If you follow scuba diving in the news, you’ll notice that when it comes to the bad news — accidents, deaths and near-accidents — certain locations pop up more often than others. Why are some dive spots apparently more dangerous than others?
A lot of dive locations are, of course, intrinsically very challenging. Deep dive sites, such as Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas, or difficult wrecks, such as the Rosalie Moller in the Red Sea, carry an inherent risk. Very deep and complex caves, such as those in Florida, are only suitable for experienced cave divers. And yet, these are not necessarily the sites where we hear of a lot of accidents.
One site that has seen lots of accidents, many of them fatal, is the Blue Hole at Dahab, Egypt. Nowhere near as deep as Dean’s Blue Hole, it nonetheless seems to be more dangerous. And while lives have been lost diving the HMHS Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanic, which sits at 400 feet in the Mediterranean, a disproportionate number of divers have died on much easier wrecks.
In many ways, this phenomenon mirrors something I see elsewhere. Apart from scuba diving, I also rock climb and mountaineer, and in mountaineering, the deadliest mountains aren’t always the most difficult, or dangerous, ones. Mount Everest has claimed hundreds of lives, while only 61 have died on K2, a mountain many mountaineers point to as much more dangerous than Everest. The fact is, thousands of people have summited or attempted to summit Everest, and only 280 have successfully climbed K2, making the fatality rate much higher there, even if the total number of fatalities is higher on Everest.
I think that dive sites work in much the same way. Like mountains, a deadly dive site isn’t necessarily the most obviously dangerous one. Sites like the Florida caves or the Britannic wreck are so obviously difficult and inherently dangerous that the divers who attempt them are usually highly qualified and aware that even the slightest mistake might be fatal. A diver at the Blue Hole in Dahab might not be quite so vigilant, regardless of experience level.
A “deadly” dive site, as in a dive site that claims or has the potential to claim many lives, strikes a balance between being potentially lethal while also being just accessible enough to lure divers into diving just that little bit above their skill and comfort level, which creates the potential for an accident.
The solution is just as easy to diagnose as it is to implement: never be complacent; maintain vigilance. Treat even the simplest dives with the diligence you’re taught in scuba courses; check and re-check your gear; make evaluations of the dive site and conditions; be honest about your own skill level, and never, ever dive outside of it.
In a coming article, we’ll explore that sneaky killer — complacency — a bit more.