until they get it right – professionals practice until they cannot get it wrong. To be a safe diver the professional approach is required and this takes time and effort. But the government encourages the perception of PASSIVE participation in diving which is just not possible. They imply that if dive masters and operators are doing the job properly then nothing should happen to you – in the same way that if a pilot is flying the aircraft properly, and the airline is doing its job, then nothing should happen to the passengers. But divers can never be just “along for the ride”, they are ACTIVE participants.
And things WILL inevitably go wrong from time to time, even with the most experienced and well trained diver, and that is because:-
1. People make mistakes – alas we are but human.
2. Unpredictable events occur.
Safe diving, I have found, involves avoiding other divers underwater as much as possible so that you will not be troubled by their mistakes, and making yourself totally self-sufficient with redundant systems so that if even you make a mistake you can easily recover. I also like to know that there is someone competent looking out for me on the surface and able to rescue me if I do make a mistake. To avoid unpredictable effects of a negative kind I worship Neptune, the occasional sacrifice of an old Nikonos camera seems to do the trick just fine. Amazingly there are bureaucrats who imagine that “perfect” safety is achievable, and that they can achieve it by “Regulation”. These sad fools, glued to their sorry desks, do not realise that life is an adventure, and that there is no adventure without risk. Risk is not the reason for adventure – that newly discovered reef is – and adventure does not mean recklessness. Adventure is “the art of safely experiencing increased risk”, and a life without adventure is a poor one indeed. Have a life – assume the risk, and take the blame.