The overwhelming majority of dives I have made have been alone – or at least
I’m alone in the water. I first started solo diving at age 16, very soon after first learning to dive, and out of necessity as I was quickly cast into a summer job cleaning boats, recovering lost items, changing chains, and so on. These light commercial activities don’t warrant a major OSHA compliant diving operation – though of course we wharf rats are working completely under the radar. This is cash and carry, no standards of practice, insurance, risk managers, and so on.
Needless to say, just a small handful of hairy situations were cause for learning very quickly. Being alone out on and in the water and having to fend for oneself provides an unparalleled education in self rescue, self reliance, and self discipline – all critical skills for a working diver.
As my dive career evolved and I began to partake in more formal commercial diving work, I was part of a 3 man team per OSHA regulations, and sometimes a 4 or 5 man team depending on the tasks and environment. While alone in the water, I am physically connected to topside with an umbilical providing air and communications – both of which are cause for a degree of team dependence…for better, or worse. While the diver is dependent on the team for life support and interfacing with other key people at the work site, be it heavy equipment operators, engineers, client representatives, or the like, those early skills acquired in self reliance remain critical. I am convinced that no profession on Earth requires a more acute sense of self and situational awareness as a working diver. This only comes from time in the water. From observing new working divers thrust into the commercial sector, my observation is that there is a false sense of security that comes with being at the end of a rope with a topside team in place. In my experience, both the skilled diver, AND an attentive team are absolutely necessary to perform well underwater.
In scientific, technical, or exploration projects, it can be common to dive more autonomously – in a buddy team – or perhaps solo, but often the diver(s) are part of a much more elaborate surface support group, or grander research team with members each carrying out allocated tasks. Those self- skills remain important, however performance is keyed to team cooperability and interoperability. No singular effort can surmount what a qualified team can do.
In all cases, working underwater is an honorable trade, and a privilege. When done well, there is nothing more rewarding. In the end however, whether it be an in-water dive partner, a collaborator, a dive supervisor, tender, or work group – it is the collective effort of many that result in successful projects. Assembling the right teams for the right jobs takes time, patience, and massaging relationships and skills. Its about people. Period.
That is among the long list of what I love the most about the diving profession – while one can have all the tools in the toolbox, it takes a very special type of person, not too proud to ask questions, be persistent, think outside the box, and ask for help to do something really great beneath the waves – safely.
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