Lesson Learned

When you were about half as old as you are now, there was no doubt in your mind that you were twice as smart. Or if not twice as smart, at least sure you were immune to all and any accidents. It scares me to think back too many instances like that, a majority involving cars, but one especially that involved a dive.

Noticing Warning Signs

It was in January. The dive was to be on a recently found wreck out of Montauk Point, NY. For me to get there from western New Jersey it was necessary to leave after work which was late in the afternoon. After driving for what seemed to be days across Long Island, it became very obvious how it got its name.

Arriving late at night, I checked into a motel and tried to get whatever sleep possible. The dive boat was scheduled to leave at the crack of dawn so most of my night was spent waking up to make sure I would not be asleep when it was time wake up. Funny how that works.

The dive boat did leave at the crack of dawn with about 30 of us on board and raring to go, more or less. The boat was a very large, very slow diesel-powered catamaran with a name of Hell “something”. You know, now that I think of it, perhaps that should have been a warning right there and then. After many hours of motoring along, a diver shouted that the wreck had been located. Someone threw a marker in the water of some sort so the boat could swing around to anchor.

The weather was very nice with plenty of sun, temperature not too bad for January and the seas calm. As the boat slowed, another person threw a nickel into the water. We watched as it flickered and sank, showing us that the visibility was quite good, probably in the 30 ft range. We waited for the anchor to drop. And we waited and waited. The anchor did not drop.

For some reason, that to this day I still don’t know, the captain was unable to relocate the wreck on the next pass. Or the next pass after that. The marker someone had thrown in either was not tied or didn’t reach bottom. No matter what, the marker was no longer a marker. Drawing an “X” on the water would have been just as good. Three and a half hours later the captain once again found the wreck! Three and a half somewhat boring hours talking about whatever one could for three and a half hours.

Diving In Rough and Choppy Current

Unfortunately, by now the weather had changed. The seas became much rougher, a strong current had started, and the visibility had dropped drastically. The sun was still out though. Now after spending well over 6 hours on the boat, quite a few divers elected not to go in the water for various personal reasons.

Time was pressing according to the divemaster, so I was told 7 minutes bottom time maximum. This was going to be my deepest dive at 110 feet. I was already excited about that plus this was my first Atlantic wreck dive. The first diver jumped off the bow, swam to the anchor line and tied a rope to it so each diver could pull themselves to the anchor line and make a descent. Soon my turn came and in I went. I don’t remember feeling one bit of cold water. I do remember pulling on the rope and finding the end in my hand.

By this time the seas had become very rough and choppy with a wicked current. Not at all ideal for trying to tie something. With all my energy I swam to the anchor line and after a long time of being thrown around by the sea and many attempts got the rope retied. I was exhausted. My buddy now jumped in and signaled he would go down first. I nodded ok and he went under. I followed. I can remember only three things from that dive. One, the anchor line was more like a one-inch steel bar because the current was so strong. Two, I wondered if I could find the nickel the guy threw over and last, I was breathing so fast and furious that if anything went wrong with any part of my breathing system I was done.

Neither my buddy nor I was wearing any sort of alternate air source. I guess they either weren’t heard of then or not so popular. All I could see was my buddy’s fins in front of me and that was it. Visibility was down to a few feet of very dark water. During the entire descent the main thing on my mind was my breathing. Instant inhale, instant exhale. Not a nano second between. If I did need air from my buddy there was no way I could get his attention and wait for his reply. Simply no way. But on down I went. We touched the wreck never leaving go of the anchor line, looked at each other and decided it was already time to head back up.

All the way toward the surface all I could think about was my breathing which had not slowed one bit. At least now I was on the way up and not down. Upon reaching the surface I said to myself, “I made it.” It wasn’t a feeling of relief but more a feeling of accomplishment of having taken a great risk and “won”. It never occurred what the word “lost” would have meant. One other thing flashed through my mind. Maybe that wasn’t a nickel, maybe it was a quarter!

After all the divers were aboard the captain announced that the anchor was stuck. In went a diver to cut the line and we all sat waiting once again. A few more hours back to the dock and the dive was officially over.


So why for a seven-minute dive did I drive 6 hours each direction, spend a night in a motel, endure endless waiting on a boat with seasick people all around and pay a great deal of money to boot? I don’t know why.

I do know that I have on many occasions since gotten somewhat tired underwater and always remembered that dive. Immediately I either rest or make sure my buddy is aware and close by. I have never since that day allowed myself to get totally exhausted or even nearly so underwater. Whoever was supposed to have securely tied that line also taught me to make sure lines are properly tied. Had the line been tied I would not have become exhausted. If you don’t know what it is like, try sprinting with everything you have for 100 yards, turn around and sprint back with everything you have, stop dead in your tracks and try to hold you breathe for 5 seconds. It would have taken far more than 5 seconds to straighten out any air problem.

Even so, I never should have gone down. Since nearly everything else had gone wrong who was to say my regulator was going to work. Because I was young and inexperienced, because it was my first (and only) Atlantic Ocean dive, because if I went in, I would be better than those who didn’t, because I paid for all this in advance, I threw out all caution and went diving. I really feel quite lucky when I look back on it. Quite lucky and really stupid!

Bruce Bowker

How Much Weight?

The question is usually quite simple. When a diver checks in at the dive center they are asked, “How much weight do you need?” The answers though, run the gamut. Some divers know exactly what they need and keep a record, which is a good idea because it certainly can save a dive. Others don’t have a clue and their answers are more like the following:

  • “I don’t know!” This is the simplest answer. Sometimes this is because it is a diver’s first experience in different conditions. The diver may have done all certifying dives in a quarry in the spring and now this is their first tropical dive with less wetsuit. But too many just don’t know, even though they dive year after year at the same place.
  • “I use 3 of them.” One of my personal favorite answers. Since 3 of “them” could be anywhere from 3 pounds to 18 or more, it does not help the person trying to assist in getting weights.
  • “They are the square ones.” This answer is usually a follow-up from # 2 when trying to determine more accurately the amount.
  • “Same as last year.” As if every resort operator or divemaster remembers everyone’s needs.
  • “32”! An answer like this usually provokes another question, if the diver is in the tropics, such as “Is that what you wear at home?”, which usually turns on a light and the diver suddenly realizes they are diving in a skin only.
  • “I don’t know. What do you think?” You don’t want to know what I think.
  • “Oh, 10 to 15 pounds.” There is a 50 % increase from 10 to 15! Also, that leaves 11, 12, 13 and 14 as options. Not a good answer.

The whole point is that weighting is very important. It is a major aspect of a diver’s training and therefore should be a major part of a diver’s preparedness. The old 10% rule which says start at 10% of your body weight is too broad. First of all, does this mean in fresh or salt water? Does it mean a dive skin, a 3 mm shorty wetsuit or a full 6 mm farmer john and jacket, hood, boots, and gloves? These are just a few of many variables in weighting oneself.

So where do you start if this is your first dive under different conditions? Try asking your instructor or the divemaster for suggestions. Or if a swimming pool is available, practice with some various sized leads close by so adjustments can be made. Always have on the same equipment you will be using at your dive. Remember to add some extra for salt water.

After all is said and done, the most important thing is that once you are satisfied with your weighting, write it down somewhere. A logbook is the obvious place. Many have an area for this. Keep a record of where you were diving and what equipment was worn. Now you will always have a starting point from where you can improve your skills. It will make your first dive of the season or vacation that much more fun. You’ll also impress your divemaster.

Bruce Bowker

Better Air Consumption

Many divers have a contest for who can stay down the longest or come up with most air. One diver I know hung around in 20 feet of water the entire dive just to win! That’s OK I suppose as long as they enjoyed the dive and saw a fish or two. Other divers simply want to improve their air consumption and have a longer dive.

There are so many ways to improve air consumption and one of the first is to listen to those who have experience and good suggestions. I cannot count how many times I have tried to help other divers who simply said,” I have been diving for 20 years and nothing helps. I use a lot of air”. On the other hand, I have had divers say” I have been diving for 20 years and thank you for your suggestions. I cannot believe how much I have improved.”

The first question in my mind is how many dives is 20 years. Is that one week a year for 20 years which is a total of 20 weeks of diving. And how many dives during that week? Someone who has only been diving for 6 months could have infinitely more experience than some who say they have been diving since 1981.


Read my articles on weights and BCD wars. Getting oneself correctly weighted and balanced can improve air consumption dramatically. Nothing uses air as much as carrying too much weight around and swimming in an inefficient (unbalanced) manner. Another suggestion is simply don’t go as deep. The shallower you are the less air is used. Many divers enter the water already tired from struggling to put on the equipment or hurrying to keep up with others. SLOW DOWN. There is no need for you to keep up with the person who gets suited up the quickest. Actually, if it is a group the faster ones should slow down a bit to accommodate the others.

The same thing goes when underwater. Watching an efficient diver, you see a nice easy breathing pattern. Watching a diver who is kicking inefficiently or jetting all over the reef, you see huge volumes of air being used. If you see a lobster there is no need to yell, swim frantically to you buddies to tell them and then swim frantically trying to find the lobster again. If no one is near enough to show them, simply tell them about it after the dive. I have watched divers get so excited about trying to tell everyone that they float to the surface because of all the air going in and out of their lungs.

I have seen small people go through a large tank in 30 minutes. Large people go through a small tank in 60 minutes. So size is not an excuse. If you have noticed, I have used the word efficient many times in these few paragraphs and efficiency is a big key in using less air. How you achieve that is up to you. If you read, practice, watch and listen you are on your way.

These are just a few of the ways to help. Watch other divers and see how efficient or inefficient they are. Then apply the efficient methods to yourself.

Bruce Bowker