Random Jottings

Masking diver panic or should that be diver panic and masks?

Sometimes you have time to ponder a topic......an instructor with a well known agency approached me to advise that 'you know that putting your mask on your forehead is an indicator of panic?' Those who have dived with me in the past can imagine my somewhat 'salty' response!

But in a wider context what are some of the real signs of diver panic?

Well first why the PADI stance, from the information that I can glean it has been extrapolated from the thought that you can loose your mask if it's on your forehead, whilst around your neck it wont come off. This is very true for some situations, shore dives in rough conditions but for falling from the back of a dive boat....well....really?

In my long time diving I have probably only seen a dozen cases of real panic and I can assure you that in none of them did the panicing diver stop to pt their masks on their foreheads!

What is panic, well I do particularly like one summing up......'Panic is the end of the line, it is usually terminal and contagious'

The panic cycle is induced when a diver is under stress, be that on the surface where peer pressure forces the diver into a dive that they are not comfortable with, be that down to conditions or the divers experience. In the last five years crewing and diving on trips with different groups most summer weekends I can only say that I have seen one diver sit out a dive as he wasn't comfortable, he was the sensible one as the pick up from that dive was horrendous in worsening conditions.

Alternatively and more dangerously stress can be induced underwater, this can be dealt with easily as was teh case when I was doing a refresher course with a pair of ladies from London, after ten minutes it was obvious that one hadn't misplaced her qualifications she had simply never dived before! I can honestly say that I have never before seen the whites of eyes like she showed on that occasion.

So that could be a good sign, eyes widening, although please don't regularly check with a torch in our murky UK conditions!!

The next sign that I look for is a pre-occupation, not like my particular obsessions but a regular and constant 'fiddling' with a piece of equipment, most of the time any perceived problem is small and easily soluble but at this stage the diver in question starts to suffer from perceptual narrowing and their entire world is a bleeding BCD or dry-suit connection or similar easily solved issue....'See the whale shark?'............'naaaaaah'

At this stage you may also notice that the divers breathing rate is going through the roof (lots of bubbles) and they are unable to multi-task, again a few years ago I hauled out a diver from the Scylla who had a bleeding dry suit inflation connection, he was doing the right thing insofar as getting a DSMB launched but making a buggers muddle with string everywhere. I ended up removing the connection, bubbles stopped, and then sorting his DSMB and getting him up and out. Once out I found he was grossly over-weighted and had he 'fallen' off the wreck would have been a gonner. This situation could have been easily resolved by simply unpopping the connection and controlling buoyancy via BCD.

You might notice that I seem to be saying 'suface is good', well for the diving we do around the islaands it is rare that a controlled ascent will cause life threatening issues, sure you might miss five minutes deco but it's easier to treat a bent rather than drowned diver, we all carry oxygen and VHF radios!

Finally if your panic'd diver has got to the surface and is concious..........

Now I am sure that you do get full blooded thrashing around panic attacks but I have never, ever seen one. The symptoms are more subtle, the diver wants to breathe fresh air rather than via the regulator so spits it out, now this is a killer if you haven't achieved buoyancy as you will sink and you will drown. This scenario appears to have happened at least once in the last couple of seasons, when we see this the diver is always yelled at to put their reg in, at best it could stop a fatality at worst it might stop you getting a mouthful of water if it's a wee bit bouncy.

The other commonly seen symptom is 'contact maintenance', this tends to happen when you have thrown the diver a rope and they just will not let go despite their head banging against the dive lift! At least at this stage we know that the diver is safe and all that needs to be done is to talk them onto the lift, sometimes a job in itself!#

So in summary if you don't fancy it.....don't, if something isn't right then two heads are better than one and finally it's easier to be treated for DCS than drowning, of course if you have serious tek diver deco then you will need to think, but that's a different topic!

Dive safe


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