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Drift is Normal. Being a Deviant is Normal. Here’s Why

What causes individuals and organizations to drift from acceptable standards and behavior? Is it an aberration or something to expect, and what can we do about it? Human Factors coach Gareth Lock takes us for a deep dive into human biases and our tendency to drift, and what that means for human performance.

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by Gareth Lock

Header image: a deviant diver on the SMS Cöln, and other pictures courtesy of Gareth Lock, unless noted

In 1994, two US Army Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by two US Air Force F-15 fighter jets over northern Iraq killing all 26 people on board the choppers. When the story hit the media, it was almost unbelievable that two highly professional aircrews being guided by other equally professional operators on the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft could mistake the Black Hawk helicopters for Mil Mi-28 Hind helicopters. But they did!

In his excellent book Friendly Fire: The Accidental Shootdown of U.S. Black Hawks over Northern Iraq, Scott Snook developed and demonstrated the concept of practical drift, a theory whereby each sub-organisation or team has a certain amount of leeway to undertake their operations. This flexibility acknowledges that you can’t follow the rules exactly to the letter all the time. The problem is that these small deviations compound across the wider system with potential disastrous results; and, importantly, no one appears to recognize that the drift is occurring. Snook’s event map describes a complicated web of relationships between multiple stakeholders—the tasking organisation, the aircrew in the Black Hawks, the F-15 aircrew, and the AWACS control team—all of whom were doing the best they could with their limited resources and quickly changing circumstances.  

Practical drift is similar to the “Normalization of Deviance,” a concept Diane Vaughan developed during her examination of the Challenger Shuttle disaster. Vaugn explored the idea in her 1996 book, The Challenger Launch Decision – Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA. Normalization of deviance has been discussed in a number of recent diving blogs in an attempt to explore the acceptance of the (continued) breaking of a single rule. 

Rather than focus on a single rule, we should consider Vaughan’s definition wider than the individual level, and look to a larger scale. “Social normalization of deviance means that people within the organisation become so accustomed to a deviation that they don’t consider it as deviant, despite the fact that they far exceed their own rules for elementary safety.” Neil Richardson, a safety and human factors professional (and colleague of mine) operating primarily in the aviation domain, offers another perspective while addressing the same point: “The Shuttle programme was risk-managed right up until the point it wasn’t and the Challenger and crew were lost.” 

Risk management vs, uncertainty management

Risk management is often mentioned in the “professional” arm of diving and diver training courses—such as dive master, instructor, and instructor trainer courses—but it is rarely covered in detail during “user” courses or sport diving. Despite this lack of formal content and process, we are constantly managing relevant uncertainties with the goal of providing an enjoyable dive for ourselves and our students and reducing the likelihood of having an adverse event. 

The term “uncertainties” has specifically been used instead of “risk” because of the way that we normally make decisions in an uncertain environment. When managing risk, we are often comparing historical analyses of quantitative data to determine likelihood and consequence using the logical or System 2 part of the brain. However, when we are managing uncertainties, we use a different part of the brain—often described as System 1—which relies on pattern matching, cognitive biases and mental shortcuts. Importantly, System 1 is heavily influenced by our emotions, which is why we often react quickly rather than logically. 

Equating “risk” and “uncertainties” is like conflating the “apple” type of decision-making with the “orange” type of decision-making. They are both decision-making concepts, but they have different processes and applications and can lead to different outcomes.

We need to recognize that the uncertainties we deal with while diving aren’t just focused on physical safety/harm, but also cover legal, reputation, financial, psychological, and social uncertainties and their associated outcomes. Research has shown that the fear of psychological harm can be stronger than the fear of physical harm.

In the diving industry, when something goes wrong, the (social) media and “investigations” often focus on the proximal causes—those that are closest in time and space to the event—of what happened. There is a focus on violations, rule-breaking, human error, recklessness, or direct health issues, and only sometimes do supervisory/instructional factors come into the discussion. Furthermore, the media rarely examines “local rationality” (why it made sense for the individual to do what they did) or the immediate or wider organisational and cultural factors that may have been present.

Local rationality

If we focus on the local rationality to start with, we know that the majority of the time we are operating in System 1 mode, which is fast, intuitive, and pattern-matching based thinking. We are not actively paying attention to everything that we’re sensing; instead, we are picking what we think are the relevant or important factors based on our previous knowledge and experiences, focused by our present goals and expectations, and using those elements of information to make a decision. 

Despite what some would think, you can’t pay 100% attention all the time! This means that we are literally ditching billions of bits of sensory data each day because, in real time, we don’t think those bits are relevant or important. When there are pressures that prevent us from being more thorough, we are trying to be as efficient as possible. These pressures might be related to time, money, peer-pressure, fear of failure, fear of non-compliance, or fixation on goals/outcomes. However, the more we get “right” without thinking about all of the incoming stimuli, the more we use this pattern to reinforce our decision and then repeat it. How often have you heard “We’ve always done it this way?”

Maybe an adverse event would provide a learning opportunity? Unfortunately, the likelihood of adverse events serving as cautionary tales is entirely dependent upon biases in our thinking and how those biases inform our interpretation of an event, adverse or otherwise. The following is a list of biases:

  • Outcome bias describes the tendency to judge serious events more critically than minor events. This is because we disconnect the quality of the outcome from the quality of the decision. For example, those involved in a fatality with the same conditions as a non-fatality will be treated more critically; a poorly performing regulator that free-flows in 10 m/33 ft of cold water will be treated differently from the same regulator that free-flows in 40 m/131 ft of cold water because the consequences are more severe.
  • Fundamental attribution bias is the tendency to attribute causality of an adverse event involving someone else to the individual involved rather than the situation or context. This is different to when we personally experience failure, as we often blame the situation or context! Inversely, when we personally experience success, we look at our skills and behaviors; but, when others succeed, we have a tendency to attribute the “opportunities” they had as the cause for success.
  • Distancing through differencing is the tendency to discount failures in others as being relevant to ourselves because we are different to the other party in some way, even if the general conditions and context are the same. A recreational OC diver may forget part of their pre-dive sequence because they were distracted but an experienced OC technical diver may believe that they wouldn’t make that same mistake, even though the conditions were the same.
  • Hindsight bias is the tendency to think that, if we had been in the adverse situation, we would have known at the time what the adverse event would have been and would have responded differently. Part of this is because we are able to join the dots looking backwards in time, recognising a pattern that wasn’t apparent in the moment.

Rewards

As a result of these biases, we aren’t very good at picking up small deviations in procedures because we experience “good enough” outcomes, and we are “rewarded” for gradual erosion of the safety margins that the original standards were created to address:

• We saved time (or weren’t late) as we skipped through the checks quickly. 

• We saw more of the wreck or reef because we extended the bottom time and ate into our minimum gas margins. 

• We managed to certify a few more students this month which helped pay the bills, even though we didn’t cover everything to the same level of detail that we normally do.

• We got some really great social media feedback because we took those divers somewhere they hadn’t been before—and shouldn’t have been either—but they loved it.


Coming 24-25 September 2021 to a Laptop Near You!

Rewards come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but the common factor is the dopamine rush: Our brains are wired to favor the feel-good rush of a short-term gain over the prolonged reward of a long-term gain. On the other side of the coin, we are also willing to sacrifice a potential major loss in the future if there is a guaranteed minor loss now. For instance, imagine that you’re entering the water for the “dive of a lifetime” in cold water with a regulator setup that doesn’t breathe too well. You weren’t able to get it serviced because of time/money issues. At the end of this particular dive, you have to do a gas sharing ascent; someone else was out of gas due to an equipment failure, and both of your second stages freeflow and freeze, due to poor regulator performance, increased gas flow and the cold environmental conditions. This resulted in two people who were now out of gas and making a rapid ascent to the surface. 

In hindsight, we can see where the failures occurred. But, in real time, the erosion of safety margins and subconscious acceptance of the increased “risk” are likely not considered. In mid-July 2021, I gave a presentation to Divers Alert Network Southern Africa (DAN SA) on the topic of setting and maintaining goals and how goal focus can reduce safety. 

Credit: DAN South Africa

Organisations drift too

This article opens with the topic of normalization of deviation as it related to NASA and the Challenger Shuttle loss. The gradual, imperceptible shift from an original baseline through a series of “risk managed” processes and activities resulted in a “new” baseline that was far from acceptable when considering the original safety argument. This isn’t the first time an organisation has drifted, nor will it be the last. 

Organisations are made of people, and there are reward systems in place within organisations which lead to a conflict between safety, workload, and financial viability. The image below from Jens Rasmussen shows this tension and the “safety margins” that are perceived to be in place. The difficulty is that we don’t know how big the gap is between the margin and catastrophe, so we keep pushing the boundaries until we get some feedback (failure) and hope that it isn’t catastrophic.

“Risk Management in a Dynamic Society: A Modelling Problem” Rasmussen, 1997

Another way of looking at this tension and drift is to use a framework from the Human and Organisation Performance (HOP) domain called the Organisational Drift Model from Sidney Dekker.

The premise here is that safety is “created” by the development of rules, processes, procedures, and a culture which supports adherence to these standards or expectations. In the modern safety domain, these rules, processes, and procedures are called “Work as Imagined” or “Work as Prescribed.” They rarely match exactly the operational environment to which they are going to be used. There are good reasons for that; you cannot document everything that you want your people (instructor trainers, instructors, dive masters, and divers) to do in every circumstance, so there will be gaps between what should be done and what is done. These gaps are filled in by experience and feedback. Some call this common sense, but you can’t develop common sense without personal experience!

As time progresses, there is an increased gap between the “Work as Imagined” (black line) and “Work as Done” (blue line). This gap is risk or uncertainty to the organisation. Not all drift is bad though, because innovation can come from drift as long as it is recognized, debriefed, and intentionally fed back into the system for improvement.

At the same time as individual and team performance is drifting, the operational environment is changing too. There are accumulations which are adding uncertainty/risk to the system: old or outdated equipment, external requirements changing, legislation changes, change of purpose of equipment or accommodation/infrastructure, and many others. Often these accumulations are dealt with by different people in an organisation, so the compounding effect is not seen.

The gap between “Work as Done” and the “Accumulations” line is known as capacity within the system. This capacity is managed by individuals, taking into account their experience, knowledge, skills, and attitudes towards and within the diving environment. Safety does not reside in paperwork, equipment, or individuals; it is created by those within the diving system taking into account all of the resources they have and the pressures they face while balancing workload, money, and safety dynamically. 

However, when the capacity runs out (when the Work as Done line crosses the Accumulations line) an adverse event occurs. This event is now under the spotlight because it is obvious and cannot be hidden, especially if it is very serious. Hindsight clouds our ability to learn because we think the gaps must have been obvious. Effective organisational learning to prevent drift doesn’t need an adverse event. What it needs is a curious mind and the motivation to improve. If we stopped time 5 seconds before the lines crossed, while we still had capacity, then all of the learning opportunities would still be present and we could examine them. We would be able to see what accumulations are occurring, we would be able to see Work as Done actually was, and we would be able to increase the capacity of the system thereby reducing the likelihood of an adverse event. But that requires organisations to recognize that adverse events are outcomes from a complex system with many interactions, and where they set and demonstrate the acceptable standards and expectations. The absence of adverse events does not mean that you are operating a ‘safe’ system.

If drift is normal, what can I do about it?

First, recognize and acknowledge that drift exists. We all have a tendency to drift. If drift is occurring, look at the conditions that are causing the drift without focusing on the drifting individual themselves. This could be time pressures, financial pressures because of ‘cheap’ courses, lack of experience, high turnover of staff and low commitment to the sport by divers or dive professionals. 

Secondly, create an environment where feedback, especially critical context rich feedback, is the norm. This has multiple benefits: 

  • Individuals find out where they are drifting from the standards/expectations which have been set.
  • Organisations find out if their standards/expectations are fit for purpose and where issues about compliance are arising.
  • Accumulations are identified in a timely manner and addressed.

There are a number of blogs on The Human Diver website and our Vimeo channel which help to develop a learning culture, understand how drift occurs via human error, and how to develop both a psychologically safe environment and a Just Culture. In terms of having an immediate effect, a post-dive/post-project debrief is one of the best methods, and you can download the DEBRIEF framework I created to help facilitate critical, learning-focused debriefs from here: www.thehumandiver.com/debrief  

Remember, is it normal to err. It is what we do once we’ve made the error that matters when it comes to creating positive change in the future. If we focus on the individual and their behavior, things are unlikely to improve. However, if we look at the conditions and context, then we have the opportunity to reduce the chances of an adverse event in the future. And if we share those lessons, it isn’t just our organisation or team that improves, the diving community can too.

Dive Deeper

Be There or Be Deviant: HF In Diving Conference 24-25 September 2021


Gareth Lock has been involved in high-risk work since 1989. He spent 25 years in the Royal Air Force in a variety of front-line operational, research and development, and systems engineering roles which have given him a unique perspective. In 2005, he started his dive training with GUE and is now an advanced trimix diver (Tech 2) and JJ-CCR Normoxic trimix diver. In 2016, he formed The Human Diver with the goal of bringing his operational, human factors, and systems thinking to diving safety. Since then, he has trained more than 350 people face-to-face around the globe, taught nearly 2,000 people via online programmes, sold more than 4,000 copies of his book Under Pressure: Diving Deeper with Human Factors, and produced “If Only…,” a documentary about a fatal dive told through the lens of Human Factors and a Just Culture. In September 2021, he will be opening the first ever Human Factors in Diving conference. His goal: to bring human factors practice and knowledge into the diving community to improve safety, performance, and enjoyment.

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Hal Watts: Plan Your Dive

Known for his deep air diving exploits back in the day, 86-year-old Hal Watts, aka “Mr. Scuba,” is one of the pioneers of early scuba and credited with coining the motto, “Plan Your Dive. Dive Your Plan.” He founded the Professional Scuba Instructors Association International (PSAI) in 1962, which eventually embraced tech diving, but never relinquished its deep air “Narcosis Management” training. Italian explorer and instructor Andrea Murdock Alpini caught up with Watts and teased out a few stories from the training graybeard.

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Interview by Andrea Murdock Alpini 
English text by Vincenza Croce

Hal Watts, Terrence Tysall, and Bill Stone in March of 1993.  This was the last stop in the U.S. for a test dive of the Cis-Lunar Mk-4 rebreather prior to Stone’s San Agustin expedition (1994) for its first real sump dive.

“Plan your dive, dive your plan,” is a common refrain in diving, but it’s easy to forget the meaning of this phrase has changed over time.

The underwater explorers of the early days learned to plan their dives with watches, depth gauges, and US Navy tables. Back then, decompression tables were the Bible for divers—something miraculous, halfway between alchemy and physiology. Those trail-blazing divers defined what it meant to “plan” a dive.

But, at the time, the term “technical diving” did not exist; divers breathed air on the bottom as well as during decompression. Only after many years was oxygen added, followed by the famous jump into the hyperbaric chamber.  

Later came new innovations after a few decades of experiments: hyperoxygenated binary mixtures, the NOAA tables, Heli-air (i.e. the addition of helium in tanks loaded with air), the change in the speed of ascent, new molecules to be studied, new physiological and narcotic effects, and their consequent impacts on humans and their psyches.

In a very short time, diving traditions underwent a metamorphosis. The spool and the coral tank became a proper reel, the ascent bin and the plastic bag disappeared in favor of the buoyancy control device (BCD), the surface marker buoy appeared—and then, even later on, wrists were adorned with underwater computers instead of decompression slates.

Divers later renewed and revolutionized a niche discipline, transforming it into a sporting phenomenon and a vocation. Faced with imminent change, there is often nothing that can be done when an anomalous wave arrives; you cannot stop its irresistible force with the wave of a hand. And thus was the American revolution of underwater technique, where the means of exploration—read mixed gas and scooters—have become the end.

The self-proclaimed originator of the “plan your dive, dive your plan” motto was 86-year old Hal Watts, the founder of American didactic Professional Scuba Association International (PSAI) and a diving pioneer who once held the Guinness Book of World records for deep diving. Though the use of trimix grew in popularity, Hal continued to believe in deep air, in the ancient technique of coral fishermen. He supported wreck and cave diving—with decompressive mixtures and new configurations through PSAI; but, above all, he believed (and continues to believe) that deep air, if properly practiced, is a discipline with unique logistics, hidden dangers, and irresistible charms that can take you to a parallel world.

Hal Watts speaking at aquaCORPS tek.93 Conference

First of all, Hal, what was the dive that changed your way of seeing scuba diving? I mean, a dive that was like an epiphany, a dive which changed your point of view on a technical matter?

Hal Watts: Wow, you sure are really trying to test my old man memory. Now I’ll have to review some of my old logbook entries. 

The first scuba dive that really got my attention as to just how serious and dangerous scuba diving can be was on December 2, 1962. I was diving with Bob Brown, co-owner of Florida State Skindiving School in Orlando, Florida. I was a member of a dive club in Orlando known as Orlando Sport Diving Club. Bob and I had heard of a sinkhole in Ocala known locally as Zuber Sink as well as Blue Sink. Years later, I later leased the property and renamed it as Hal Watts’s 40 Fathom Grotto, and I eventually purchased the Grotto in mid-1979.

We had never talked to anyone about the sinkhole; therefore, we had no idea about the visibility or the depth. Up to this point, I had constructed my favorite BCD, using a large white Clorox plastic jug, which we tied to our twin tank system. We put air into the BCD from our “Safe Second Stage” mouthpieces. 

Bob and I tied our safety line to a tree on the bank of the sink and reviewed our dive plan. I am reminded of the motto I came up with, many moons ago—Plan your dive, dive your plan. 

We all know that motto. I didn’t realize that it was you who coined it.

It was back in the 1960s when I was writing course manuals for NASDS [National Association of Scuba Diving Schools] and opened up my Mr. Scuba dive shop.

Mr. Scuba’s Magic Bus!

But back to the dive at Zuber. I’ve failed to mention the fact that neither of us had been doing any dives below 30 m/100 ft. We followed the cave line down slowly, not paying enough attention to our depth. Before we realized it, we had hit the bottom, stirred it up, and had no clear water.

Lucky for us, I kept the cave diving reel in my hand, and Bob kept his hand on the line. I couldn’t see; however, I could feel Bob’s hand, squeeze his fingers tight on the line, grab his thumb, and give it the “thumbs up” signal. I don’t know how we managed it, but we were both able to use our NASDS safe second stages and add air into the Clorox “BCDs.” We were actually fated to begin an uncontrolled, too-rapid ascent. All of a sudden, we hit an overhead wall, which stopped our ascent at a depth of 9 m/30 ft. 

We looked at each other, and gave the OK hand signal. While decompressing, following the old Scubapro SOS mechanical computer, I started to pull up the loose line until the dive reel appeared. Wow, we sure had an awful lot of loose line floating around us. Were we extremely lucky? Of course, we were. Our problem was that we never planned our dive, and consequently, were unable to dive a plan.

After that dive, I worked with Scuba Pro and Sportsways to create the “Octopus,” or “safe second.” A while later, the octopus appeared for the first time in Scuba Pro catalogs. I was also the first to add a pressure gauge along with the Octopus.

Hal Watts set the world deep air record to 120m/390 ft in 1967

Ah yes, the “Safe Second.” That’s what NASDS called backup second stages, right? Sheck Exley (1949-1994), the legendary cave explorer with whom you were friends, was also credited with fitting a redundant second stage reg with a necklace. I want to ask you more about Exley, but first, I want to know: What are the best wrecks you ever dived?

This is really very hard to answer. I’ll have to list four, in the order that I dived them: the USS Monitor, Andrea Doria, Japanese wrecks located in Truk Lagoon, and the Lusitania in Ireland.

The most important would have to be the USS Monitor, a submarine used during the Civil War. A group of well-known USA divers applied to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for a permit to dive the Monitor, as she was located in protected waters. In addition to myself, the group consisted of: Gary Gentile, attorney Peter Hess, and several other well-known expert divers. At first, NOAA refused. Then, Peter Hess filed proper papers asking that we get the NOAA permit. To that end, we presented my Deep Air training material to the concerned NOAA group. I appeared as an expert witness and provided NOAA staff and their legal representatives with my internationally accepted training material and my record of training several world record deep air divers. Our deep air training has been accepted worldwide with zero diving deaths. After that, we received the permit. 

Other than the Monitor, my favorite deep wreck dive would be the Lusitania, which is a very personal and proud story for me. The main reason is because venture capitalist Gregg Bemis owned the diving rights to the Lucey at the time. Gregg had contacted me requesting that I train him on PSAI Narcosis Management Level V, on air—which is 73 m/240 ft—and then train him on trimix so he and I could dive to 91 m/300 ft on the Lusitania lying off the coast of Ireland. 

When word got out that I had enrolled Gregg in my Narcosis Management Course, a well-known international course director (a personal friend of mine) called and told me, “Hal, do not teach Gregg deep diving.” 

PSAI’s ad in aquaCORPS Journal circa 1994 offering deep air training.

He told me that he had been training Gregg at his facility, and that he was a “train wreck.” “He is from a very well-off family in Texas, and if you cause him any injuries, you will be sued and put out of business,” my friend said. Well, guess what? Gregg completed the 240 Level V Deep Air course, then our PSAI Trimix course. My wife, Jan Watts, Gregg, and I went to Ireland to dive the Lusitania. He and I made an awesome 91 m/300 ft trimix dive to the deck.

Diving on the Andrea Doria with Tom Mount, Peter Hess, and several great wreck divers was also an awesome dive. Last but not least was a great trip to Truk to dive on some of the Japanese wrecks.

Please tell us about Sheck.  What was your relationship with him like?

Sheck and I became friends and made several dives together, and one of my favorites happened when Sheck, his Mary Ellen, my wife Jan, and I were diving at 40 Fathoms. Sheck wanted to practice gas switches during descents. Sheck was practicing, getting ready for a planned very deep dive (I think in Mexico with Jim Bowden). The four of us swam to the east side of The Grotto, slowly following the wall during our controlled descent, watching Sheck practice gas switching. 

Sheck Exley and Hal Watts at a NSS-CDS conference

After reaching our planned depth of 73 m/240 ft, we began our controlled ascent up to our first planned deco stop. During our last deco stop on our 4.5 m/15 ft platforms, I noticed that Sheck had a funny look on his face and was messing with his drysuit between his legs. I remembered then that he had told me that he had an attachment installed in the drysuit that would allow him to pee underwater. He was clearly in a bit of discomfort and Mary Ellen, Jan and I just floated nearby and watched.

I’ve heard that Sheck later used diapers, or just cut it loose in one of his old neoprene drysuits on his big dives, so evidently he didn’t get that early p-valve to work. What about your friendship and job collaboration with Gary Taylor, your brother-in-arms and a co-owner of PSAI?

Andrea, get comfortable, since this question will take some time to properly answer.

I first met Gary in Miami, which is where we became friends when I was staying in his home and taking Tom Mount’s nitrox course.  I have a photo of Tom, Gary, and me gas blending on the floor of Tom’s garage. During the course, Tom was still using his worn-out hand written paper flip charts as his notes.

Gary was impressed with my deep air program and offered to put together an updated slideshow presentation for me to teach with. PSAI still uses an updated version of this system to date. Gary stayed with Tom until Tom thought he had sold IANTD [International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers] to another individual. After that sale came about, Gary contacted me wanting to get more involved with PSAI. Being smarter than folks thought I was, I jumped at the chance to have Gary on the PSAI Team. Tom’s deal fell through, but Gary was totally involved with PSAI, and now is a partner and president of our agency. Thanks to Gary and Tom. 

Many, many years ago I was still taking some type of classes—I think regarding mixed gasses, maybe with Rebreathers—at Tom’s house. In fact, I was one of Tom’s instructors who did the final proofreading of one of Kevin Gurr’s manuals. Too far back to recall much about this mixed gas stuff—remember my reputation for being a deep air diver.

Tom Mount and Gary Taylor mixing up some trimix in the garage.

Speaking of the people with whom you’ve dived, was the aim of The Forty Fathom Scubapros Club?

Before I invested in a sinkhole in the Ocala, Florida, area—which was locally referred to as Blue Sink or Zuber Sink, and is now referred to as 40 Fathom Grotto—several diving buddies whom I had dived with and trained for extreme deep air diving—as well as cave exploring—got together and planned to dive The Grotto at least one Friday night per month. Within a short period of time, several other buddies joined our group, which eventually became known as The 40 Fathom Scubapro’s dive club. Each diver had to meet my requirements of training. 

Forty Fathom Grotto aka Zuber Sink
An early Sheck Exley mix course at Forty Fathom Grotto
An Eric Hutcheson drawing of Forty Fathom Grotto

Eventually, our group set specific personal requirements—being a good person, supporting our club safety rules, and making at least one 40 Fathom Grotto dive per month. We set a limit of 14 or 15 members. Three 40 Fathom members eventually set World Records for deep air: I was one, A. J. Muns, and Herb Johnson set ocean records, and later I set the air depth record for cave diving. Naturally, as time passed and we got older, our membership got smaller. It is notable that none of our club members have died during any scuba dive.

Finally, what led you to create the iconic motto, “Plan Your Dive. Dive Your Plan?” 

I used to be a private pilot, and we used to say, “Plan your flight, fly your plan.” This was back in probably 1961 when I had just started diving and there were so many instances where all the other divers would get in the water without saying anything. I’ve seen so many incidents and fatalities that could have been avoided through proper planning.

Dive Deeper

ScubaGuru: LXD 029 : Hal Watts – Record Deep Diver & Technical Diving Pioneer

Netdoc: Netdoc chats with Mr Scuba, Hal Watts

InDEPTH: The First Helium-based Mix Dives Conducted by Pre-Tech Explorers (1967-1988) by Chris Werner

Alert Diver.Eu: Rapture of the Tech: Depth, Narcosis and Training Agencies

Professional Scuba Association International: PSAI History


Andrea Murdock Alpini is a TDI and PSAI technical trimix and advanced wreck-overhead instructor based in Italy. He is fascinated by deep wrecks, historical research, decompression studies, caves, filming, and writing. He holds a Master’s degree in Architecture and an MBA in Economics for The Arts. Andrea is also the founder of PHY Diving Equipment. His life revolves around teaching open circuit scuba diving, conducting expeditions, developing gear, and writing essays about his philosophy of wreck and cave diving. He published his first book, Deep Blue: storie di relitti e luoghi insoliti (2018) and IMMERSIONI SELVAGGE, the new one is on the way, out on fall 2022. 

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