A Safe Return to Diving
After two-and-a-half years on the beach due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I recently returned to diving. Before I left on the trip, I realized how many things I needed to do to be ready to safely dive again.
DAN has a “Return to Diving Safely” handout that includes great advice, including ‘Review Your Health.’ Many of us worked from home for a majority of the pandemic which in many cases led to gradual weight gain and loss of muscle. If your health is markedly different from your last dive, it would a great idea to consult your doctor to ensure you’re healthy enough to be diving.
It had been a long time since I last worked my dive computer. I knew we were going to be diving with nitrox, so I spent a good deal of time reacquainting myself to my dive computer. I had to relearn how to get to the different settings, how to set and turn off alarms and the like.
Another important step was to get all of my gear serviced again with time to do a test dive BEFORE your trip, a mistake that I made. The shop where I had my gear serviced said they replaced nearly all the o-rings in my gear set because they showed early signs of cracks. I mentioned earlier that I didn’t plan for an equipment check dive before heading to Cozumel, Mexico for a week of diving. I wish I had; I would have avoided a number of gear failures.
Since we were doing night dives and some cenote dives requiring lights, I got out all my dive lights, found that one had a battery leak inside of it and was now ruined. I recharged the batteries for the others and discovered one to the batteries now discharges a full charge in about 10 minutes. By the time I left, they were all working properly and did so throughout the trip.
After my first day of diving, I discovered my dive computer was toast. The servicing folks didn’t reattach the battery cover properly and resulted in water intrusion. Don’t assume that the servicing shop doesn’t ever make mistakes.
I did have the foresight to store my gear in a cool, dry place with surface markers unfurled, BCD with vents open, dive skin hung on a hanger. What I didn’t have the foresight to do was to closely inspect the gear before traveling. If I had, I might have noticed the frame on my mask was cracked before I got in the water and not at 60’ when I tipped my mask back to clear a persistent leak and the lens almost fell out as the crack fully opened. I was able to borrow a mask to complete the weeks dives, but my gear issues weren’t over yet.
The open heel fins I use have spring-loaded straps to attach to the foot over a boot. During the long layover, the little metal clips that hold the strap to the fin weakened and when they were pulled back, they stretched and separated from the fin! But wait, there’s one more issue! During the long break, certain rubber parts in by gear weakened and as I took a giant stride off the boat for a night dive, I bit through the mouthpiece of the primary regulator. Back onboard, I looked closely and found my octo had a similar condition.
Finally, after a dive of basically being unable to maintain buoyancy control, I discovered my inflator was leaking air into my BCD, constantly filling it with air. I had to complete that dive by basically pulling constantly on the shoulder dump valve.
I am now a firm believer that before leaving on a dive trip, make time for a close, thorough examination of all your gear followed by a test dive. These two steps would have revealed most (if not all) the equipment issues I had before leaving the U.S., and would have saved money, time, curtailed dives, and lessened my stress level as these issues kept accumulating during the week.
Lastly, it is very likely that your dive skills have deteriorated since your last dive. Before that test dive you smartly scheduled, closely inspect all your gear with a mindset of expecting to find problems. Use the test dive to safely evaluate all your gear and practice basic diving skills. Practice buoyancy control, recovering a regulator, sharing air, and removing, replacing, and clearing a mask properly...these seemingly small steps will go far in your return to safe diving.