Last month I took a vacation dive trip to Canada. Specifically the St Lawrence River area in Brockville, Ontario. The original plan was to join my Tech Instructor Trainer Steve Lewis and be an extra set of eyes on a Decompression Class he was going to run. As well as be a possible buddy for a student if needed and the unofficial class photographer.
By James Lapenta
As it turned out, he didn’t get students for the class but did have some instructor crossovers to take care of. Those were not going to happen until later in the week, so some of the gear and gasses I took were not needed. In addition to that, the river has been running 3 feet or higher than usual due to Lake Ontario water levels. This led to currents of 4-5 knots where 1 ½ to 2 is more the case.
So what we had here was a complete revamp of the trip shortly before I arrived. Those who know me understand the level of importance I place on dive plans beginning as soon as the decision is made to dive. What also needs to be understood is that every plan is subject to change at some point, even at the last minute, and the wise diver will be able to adjust to that.
My adjustment only needed to take into account one thing as far as the gear for dives themselves was concerned, and that was the gas I would be using. Decompression dives were now going to be out, so I would not need the 50 and 100% Oxygen cylinders I had with me. The current, on the other hand, also made it impractical to take my big DSLR camera rig into the water on the dives.
While some may have seen all of these changes as a big deal, and I would as well under certain circumstances, these changes offered several new opportunities to see some different things topside and get to dive with my friend on some easy, relaxing dives (relatively speaking) with a person I did not have to worry at all about. Conscientious instructors that I have talked to often feel a sense of responsibility above that of a typical dive buddy, even on fun dives. We are “on” so to speak at a level that makes completely relaxing a bit tricky. So when we get the chance to dive with someone skilled, safe, and competent with whom we can relax, changes like the ones above are not only easy to deal with, but in some ways, welcome.
New divers can be flexible as well when plans change as long as they understand the full ramifications of the changes. This is where some get into trouble. Flexibility can be highly beneficial or put them into unnecessarily dangerous situations. When the dive plans change to involve an easier site or less challenging conditions, the new diver can take the opportunity to work on skills and improve them. A change to a significantly deeper or higher current site may result in them seeing a test beyond their abilities that causes an accident.
To avoid getting into trouble, they should take an honest look at the entire dive and at themselves. Following this, they need to be frank with buddies, shops, guides, and operations, and when called for, insist on a less risky dive. To not do so may pacify others but this activity is not about pacification. It’s about staying safe and staying alive.
Flexibility in planning is not going along to get along. It’s about being able to adapt to changes in an intelligent way that does not pose additional risk to the diver or the divers buddies. More experienced divers sometimes forget that not everyone they get in the water with is at their level. While they may want to do a particular dive, it needs to be understood that as the de facto team leader, they are at least morally and ethically responsible for not putting others into danger.
There are divemasters, guides, and instructors that seem to forget this when they are not in a training situation. They state that the standards for depth, equipment, skill levels, etc. only apply when they are actually teaching a class and not when guiding or diving for fun with less experienced persons. Legally that may be true depending on the jurisdiction, but what about having a sense of morality and professional ethics? Do those go out the window in favor of profits? It seems like it.
As a new or not so new recreational diver, each must adapt and take things as they come while remaining safe and not endangering others. Flexibility is another tool to make smart use of as a diver. Not one to be reckless with and taken advantage of carelessly.
My vacation offered the chance to put into practice these lessons and principles. Resulting in an enjoyable, relaxing, and recharging time. No 150 ft dives, not as many dives as originally planned, no underwater pictures, and a few extra bottles of deco gas not put to use.
What it did provide was more time with a dear friend and fellow instructor, some great meals with good conversation, the chance to see more of a great town, and the knowledge to make use of when I return to Canada next year. For more on planning variations and other topics, pick up a copy of my books SCUBA: A Practical Guide for the New Diver and SCUBA: A Practical Guide to Advanced Level Training on Amazon.