Friday, September 28, 2012

Diving with a buddy - are you liable if anything goes wrong?

Thanks to:::
Andrew Tonge is qualified as a Solicitor and a Barrister. He has been practising law for over 15 years. He is also a PADI Instructor, experienced technical diver and a director at Odyssey Dive Centre Limited, based in Stockport and Wigan. Andrew can be contacted at Nexus Solicitors, Manchester, where he is a partner.

Diving with a buddy is one of the best ways of exploring the underwater water world. No instructors, no knowledge reviews. Just diving!

For most of us, our buddy is a close friend and someone we trust. Someone we know to be a properly trained diver, someone who understands the way we dive. But year after year, divers, in buddy teams, get into difficulty. Year after year, many divers are seriously injured or killed at home in the UK and abroad.

So what happens in these cases? There is no dive school to point the finger at. No instructor or divemaster who was ‘in charge’. If anything happens to your buddy, who carries the can?

If you (or anyone else diving with you and your buddy) take certain steps either before or during or even after the dive, then the law sees that you have assumed responsibility and will impose a duty of care on you.

This means that the law expects you to behave in a particular way. In other words, you must act so as to make sure that you do what is required in any of the circumstances that arise on the dive so as not to harm those with you.

Whether and when the law imposes a duty on a dive buddy is a very complex area of law and it is easier than you think to find yourself on the hook.

For example, if you ‘lead the dive’ you may have assumed responsibility for the welfare of your buddy. This is not only where you are a more experienced or better qualified diver. This does not mean that everyone who ‘leads the way’ underwater becomes responsible in law for their buddies but it is easy to overstep the mark and become so.

Where, say, you are familiar with a wreck and your buddy isn’t, then the law is likely to require you to lead in a way that keeps your less-familiarised buddy safe. This may mean briefing him properly, possibly to the standard required of a wreck qualified dive leader, because in the eyes of the law, that is what you have said you will do.

It’s a little like a car driver, taking a friend for a ride in an articulated heavy goods vehicle. The driver must drive not simply like a car driver or ordinary road user, but as an HGV driver.

It is also very easy to fall foul of this legal conundrum in much less obvious circumstances. A buddy check means that you must do that buddy check as a reasonable diver would. As soon as you take the job on, you assume the duty of care. Maybe not for your buddy’s safety on the whole dive, but as far as checking his kit is concerned.

A loose weight pouch that drops out or a loose cylinder band, that should have been checked by you and which causes injury (or worse) to your buddy, will mean that you have not discharged your duty of care and may be liable in civil law to your buddy or his estate after death.

The same applies to everything you do, during and after the dive.The legal duties of care do not always end when the dive does.

If for example, you are unable to render assistance to your buddy because your alternate air source is not serviceable, then you may be liable for some or all of his injuries, because a reasonable buddy would have had kit that would have been useable by a buddy in trouble.

This is where the rules of diving as set out by organisations such as PADI would be used to assess whether you have behaved in the right way. The PADI diving rules are not the law, but the court, in deciding on how you should have behaved will look to the current reasonable practice of other divers and diver training agencies, in the same way as the court may look to the Highway Code.

Of course, whilst you may not, in certain circumstances, be obliged to attempt a rescue of your buddy, you may, by simply diving with your buddy have impliedly accepted that he can use your alternate air source or that you will dive in particular way (e.g. close enough for him to use your octo) so as not to put him at risk.

If you do attempt a rescue during the dive, or say administer first aid after the dive, you must of course do so, as the reasonable diver or first aider would do. To make the situation worse may leave you liable.

It is worth noting that simply being an instructor or divemaster does not in itself give rise to a duty of care towards the people you dive with, but it may be harder to guard against assuming a duty of care especially if those diving with you are less experienced and qualified than you,
They may be asking questions which you answer in a way that causes you to assume a duty, either in the answers you give, say on how to safely enter the water, or how to configure kit or which route to take to the wreck, right through to a need to closely supervise the divers in the water.
It may not be enough to simply state, at the waters edge, “…it’s every man for himself by the way!” Once a duty of care has been assumed it is legally very difficult to exclude or limit it in cases of personal injury or death resulting from the negligence (behaviour falling below the standard required) of the person with the duty.

The standard of the reasonable diver is an objective standard and is irrespective of a lack or training or expertise. To say that you were not qualified to lead a particular dive or give particular advice is not enough. And where you are better qualified and more experienced than the ordinary, reasonable diver, you may in certain cases be assessed against that higher standard.

In a world where legal action is commonplace and diving as a sport is expanding, with the growth of areas such as deep, mixed gas, technical diving, the dive buddy is taking on a responsibility that must be properly managed.

Check your insurance. Does it pay your legal fees if your buddy (or his relatives) sues you?
Get proper diver training. Dive with a recognised organisation such as a PADI Dive Centre and make sure that you and your buddy know what you are getting into. If you have any doubts, speak to a specialist solicitor.

Kathy Dowsett

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dirty Diving

Scuba Diving Lets Me Get Away With Otherwise Socially Unacceptable Behavior.

Thanks to Natalie Gibb and

This morning, I sat in front of my clients and spit. How many people can say that? They weren't offended; spitting in a mask is just something a diver does to keep his mask from fogging. I love diving because of the adventure of finding unexpected wildlife and the beauty of the underwater world. I love working in diving because I don't have to pretend to be anything more than the slightly uncouth tomboy that I am.

Diving lets me get away with behavior that wouldn't normally be socially acceptable. For example, I love to use language that is common in diving, but makes people do a double-take until they put it in context. There is no better way to get a group of chattering divers to quiet down and pay attention than to pause half-way through the pre-dive safety check and proclaim loudly, "Oh wait, I just need to grab my CROTCH strap." Silence. Now I have their attention. For variety, sometimes I also ask people if they can "look at my butt ring" and see if I have a reel there. The tricky part is keeping a straight face as I speak.

I wear whatever I please to work. No one complains when I show up to guide cavern dives in comfy running pants and no makeup. It would be silly to guide cavern dives wearing lipstick and eyeliner. When I cut all my hair off, everyone accepted my boy-cut as practical. At the end of the day, I am typically covered in either mud or sand, and I couldn't be happier!

Diving is the perfect job for me, because I don't have to act demure or ladylike. I get to be myself, and my clients accept me as I am - dirty and happy.

Kathy Dowsett

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Slave Ship Artifacts Uncovered

ON craggy rocks and in silent gullies at Lynyard Cay in the Abacos lay the fragments of an American-owned slave ship, the 129-ton, 88-foot schooner, the Peter Mowell.

Luckily, 390 of the 400 of its human cargo were able to clamber safely ashore – they were quite young: 96 men between 20 and 36 years old, 37 women between 20 and 30, and 256 children between six and 20. Thanks to the ever-changing winds of fate, though, they were not to be sold as slaves like the estimated 12-million Africans forced across the Atlantic over the course of the three-and-a-half century slave-trade era. Rather, rescued by Ridley Pinder and other wreckers from Cherokee Sound, they joined some of the last of the 37,000 African-born immigrants who had been rescued in the Bahamas, whose descendants most likely make their homes there today.
But what is left of the ship intrigued archaeologist Michael Pateman from the Antiquities, Monuments and Museum Corporation of the Bahamas, a Nassau-based, non-profit, quasi-government agency, and archaeologist Corey Malcom from the Key West, Florida-based Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society and more importantly – because the information gleaned will add to the Bahamas’ rich cultural history – what happened to its human cargo, crew and wreckers? Where are their descendants now and what stories do they have to tell?
So, on the 152nd anniversary of its wreck on July 25, 1860, and partnering with William Mathers, of the Florida-based marine archaeological organisation, Atlantic Sea Resources, they set out to see for themselves. Using co-ordinates recorded by the governor of the Bahamas at the time (Bayley) to the Duke of Newcastle, they returned to the site and were able to spot piles of ballast stones that were scattered along the shoreline as its hull was ripped apart on the reefs, along with encrusted copper nails and spikes that had become concretised together over a century and a half.
“Everything that we see from the wreck matches what we know from accounts of the Peter Mowell,” Malcom said. “Although the environment at Lynyard Cay is more harsh than we anticipated, and the preservation of the site is not as good as we had hoped, we feel confident that we have found the remains of the wreck of the Peter Mowell. This provides a tangible reality and a remarkable story from the slave trade era and provides a subsequent starting point to search for the descendants of these African refugees, crews and wreckers.”
“This research expedition is an early step of an ongoing project to develop an exhibit studying aspects of Bahamian slave history at the Pompey Museum in Nassau, through a grant from the Templeton Foundation,” Dr Pateman said. “The Peter Mowell entails far more than finding an actual wreck; It gives us the opportunity to learn the story about these liberated Africans, the people who rescued them, the slave traders and all of their descendants.”
“The history of the Bahamas is fascinating, and the Peter Mowell wreck is a particularly compelling story. It’s exciting to reawaken it and make it public knowledge,” Dr Malcom said.
“We want to present a story of Bahamian history that hasn’t been told before and needs to be told, so that we can learn more about the history of our islands and its rich heritage,” Dr Pateman said.
The successful location of the wreck of the slaver Peter Mowell promises to open a new chapter in the archaeology and history of the Bahamas and the transatlantic slave trade; it could allow modern Bahamians to trace their roots to the site and remains of a particular slave ship. Any Bahamian descendants of the Peter Mowell survivors or wreckers who have knowledge of this shipwreck are asked to contact Michael Pateman on 242-326-2566.
“What we have is the opportunity to link families descended from the survivors of this event – from the Africans, the wreckers and the slave-ship crew,” Dr Malcom said. “Our ultimate goal is to bring the members of these families together.”
Thanks to Tribune 242 
Kathy Dowsett

Monday, September 10, 2012

Scuba Diving: How to Perform the Open Water Skill "proper Weighting"

Imagine swimming  through a watery paradise, soaring through the ocean like an eagle through the sky. kirkscubagear scuba gear provides an excitement few activities can replicate, however you must master the skills before you can move with ease and agility. One such skill, proper weighting or a buoyancy check, is performed before you even descend. It is crucial for both your protection and enjoyment.

Before you learn how to properly weight yourself, you must first understand the principles behind it. Scuba divers should be able to descend easily into the water, but not be so weighted that they are pulled down to the bottom. They should be able to swim with ease, and not use too much air.

Establishing the proper weight, which depends on the diver's body, suit and equipment, creates such buoyancy. Weighting yourself is exactly as it sounds - placing weights upon your body so that you can accomplish an ideal buoyancy in the water. The difficult part of the skill is deciding how much weight to add.

There are formulas you can follow to weight yourself, which will give a general idea of the required weight, however it is best to perform a check yourself. Weights can depend on body composition in addition to size, which is difficult to measure within a formula. Before you weight yourself, you must decide which type of weighting system to use. Weight belts are the simpler type and consist of nylon or fabric belts with spaces for weights to be added. A more comfortable device is a weight system integrated into a Buoyancy Control Device (BCD), the device that allows you to control buoyancy by adding and deleting air into a bladder. Such a system does make you a little heavier outside of the water.

When you are ready to weight yourself, follow the following steps:

1. Position yourself in the water. You should not be able to stand and it should be the same type (saltwater or freshwater) as the water where you are planning to dive. Make certain that you are wearing exactly what you will wear during the actual dive. If your cylinder is full, add two pounds to account for additional buoyancy during the dive. Relax yourself. It is important not too move as this can serve to lift you and give a false impression of being under-weighted.

2. Inhale a normal breath and hold it. With the deflator over your head, push the deflate button to release the air from your Buoyancy Control Device.

3. The goal is to float steadily at eye level. If you are sinking, then you are too heavy. You must remove weight and restart the process with the first step. If you are floating too high, then you are too light. Add weight, and begin the whole process again.

4. Release your breath. Now you should sink. If not, try to breathe out more. If you still do not sink, then more weight is required. Add the weight and restart the procedure from the beginning.

It is important to weight yourself before any dive in which you have changed any aspect of the dive, such as using different equipment or diving in a new location. You should also check if some time has passed since your previous dive since subtle changes in your body could affect the amount of weight necessary.

Many factors affect the proper weight needed. Even the difference between salt and fresh water can call for a change in weight of almost six pounds. Incorrect weighting will make it more difficult to swim through the water, can cause you to crash into coral at the bottom of the sea or can use up your air too quickly. With proper weighting, you will soon be soaring amongst the vibrant creatures of the sea.

Thanks to Suzanne Rose @ yahoo

Kathy Dowsett

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Waters of Lake Michigan are a treasure trove of sunken wrecks

Roger Rice says the Bermuda Triangle, that polygon in the western Atlantic reputed to occasionally gobble up ships and aircraft, "has got nothin'" over the storm-battered waters off Wisconsin's Door Peninsula.

"Lake Michigan was a nautical superhighway for schooners and freighters in the 1800s and early 1900s, and a lot of them (hundreds, in fact) went down on the shoals off Door County, at Death's Door on the tip of the peninsula and over in Green Bay," said Rice, a veteran scuba diver.
And while the boats and aircraft that (supposedly) went down in the Bermuda Triangle have never been found, divers can explore at least three dozen ships off the Door Peninsula. Some are in relatively shallow water, so snorkelers can get an easy look; others are more than 100 feet down, requiring scuba tanks and training.

Rice, 69, lives at the tip of the peninsula in Gills Rock, Wis. He got his scuba certification eight years ago, after atrip to visit his son in Hawaii.

"It looked like so much fun that I had to try it, and I was a little peeved I couldn't dive with him because I didn't have my license," said Rice, who has logged more than 300 (and counting) dives since then off the Door and in California. He has no plans to slow down.

"There are wrecks out there all over the place," said Rice, whom I met while diving on the Frank O'Connor last summer. The O'Connor, a 300-foot wooden steamship, sank in 65 feet of water several miles off the Cana Island lighthouse. It was launched in 1892 and went down in 1919 after a fire.
"And really, the boats are what make diving interesting, because the bottom of the lake is so flat," he said. "It is really great to explore those old ships."

As we sped out to the wreck on a dive boat piloted by Jake Gransee, Rice said O'Connor is one of his favorite wrecks because its two large boilers and a 12-foot propeller remain intact.

"The thing burned and went straight down," he said. "So the old steam engine is just sitting there on the bottom."

Some 30 minutes later, I was geared up in a hefty wetsuit to keep out the Lake Michigan chill (it was about 50 degrees at 65 feet) and moving slowly down a buoy line toward the ship.

Just as Rice promised, the big propeller was still standing, connected to the steam engine. Unfortunately, the wooden sides of the boat had collapsed over the years and lay spread out on the bottom. Pieces of shiny coal used to fire the boilers nearly 90 years ago were scattered nearby.

The O'Connor was constructed by shipbuilder James Davidson, who built freighters in the late 1800s, when sailing was giving way to steamships. Davidson constructed his bulk carriers of wood rather than steel to save money. But they were fire traps and nearly all ended up burning.

As Gransee and I swam along the ship for the next 30 minutes, we could see layers of zebra and quagga mussels covering nearly every section of exposed wood and metal. Invaders from the Caspian and Black seas, these filter feeders are thought to have been brought to this country as ballast from tankers.

Since their colonization of the Great Lakes in the early 1990s, they have covered the undersides of docks, boats, anchors and spread into nearby streams. Widely despised, they can grow so densely that they block pipelines and clog water intakes of municipal water supplies and power plants.

But — for divers, anyway — they have an upside. Because they are filter feeders, they have greatly improved the visibility in the Great Lakes. The change has been dramatic, said Gransee, 38, who began diving when he was 14.

There are billions of these mussels in the Great Lakes, and studies show that they can filter roughly a quart of water a day.

"When I first dove on the O'Connor back in 1994, it was great to have 30-foot visibility, and 40 feet was considered phenomenal," he said. "Now it's not unusual to be able to see 100 feet, and it's a bad day when you can't see at least 50 feet. That's a huge change in less than 20 years."

Gransee, who grew up in Baileys Harbor on the Lake Michigan side of the Peninsula, said he began snorkeling around age 10 with a buddy.

"We went to a dive shop up in Gills Rock to get some gear, and the owner drew us a map of some wrecks in shallow water of around 12 feet in Baileys Harbor," he recalled. "I forget the name of the boats, but after that, we were hooked."

A self-described history buff, Gransee said he enjoys researching the wrecks he's visited and imagining what the conditions were like when the ships went down in storms.

"I also like introducing people to wrecks they haven't seen before," added Gransee, who dubbed his dive charter operation "Dark Side" after the 1973 Pink Floyd album "Dark Side of the Moon."
Gransee said he often takes divers to the O'Connor and then returns to the warmer and shallower waters of Baileys Harbor to examine the Emeline, a 111-foot-long schooner that sank in 1896 in less than 20 feet of water.

"It's a nice wreck for beginners to explore, and the water is considerably warmer than down where the O'Connor is located, where it can drop into the 40s," he said.

Gransee said he and his diving friends are always looking for new wrecks.

"There's a lot out there that hasn't been discovered," said Gransee, who uses sonar to map possible dive sites. He was planning to purchase a 'side scan" unit, which he said will "literally paint a picture of the bottom and really tell us what's down there."

"It would be great if we could find a new wreck in the 100- to 120-foot depth range," he mused. "That would really stimulate interest in diving up here again. It was more popular in the past. And way back in 1969, National Geographic did a big story on Door County and devoted a whole section to wreck diving."

In the meantime, he's content to lead customers to lakeside wrecks that start just a few miles south of Baileys Harbor and include the Ocean Wave, a scow schooner that sank in 110 feet of water in 1869.
And he can go 20 miles north to the infamous Death's Door, where three wrecks off Pilot Island went down so close together that they are touching. He also dives sunken ships on the Green Bay side of the peninsula and can even head north to islands off Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

If you enjoyed this blog, you will enjoy reading Ross Richardson's new book "Search for the the Westmoreland"

Thanks to the St Louis Dispatch

Kathy Dowsett

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Second Life for Discarded Fishing Nets

Abandoned and lost fishing gear makes up about 10 percent of the trash that collects in the world’s oceans, according to a report from the United Nations. Much of this debris is lost in storms, vandalized or simply discarded. It piles up on beaches, creates a navigational hazard for boats or settles to the bottom, where it can damage sensitive ecosystems. Discarded nets can cause a particular problem as they continue to “ghost fish,”trapping fish and other sea animals like turtles, seabirds and dolphins.

Much of this material can find a second life, according to the United Nations report, which was issued in 2009. For instance, a number of programs in the United States, with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, now collect old fishing nets and other debris to generate electricity in waste-to-energy plants.

But in many areas, especially in the poorest regions, local fishermen lack incentives to properly dispose of worn-out gear. That problem was front and center World Oceans Day, an annual happening where individual events around the world draw attention to concerns like overfishing and ocean pollution.

To coincide with World Oceans Day, Interface, the global carpet manufacturer, proposed a novel solution to the problem: turning discarded fishing nets into new carpet tiles while providing income to the communities that collect the nets. Interface said it would form a partnership with the Zoological Society of London to introduce Net-Works, a six-month pilot program with the coastal fishing community of Danajon Bank in the Philippines.

In this ecologically fragile coral reef area, thousands of families eke out their living by fishing the local waters. But they also leave behind thousands of miles of discarded nets each year — enough to cover the bank 400 times over, according to estimates.

During the pilot program, local community groups will oversee the collection, processing and transportation of the nets. Payments for the material will be used to finance economic development programs in the community. The point of the program, said Nigel Stansfield, Interface’s chief innovations officer, will initially be to gauge how best to distribute the funds to the community and to assess how much material can be collected.

Interface consistently ranks among the world’s most sustainably minded companies, thanks to its founder, Ray Anderson. As part of his ambitious green agenda, Mr. Anderson committed the company to eliminating its environmental footprint by 2020.

Currently, some 44 percent of the material the company uses to make carpet is either recycled or products derived from renewable biological resources, Mr. Stansfield said. He hopes that projects like Net-Works will further reduce the company’s reliance on virgin raw materials while fulfilling an important social mission.

If the program proves successful, the company will look to take it to other communities, he said.

Thanks to Project Aware

Kathy Dowsett