Diving Safely with Davy Jones Diving in Gran Canaria

"Safety does not happen by Accident" is the sort of slogan you see in factories and workplaces in many parts of the world. The management of these companies work hard to avoid accidents in the first place, but also then to have good response mechanisms to deal quickly with any problems. We manage safety in the same way, with on the one hand a series of procedures and structures in place to prevent diving incidents, and secondly a safety infrastructure to deal with any incidents.

Because of the shallow profiles of many of the recreational dives in the Canaries (under 30 meters) there is overall a very high safety record for diving in the Canaries - we estimate it at greater than 99.999% (less than 1 fatality in every 100,000 dives). In 2011, sadly a total of five divers were lost over the seven Canary Islands (Tenerife, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, Fuertaventura, El Hierro, La Gomera and La Palma), but during the same period nearly 80 people died on the beaches - many from Heart Attacks)(source - Canarias Siete). These statistics are similar to other world-wide statistics and suggest that the Canaries are no more, or less risky places to dive. Since our dive centre opened in 1999 we have had no fatalities and no reported decompression incidents, and in the Arinaga / El Cabrón area there has been only one fatality (in 2003).

We manage safety by following standard procedures and practices, and assessing Risk at several levels. There are here three main areas where the level of Risk changes on a dive to dive basis:

Risk or Challenge - what is your comfort zone?

A briefing before the dive is part of the overall safety management
This can be a key question when planning a days diving. While we want to keep experienced divers happy by giving them a Challenge, inexperienced divers may view the dive profile as over challenging or 'high risk'. Take the learning curve which all divers follow - On a PADI Open Water Course or any other course, we start with dives which are 'very low risk' and over a relatively short period increase the skills, confidence and ability of our students so we can take them on a dive with a relatively 'higher risk', so that they build up their personal comfort zone and can take part in similar dives world-wide.

Yet for the instructors who are monitoring the students and developing their skills, the dives would be in their personal 'low risk' category, because they are well known dives, unlikely to challenge their comfort zone. The key challenge for any dive centre then is to match each diver to a dive plan with an appropriate level of risk and challenge.

We do this by consistently using a series of dive routes and dive plans which have been used before, where we know and understand the likely profiles of air usage, decompression loading and likely fatigue, as well as the important fall-back plans for any underwater issues, such as low-air. Relative to each other, some of the dive plans are 'low-risk / challenge', most are 'medium-risk' and one or two have a higher risk level or challenge, where we will only take divers who have a higher level of training or experience.

Our style is to plan and complete dives which do not 'push the edges of the envelope', so that we have a good margin for safety in the key risk areas of decompression loading, air usage and physical challenge. To achieve this we always follow the best dive planning practices from world-class diving organisations such as PADI, BSAC, and FEDAS. Key to these procedures are that By following these on a daily basis we can offer dives with good dive times, plenty to see, but without incurring long deco times or impossible 'no-fly' times after a week of continuous diving.

The impact of Tide and Weather

Fortunately, tides in the Canaries are not particularly wide in amplitude (normally just around 2m at Springs), and underwater in Arinaga there is normally only a slight current which follows the coast, which does change direction with the tide. In the Arinaga area we don't have any strong Rip currents which can pull a diver out to sea, and with almost no surface boat traffic, several surface risks are eliminated. Wind and Ground-swell on the other hand can make a significant difference to the level of physical challenge, between good and forceful conditions. This is where the judgement of the Dive Leader is important to evaluate whether divers can manage certain dives, or alternatives with less challenging entries are more appropriate. Usually, below the water, conditions change much less in high winds, but on the few occasions when the visibility underwater is very poor then again we will look at alternative dive sites.

Underlying Safety Infrastructure

As we said above, working hard to prevent incidents is very important, but so to is our preparation in case of any incidents. One of the principle components here is the training, experience and maturity of the team. To underpin this we have Oxygen administration equipment, basic first aid sets and other safety equipment in our dive vans. We have agreements in place with the regional hyperbaric chamber, and the tourist hospital, as well as contacts with other medical resources and specialists on the Island, and this is all documented in the Emergency Action Plan, copies of which are in every vehicle. Finally to avoid equipment issues we have a rolling program of maintenance for diving equipment, tanks, and the compressor, with constant attention paid to air quality. We also look at new technologies and devices to see if they can add value to our Safety Plans.

Customer Responsibilities for Safety

A buddy check before the dive is part of the overall safety management
The final part of any safety risk assessment is you, the customer. We ask that all customers reduce the risk to themselves and the group by following the advice from your training programme and our Safe Diving Practices (again a consolidation of best practice from several recreational dive training agencies). Key points from this include not diving if you feel unwell, following the instructions of the dive guide and the dive plan, doing a 'buddy-check' or pre-dive safety check, dive with a buddy, and inform us when your air reaches the 'turn-around' point, or when other factors unsettle you underwater.


Summary

Its now over sixty-five years since Jacques Cousteau first developed an underwater aqualung. BSAC celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2004, and PADI Instructors have trained over 20 million divers. Davy Jones Diving have been diving safely in the Arinaga area since 1998.

Since the early days of 'frogmen' with home-made equipment and a pioneering spirit, recreational diving equipment, procedures and training have all improved significantly, with a huge leap in safety. By following these best recreational diving practices and some simple standards underwater, divers of all ages can enjoy the thrill of exploring dive destinations such as the El Cabrón Marine Reserve. By following the appropriate leadership and management standards we believe that we will continue to lead dives safely in Arinaga for a long time to come.

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