My right hand index finger is touching the palm of my left hand, asking the two student divers how much air they have got left.
While looking at the SPG, one of them starts to drift upwards towards the surface. After a quick look at student number two, who is now kneeling on the bottom, and giving me the OK, I reach out and grab diver 1 to prevent him from going all the way to the surface. I manage to stop the ascent, and we slowly go back down and reunite with the kneeling diver 2 on the bottom.
After exchanging OK’s with both divers I again ask; How much air do you have left? Diver two responds quickly, he has 100+ bars left. Fine. Diver 1, who has been a bit edgy on the previous dives is slower to find his SPG but finally signals; only 50 bars left! I signal that I understand and reach out to double check the SPG. He has read it correctly, only 50 bars.
As our depth is only 6 m, and we are less than a minutes swim away from where I have planned the ascent (from about 4 m depth) I know we can safely finish the dive according to the original plan.
When I look up again, I see that diver 1 is searching for something with his right hand. I look closer and immediately realize that his regulator isn’t in his mouth!
Now, everything happens very quickly, and several thoughts simultaneosly rush through my mind. My first thought is that the diver might panic and try to bolt for the surface, and I therefore quickly grab diver 1 with my right hand. As the thought of donating my primary regulator to the student goes through my head, my left hand finds the students hand holding on to the lost regulator and I force the regulator into diver 1’s mouth and keeping my grip to him to prevent him from losing it again. I again check diver 2, who remains at his place just beside us, and is still ok. We remain on our knees, waiting for diver 1 to take a few breaths and to calm down and regain his composure. After maybe 30 seconds, everything is ok and I release my hold of diver 1. I check his air supply again, and explain that we will swim just a short distance to shallower water, before ascending to the surface. They understand. Finally, I decide to place diver 1 on my right and diver 2 to my left, to keep them as close as possible for the remainder of the dive.
Shortly thereafter we finished the dive. At the surface, I talked briefly with both divers to make sure they were ok, and commended their handling of the situation.
The above happened on the fourth and last dive of an open water diver course. So, what could be done to prevent incidents like this in the future?
First of all, I think its clear how important it is to practice regulator recovery regularly.
Moreover, students probably need more practice in performing additional tasks, like checking their SPG, while remaining neutrally buoyant.
For a diver with good buoyancy control it’s not a big problem to remain neutrally buoyant while looking at the SPG. But a novice diver maybe should make sure to sit down on the bottom or hold on to something before checking his/her SPG. At least in the dark waters of Scandinavia, where visual references are few.
As a dive master, maybe I should have instructed the students to stop first, and then ask for an SPG check. This is something that I will think more about, and test, in the coming courses. At least I have learned yet another situation to be conscious about, and be prepared for in the future.
What do you think? How would you have acted in a similar situation? Any thoughts on how to prevent similar problems?