The Belize Mexico transition is common for many divers. Today’s guest post brings you dive safety tips and stories from experienced divers in both places, one on vacation in Playa del Carmen and the other a local dive shop owner in San Pedro.
Tips and Stories and Diving Safety in Mexico by Norbert Ross
In this write up, I’d like to comment on dive safety and how to evaluate and find a safe diving outfit to enjoy some underwater adventures during your vacations. The idea to write this came from my own experience some two weeks ago. However, before continuing I would like to start by saying that diving is a very safe sport, yet accidents can happen. However, most accidents are avoidable and can be dealt with. In fact, most serious dive accidents happen when basic rules are not followed (and most often more than one) and panic arises when things go bad.
On a recent trip to Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya, I decided to go diving. Looking mainly at prices and a bit in a hurry (as the trip was rather short and not planned) I organized three days of diving at what at first sight seemed to be a trustworthy dive shop. Excited about going diving in cenotes (sink holes that appear in limestone) as well as in the ocean, I didn’t check online for reviews. That might have already been my second mistake. I say second mistake, because my first mistake was not to bring my own gear (in particular the regulator – the stuff you breathe through!), but simply to trust the gear handed to me. Dive gear is for the most part simple and durable but it needs to be serviced regularly – especially rental gear that is used often and usually not treated well.
On my first dive the regulator (the mechanism you breathe through) stopped working at about 30m depth, and while my tank still had air – I didn’t. My regulator stopped working and I had to get air support from the guide. As most experienced divers I have trained for situations as such, yet had to wonder how a nervous a novice diver would have reacted.
While equipment can always fail I realized over the next two days of diving that the rental equipment we received was rather in poor shape and we had to exchange twice more regulators – as they were blowing air. In fact, on the second day the guide had to fix his regulator under water, and again remember, regulators are the stuff you need to breathe!
Clearly the dive shop didn’t take care of their equipment. This is hard to evaluate from the outside, but customers can always ask about the service schedule and the maintenance of the gear. Also a look at the gear usually reveals its age. While well-maintained and serviced dive gear can last long, rental gear should be replaced frequently. So if the gear has an old look to it (tears in the fabric, old hoses or if it throws bubbles when submerged in water) you might want to look for another dive store!
The gear issues made me wonder how such accidents would play out with novice divers. This is when I realized things at the dive shop were worse than I thought. Not only were they relaxed in terms of gear maintenance, but also in terms of organizing and supervising dives: fairly novice divers were taken on dives for which they were neither trained nor certified. For example, on one occasion divers were taken to a wreck dive (30m depths) in strong currents (drift). This specific dive is officially classified for “experienced divers only,” yet the guide took the divers into the wreck despite the fact that most of them were not certified for wreck-diving.
But it didn’t end there. Although the guide was constantly updated on the air supply, he decided to carry on with the dive to the point that two of the five divers ran out of air!! Furthermore, no one had received any signaling device in case of an independent ascent! Fortunately none of the novice divers were affected, yet they were shocked enough to cancel the second submersion of the day.
What can we learn from my experience? First of all, if you can, bring your own equipment (especially the regulator set!). Make sure you bring also things such as a signaling sausage in case of an emergency ascent independent of the dive guide. If you cannot bring your own equipment assure yourself that the equipment is in good shape (visual check) and has been serviced and maintained regularly (ASK!). If you question the age or condition of the rental equipment walk away and look for another dive shop.
Once you signed up for a dive and are on the water keep in mind that you are responsible for yourself and your buddy (dive partner). Even if encouraged by the guide, do not dive beyond your training and capabilities. Dive shops might not only think they do you a favor by pushing you, but pushing limits also allows them creating bigger groups (which in turn means more money for them!).
In fact, if you see the dive shop ignoring certification requirements, step away and look for another place!
But back into the water: Keep in mind that your dive guide is just that, a dive guide. Most likely they have more experience than you, but again you are the one responsible for your dive. Conduct your buddy check as you learned it and stay close to your dive partner, making sure you both are attentive of each others conditions. If you or your dive partner feel you are running out of air, request an ascent and do not allow for discussions about that. Worst case you ascend safely with your buddy (as you have done several times during your training). This is why I mentioned above that bringing your own signal sausage/whistle can be important.
I started out by saying diving is safe. It is, yet only if we follow certain safety guidelines, one of them is not to depend on the guide for your safety. A few reasons for this: they could have too many people to take care of, might simply not be attentive, or in the worst case might need help themselves. This means that at any point in time you have to be able to help yourself and others. Which could prove difficult for novice divers if the dive outfit takes you beyond your abilities and certifications on drift dives into wrecks at 30m depth or into caves (which I have also seen).
Diving is fun and exciting, don’t let anyone convince you to dive beyond your experience – it’s not worth it! Go ahead and get more training and experience and come back to do the dives you didn’t do the first time around. Yes, vacation time is rare and precious, but so is your life! Safety first so not only will you enjoy your dives longer, but also in a much more relaxed fashion.
Author Norbert Ross is a Professor of Anthropology conducting research among Maya people.
Cenote Angelita in Quintana Roo Mexico
Moving on from Mexico to Belize and Being a Safe Diver by Kendall Beymer
Owning a dive shop in a Caribbean location means you see loads of divers – and loads of skill variations. Ecologic Divers is a PADI 5 Star IDC shop; so we routinely get divers that have hundreds of dives as well as people that are just getting certified. There is one great equalizer among these vast ranges of skill levels… safety. People will tell you all day long that Scuba is a safe sport – and IT IS! But there are many practices that when not followed can make you have a rough day.
By far, the most common cause of dive issues is diver caused, but first a few notes about gear. Anyone can likely understand that the most important issue under the water is breathing (as Norbert mentioned above.) All that gear, and all that prep, and it comes down to supporting something you do all day and night with your unconscious brain – breathe. Between you and your dive buddy you should have a total of 6 options… good redundancy. With that said it amazes me how many people don’t bring their own gear or bring gear that doesn’t work!
We staff a person that is fully trained to service and repair regulators (the breathing part), but not every shop does – and we certainly don’t have every part of whatever your brand might use. If you have gear – service it before your dive trip and BRING IT! Don’t rely on gear you’re unfamiliar with to save your life and take proper care of your gear.
At our shop we roll “concierge” style; our Dive Masters take care of all your gear changes and swaps… but before each dive they say “everybody check your gear, make sure it’s set for diving.” We don’t miss stuff, but you know your own gear best. Never turn down the opportunity to go over it one last time before that back roll entry.
Most dive accidents are the direct result of decisions made by the diver. You went too low…for too long… you went up too fast… you held your breath… you didn’t hydrate like you should… you put your hand in the sharks mouth… all silly decisions. I could write paragraphs about each – but any diver understands them. I will mention a bit about the most neglected one and the most common cause of decompression sickness – hydration.
Nitrogen needs smooth running blood to get out of your system. If it’s not getting out in an efficient manor then those little bubbles can cause lots of problems… like death. Deco is not an exact science by any stretch – but we know hydrated blood is efficient blood. Proper hydration makes up for a myriad of other failures, so drink water till you are peeing clear, then drink some more.
Our office door has a bumper sticker that says “I love to pee in my wet suit”. You should drink so much water that doing so is the only option! Being safety conscious, we shove water at you before each dive, after each dive, at service intervals, and again before and after the next dives – drink it. Hyperbaric chambers are expensive and not a fun way to spend your vacation.
Kendall Beymer – Ecologic Divers San Pedro Belize.
Follow Ecologic Divers on facebook to see more diving pictures. Kendall also writes a good Belize blog. You can watch his current blog Reset and Restore for notification of his Meandering fool, his new blog.
Click through to read Ecologic Divers Belize reviews. Ecologic is currently #2 of 48 Boat Tours & Water Sports in San Pedro.