A recent publication of a new book called close calls by Stratis Kas has left me pondering about the subject of close calls and how all of us as divers no matter how much experience we have can all still have dangerous experiences from participation in the sport. After all, technically speaking humans should not be underwater. We rely on equipment to support us to achieve this and without this or on the chance that a piece of this equipment fails then problems arise which can ultimately lead to serious consequences if not addressed correctly and quickly. Although not as major as some of the close calls published in this book I thought I would share one of my own that I have experienced, what I learnt as a result of it and how moving forward I can prevent it from happening again.
What made this all the more terrifying for me and perhaps why it sticks with is, at the time that this close call happened I was on only my second dive after receiving my PADI open water certification when I was diving at Stoney cove with my younger brother as part of the Dive Rutland Club. It started off as a regular recreational dive along the 6metre shelf at Stoney, taking in the sights of the Nautilus and the cockpit whilst taking some photos on a Go Pro camera. As we hit our turn point for our dive we decided to start heading back towards the exit via Nessie. Whilst we were taking a look at Nessie and taking some pictures with a go pro, whichever way I moved to position myself caused my Octopus to start free flowing uncontrollably underwater. At the time this came as a bit of a shock and I could not seem to stop it from free flowing no matter what I tried to do. I was conscious that my air was depleting rapidly and I would have to do something to address the situation or get to the surface. This obviously panicked me slightly and along with the free flow, the rush of air started to stir silt and began to make visibility obscured.
After the initial panic for a few seconds, my training kicked in and I signalled my buddy to assist. I took hold of their octopus and began air sharing immediately as my own air was depleting rapidly. At this point I reached back to my pillar valve and turned off my cylinder to stop the continuous stream of air from pouring from my octopus. I attempted to turn it back on again to see if this would solve the problem but it did not and it continued to free flow. We then signalled to call the dive and return to the surface. This was completed whilst air sharing and on reaching the surface, instinctively I reached for my low-pressure inflator to add air to my BCD. Luckily my training again kicked in and I hadn’t got rid of my buddie’s octopus and was still breathing from it. I began to sink as I realised I had no air to do this due to having isolated my cylinder. I began finning to keep afloat and used my buddy as an aid and added air manually to my BCD. The whole incident probably only lasted about 2-3 minutes from the time of my octopus going into free flow to reaching the surface. During the ordeal my buddy lost his Go-Pro camera when he came to my aid. In the heat of the moment he dropped the camera he was holding to assist with passing me his octopus.
Although relatively new to the diving world at this time when this occurred it did not phase me too much as my training kicked in pretty much automatically. After an elaborate debrief with my buddy and the Dive Rutland instructors who were also on site that day which was a major benefit and one major reason I advocate joining a diving club that supports its members, I changed my regulators and cylinder and got back in for another dive. Thankfully this one was incident free and we got to see several large pike, unfortunately the only downside was we lost the camera and couldn’t get any photos.
I learnt a few different things from this and all have stayed with me to this day. Firstly I learnt that the training I had received was brilliant as in a time of panic and stress it just automatically kicked in. It was second nature to me to just air share and attempt to fix the problem. I was surprisingly calm considering how new to diving I was and the fact that I was on my own with my buddy who had also only just completed his open water course. We both had the confidence and calmness to deal with the situation almost effortlessly. I also learnt the importance of maintaining good buddy contact throughout the dive. Something which is stressed during Open water training and for good reason. By maintaining good buddy contact we were able to deal with the situation quickly and effectively even when our visibility was obscured to almost zero. Knowing where my buddy was made dealing with the situation much easier.
Finally moving forward, I have taken up a couple of practices to try and prevent this issue from arising again during a dive. I now before getting into the water make sure that my octopus sensitivity is turned down to a lower setting to try and prevent the flow of the water over the purge button causing this to activate. I also ensure that my octopus is positioned with the mouth piece facing in a downwards position, again to try and stop the flow of water directly against the purge button. Unfortunately both of these things I had not considered until after the incident occurred and perhaps if I had then it wouldn’t have happened in the first place. Regardless I learnt a lot from albeit a fairly minor incident in the grand scheme of things and it did not stop me from getting back in the water.
Written by Robert O'Rourke
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