How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

This past weekend, we dove in the Bahamas on a “cruise ship dive trip.” We set out from the port with a fairly healthy new dive partner, and by the end of the day, her dive was ruined. There were no accidents. But slowly, subtly, the deck became stacked against her enjoying a clean dive. Here’s my version of “20/20 Hindsight” on how she got to the point of not having any fun at all.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

It’s No Fun Being Sick On A Boat

Our Gentle Diver ended up sick on the boat during the surface interval and skipped the second dive. I truly believe the entire uncomfortable experience could have been avoided.

Through very little fault of her own, she succumbed. I’m taking this experience as an opportunity to learn how to prevent it in the future. Diving isn’t cheap, so fewer missed dives and happier dive friends is a worthy goal.

This article examines each step in her condition degradation. All the small things that add up to ruin a dive; some avoidable, some unavoidable. If you can think of any additional factors, please do leave them in the comments below! I hope you enjoy – or at least learn – from our experience. We did.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Self-Regulating On A Cruise Ship

Cruise vacation! Food! Dancing! Drinking! Staying up late to go dancing! Repeat! Oh boy, is this a temptation and a time to practice moderation in all things fun.

I’m not saying our Gentle Diver overdid anything. However, if there ever was a time to unintentionally eat foods richer than normal, injest more sodium and sugar than normal, and operate on less sleep than normal; this is it.

From years of experience as a boat captain, I know that eating more rich food in larger volumes than normal can cause people to feel unwell.

While on land, someone who has had too much of any of the three – food, drink, or dancing – will be fine. However, add in the variable of a bouncing boat, and they are unable to maintain. I’m not at all sure this was the case, but it could have been one contributing factor, and all the factors added up eventually.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Dressing For The Activity

When we were disembarking the cruise ship upon arrival at our first port, I had some time for people watching. The potential for hypothermia is always on my mind. After a first dive, that surface interval can be wet, cold, and breezy.

It was 66° out; a bit chilly for this Floridian. I wore jeans, short sleeve shirt and fleece jacket, and sandals. Additionally, I had with me a long foul weather gear with hood that doubles as a windbreaker.

As I watched the passengers, I saw a lot of pool-side type garments. If the temperature dropped a couple degrees, these people would be freezing! The cruise ship security were bundled up, even wearing fleece headbands.

Easily, I justified the bathing costume net-like coverups by telling myself these people were all from places with freezing and snow; “Up North.” For them, it probably was a very warm day! To us native Floridians, it was borderline between comfortable and chilly.

Our Gentle Diver was dressed in leggings, shirt, jacket, and sandals. Had she been wearing less, I would have worried she would become pre-chilled even before the dive and earn a lowered dive repetition letter right then.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Advocate For Your Needs

Unless you have been around someone before, there are a lot of potential sticky wickets of which you are unaware.

When I head out on a sailboat charter, I don’t know if anyone just had surgery, is allergic to insect stings, is diabetic, or much else unless it’s visually apparent.

Our Gentle Diver gets car sick. We had no idea. In addition, she gets even more car sick if she’s not in the front seat. I don’t think any of us knew this; but we do now!

Well, the shuttle ride to the dive shop was insane. Our driver was alternately swearing at traffic or praising the Lord for getting us around slower-moving vehicles. I might add – I’m a bit used to New Providence traffic. It seems chaotic, fast-moving, and a bit uncoordinated.

Interesting adaptation; some Bahamian vehicles are right-hand drive. So, you can put someone in what we know as “the driver’s seat” since the driver has the right side seat. However, Bahamians drive on the left side of the road, so this might make a passenger apprehensive observing traffic.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Next Was Totally My Fault

As the organizer of the dive trips, the next thing that “got” to our Gentle Diver was my fault. And I will never, ever make this mistake again. Ever.

Usually, I pre-print all the paperwork for a dive operator. The night before the dive, while relaxing on deck or somewhere with a view, we complete the forms. This gives us all a chance to start mentally preparing for the dive. Also, that means our waivers and certification forms are finished, so we are free to relax.

For whatever reason, I didn’t do this on this trip. And our Gentle Diver suffered. The combination of car sickness and trying to read and trying to write was just too much. She arrived at the dive shop already feeling puny.

While underway, the driver handed us pieces of cardboard and pens. We were to fill the papers out while bobbing and weaving through traffic.

In advance, we had warned everyone that it would be at least a 45 minute drive across the island. Also, we had suggested bringing water and snacks. I now realize I need to pay even move attention to these small details since they can make a huge difference.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Arrival and Departure

Arriving after a tornadic shuttle ride, then hustling straightaway through the sign-in and rental process and the subsequent scurrying onto the boat probably did not help our Gentle Diver.

Some of the counter ladies were quite friendly and welcoming, others not so much. We experienced this last time we were there, too. I believe the added stress of unhappy and stern faces did not ease our newest diver’s feelings of apprehension and stress. A friendly face and a smile go a long way toward making you feel relaxed and ready.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Stacking the Deck Against One

So, we arrived at the dive shop with our precariously-situated diver. She’s feeling a teeny bit “off” due to the ride.

We had to collect tanks and weights, load them and our gear on the boat, and head out.

Luckily, our dive site was on the Southwest side of the island only five to ten minutes away. The wind had been blowing from the Northeast a couple days, so things were choppy even on the south side of the island.

The short run to the dive site does mean very little time to get situated and set up, and even less time for last-minute changes and adjustments.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Assessing the Group Abilities

We were a party of four, with ten divers total headed for a Leap Day Dive – what better way to spend the extra day this year, we all thought. In our group of four, we had one search and rescue diver, one master diver, and two of us with under 100 dives.

There were several inexperienced divers on board. When we see that, we are very aware that we are relying on our dive partner to keep us safe. Also, we realize the dive masters will have their hands full, so we are just a bit more aware. Underwater, we pay closer attention to everyone.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

The Mental Game

I didn’t know that a needle of suspicion had entered our Gentle Diver’s brain as she was putting on her wetsuit. But, I heard the dive master ask if she would be warm enough. She was putting on a shorty. We had plenty of discussion prior to the trip about the water temperature being 72°, just like the Florida springs, which I find excruciatingly cold.

My dive partner and I put on our 3mm suits – we are chilly Floridians, after all. When I dive the springs, I wear that or my 5mm and always a hood too.

Others on the boat were diving with rash guards only, or 1mm suits, or shortys as well. The dive master questioned her choice of wetsuit. It was what she brought, so there was little she could do at that point.

Later, she said she would have appreciated if the dive master had just said she might be a bit chilly and offered her a longer wetsuit instead of questioning her choice and introducing that needle of self-doubt.

Most likely, there probably was a teeny bit of stress as well due to her diving with a rental BCD and regulator. Familiarity with gear leads to confidence; this wasn’t possible for her this trip, probably resulting in a bit of stress.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Empty Tanks and Bad O-Rings

Once we got on site, things went downhill. Our Gentle Diver realized she could hear a hissing from her tank – bad O-ring. Divers were entering the water and hanging on a line waiting for the rest of us.

Quickly, her gear was swapped to a second tank. Same problem.

Third tank. Same problem.

Dive crew is now tied up dealing with this instead of watching the swim ladder and swim platform to assist divers off the boat. Bad O-rings, an under-$2 item – holding everyone up from diving and creating stress.

Fourth tank. Again, same problem. Her dive partner dug out the bad O-ring and a replacement eventually was found.

At this point, our Gentle Diver is beginning to get a bit panicky. Five divers are hanging on the line, waiting on us. We won’t go until we know her gear is ready.

I asked her if she needs to just stop. Take a few deep breaths. My partner told her very sternly, “We don’t go until you are ready. Take your time.” She took a couple deep breaths and…

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis


The O-ring on the tank on the diver next to me blew with a great shrieking sound. He covered his ears – it was bad. Really loud, scary, and upsetting.

This does not happen all that often, and the noise and upset of the diver affected our Gentle Diver. Her heart rate probably went up with all the noise and commotion. She was really having second thoughts about getting in the water at this point, she later reported.

A second tank was brought, the fast switch, and “screeeeee.” Again. Since the dive master completed the setup this time, I don’t think it was a failure to seat the regulator. It could have been a damaged regulator.

At this point, I asked our Gentle Diver if she was ready, told her to take a few deep breaths, she did, and toward the stern we shuffled. My partner was in the water, the captain helped us both toward the stern, and down we went.

However, the third tank worked, so we all headed to the swim platform to go diving after a few more deep breaths.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

More Deep Breaths

Our Gentle Diver said when she got in the water, she recognized her breathing was rapid. My dive partner and I were watching for exactly that due to the stress she had experienced. We signaled back and forth.

She dives quarterly, and knows what to notice and what to do. When she recognized she was over breathing, she mentally calmed herself and slowed down her breathing. Once we saw the cascades of bubbles settle down, we breathed our own “sighs of relief.”

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Crucial Initial Moments – & Sharks

These moments, the five minutes after she entered the water were the most concerning for me. I figured if she was going to do anything unusual or unexpected; this was the time. So I kept a close eye on her.

We knew there was a good possibility we would see sharks. The day before, I had talked about this. I don’t want anyone to get a scare, or be unprepared if I already know something is a possibility.

Later, she said even though I had pre-warned her, she had no idea they would be all around us and swimming between us. With them all around, she said she did remember to keep her hands tucked close to her body.

I watched her body, noting a bit of doggie-paddling and initial failure to control buoyancy. We talked about it later, and she said she thought she was a bit overweighted.

As we continued, her breathing leveled out, her paddling became more fluid swimming, and her body posture became more horizontal. Shew! We were past the precarious time. She was self-regulating and looked fairly comfortable.

At one point, her single BCD velcro strap came loose. Her partner was beside her and could not see it. I was behind her and noticed and alerted him. He quickly re-secured her tank. I’m not sure she even noticed.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Dehydration Worries

When our Gentle Diver got out of the water, she headed over to sit near the side of the boat.

I know exactly what that means.

After 30 years of captaining, here’s the normal sequence: chatty person gets quiet, moves toward side of boat, starts holding on to something for dear life, turns pale, starts to sweat, turns green, then feeds the fish. Only a couple people in my lifetime have gone from saying they feel poorly to hanging over the rail emptying their stomach. Most people go through steps.

I kept bringing her water – trying to get ahead of what I knew would come once we were in the water. Definitely emesis. Once my dive partner were on the bottom, we watched to see – and yes, the gathering of fish at the surface told us the story. Oh, I sure hoped she remembered my suggestion to keep hydrating.

Hypothermia Concerns

Our Gentle Diver was shaking. I touched her arm when I asked her how she felt, so I could gauge her temperature myself and feel how deep the shivering was. Her skin was cold, shivering was full body, so I immediately moved her off the windy side of the boat to the lee into the cabin protection and sun. Then, I made sure she was on the fulcrum, the point of least bobbing. Next, I wrapped her bottom half in a towel and immediately got a thick fleece on her topsides and a foul weather jacket to serve as a windbreaker over that. Finally, I put the hood on her head to try to keep in some heat.

From my bag I selected the protein bar with the most calories, trying to get some sugar and btu’s into her. She ate about half of it.

I probably should have gotten her out of the wetsuit; but it didn’t look like she was willing to move much. There were other people on the boat so not much privacy, and I thought she would warm up in the full sun. However, I made her promise as soon as we all got in the water, to get out of the wetsuit.

If she didn’t stop shaking, next move was to wrap her head to toe in the two “space blankets” we carry – cocoon her until the shaking stopped. By the way – if you don’t have those, trash bags will do the same trick.

Her dive partner suited up, the only remaining tank had 1650 psi, so he planned a very short dive to head down, see the wreck for five to eight minutes, then return, which he did. That gave her a chance to change clothes and empty her stomach with a small bit of privacy and dignity.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Chalking It Up

Always, we are looking to promote, to experience the positive, be easy-going and amenable. Last year, with this same diver operator, I went through four tanks before getting in the water due to a combination of bad O-rings and empty tanks. We never mentioned that experience to the dive operator, thinking it was a one-time unusual occurrence. I now realize I should have told someone – management probably does not really know what all goes on out there on the boats unless the customers report later.

Last year, we had decided that was a one-time highly unusual series of events and moved on. But now that it has happened twice, we wonder if mentioning something last year would have prevented this year’s stress and anxiety.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

What We Learned

Every dive, we learn something – this trip taught me that everyone must advocate for themself if there is a situation like that which might lessen their tolerance for a wide range of experience they will undergo on a dive.

Also, I learned that my instincts are reliable. Always, I bring enough protein bars for everyone. A diabetic can deal with the sugar later. Gluten, lactose, whatever intolerance; we can deal with that later after you are first kept alive. In my bag are two sets of clothing in case one gets wet; those items can be shared as well. Collapsable water bottles and towels are part of our “kit.”

In addition, we carry a bleeding control kit of several tourniquets and wound packing. We also have a First Aid, a “booboo” kit with us. Most important is the bleeding control; losing all your blood will kill you. A minor cut can be handled back on shore. I’ll publish a full inventory of our kits in a future blog, or you can search “bleeding control” here and find what we carry daily for kayaking, driving our car, going to work, sailing, and so on as well as information on where to get training yourself.

As a lifetime sailor, I am used to analyzing every tiny detail on each trip and thinking through anything and everything that could happen. We like to have both the supplies we might need, and the training to deal with any situation. Actively, we choose an annual training experience. This year’s was a NOLS Wilderness First Aid class. I’ll write all about it next week!

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Paying Attention to Your Detractors

I think there are a number of what I will call detractors – circumstances, habits, actions, that stack the deck against a successful dive.

They include what you eat and drink the previous day, and how well you sleep the night before can affect your dive. Wearing clothing appropriate to the activity and the weather also can present a detrimental factor. Both overheating before a dive and coming to a dive already chilled can have negative results.

Any stressful situations or activities lower your tolerances to be strong through a dive. As many of those variables as you can control, do.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Return Ride Much Milder

Our return shuttle trip with a different driver was much smoother.

We seated our Gentle Diver in the front left-hand seat. She had warmed up, but was feeling pretty whipped. To rehydrate, we kept plying her with more water.

In his airline pilot voice, our driver narrated the areas we passed through and gave us history and background information.

His driving was smooth and calm. He even offered to drop us at Fish Fry for some conch salad and cracked conch.

We were ready for some hot tub time, showers, and dinner.

I spent the ride analyzing what we could have done to prevent the newest dive member in our group from having such an uncomfortable time. She’s boated on power boats her whole life, so I could not use that as an excuse.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

That 20/20 Hindsight

  1. Cruise – more caffeine, salt, sugar, alcohol, exertion (walking, dancing)
  2. Also Cruise – less sleep, different bed, out of usual routine, travel stress
  3. Car sickness
  4. Trying to read in moving vehicle
  5. Unfamiliar gear
  6. Self-doubt about wetsuit choice
  7. Four tank failures
  8. Noise of two O-rings blowing
  9. Nervousness about sharks
  10. Possibly overweighted
  11. Plus possibly insufficient wetsuit
  12. Chilly water at 72, chilly surface temperatures and brisk breezes
, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Yes, We Do Buy Travel Insurance

Up until last year, we had never purchased travel insurance. For a week-long dive cruise, we realized there we had a flight, a cruise, four different dive operators, expensive dive gear luggage, and personal luggage including cameras. We also had a family member who was not doing well. The need to have that bit of flexibility in case of the worst taught us so much.

First of all, we were far more relaxed knowing that if we had to cancel it all; everything was covered. Second, we were astounded at how reasonable travel insurance actually is. Click Travelex here or above for a free quote.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Sunscreen and Reef-Safe Toilitries

When you travel, don’t forget to bring a small backpack or bag for carrying a few items to the pool with you. A dry bag gives you even more flexibility and security.

My Stream2Sea dry bag is the perfect size for all my sunscreen, bathing suit or foundation garments, sunglasses case, a book, and a few other items for excursions to the pool or gym. My discount code “DeepWH” gets you 10% off everything.  Stream2Sea have reef-safe sunscreen, leave-in conditioner, lip balm, shampoo, body wash, and even mask defog! Using my link won’t increase you price, and I might receive a small incentive for introducing you to reef-safe sunscreens and more.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

Great Training Resource

My First Aid and CPR annual course simply did not have enough depth and breadth for the possibilities of a dive boat event. So, I highly recommend the Tactical Casualty Care online course from Crisis Medicine. In fact, I learned so much from the training, that I have been writing a lot about the topics and the training, hoping anyone active outdoors will take responsibility and seek out bleeding control training..

For courses through Crisis Medicine, I’m able to offer you a 20% discount; just use my code, “DeepWH” at checkout for the TC2 course.

, How To Ruin A Scuba Dive // Subtly Stacking The Deck Against a Fun Dive // Analysis

What to Read Next:

Danger Signs of an Unsafe Dive Boat

7 Items for Dive Boat Survival – The Prepared Diver

Dive Trip From Havana // Diving the Reefs of Cuba’s North Shore

SCUBA Diving in Cuba // Pristine Reefs on the North Shore

Planning a Legal Trip to Cuba from the US // Travel Restrictions // Rules for Americans

Cuban Pesos // What We Learned About Exchanging Money in Cuba

Updated May 4, 2020


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