Nine Divers in Three Months!

By Dave Moran, Editor.


“It’s simple mistakes” – Bruce Adams, Officer in Charge, Police National Dive Squad

If you live in New Zealand you will be aware that this summer has been horrific regarding the number of divers that have died pursuing the sport we all love. As we go to press just before Easter I hope that the current total of nine does not increase!

What are these divers doing that has caused them to lose their lives? We will not fully know the answers to these questions until the coroner’s findings are released. Unfortunately, this can take up to or over 18 months.

As divers, we all want to know how a diver got into difficulties that proved fatal. What can we learn from the accident so that we do not make the same mistakes?

I’ve been diving for over 50 years. During that time I have spearfished for a living in Queensland and picked up the Queensland spearfishing title. I also represented Queensland and earlier competed in Victoria at the Australian spearfishing championships. I competed in many New Zealand national competitions, commercial dived for many years and continue to enjoy my diving to the present day with an interest in photography, locating new shipwrecks and I still enjoy a spot of spearfishing. So I think I have a fair amount of experience under my weight belt.

I’m the first to admit I’m not 100% up to speed on all the current training procedures that training agencies have today. Also, I do not have the diving statistics that diving agencies use to justify the claim that their current training methods have significantly improved the skills of a diver compared to divers trained 20 years ago.

The following comments will be dismissed as ‘old school’ by some and others will nod their heads in approval. Below are just a few (not all) of the developments that I have observed over the years that make me wonder where the sport of diving is heading.

I do acknowledge that the ‘freedom’ that club training had in the past has been snuffed out by government regulations and training organisations’ fear of being sued. The cotton wool regulation will hopefully prevent you from stubbing your big toe. But will it make you a more efficient and personally responsible diver?

Fit for Diving

A prospective diver here in New Zealand and in some states of Australia does not require a diving medical form to be signed by a doctor to verify they are okay to dive. The diver ticks a few boxes on a form and as long as those do not raise any questions, the dive shop/instructor accepts it as a true indication of their fitness to dive. Is this sensible?


Over the years, training agencies have developed courses for just about any diving activity. Some agencies have over 40 courses. I’m waiting for the one that certifies you to be capable of getting into a wetsuit: Wetsuit Diver!

Continuing diver education is to be encouraged but I’m sure some of the courses could be incorporated into others. An Open Water diver of past times would now be classified as an advanced diver. Capable of diving to 25m – OMG!

A prospective diver can now do most of their diving theory training online. The hassle of having to go to a dive shop for ‘class’ is a thing of the past in the digital age we live in. Sounds great – but this procedure removes the personal interaction a student has when mixing in an environment with instructors and fellow students, forming lasting diving relationships and getting involved in the various discussions that always come up when a group of people meets. Such discussions are not in a text book.

The Quality of Training?

The price a person pays to be trained has, in my opinion, been undervalued for years.

When you see shops offering the Open Water courses for just over $200 instead of over $400 you wonder how much TIME does the student spend with the instructor and how much ocean diving they experience away from a swimming pool or lake? I believe many people certified as an Open Water diver really should not get out of their bathtub due to the training they have received being substandard.

I have only touched on a few topics that are for many are glaringly obvious. I know many will disagree.

Police Concerns

Due to the spate of recent diving deaths in Wellington, the Police National Dive Squad ran a discussion evening on 15th March at Dive HQ Wellington. Some of the statistics relating to fatalities were presented. It should be noted that in the majority of cases, it is not just ONE thing but a combination of factors that contributed to a fatality.

Police Statistics Relating to Fatalies

85% The buddy was not within range to assist.

54% Medically unfit to dive.

49% No pre-dive equipment checks.

46% Over weighted, not neutral at surface.

41% Gear not serviced.

41% Diving with faulty equipment.

36% Divers exceeding training/experience.

33% Failure to monitor gauges (out of air).

33% Not surfacing with agreed minimum air/gas.

33% Not all divers knowing the plan.

36% Not carrying dive knife.

26% Not knowing computer or following its recommendations.

23% Extended break from diving with no refresher.

18% Diving close to maximums of depth, time and experience.

18% Exceeding safe ascent rates.

15% Consumption of alcohol within 8–10 hours of diving.

15% Catch bag attached to diver.

13% Prescription drugs.

13% Feeling unwell before the dive.

10% Not monitoring weather and sea conditions.

8% Dive watches were not worn – exceeding maximum time.

8% Free divers not using one-up and one-down and not knowing where their buddy is.

I have just scratched the surface of this very complex issue. Let’s continue this discussion in the next issue.

  • Some of my pet beefs are: The way many divers use their BCs as a means to descend to the seabed and to surface – push-button diving! Where has their understanding of neutral buoyancy gone?
  • The increasing number of D-rings on non-technical recreational BCs – why? Does this encourage divers to clip things to themselves?
  • Carrying far too much lead!

I look forward to receiving both your positive and negative feedback.


View past coroner’s reports here.

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