There was an article on page 94 of the Submerge magazine of April/May 2017 regarding “What to expect from your Dive Master”. Our trusted friend Rikki Schick brought up some valid points relevant to our diving conditions in Durban/Umkomaas Seas. This was his reply …
“A bit of my history first. I have been diving for 60 years, am still diving, brought NAUI to South Africa in 1980 to professionalize the recreation of scuba diving, owned a dive shop and school for 20 plus years, had the first dive concession at Sodwana Bay, etc. I have seen Dive Mastering in many places around the world. There is NO hard and fast rule when it comes to Dive Mastering. It depends on the area and conditions where the dive is taking place. Having said that, the Dive Master must make sure that there are two criteria that he adheres to.
He must make sure that the dive is SAFE and ENJOYABLE for the divers under his control.
In some areas of the world the Dive Master might not even enter the water. This will happen when he has as many as 40 to 50 divers under his control off the same boat. His job is to find a safe diving site. He will tick the divers on his list when they enter the water and tick them back on board when they are on the boat. He will have some rescue divers near him for him to direct when needed. He never enters the water.
A Dive Master who goes straight to the bottom and expects the divers to follow, as mentioned in your article, is a good system of Dive Mastering if he can control the amount of divers (usually about 10), the water has top to bottom GOOD VISIBILITY and there is NO current.
This form of Dive Mastering is not suitable for diving in most of the South African conditions, especially Aliwal Shoal. We have currents (drift diving) and poor visibility. My facility stopped this kind of diving in 1980. On our second dive we saw what was happening. Divers were going down head first (wrong) and losing their buddies. Some divers were getting left behind by not being able to get to the buoy because of the current.
The average depth on top of Aliwal Shoal is 15 meters and the average visibility is 8 meters. If a Dive Master decides to go down first, he is at 15 meters or deeper with 8 meters of visibility and does not see his divers. Is this a safe dive?
NO, NO, NO. Rule number one broken.
Some of the divers might be battling to get to the buoy because of the current. Is this enjoyable?
NO, NO, NO. Rule number two broken- and the dive has hardly started.
When (or if) the divers do get to the Dive Master sitting comfortably on the bottom, half their air could easily have already been consumed. It takes time, effort and money to get someone onto a scuba diving course and in one fell swoop, an uncaring, inexperienced Dive Master manages to chase away a trained diver. This person now goes on to some other sport and the dive industry loses a participant and potentially money. This has often happened. In preparing this article I have spoken to two people to whom this has happened recently.
We found the most comfortable and safest way to dive when there is any chance of a current, is to do a drift dive. We always did a drift dive on Aliwal Shoal, no exceptions. Never try to outswim a current. During the dive briefing, our divers were told never to go below the Dive Master. The group, including the Dive Master, went down as one. The Dive Master always descended at the rate of the slowest diver. This made for a safe and enjoyable experience for all on the dive with the Dive Master in full control of all the divers in his group.”