I don’t think I’m a very knowledgeable or experienced diver, and so it is a very sobering thought to realize how little I knew in the first years of my underwater adventures. As a member of the D&C group often says Fortune favours the foolish, and I think he means me. He’s not wrong. Though, unlike other areas of my life, I have never been careless or rash in scuba diving, there were times I just did not know any better. Today I still have tons to learn, but one thing I did pick-up, is that no one is more in charge of my safety than myself.
Even when diving in a group and/or with a DM, I am the one ultimately responsible for my own safety and no one else.
DM’s and dive operators are in my experience usually very nice, if occasionally salty people, often with great stories to tell. For example, I recently learned that cows can get seasick and they can puke, and much like humans one puking cow will infect the other cows and rapidly you can end up with a ferry deck of cows knee deep in vomit. They do have four stomachs. Sorry for putting that image into your brain, but think of the poor sod who was there to open the ferry doors. My point is that DM’s and dive operators are not a bunch of cutthroat pirates that would just as soon feed you to the sharks (after you paid of course).
However, a) shit happens and b) as you travel you encounter “different” ways of doing things, not every place runs according to the same standards and not every place is tight even by those standards. “No certification? No problem, just stay close to the guide!” I’m sure you’ve all heard that.
On a dive a few years back I was looking at my dive computer with ever increasing concern as my buddy and I went a good 40-50 feet below the depth discussed during the briefing, The DM had gotten lost and we did not encounter the reef where he expected. Falling slowly through the big blue, with no descent line and nothing for our eyes to focus on I could feel my buddy getting anxious. Eventually we levelled off with the DM at 110 feet, and swam above the blue for a while before finding the reef.
We were still well within the limits of recreational diving but it was a good thing it was not our second dive of the day. We had lost control of our dive and that is when accidents can happen.
On another occasion we encountered a DM who apparently dove solely by feel, relying more on some inner guidance than any other method I could figure out. That dive was getting long and my nitrogen levels were getting close to saturation, one of our party exceeded no deco limits, meanwhile the DM still seemed to have his own plan in mind. It took a little noise, but we got him to turn around and notice we weren’t following him anymore. We sort of winged our ascent, went slow and made multiple safety stops. Again, we had lost control of our dive.
And (I know you should not start a sentence with and) don’t get me started about caves, I did more overhead environment diving in my first year of scuba than the following ten. Today I have no problem signalling no fucking way when asked to go into a wreck or cave I don’t feel qualified for.
There’s a good chance most divers will have similar anecdotes. They all fall under the heading of don’t blindly trust someone else with your safety, but it’s also important to remember that the DM (and your buddy) can’t read your mind. If you don’t feel comfortable, if you are not going to follow inside a wreck, a crack or whatever, or you need/want to get back to the boat, you have to make that clear. If the predive briefing is any good you’ll get an idea of what to expect and possible alternatives, like over the reef instead on under it (just follow the bubbles), don’t be shy with questions and discuss possible game plans and protocols with your buddy.
The onus of safety is ultimately yours, that also means shelving your ego and doing your part. Don’t lie about your air and let the DM know when you’re at half-tank, if you can’t equalize your ears signal it. If you don’t feel good about anything let it be known. If that means staying by the mouth of a cave while the rest of the group goes inside so be it, you have nothing to prove.
You are the boss of you.