By Rikki Schick

Image by Sabrina Hindley

In the Alert Diver LITE section of our April/May 2017 issue, we featured an article on the responsibilities of a dive master. Local diver, Rikki Schick, took the time to write down his response to the article, based on his extensive personal experience. 

I have been diving for 60 years and am still diving. I brought NAUI to South Africa in 1980 to professionalise the recreation of scuba diving, owned a dive shop and school for over 20 years, had the first dive concession at Sodwana Bay, and more. 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, I believe the dive master must always adhere to two criteria: He must make sure that the dive is firstly, safe and secondly, 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 40-50 divers under his control, all from the same boat. His job is to find a safe diving site. He will take register of the divers on his list before they enter the water and again when they return to the boat. He will have some rescue divers near him, ready to take direction as needed. If a dive master has many divers under his control, he never enters the water.

For a smaller group, going straight to the bottom and expecting the divers to follow, as mentioned in the article, is a good system of dive mastering. This is provided he can control all the divers (usually about 10), the water has top-to-bottom good visibility, and there is no current.

However, this form of dive mastering is not suitable in many South African diving spots, especially Aliwal Shoal. Here, we have strong currents (best suited for drift diving) and poor visibility. This is why my facility stopped this kind of diving in 1980. On our second dive, we saw what was happening: Divers were going down head first (which is wrong – always descend feet first) and losing their buddies. Some divers were left behind as they were not able to get to the buoy because of the strong current.

The average depth of Aliwal Shoal is 15m and the average visibility is 8m. If a dive master decides to go down first, and he is at 15m or deeper, with 8m of visibility, he will not see his divers, nor will they see him. Is this a safe dive? No, no, no… criterion number one has not been met.

Some of the divers might be struggling to get to the buoy because of the current. Is this enjoyable? Absolutely not; criterion number two has not been met. The dive has hardly started and already it is risky and unpleasant. When (or if) the divers do reach the dive master, who is sitting comfortably on the bottom, half their air could have already been consumed.

It takes time, effort and substantial investment to get someone to sign up for a scuba diving course; in one fell swoop, an uncaring and inexperienced dive master could put someone off diving for life. This person then goes on to some other sport, and the dive industry loses a participant and income. This happens often. In fact, in preparing this article, I spoke with two people to whom this recently happened.

When there is any chance of a current, we have found that the most comfortable and safe way to dive is to do a drift dive, and never try to outswim the current. We always do a drift dive on Aliwal Shoal, no exceptions. During the dive briefing, our divers are told never to go below the dive master. The group, including the dive master, descends as one and the dive master always descends at the rate of the slowest diver. This makes 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.

SUBMERGE would like to thank Rikki for his efforts, and for sharing his thoughts with us and our audience. We encourage all of our readers to send us their feedback and responses to our magazine via email at [email protected] or on our Facebook page