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I got yelled at…

I was out diving with a small group two weeks ago. Not a work thing for me or any training- just seven people getting together to blow some bubbles. Toward the end of our second to last plunk of the day, a couple divers had stuck their heads into a sunken sailboat to grab hazards, debris, what-have-you. 

Should they have? Maybe not. 

The boat only sits at 45 fsw on a good day, the opening is wide enough to get into, there’s nothing hanging from the ceiling to get snagged on, and it’s well lit by ambient light at both ends. BUT… it is an overhead environment.

Should they have? Probably not.

As one of the divers in our group was coming proudly up the stairs with a gooey, black-stained tool-box in his hand, another instructor not diving with us asked loudly, “where’d you get that?”, to which the diver innocently answered, “in the sailboat…”. You could tell he was pleased with his efforts.

“You went in the sailboat?!”


I saw and heard this exchange but really thought nothing of it. I was planning on chatting with the divers when we were finished about the dangers of diving in an overhead environment, and that there is specialized training for such a thing… oh, and by the way, I also happen to be a certified SDI Wreck Diver instructor (wink-wink, nudge-nudge).

About ten minutes later this other instructor, who is actually someone I have trained with and appreciate on many levels, was packing up his gear, slamming things on the bench in front of him, moving jerkily about. You could tell he was cranky. So, I tried to open a dialogue.

“You seem cranky,” I proffered with a grin. “You okay?”

Instantly the cork popped, and I knew I was in for it. But it wasn’t directed at me. It was directed at the diver, who he doesn’t know a thing about. Not his training or experience, abilities, fears, medical condition, not one fucking thing. Admittedly my hackles raised up a bit: this is one of MY people, not yours. What are you doing?

I hear you. I understand what you’re saying. But being angry and yelling about it isn’t going to fix anything.

Staring down the diver in my group, he continued on, saying he had no business going into that boat. I wanted more than anything to diffuse the situation, so I started with, “he’s working on his limited penetration.”

“Is he certified to dive in an overhead environment,” was the question in response.

Dammit. Let me try again.

“He’s a deco diver.”

“IS HE CERTIFIED TO DIVE IN AN OVERHEAD ENVIRONMENT?!!” Same question, just louder (hence the all-caps). I don’t think this is working.

“He’s a solo diver.”

“IS HE …”… you get the picture. And so did I. There was no de-escalating this situation.

“No,” I said.

We understand each other PERFECTLY.

Instantly we go into his origin story: how much time and training, and most importantly the money he’s spent to be certified as a cave diver in Florida so that he can survive in the dangerous environment of the sailboat. Plus, all the “what if’s”… oy! 🤦🏽‍♂️

Regardless, we all shut down at this point. Not because he was wrong. But man… talk about needing to work on delivery!

I ended my part in his ‘coaching session’ with, ”I hear you. I understand what you’re saying. But being angry and yelling about it isn’t going to fix anything,” and I walked away.

20 minutes later, after the other instructor had left, I spent the better part of a half hour counseling the divers in my group. We talked about the dangers of sticking your head into things, but unfortunately the mood had been soured. Most of what those present wanted to talk about was my former instructor!

So now, instead of doing some really good follow up instruction, as well as pimping out the fact that I can TEACH them how to dive safely in an overhead environment ‘within the ambient light of the opening’, I am defending another instructor! The knowledge and skills that he DOES possess matter not to those in witness. And what a shame.

Sometimes you have to show them your starfish and dive away.

I’ve been sitting with this for two weeks now, and I’m still stuck! What could I have done differently at each step of this situation?

During the dives, I wasn’t instructing, just another diver. I had everyone in the group sign a waiver stating that they understood that very fact, each attesting to their own adult like-responsibility and abilities, just like TDISDI trained me to do.

Would it have been better to see a diver head down in the boat, grasp him by the fins, and quickly jerk him to the surface, espousing the dangers of his behavior? I guess, but I’m not his boss in this situation, all I can do is watch and be prepared for an emergency, hope nothing happens, and talk to him later. 

In fact, if I DO intervene, doesn’t that kind of make me in charge? And isn’t that exactly what my release says I’m not?! It’s a pickle, for sure.

And what about the other instructor? What else should I have tried or could I have done to de-escalate the situation? And mostly, what do I do now?

All relationships matter to me. It makes zero sense to leave someone out there getting their knots twisted in the wind thinking all sorts of who knows what about that day and the people involved. There’s a large part of me that wants to reach out, but I don’t know that we could have a productive, adult conversation about any of it, possibly resulting in more harm than good.

I’m going to think on things a bit more before I take action. Perhaps just live and let live is the path forward here?

Time will tell.

My divers did learn something from me that day: I will vehemently defend and protect my people. I will stand up for you, but I will also coach you in a manner you tolerate in hopes of making you a better, safer diver, whether I’m serving as your instructor or not.

I suppose there’s one other lesson here – you can’t please everyone.

Particularly a cave diver. 😂

(I’m kidding, fuckers. Relax.)

Doc Strand

An eight year Marine Corps veteran, Dr. Strand discovered Chinese medicine as a last resort when recovering from a military related injury. He has since dedicated his life to the practice of medicine; a doctor to all - a healer to many. In recent years he has turned to SCUBA diving as a meditation aid in his quest for ultimate peace. The desire to share that gift led to the creation of Spartan Scuba. Doc’s experiences and travels abroad impact not only his writing style, but his passion for life, scuba, and medicine.

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