by / Sunday, 22 April 2018 / Published in DAHAB, equipment, PADI, SAFETY

A few years ago two of our instructors were on holiday (diving, of course) and turned up at the centre to check in. They chose that dive centre based solely off the fact that some acquaintances of theirs worked there. They were warned by them it’s a cheap place, but they figured that they knew how to dive, they had their own equipment… so they’d be fine Their regulators were disassembled in their hand luggage and so when they asked for a spanner to put them back together they were amazed to be told that the centre didn’t have any tools! Odd, they thought but managed to borrow some, put their gear together and pack their stuff ready for the boat. The next morning bright and early they got on the dive boat with a few other guests. They were surprised to find out that their guide for the day would be an advanced diver who didn’t speak English. Luckily, the instructors on the boat did and took it in turns to do the briefings.

If you’re reading this thinking “what on earth….!?” Then good, that’s exactly what I thought when they came back and recounted this story. Unfortunately, it only got worse. Those of you with weak stomachs might want to skip the next paragraph.

On the third day of the holiday our intrepid divers were swimming along when one signalled to the other that he possibly had a problem with his reg. He looked a bit confused, so his buddy took the reg and took a breath. “It’s ok” she signalled just as the taste hit her. She took another breath and breathed out through her nose. Her mask instantly went foggy with the fumes. She pointed it out to her buddy but he didn’t seem to understand. That’s when she realised he didn’t seem to be responding normally to her signals but also couldn’t be persuaded to ascend. She stuck close by him trying to get him up and watching him carefully. After a minute, he signalled her to be quiet, he seemed to think she was making noise! At that point she knew they had to get out of there. She forced him to take her alternate and started their ascent. He started retching so she knew it was urgent but controlled their ascent and they both surfaced safely. The guide looked confused and appeared to be asking them what was going on (neither of them understood the other) so our diver just waved for the boat and shouted for oxygen. As soon as they were onboard, (with the crew stood watching, not helping in the slightest) she found out the oxygen was in the captains room. Where he was smoking. Excellent. And then came the final straw. The only oxygen they had on board was a J cylinder (a huge amount- good) with a nasal cannula (difficult for an untrained person to insert, almost impossible on a conscious patient- bad). The tank our sick diver had been using was very distinctive with a yellow band around it (they found out later they’d been rented from another centre) and when they’d got on board they’d seen there were two. The other one was not there now, meaning someone in one of the other two groups had it. And one of the groups had two children in. So it was now a case of trying to communicate to the crew to go and pick up the other two groups and find out who had the contaminated air. The first group they got to had the kids in- no yellow band, phew. The second group were 10 minutes away in a shallow bay doing confined water skills for their open water course. As they came around the corner they saw the group on the surface, all ok aside from the instructor who was throwing up. Guess which tank he had?

Why am I telling you this? We have a lot of returning customers who come to us and either ask our advice about other places they want to go to or telling us stories about other centres they’ve already been to. One of the questions we often get asked is “How do you know if a centre is good?”
There are many ways to tell and equipment is often one of the easiest. Whether you’re going to use it or not, look at their rental equipment. Our instructors told us that they only noticed after a few days that some of the rental regulators had visible mould on the yellow hoses. Just what you want to be breathing from! If you’re swimming behind someone and they look like a Jacuzzi, you know they’re using equipment that hasn’t been looked after. We always ask our divers to report any bubbles so we can service them as soon as possible. The fact the centre didn’t have any tools should have been a huge red flag, how can anyone look after their equipment without tools? Even if they don’t have a service technician minor o rings sometimes perish and can easily be replaced by anyone….with the right tools. In tech diving, we train people to do a “bubble check” before each dive so that any issues can be addressed before they become problems. There’s no problem doing this on a recreational dive too, a quick check of your buddy either on the surface or at a couple of metres to make sure everything looks ok.

Of course, check your gas before using it! This is something we teach every open water student to do but many become complacent and forget that not only are we testing our reg by taking a few breaths from it, we’re also tasting it to see if it’s ok. Smelling it beforehand may also indicate bad air and is better than taking a lungful straightaway.

Another indicator of a good centre is the use of qualified guides. No matter how good an advanced diver is, they may not have had the rescue training or even the ‘guiding’ training of a Divemaster. In many places you are not required to have a guide but if someone is claiming they are one, then check they’re certified. Our divers on holiday did three dives a day with a one hour surface interval between dives. By dive three, their “guides” computer was going into deco but he didn’t seem to understand what that meant, another huge red flag.

If a centre seem happy to break the rules, think again. The standards are there for a reason, to keep you safe. If you’re open water certified, that means a maximum of 18m. No, sorry, that means we won’t take you through the Arch at the Blue Hole (55m deep) on a single tank.
Finally, don’t take anyone’s word for it. Even if you’ve been told it’s an amazing centre, if you spot anything that worries you, think twice. The biggest or most expensive centre in the area isn’t necessarily the best, use your own judgement.

Alex, Frank and Tricia are all qualified service technicians for either Aqualung or Apex, the regulators that we use at H2O. We’ll be happy to show you any of the dive centre equipment (including our emergency oxygen cylinders with free-flow masks that we take with us to every dive site). To check if someone is qualified, ask to see their cert card. If they don’t have it, they should be able to look it up online (PADI have a “Pro-check” feature available on their website which they should be able to access and show you). We can arrange for guides/instructors in most languages with a little notice, so please ask. And if you want to dive the Arch we can train and qualify you for that; to do it properly and safely.