Problem Management and Judgement

By Drew Richardson


Murphy’s Law sees to it that each of us is challenged every day. Whether it be driving our car, running a household or going camping, life has a tendency to throw little obstacles our way.

Diving is no different. Problems involving diving range from common inconveniences, such as missing equipment or broken straps, to the uncommon scenario of managing a medical emergency.

While problems differ in their immediacy and potential effects, they all fall into three general categories: problems which you have experienced before and have a solution; problems which you have not experienced and will need to create a solution on the spot; and problems that are a combination of the two.

Seasoned divers have usually developed solutions for problems previously experienced. These solutions come from personal training, good pre-dive planning and mental rehearsal. Examples include having extra equipment on hand, such as spare straps, an extra tank and regulator; or keeping a first aid kit handy with local contact information for medical care. Wise divers have a routine prepared for handling such problems, even though they don’t occur routinely.

On the other hand, novel problems are unusual situations that are not foreseeable, such as a sudden squall that obscures your view of the dive boat upon surfacing. Novel problems can also be routine problems that occur under circumstances that deny you the ability to use your preplanned solution, such as dropping your spare mask overboard.

In these situations, you will have to improvise, but once you have solved a particular problem, you will be able to handle it more easily the next time it comes up. This is the process of building an experience base that you can draw upon in the future.

Of course, you can minimize the hassle of unforeseen problems by preparing solutions ahead of time. If you carry that spare mask strap, you have a solution to a routine problem even if you’ve never had a mask strap actually fail on you.

Problem Management
Preparation: Good problem solvers tend to be individuals with a lot of resources to draw upon. When you’re in an unexpected situation, the more knowledge you can apply, the more likely you’ll come up with an appropriate solution, so keeping up on your diving education is a good preventative.

In diving, it also helps to have physical resources to solve problems—the more equipment and emergency gear you have, the more tools you have to fix a problem. Carrying spare scuba equipment, emergency oxygen, a first aid kit and a tool box are a good starting point. Other materials that may come in handy include cable ties, nylon rope, duct and electrical tape. The idea is to have materials on hand you can use creatively in many different ways.

Problem Solving Skills: Problem solving is a skill, and one that can be improved. Improvement comes from understanding each of the steps involved in the problem solving process. Awareness of these will help prepare you to find the proper solutions.

The first step is to identify the problem precisely—the better you understand it, the more specifically you can apply a solution. Very often, identifying the problem is a problem in itself! The next step is to inventory your resources by thinking about everything you have on hand that might help, including tools, hardware and your skills and knowledge, as well as those of the other people on hand.

The third step is to create several possible solutions. Think of different ways you might handle the problem. This will give you multiple options, and you can proceed with the best one. Finally, choose the best solution and devote your energy to it. You may find the best solution to be a combination of several possible options. The final step is to assess and revise; as you apply your solution, you might not immediately solve the problem, but you may gain new information that can help you modify your approach.

Judgement: Life’s little handbook seems to dictate that good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment! Judgment goes hand in hand with problem solving, and it can be defined as your ability to make the best call when the time comes. Picking the best solution isn’t always an obvious or logical choice. You develop good diving judgment through experience. Gaining this experience with more seasoned divers is a great way to speed up the learning process because they can share their past experiences and subsequent insight with you.

When making decisions in areas with which you have little experience, it is best to err on the conservative side. Being unnecessarily cautious is generally preferable to being insufficiently cautious. It’s a human characteristic to let emotions and unrelated influences effect judgment, but it’s important to put these aside and rely on your experience.

No problemo: The twists and turns that life as a diving enthusiast may throw in our path need not trip us up if we are prepared and approach them with the proper problem solving skills. And the longer we dive, the more experience and knowledge we gain. In the long run, it will make us all better divers.