Thursday, May 13, 2010
I dive off charter boats frequently, so I have lots of opportunities to observe divers. I see good divers and bad, experienced pros and neophytes, and locals as well as tourists. With such variety, it’s tough to draw any uniform conclusions. But there does seem to be a trend and, from my vantage point, it’s not a good one: My admittedly unscientific assessment tells me that divers are assuming less and less responsibility for their own well-being. In fairness, it’s not really restricted to divers; it’s been a societal trend for some time.
When something goes wrong the answer is to blame anyone but ourselves. Abandoning responsibility even happens when nothing goes wrong, as I saw on a recent dive.
I was seated next to a couple, and as we assembled our gear, I noticed that both were diving nitrox. A few minutes later, the divemaster began passing around an oxygen analyzer, asking everyone on board who was using enriched air to test his or her gas. “Why do we have to do it?” I heard one of the buddy pair ask the other. “You’d think for what they charge, they’d do it for us.”
“Absolutely!” responded her buddy.
For those of you not familiar with nitrox, whoever fills a tank with enriched air does, indeed, do an analysis. But a second analysis by the diver who will actually use the tank is not only a standard operating procedure, it’s a common-sense practice. As even a slight difference between the assumed and actual oxygen content in a nitrox mixture can lead to disastrous consequences, not doing a predive final analysis of the mixture is foolhardy to the extreme. Yet the couple was not only willing to have someone else do this, they expected it.
I’m willing to bet these are the sort of folks who, in the event something had gone wrong, would probably have called their attorney before 911. Let’s be clear about something: No matter how well supervised the dive, or how safe you’re told it will be, or the reputation of the operator, there’s only one person on earth who can assume responsibility for your safety, and that’s the person you see in the mirror every morning. If you believe otherwise, you’re deluding yourself.
Any true understanding of personal responsibility requires that we ask the question, what really constitutes a safe diver? To me, a safe diver is one who is vigilant, not oblivious; is never afraid to ask questions; assumes nothing and, in the end, accepts that even a well-planned dive can go wrong. A safe diver speaks up when he feels uneasy about some aspect of the dive. Unlike my nitrox divers, a safe diver also refuses to let others do things for him. And a safe diver is the one who, when something just doesn’t look or feel right, isn’t swayed by the herd mentality of “Oh, it will be OK,” and has the guts to say, “I’m not diving today.”
Some of my diving colleagues call me an old curmudgeon, and insist that I’m over-reacting and longing for the good-old days that never really were. I think not, but you be the judge. Take a few minutes, log on to www.dtmag.com and let us know what you think. Curmudgeon or not, my favorite expression of personal responsibility was illustrated by a small sign that President Harry Truman kept on his desk in the Oval Office. It read simply, “The Buck Stops Here.” If I was king of the universe for a day, I’d have that little tidbit of wisdom tattooed on the forehead of every diver on the planet . and I’d start with those nitrox divers.