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Seattle rescue diver: ‘It was like being in a washing machine’



Three weeks after a boat flipped near Alki Point off Seattle,  divers are only just beginning to share the details of a harrowing underwater rescue.

For at least one of the three divers with the Seattle Fire Department’s Technical Rescue Team, it was the first time he responded to a capsized boat. For all them it was a high-risk operation.

On November 15, an emergency call came in that a boat had capsized and one person missing. Seattle Fire’s Technical Rescue Team quickly launched its boat from a fire station near Coleman Dock and headed to Alki.

Seattle Firefighter and diver Mike Todd remembers the intense wind that kicked up white caps and the frigid air. Todd suited up on the boat ride and started thinking about the missing man.

“When you’re going out there, you say a little prayer for the person who might be involved,” he said.

On that day, it wasn’t a bad idea for firefighters to say a prayer for themselves.

“It was really a high risk operation,” said Lt. Frank Brennan.

The lieutenant would manage the rescue operation topside while working with the Coast Guard. The Guard initially responded to the call and had already plucked three men from the water by the time Seattle Fire’s Technical team arrived.

The men’s boat somehow flipped upside down. Brennan worked with the Coast Guard to keep his divers safe. The choppy waters made it a challenge to keep the Fire Department’s rescue boat positioned with the prop away from those divers.

Firefighter divers encountered a 4,000-pound boat that had turtled. It was bobbing in surging seas with debris from the diving boat everywhere.

“The boat being on surface and having the boat moving around is what made it so dangerous,” said firefighter/diver Colin McElroy. “It would have been easier if the boat was completely submerged.”

Todd put it even more succinctly:

“It was like being in a washing machine,” he said.

The wind was relentless and the air was biting and brisk. The waves topped out at four feet.

Firefighters McElroy and Todd described what looked like an obstacle course.

“It’s not just the waves, but all the debris in the water. It’s the ropes, air lines,straps, everything you would find in a commercial vessel is floating along the water there. It was definitely a different environment than we are used to training in all the time,” McElroy said.

“You just didn’t know what would came in your frame in the next moment. It was like being in a crowded group of people and you didn’t know what was going to come at you next,” Todd said.

Experience diver Anthony Collins was the missing man, and the last place he was seen was in the wheelhouse, which was now upside down and taking on water. Since the hull was still on the water’s surface, rescue divers hoped there might be an air pocket in the wheelhouse.

“If he was still alive he may be trying to survive in that air pocket,” said Lt. Brennan.

The team agreed that the wheelhouse would be a deathtrap for their divers. Their only safe option was to reach through the wheelhouse door and hope Collins would be within reach.

An already risky rescue attempt just got riskier when they learned their underwater radios didn’t work and their only way to communicate was gone. At that point training kicked in and McElroy and Todd headed for the boat’s wheelhouse.

“You could see the patient in there right away,” said McElroy.

They where right, and there was an air pocket in the wheelhouse. Anthony Collins’ head was above the water line and he appeared unresponsive.

“The biggest hazard was the boat coming up and down on us,” said Todd, who remembered the boat rising and crashing down four feet with every wave.

“Anyone of them could have been hit on the head or entangled,” said Lt. Brennan.

Firefighter McElroy couldn’t reach Anthony. Measured but hurried, he inched into the doorway closer to that death trap with every reach.

“Colin was able to get in there — he did a great job. It wasn’t just reaching in and grabbing him, he had to keep trying and keep trying and at the same time the boat is moving up and down and the configuration of his dive equipment he could have easily been stuck in that doorway as well. So he did a great job of staying with the scene and getting a hold of Anthony,” Todd said.

Anthony Collins was unconscious and unresponsive. The Coast Guard air lifted him to Harborview Medical Center.

“Unfortunately for the family, it didn’t go 100 percent how we wanted it to,” said McElroy.

Although Collins had been underwater for nearly an hour, the firefighters were hopeful the air pocket may have saved him.

“We take the risk so the victim will survive and it didn’t happen in this case,” said Lt. Brennan, who insisted it’s a risk Seattle Fire will take every time.

For McElroy it was also a first.

“I’ve never been on a capsized vessel call,” he said. “It’s usually a kayaker in trouble.”

For Mike Todd, the day ended as it began with a prayer.

“You pray for Anthony Collin’s family,” he said.

Seattle Fire’s Technical Rescue Team operates 24/7 and is made up of 27 men and one woman. Seattle Fire says the Coast Guard’s “excellent work” and initial response was vital.




Solo Travelling and Scuba Diving



solo scuba diving

Solo traveling elicits strong reactions, with some relishing the freedom it brings, while others shy away from the idea. The dichotomy lies between the autonomy of solo journeys and the comfort of companionship. Scuba diving group trips for solo travellers emerge as the perfect synthesis, offering a unique blend of freedom and camaraderie.

Embarking on a solo scuba diving adventure is a thrilling journey into unparalleled freedom, new discovery and self-discovery beneath the waves. However, solo travellers should be mindful of considerations to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, especially those diving abroad, taking precautions before leaving their home country is crucial for a safe and enjoyable journey.

solo scuba diver

“I started travelling solo by chance”- my wife recalls- “I joined a group from the diving club planning to travel to Tobago, people pulled out at the last minute and I decided to go ahead alone. I did enjoy the freedom: I could travel at the times I wanted, to the destinations I wanted, no need to negotiate when and where to eat and the air conditioning temperature. Diving is a social sport anyway, and the divers one meets are by definition like-minded people. It’s an opportunity to make new friends, often from different nationalities. I’ve gained so much in self confidence and interpersonal skills, way more than on corporate training courses J. However, as a woman solo traveller, I’ve always had to be mindful of personal safety in circumstances where one simply doesn’t know what to expect. I remember the apprehension I felt on the boat ride alone from Batanga to Puerto Galera in the evening. Also the same feeling whilst waiting in Dubai for someone to pick me up and drive me 2 hours to Musandam. This someone is now a dearest friend. The best thing for me is always to book through someone that has made the same journey, lived the experience directly and has close personal links at destinations.”

In essence, scuba diving trips for solo travellers offer a harmonious blend of autonomy and companionship. These journeys transcend traditional group travel challenges by uniting solo adventurers with a common passion.

The first question and one of the most important, as the answer usually determines your location is Liveaboard or Shore based, and there are Pros and Cons to both:


solo scuba diver


Immersive Dive Experience: Liveaboards provide uninterrupted access to dive sites, maximizing your time beneath the waves.

Varied Destinations: Journey to remote and pristine locations, exploring a range of dive spots during a single trip. Usually these site are only accessible by Liveaboard

Community Experience: Forge close bonds with fellow divers on board, fostering a sense of camaraderie.


Limited Amenities: Space constraints on liveaboards might limit facilities compared to resorts.

Community Experience: Liveaboards forge a close-knit community of divers and individuals, which may not be conducive to everyone’s character, particularly for people who enjoy some time alone to charge the batteries, or those not keen on negotiating group dynamics in a somewhat confined environment.

Shore based

solo scuba diving solo scuba diving


Comfort and Amenities: Resorts offer a comfortable stay with various amenities, including spas, swimming pools and restaurants.

Flexibility: Choose daily dives or explore at your pace, enjoying the freedom to create a personalized itinerary.

Onshore Exploration: Besides diving, resorts often provide opportunities to explore local culture and attractions.


Fixed Locations: While convenient, resorts limit you to specific dive sites accessible from shore.

Time Constraints: Day trips or tight schedules may impose time restrictions on your underwater adventures.

Flexibility: Unless you are certified as a solo diver then you have to dive with a buddy or with a private guide, which could be a costly option.


Personal Preferences: Evaluate your preferences for accommodation, community engagement, and the overall pace of your dive experience.

Destination Exploration: Assess whether you seek the thrill of exploring multiple dive destinations on a liveaboard or prefer the convenience of a single resort location.

Choosing between liveaboard trips and dive resorts hinges on your desired balance of adventure, comfort, and community. Whether you opt for the dynamic exploration of liveaboards or the leisurely pace of resorts, each option promises a unique and unforgettable underwater journey.

solo scuba diving

Dive Destination – Research and Planning

Conducting thorough research on dive destinations is crucial. Understand its culture, local customs, and any travel advisories. Always check government advice, BUT also consider joining Facebook or similar groups and get some real-world advice from like-minded divers.

It’s essential to opt for reputable dive operators with a strong safety record. Sea to Sky, a trusted name in the industry, places a high priority on guest safety, offering comprehensive services, advice, and recommendations.

Ensure you are aware of any health risks or vaccinations required for your destination. Carry a basic first aid kit, if weight allows and any necessary medications. We would advise not to take any over the counter medications aboard, as most are readily available and in a lot of cases cheaper. If you are prescribed medications, please ensure that your country of entry allows your medication, and in all cases please take a doctor’s letter/prescription.

Solo divers should be mindful of diving in secluded or challenging dive locations.  Opting for familiar, well-monitored locations where assistance is readily available if needed. Sea to Sky takes a personalized approach, considering guests’ experience and certification levels to suggest optimal dive locations within their limits.

Being cautious about equipment is paramount for solo divers. Rigorous gear checks to ensure everything is in optimal condition are essential. For those renting equipment, Sea to Sky ensures that the dive centre or liveaboard operator’s gear is regularly serviced and up to date. Please self-check all equipment, we are happy to advise on what to and how to check any equipment.

Safety and Security

Invest in comprehensive travel insurance and Dive Insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and potential diving-related incidents. Keep a digital and physical copy of your insurance details. Secure important documents like your passport, travel insurance, and diving certifications in a waterproof pouch. Consider making digital copies that you can access online.  Share your itinerary and emergency contact information with a trusted friend or family member. Keep them informed about your whereabouts and any changes to your plans. We personally use Nord Locker to store all relevant information, including copies of passport, accessible via the cloud (No affiliation, it’s just what we use).

solo scuba diving

Financial Preparedness

Inform your bank about your travel dates to avoid any issues with your credit/debit cards. Carry a mix of local currency and cards. We can advise country by country what cash to take, as in some destinations Euros or Dollars are the better option.  Be cautious when using ATMs and choose secure locations (inside banks for example). Keep a small amount of emergency cash separate from your main funds. This can be invaluable in situations where card payments may not be accepted.

Communication and Connectivity

Consider getting a local SIM card to stay connected. Check the network coverage in your destination and inform your loved ones about your contact number. We also use an ESim called Airolo (Again no affiliation) but some of the charges can be quite high especially in Egypt, but for peace of mind it’s great.  Carry a portable charger for your electronic devices, including your phone and any underwater cameras. Also check with the country you are travelling to ascertain what plug is compatible.

solo scuba diving

Cultural Sensitivity

Familiarise yourself with the local culture and customs to show respect. This includes appropriate clothing, gestures, and behaviour, both on land and underwater.

What sets Sea to Sky apart is the personal relationships developed with its suppliers and its commitment to providing 24-hour telephone contact for guests, offering reassurance and assistance around the clock. Solo travellers can dive with confidence, knowing that expert guidance and support are just a call away.

In essence, while solo scuba diving opens doors to incredible underwater experiences, travellers must exercise caution, conduct diligent research, choose reputable operators, and prioritise safety.

For any information or assistance you require please feel free to contact the team at

Join Sea to Sky and embark on new diving adventures! Visit for more information.

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The BiG Scuba Podcast Episode 172: Dr. Joseph Dituri



Joseph Dituri

Gemma and Ian chat to Dr. Joseph Dituri. Dr. Jospeh Dituri lived undersea for 100 Days in a mission combining education, ocean conservation research, and the study of the physiological and psychological effects of compression on the human body.  

Dituri enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1985. He served continuously on active service upon various ships and shore stations where he was involved in every aspect of diving and special operations work from saturation diving and deep submergence to submersible design and clearance diving. Now that he is retired from 28 years of active service to the United States, he is the president of the International Board of Undersea Medicine. He also volunteers his time as the CEO of the Association for Marine Exploration. He is an invited speaker on motivational, sea and space related topics.

Fuelled by his passion for exploration, discovery, adventure, and making the greatest possible positive contribution to the world, he is fighting for change in a big way and with great enthusiasm.

You can listen to Episode 172 of the BiG Scuba Podcast here.

We hope you have enjoyed this episode of The BiG Scuba Podcast.  Please give us ★★★★★, leave a review, and tell your friends about us as each share and like makes a difference.   Contact Gemma and Ian with your messages, ideas and feedback via The BiG Scuba Bat Phone    +44 7810 005924   or use our social media platforms.   To keep up to date with the latest news, follow us:

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Experience the Red Sea in May with Bella Eriny Liveaboard! As the weather warms up, there’s no better time to dive into the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea. Join us on Bella Eriny, your premier choice for Red Sea liveaboards, this May for an unforgettable underwater adventure. Explore vibrant marine life and stunning coral reefs Enjoy comfortable accommodation in our spacious cabins Savor delicious meals prepared by our onboard chef Benefit from the expertise of our professional dive guides Visit our website for more information and to secure your spot: or call 01483 411590 More Less

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