Our training as divers helps to prepare us for a number of situations underwater like gas supply issues, equipment failure, etc but how many divers would be prepared if they surfaced from a dive and their boat wasn't there or surface cover wasn't paying attention?
The BSAC Annual Diving Incident Report records and publishes incidents throughout a year and categories them, providing some background information into the incident. It is actually quite an insightful read and can help you think about what you might do or carry for a similar situation. Boat and surface-related incidents were the third-highest reported in 2016 with lost divers ranking top within the category. Thankfully the majority of those incidents were resolved without injury but it does highlight that with a little more knowledge, equipment and perhaps common sense a number of them wouldn't have been incidents in the first place.
Quite some years ago I, along with my buddy and two other divers, featured in this report following a number of hugely unlikely series of events left us drifting, separated from our boat, four or five miles off the coast in the English Channel. Thankfully we were all experienced divers and were well prepared with the right knowledge and kit to ensure we were quickly and safely recovered by an RNLI Lifeboat. In our situation our rescue was aided by making sure we stayed together and using a mixture of long DSMBs and a large collapsible day-glow flag that significantly raised our profile above the choppy sea surface, allowing us to be seen from miles away. That kit didn't cost us much and is still perfectly serviceable today.
Having the Right Equipment
Making sure you have the right equipment can make the difference between an inconvenience and something much more serious. The kit doesn't have to big, heavy or expensive and as long as you look after it will quite often look after you for all the years that you dive. So what type of equipment can you carry to help?
An SMB or Delayed SMB is the most obvious piece of equipment to carry and are generally required by all charter boats and liveaboards. Beyond surface positioning whilst you are diving that can alert your surface cover should you become separated from the group or expected dive route, they make excellent visual aids on the surface when held up as it doesn't take much surface chop for a diver to be lost from view in the waves.
Whilst an SMB will provide a marker than doesn't deflate a Delayed SMB is quite often a simple open-cell device. Opting for a self-sealing version will provide you with the best of both worlds, allowing inflation from the depth and a reliable marker on the surface.
A simple SMB is normally available from as little as £15 or even less but a DSMB is a little more complicated to make so you'll be looking at around £30 or more depending on extra features and brand.
Whilst yelling might seem loud enough to you it is quite often difficult to hear over the noise of an engine in a boat. Whistles are quite often incorporated into BCD designs as part of a buckle or aftermarket whistles that work when wet are widely available.
Devices like air horns give you that extra edge though. They are insanely loud, connect between your BCD low-pressure hose and inflator and can be pointed in a particular direction for maximum effectiveness.
Dive Alert is possibly the best-known brand that makes these devices and offers versions to fit most brands of BCDs.
As technology improves, components get smaller, better and more advanced. You've only got to look at smart phones to see that. Electronic positioning devices for divers were pretty cumbersome, were expensive and had limited functionality in the past but technology marches on. Today these devices are smaller, last longer and are cheaper than ever.
The Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue is one of the most popular choices for divers because it is depth rated to 130m in its housing, waterproof to 1.5m on the surface, provides a simple activation process and links into commonly used marine rescue systems once activated. Usually, the only maintenance that is required is changing the battery every five years so there is no reason why it shouldn't go on and on.
It is important to remember that whilst having the right kit is good you also need to know how it works so make sure you have practised with it and understand it before you need to use it in a real-life situation.
It is also important to practice safe diving. Let people know where and when you are diving so that they can raise the alarm if required. If your dive plan changes before you start the dive make sure you update those that need to know.
If you have surface cover make sure you stick to your plan during the dive. Extending your dive unexpectedly may mean your cover raises the alarm with good intentions even if you are safe and well.