New Diver's Faulty Equipment

By Frank Cannon

Two weeks after I received my PADI open water certification, I saw an ad in a local dive magazine announcing a dive boat trip to a wreck off San Pedro, California. I was raring to go diving and signed up.

I rented a wetsuit and tank and borrowed a friend's BC and regulator. Late Friday night I packed all the gear, set the alarm and slept fitfully, afraid of oversleeping.

I left the house at 5:30 am to make the 45 minute drive to the harbor. Once there I had trouble locating the boat and didn't arrive until 6:55. The boat was scheduled to depart at 7:00.

Thankful to be aboard, I stowed my gear and got some coffee. I told the divemaster I did not have a partner and he introduced me to the other single diver on the boat. We chatted for a while and he told me he was an experienced diver, which made me feel more secure, since I was new to the sport.

We arrived at the first dive site at about 8:15 on a cold, overcast January morning. The divemaster announced the water temperature was 'a balmy 54°F.'

Excited, I began to suit up and found that in my haste to pack I had forgotten my hood. Undaunted, I assembled the gear and noticed, for the first time, that my friend's rig did not have an octopus. Oh well, I thought, no big deal. As I got ready to leap into the water, the divemaster asked me if I had forgotten my hood. I sheepishly admitted I had and he asked me if I was sure I wanted to make the dive. I said yes, I was used to cold water and, besides, since the wreck was 100 feet deep, I wouldn't be down that long. He gave me a look that said I was going to be sorry before I jumped in.

That initial blast of cold saltwater sent shivers down my spine. We began to descend and, at 90 feet, we saw the outline of the wreck. By this time, I was totally numb and swimming rather clumsily. We scouted the remains of the wreck and swam back to the anchorline.

The visibility was rather poor and I lost sight of my buddy within a few seconds. Quite suddenly, I got a taste of saltwater as I inhaled. Swallowing, I reached up to make sure the regulator was firmly in my mouth and inhaled cautiously. More saltwater. I pushed the purge button on the regulator and received even more water. Holding on to the anchorline, I took the regulator out of my mouth and looked at it. I pushed the purge button and saw bubbles escape. I placed the regulator back in my mouth and inhaled again. It seemed that each breath brought successively more water and less air. I looked at my depth gauge and saw I was at 86 feet. I could feel my heart accelerating and fought back the urge to shoot up the anchorline. I remembered my instructor saying time and again that panic can kill a diver.

I stopped my ascent and begin to think back to the classroom sessions. What were you supposed to do if you had a problem with your regulator? I made a mental list of my options: 1. Switch to octopus; no octopus; 2. Signal your partner and buddy breathe; no partner; 3. Make an emergency ascent, exhaling continually; not very appealing at 86 feet; and 4. Hold the purge button and cup your hands over the regulator. I let go of the anchorline and tried the last technique. It seemed to work well but how was I going to monitor my rate of ascent? I tilted my head back, watched my rising bubbles and began to ascend. I was still getting gulps of seawater but it was now tolerable. It seemed an eternity before I could see the surface. I wondered how much air I had but I was afraid to let go of the regulator to look.

Finally, I broke the surface and looked toward the boat some 20 feet away. The divemaster swam out to meet me and helped me back to the boat.

Once on deck, I saw my tank pressure was around 300 psi. The divemaster asked me to join him in the galley for a chat. After disassembling the regulator he discovered the diaphragm was split almost in half. Then came a long list of pointed questions, to which I had to give embarrassing, negative responses. It was a valuable chat. Next, he found my dive buddy and had a chat with him. For the remainder of the trip I sat in the galley, shivering, drinking coffee and trying to warm up.

Once home, I sat in front of the fireplace, still cold. My wife is a nurse and when I told her about diving without a hood, she took my temperature; almost eight hours after getting out of the water it was still only 96°F!

Now I have strict rules about diving. I will not dive without an alternate air source, I have my regulator serviced every year, I know my gear inside out and upside down and I never dive with someone I don't know. And, I always inventory my equipment before leaving home.