DIVERS: Ted (rescue diver, 300-plus dives) and Renee (instructor, 1,000-plus dives)
SITE: Florida Keys, offshore coral reef
CONDITIONS: Visibility 150-plus feet, 82?F, moderate winds with light chop, very slight current
Ted and Renee were scuba diving from Ted’s 20-foot rigid-hull inflatable on a coral reef 10 miles from shore. They tied to a mooring, predive checked, back rolled in and descended to 40 feet. Kicking into the current, they followed the reef outbound for 30 minutes before Ted signaled to turn back.
The two leisurely toured the reef, making their way back to the mooring. At first, they thought they were at the wrong mooring because they didn’t see their boat, but after quickly searching, they found no other mooring. Renee signaled “up” with urgency, and they ascended the mooring line. They surfaced after a safety stop, and it took a few minutes amid the chop before Ted spotted the boat in the distance, adrift and blowing slowly away.
Taking a compass bearing, Ted and Renee swam after it, but after 15 minutes, they weren’t any closer. They weren’t swimming fast enough. After discussing their options, Ted slipped out of his gear and swam rapidly toward the boat, snorkeling. It took 30 minutes for him to catch up to the boat. Once aboard, Ted cranked the engines and picked up Renee, who was waiting with her surface signaling devices deployed.
What They Did Wrong
Ted and Renee left the boat unattended. They should have brought someone to stay aboard while they were diving. As an added precaution, they could have secured the mooring line in two places, in case one came loose.
What They Did Right
They didn’t let the missing boat cause them to dive unsafely. They made a reasonable decision to swim to the boat, and quickly adjusted the plan when that wasn’t working. They were equipped to deal with the situation by having snorkels, compasses and surface signaling devices.
FIVE TIPS FROM THIS INCIDENT
1. Never leave a boat unattended if there’s a chance that the anchor could drag, the boat could slip its mooring or vessel traffic would require someone to relocate it while you’re diving.
2. Tell someone where you’re diving and when you should be back. Were the boat out of sight, Renee and Ted’s best option would have been to wait at the mooring. Notifying someone of their dive plan would aid those searching for them.
3. Be familiar with boat-diving procedures and recommendations by completing the PADI Boat Diver course.
4. Always dive with recommended standard and safety equipment, even if you don’t expect to use certain pieces on a particular dive.
5. Plan your dive and exposure protection so you will be prepared for staying in the water longer than expected.