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Solving difficult problems far below the surface



By Jon Kieren

You are 100 m/330 ft under the surface. You hear a massive rush of bubbles behind your head. This can play out one of two ways:

  • One way begins with you signaling your teammate and maintaining position in the water column. You reach back to close what you believe is the affected post. Together with your teammate, you identify and isolate the failure. You clearly communicate the problem within the team. Everyone knows what resources have been affected (gas supply, wing/drysuit inflation, etc.). You end the dive and begin to ascend.
  • The other way? That s when things don’t work out as well.

When things don’t go quite as well 

When the failure occurs, your stability is rattled.

  • While reaching back to close the affected post, you turn away from your team. In so doing you lose reference of your position in the water.
  • As you struggle to close the valve, you become increasingly stressed. CO2 begins to build up in your bloodstream as your heart and breathing rates increase.
  • As tunnel vision sets in, your buoyancy begins to shift from the change in your breathing pattern. Due to your subconscious and erratic finning, you begin to ascend. You are so focused on closing the valve that you don’t realize you are ascending.
  • When you finally realize you are ascending, stress increases and panic sets in. You no longer have the capacity to rationalize the situation.
  • Instead of focusing on the buoyancy shift and managing the ascent, you continue to try to close the valve. Your ascent becomes rapid and uncontrollable.

By the time you hit the surface, you’re dead.

This situation can occur under a wide variety of circumstances 

Minor errors or failures can quickly cascade into real emergencies. This is true whether you are on a shipwreck in deep open water, far back in a cave or even on a shallow reef.

When we look at diving accidents and incidents, it is almost never an equipment failure that is the end cause of a fatality. Such failures are usually several steps down the error chain as things cascade from an inconvenience to an unsurvivable situation.

We often chalk these accidents up as human error. We think, “Well, that was stupid. That’s not how I would have reacted. I would have been able to control my buoyancy. I’m awesome”.

The “Incident Pit” Concept 

At the 1973 British Sub Aqua Club Diving Officers Conference, E John Towse introduced the Incident Pit concept. This concept essentially explains that as problems arise and are not managed properly, they become more difficult to manage.

We slide deeper into this pit, eventually unable to extract ourselves or teammate from the situation and it becomes unsurvivable. This concept is easy to visualize, but many of us often miss where the true failure lies: Stability in the water.

As a dive progresses, we operate on the first level of the incident pit. We manage normal situations such as communication, buoyancy changes, navigational decisions, etc. with relative ease.

But what we often don’t realize is that, in conjunction with a high level of attention being placed on our buoyancy and stability, our capacity to handle more complex tasks like equipment failures is limited. So when a problem does arise, it is the foundational skills that fail first as we become fixated on resolving what appears to be the priority.

When our stability fails, that’s when we quickly slide deep into the incident pit. Visibility is trashed due to making contact with the bottom. We get swept off the wreck or ascent line in the current, or we make and uncontrolled ascent. Now, a minor issue creates an emergency.

So how do we resolve problems in extreme environments?

Start with a solid foundation. Practice until you can handle basic tasks such as valve drills and S-drills until you can do so while maintaining a precise position in the water. Be able to do this without sculling, finning or needing to focus on buoyancy and trim.

Breathe appropriate gases that reduce equivalent narcotic depths and gas densities. At this point, you will be able to reserve the capacity to stop and think rationally through problems that arise. You will be able to assess your situation, evaluate what resources are available and take decisive action that will resolve any issues.

Most of the time, you’ll probably be fine. However, problems do arise on dives. It is the nature of the sport. Failure to place emphasis on maintaining a solid foundational skill set is setting yourself up for failure to manage these situations. It is your responsibility as a diver, as well as a teammate to keep these skills proficient.

To find out more about International Training, visit

From its humble beginning in 1994 to today, the group of training agencies Scuba Diving International (SDI), Technical Diving International (TDI), and Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) form one of the largest diving certification agencies in the World – International Training. With 24 Regional Offices servicing more than 100 countries, the company today far exceeds the original vision the founders had when they conceived the idea on a napkin, sitting at a kitchen table in the early 1990’s.

Dive Training Blogs

Reef Rescue Network launches new interactive map



The Reef Rescue Network (RRN) was established in 2017 by the Perry Institute for Marine Science (PIMS) as a network of non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses committed to improving the condition of coral reefs by restoring populations of corals and other species that will build coral reef resilience. Since then the RRN has grown to include nearly 30 coral restoration sites in partnership with 25 local partners from 9 islands within The Bahamas as well as Aruba and St. Lucia. Through this partnership between coral reef scientist’s local conservation and education organizations and private businesses in the dive industry, the RRN is making significant advances in restoring coral and building reef resilience.

Visitors and locals can now immerse themselves in coral restoration activities at a partner location within the Reef Rescue Network. The network has coral nurseries that offer coral restoration experiences throughout The Bahamas, Aruba & St. Lucia. PIMS has developed a PADI Reef Rescue Diver Specialty Course that dive shops throughout the Reef Rescue Network are teaching. To participate, you must be a certified open water diver and at least 12 years old. The course takes one day and consists of knowledge development and two open water dives at a coral nursery.

You can learn how to assist with maintaining the nursery and get a hands-on experience or you can just scuba or snorkel the coral nursery as a fun dive to just observe and enjoy the nursery and marine life that it attracts. Another option is to scuba or snorkel one of the many restoration sites to view the corals that have been outplanted and witness for yourselves this habitat restoration and the marine life it has welcomed.

To find out more about the Reef Rescue Network, watch this video:

To visit the new Reef Rescue Network Interactive Map click here.

To learn more about the Reef Rescue Network visit their website by clicking here.

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Dive Training Blogs

Saving Scuba: Are We Living The Dream Yet?! (Watch Video)



Are We Living The Dream Yet?! How do we save scuba diving? A multi-million dollar industry primarily comprised of mom-and-pop shops. Non-essential. Tourism-based. And hit so hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this video, I identify three key challenges to the scuba diving industry that have been amplified, but not created, by the coronavirus outbreak. Cute hashtags are not going to save scuba diving. We need a plan. We need action.

I have friends – professionals in the industry – who are suffering hardships because of this pandemic. And just because the quarantines may be lifted, it doesn’t mean everything will return to normal. People who have suffered economically because of business closures are not going to rush out and spend money on dive gear and travel.

As always, stay safe and thanks for watching. D.S.D.O, James

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Sharks Bay Umbi Diving Village is a Bedouin-owned resort with stunning views and a lovely private beach. It is ideal for divers as everything is onsite including the resort's jetty, dive centre and house reef. The warm hospitality makes for a diving holiday like no other. There is an excellent seafood restaurent and beach bar onsite, and with the enormous diversity of the Sharm El Sheikh dive sites and the surrounding areas of the South Sinai, there really is something for every level of diver to enjoy.

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