I accuse -what is diving freedom

A Diver reader who visited Curaçao this year was appalled by the level of freedom allowed to visiting divers at the dive centre. Does he have a point, or is this just the sort of liberty experienced divers crave when they visit different parts of the world Both sides have their say

When Diver receives a letter levelling specific accusations against a particular organisation, in the interests of fairness we generally seek a response from the accused before going into print. A recent letter from Robert Tuck of Cromer raised a number of issues which related to a discussion point in the Off-Gassing pages - whether divers should be treated by dive centres as adults responsible for their own safety.

Referring to an item in Diver News in June, Robert wrote: I was interested to read that PADI is starting to recognise the place for solo diving. Having just returned from an 11-day trip to Captain Dons Habitat in CuraÃao, I am pleased to inform PADI that solo-diving is already taking place under its patronage.
My main concern is that it is being undertaken with little or no regard for any safety protocols, let alone specific solo-diving protocols.
Captain Dons is a PADI five-star centre which markets itself on a diving freedom platform. This, according to its instructors, dive guides and management, means that, having signed a disclaimer, you the customer are totally responsible for anything that happens to you in its centre, on its boat or in the water, regardless of Captain Dons actions and activities.
Here you will witness divers, regardless of experience, being allowed to dive at any time of day or night, solo or otherwise, with no outbound or inbound logging of divers, and free access to air and nitrox tanks regardless of certification, experience or levels of equipment.
The centre is unattended from 5pm until 8am, with no published safety or emergency procedures and all oxygen kept under lock and key along with medical and first-aid supplies. This was one scary place to be diving, and in 320 logged dives I have never experienced such a cavalier attitude to diving customers safety.
Admittedly, the dive sites are relatively mild and a proficient diver and buddy shouldnt experience any undue problems, but there were jellyfish, slight currents and Happy Hour at the hotel bar was well subscribed to by most divers. But the point is that PADI is out of touch with what is going on out there in the real world. It appears that a dive centres need to make money is greater than its need to act responsibly. PADI pontificates and reacts too late, and without sufficient clarity and authority.
Wake up PADI, before its too late. When I fly for 10 hours-plus to reach a foreign diving destination at the cost of a lot of hard-earned money, I dont want to be questioning one of your five-star centres about its lack of safety procedures. Thats what I expect you to be doing as a worldwide regulatory body.
And before anyone asks, I did question the dive centre, my buddy and I werent happy with the response and we refused to dive further with it. We were, however, in the minority. The remaining divers were happy to dive without questioning any of the diving-safety requirements.
Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. Diving freedom - solo diving - sounds like a nice idea, but without some kind of management or protocol, the opportunity for all divers to be hit by a knee-jerk over-reaction from divings governing bodies when a very public solo-diving accident occurs may well spoil what freedom for safe and enjoyable diving we currently have. Truly a scary place.

Diver referred the letter to PADI International Ltd (the UK-based division) for comment, as PADI seemed to be coming in for the brunt of the criticism. PIL in turn referred the matter to Habitat Dive Resorts. Its Senior Dive Operations Manager, Jack Chalk, replied: Habitat is known the world over as the home of diving freedom, a slogan we do not take lightly. This is a concept that Captain Don Stewart, a leader and visionary in the diving industry, started more than 25 years ago.
Its based on a saying known as The Armstrong Opinion, which states: Once a person gets certified and has experience, there becomes a guide/diver relationship rather than a student/instructor relationship.

width=100% The dive centre at Habitat CuraÃao - accused of lax practices, but do qualified divers need to be protected


The guide is acting in an advisory capacity, should warn of known, unobvious hazards, inform of local laws, customs, etc, but should not be expected to make basic go/no-go decisions where the diver has all the facts before him or her.
This philosophy has sustained the success of Habitat for 25 years. Habitat CuraÃao opened five years ago and was founded on this same principle, but diving freedom does not, as Mr Tuck wrongfully implies, absolve us from our responsibility to our diving guests.
We have a responsibility to provide all the information needed to our guests so that they can then make a knowledgeable and responsible decision on how to conduct their diving, whether it be solo or not. We do not advocate nor recommend solo-diving, nor do we prohibit it. If a person has been trained properly or makes the decision to dive solo, that is their decision to make as a certified diver and as a competent adult.
What Habitat has done is put the responsibility for safe diving where it belongs - on the individual diver.
Mr Tuck stated that he has 320 logged dives, which would qualify him as a relatively experienced diver. As both an experienced diver and an adult, he was given the opportunity to make his dives in the fashion with which he felt comfortable. His decision was and shall always be respected at Habitat.
Mr Tuck is correct that the dive operation is closed from 5pm until 8am, and that divers have access to tanks 24 hours a day. All divers are given an initial orientation which informs them of local laws and customs, where and how to get tanks, a description of our house reef and other pertinent information that they will need to have an enjoyable and safe diving holiday.
Mr Tuck is incorrect in his implication that oxygen and first-aid supplies are not available. They are both available at our front desk and in the office of our resident manager, who is available 24 hours a day and, when not on the property, lives about one minute away.
Mr Tuck is also incorrect that our nitrox tanks are available to anyone. They are kept in a locked cabinet and must be logged out by divers wishing to use them only after a staff-member has checked their nitrox certification.
In the end, I am sorry that Mr Tucks diving holiday was not what he expected and sincerely wish him the best in his future diving adventures. However, the implication that Habitat Dive Resorts are unsafe is completely and totally without merit.

Chalk also referred Robert Tucks letter to Rick Lesser of Lesser and Associates, which he describes as one of the foremost recognised attorneys in the field of diving litigation. Rick Lesser responded: The major premise of the letter is simply wrong - PADI is not a worldwide regulatory body, but a training association concerned with the training and supervision of certified divers.
It is not an international scuba police, and in places where overbearing supervision has been instituted, such as the Cayman Islands some years ago, most such rules have been abandoned because of the complaints of divers.
Releases are not just used at Captain Dons, but worldwide by every training association. Were it otherwise, the sport of scuba would not exist.
Once trained, the adult diver is supposed to use good judgment in making dives - that is the whole point of training, and if that is not for you, then you can either ask for supervision at Captain Dons, or go somewhere else.
As the writer noted, Captain Dons is known worldwide for its emphasis on diving freedom, which is exactly why people go there. Mr Tuck seems to have known in advance exactly what he would be getting, but then complained when he got it. Next time perhaps he should sign up for the guided reef-tank tour at Disney World, and he probably wont be disappointed.
Is every facility that fills a tank for a certified diver then supposed to inquire as to his experience, dive site, notification of love ones, buddy qualification and health and, if unsatisfactory (to them), then refuse to give the certified diver a tank

Finally Bill Hamm, Manager, PADI International Resort and Retailer Associations, has weighed in: PADI is very clear on its position regarding solo-diving, he says. PADI feels very strongly about use of the buddy system and will continue to train divers using the buddy system based on its proven benefit to diving, divers and diving safety.
While there may be applications of solo-diving that are acceptable, PADI feels that solo diving proponents should advocate responsible solo-diving on its own unique merits, requisite training, and equipment needs...
Should a PADI-authorised dive operation choose to offer solo-diving as an option for its certified guests, then we would support that decision so long as appropriate safety precautions and protocols are in place.
Habitat CuraÃao is a valuable member of the PADI family. It has a proven safety record and, as our records indicate, the letter from Mr Tuck is the only communication we have received that questions its service and safety procedures.
The decision to offer solo-diving is completely at the discretion of this dive operation and, based on its record, one that appears to have been carefully considered.
In addition, we feel confident that although Habitat CuraÃao has the necessary procedures in place, Mr Tucks comments will be taken into consideration, and adjustments to procedures made if necessary.
We take exception to Mr. Tucks statement that PADI is out of touch with what is going on out there in the real world. We have a tremendous grasp of what is occurring in the dive industry, both in a general sense and from a grass-roots level.
Our quality management process is the best in the industry, and ironically, its letters like Mr Tucks that drive this process.

So there you are, Mr Tuck, they might not agree with your views, but the fact that you voice them is welcomed in the end. Will you now take the legal eagles advice and sign up for a tank tour at Disney World What do other readers think