I'm a low budget, freelance underwater cinematographer. My primary focus is coral reef systems and open-water pelagic animals. There are times when I am diving solo on open ocean locations more than 100 miles out to sea. My safety is dependent on good diving practices and careful contingency planning … to be as self-reliant and forward thinking as possible.
A primary diving risk that I've equipped myself for, is the worst-case scenario where for some reason, or collection of reasons, I find that I've become stranded at sea, floating on the surface, unable to get to a boat Egypt back to shore.
I've been on Search and Rescue (SAR) efforts to find missing divers, and I have collected many other stories of divers being stranded at sea. Some were rescued and some were lost. If such a situation occurred what would I need to do to survive and get rescued? I've come up with some ideas to greatly increase the chances of survival and rescue of a stranded diver.
I've looked at the products being offered to divers to mitigate this worst-case "stranded diver" scenario. But most of these products can become completely ineffective by ambient water and weather conditions that are typical of open water environments. These conditions include high waves, strong surface-currents, high winds, squalls and inclement weather, fog, and more.
There are a number of tools designed to rescue and save the lives of boaters who become stranded at sea. These tools could also assist SCUBA divers who find them stranded at sea. But while most of these tools are waterproof at the surface, it is not possible for a diver to carry these tools on a dive unless they are housed inside a watertight, depth-tested, encasement.
I have been carrying these tools in my own personal waterproof, depth-tested encasement, and have given much consideration to ergonomics and usability of these tools while floating on the surface in rough surface conditions. I have been encouraged by other divers to consider "producing" my "Toolsets".
So I've developed this new product line and patented the STRANDED-RESCUED Toolsets. The STRANDED-RESCUED Toolsets are depth-rated, watertight encasements with additional enhancements, that house a particular set of evaluated life-saving tools, selected to provide a SCUBA diver with a significantly higher degree of safety than what is commercially available to the diving community at this time.
Typically when a diver surfaces, s / he signals someone on the boat with hand signals, or by inflating a Surface Marker Buoy (SMB) (aka Safety Sausage), or by using whistles.
But what happens if the diver surfaces with the sun setting behind him / her, where the glare makes it impossible for boat personnel to see the surfaced diver who needs to be picked up.
And suppose that strong winds are blowing in a direction away from the boat and boat personnel do not hear the diver's whistle.
Some divers will surely carry a Signaling Mirror. I have done so for years. But when the sun is glistening on the water, every wave crest can sometimes look like a reflecting mirror.
I have directly experienced or witnessed each of the above scenarios, where signaling from the surfaced diver could not be seen or heard by boat personnel.
And what if the diver has made a mistake and surfaced some distance away and down-current from the boat, and finds that they are being quickly transported further away from the boat?
In 2002 I was involved in a SAR effort in Palau, to find four divers who had drifted away from their dive boat. Two of the drift divers were Dive Masters on this boat. Twenty-two boats launched to sea to search for these divers. As the sun was setting many people were thinking that it was only a matter of minutes before the search would be impossible to continue, and that would reasonably mean these divers would not be found. Fortunately though one Cessna aircraft had gone up to assist in the SAR effort, and on their final leg back home, they spotted the yellow fins of one of the divers, and guided rescue boats to the divers, who all had wisely stayed together. They had drifted for about five hours before being rescued. Strong surface currents, common around the islands of Palau, had transported the divers very far away from their boat and also far outside of the area being searched over by the twenty-two SAR vessels. These divers were extremely lucky to have been found by the plane. From that time forward I have always divided with yellow fins.
Consider a scenario where something happens to the boat during the dive, making it impossible for the surfaced diver (s) to re-board the boat. I know firsthand of two old friends who live in the Cook Islands, dive buddies for years, who once surfaced after a dive to find that the boat had draged its anchor and was about a mile away and heading further out to sea. They argued about what to do but the one buddy, who owned the boat, swam directly out to sea to try to catch up to it, while the other buddy swam back to shore over the reef and got badly cut up. The owner of the boat was an excellent ocean swimmer and fortunately did catch up to his boat, but most humans could not do that.
There are numerous stories of divers being stranded at sea because boat personnel did not correctly account for them, mistakenly believing that all divers were back onboard, and had given the captain the OK to depart from the area. This actually happened to a good friend of mine some years back when he was day diving in Cozumel. When he surfaced from a dive he found that the boat had already departed. Quite another boat picked him up. But when he arrived back at the shop they still did not know that anyone was missing from the boat!
All humans make mistakes … so if there is available technology that either keeps these human errors from happening, or can provide certainty that all divers are accounted for, or can empower divers with capabilities to independently increase their chances of survival if they do find themselves stranded at sea, then it should be deployed.
The STRANDED-RESCUED Toolsets provide the capabilities to mitigate the stranded-diver emergency scenarios shown above.
The Tools within the Toolsets:
• give divers new capabilities to visibly or audibly signal the boat personnel over a much further distance than the visual signaling provided by a deployed SMB, or the audible signaling range of typical diver whistles.
• allow the diver to initiate a voice call to the dive boat captain, or to other boat personnel, or to other boats in the area, or communicate directly to Coast Guard or other maritime SAR agencies.
• allow the diver to make emergency MAYDAY calls over VHF Channel 16.
• Include a multi-channel GPS Satellite Receiver to compute and display the diver's precise location.
• is capable of producing Digital Selective Calling (DSC) Distress Alert messages, which include the diver's GPS position information, and transmits these DSC messages over the VHF Channel 70 Distress and Safety Watch System, to other boats, and to Coast Guard Monitoring stations, by pushing one button.
• Includes a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). This PLB also includes a GPS Receiver and transmits the diver's Precise location over the International 406 MHz COSPAS-SARSAT Satellite Network for Search and Rescue.
• Provides the capability to visibly signal SAR aircraft or other aircraft that are miles away.
All of this equipment is waterproof, to be operated in-water at the surface.
The value of the STRANDED-RESCUED Toolsets is that they aggregate particular lifesaving tools into Toolsets that give the SCUBA diver new capabilities for being rescued if the worst-case scenario occurred.
The STRANDED-RESCUED Toolsets allow the diver to take these tools on their dives and to use them in-water at the surface, in adverse water and weather conditions that are typical of open water environments.