The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
May I outline to divers something of the threat recreational diving faces from modern "no win, no fee" compensation claims?
Our TV screens are plagued with ads from "claim farmers" offering to win compensation for injuries, and one of their catchphrases is: "Where there is blame, there is a claim". There were about 300 diving-related incidents last year, which could provide a rich harvest for claim farmers.
An injured diver won't necessarily be compensated, but all the claim farmer has to prove to succeed and recover his fees is that a) there is a 51% chance that someone who has assumed responsibility for the planning, organisation or conduct of a dive fell below the standard that would be accepted by any reasonable diver; and b) the mistake caused or "materially contributed" to the injury.
In a 1998 claim, where a trainee open-water diver died under an instructor's supervision, her family received 50% of the available compensation (because of her own contributory negligence). The High Court Judge ruled that where novices or "otherwise less able than skilled practitioners" were involved, the standard of care should be higher.
"Less able" could be argued to include not only those lacking knowledge or skills but suffering from DCI, hypothermia, seasickness or any other condition.
The only way to stop compensation culture invading and damaging leisure diving through litigation or, more likely, massively increased insurance premiums, is to ensure that everybody acts "reasonably", preferably in accordance with their own diving organisation's procedures.
We also have to be able to produce evidence of our "reasonableness" through risk assessments, dive plans, logs etc. If events depart from the dive plan, we should ideally use a protocol to record what reasonable steps were taken to manage the incident.
The claimant's lawyers get no fees if they lose a claim, but if that should happen the claimant is insured for the cost of reimbursing the diving organisation for the legal fees it incurred in successfully defending the claim.
If there is no credible or admissible evidence available to the defence, the insurers will negotiate a settlement on the best terms possible to avoid the massive legal costs of a trial.
We could turn that catchphrase into: "Where there's no blame, there's no claim". Then the claim farmers might look elsewhere for their fees and leave divers alone. If divers do not adapt to the threat, they could be in for a tough time over the next few years.
Tim Goldburn, Falmouth
As a former long-time resident of Thailand, I enjoyed Zac Macaulay's account of his trip to Koh Tao (Swapping Backpacks For BCs, January).
But I feel that the advice on when to go could mislead readers planning a trip to Thailand. Zac states that June-October is the low season, that you are taking a big chance with the weather in this period, and attributes the indifferent visibility he sometimes experienced to his diving outside the main season.
It is true that May-October is regarded as the low season for tourism because it is wettest, but the diving situation is more complicated.
There are two seasons. From November-April, the north-east monsoon sweeps across the Gulf of Thailand (in which Koh Tao is situated), making most dive sites inaccessible and diving conditions poor.
In this season the Andaman Sea (Phuket, Krabi, Koh Phi Phi etc) is the place to dive. However, between May and October the south-west monsoon brings poor diving conditions in the Andaman Sea, while the Gulf of Thailand is at its best, with usually minimal winds, light showers and relatively good viz. So the period in which Zac visited Koh Tao was in fact the high season for diving.
Of course, as in any other dive location, bad weather can strike even in the high season. But you can dive all year round in Thailand.
In my view, Koh Tao remains an excellent place to learn to dive in the May-October period because of the low prices resulting from keen competition between the numerous dive shops and the proximity of most dive sites. Between November and April I would recommend Koh Phi Phi for much the same reason, though it does not quite have the same backpacker ambience.
Phil Rose, Tervuren, Belgium
I wrote to Off-Gassing regarding the US Confederate submarine Hunley (Why Bother To Raise The Hunley?, September 2002) in the hope of having what I considered reasonably intelligent questions answered.
These questions were asked on the basis of watching a TV documentary. I inadvertently confused the name of a person who appeared in the programme, Martin Dean, with that of another who had no involvement, Dr Colin Martin of St Andrews University.
I apologise unreservedly to Dr Martin for any embarrassment this might have caused him. In Off-Gassing in December he reacted with understanding and intelligent consideration to my error and made his own points (Sympathy Over Civil War Sub).
Then, in January, insultingly, another archaeological academic saw fit to accuse us both of "blowing off steam" and said that we should get our facts right (What's Wrong With Raising The Hunley?).
Am I and others to be so disparaged for seeking intelligent answers to questions in an effort to broaden our understanding?
Clive Cussler and his National Underwater Marine Agency in the USA found the Hunley in 1994. I have read The Sea Hunters by Cussler and Craig Pergo and it seems that a number of parties wanted to lay claim to the wreck but eventually it was turned over to the US Navy's Historical Department, under Dr William Dudley and Dr Robert Neyland, who were dedicated to seeing it raised and conserved.
Since then it has been handed over to the National Parks Service's Submerged Cultural Resources Centre, which has uncovered about half of the little sub and found that it is more advanced than was originally thought, and in good enough condition to raise.
Funding has been allocated to give the crew a full burial with honours, so if Americans wish to raise a piece of their history, that's up to them. But wouldn't it be better to leave the Hunley alone and let the crew rest in peace?
Surely the money could be used towards saving our oceans and marine life - more important in the long run.
A K Beaumont, Bolton-le-Sands, Lancs
In the past year we went on two holidays to Egypt, the first to Shams Alam and the second to Sharm el Sheikh and Dahab, through well-known UK dive tour operators. On both we booked our diving as part of the holiday package, so paid for it two months before departure.
In Shams Alam we found that the dive packages on offer cost less than we had paid. We pointed this out to the tour operator on our return and received an apology and a refund.
In Dahab we again found that we had paid more than if we had booked on the spot, and have since noted that other UK tour operators are offering the same three-day dive package £15 cheaper. The tour operator has been informed.
When booking it could be worthwhile shopping around or checking prices on the Internet. Regaldive did say that its diving prices were usually cheaper than booking and paying in Egypt. Explorers, however, made no comment.
Ann Woodcock, Barnoldswick, Lancs
I have read recent letters about air costing £3 and feel that's not a bad price for 200-plus bar.
I dive regularly at Stoney Cove but live in Derby, and can get free air fills at a local dive shop. While I'm waiting for the bottles to be filled I normally look at bits of kit and often buy the little things like hose-clips, slates or O-rings which divers seem to crave, and which I probably wouldn't have bought otherwise.
If all dive shops operated like this, wouldn't it push up their sales of dive kit, as well as giving the diver a feeling of being well-treated?
Chris Bennett, Belper, Derbyshire
I have just read Shoestring Photos (Off-Gassing, February), and agree with Marc Thompson. To have a photographic record of a dive is great, but to dive just for photos is not what I want to do.
I once read an article by a top professional photographer who said that a good camera is no substitute for a good photographer. I use a Sea and Sea MX5 Mk2 with strobe (a Christmas box... thanks Dad!).
My first practice roll of film was pathetic, as I tried to take distance shots at Stoney, but my second roll at Capernwray was much better. They may not win prizes, but they do provide a good record of a dive.
So don't be led by price, go cheap and practice. Even disposable cameras will give good results, if conditions are OK.
Paul Watson, Hedon, East Yorkshire
We have designed and built a boat dedicated for divers. It's based on our Offshore 25, of which we have sold more than 100.
We know that the 25 performs and which are the good, bad and plain ugly bits - and have put the problems right. With an optional length of 24-34ft, it can be open or with an island or conventional wheelhouse, diesel-powered, jet or prop, 50mph-plus etc.
However, we are not divers and need to know the best fit-out. What are your first-aid needs? What do you want to carry? How do you want to sit? What is the best way to recover a diver from the water? What fixed equipment do you use? Tell us and we will offer you a boat to get you to your dive site safely and quickly.
Please give us a ring on 01208 812888.
Philip Mitchell, Offshore 105, Wadebridge
Re Beachcomber's article on the spelling of the James Eagan Layne (December 2002), I first went to a freshwater site called Guildenburgh in 1980, though in recent years it seems to be called Gildenburgh Water.
I believe my spelling to be correct as there is a street called Guildenburgh Crescent in nearby Whittlesey (or is it Whittlesea...?)
Les Colbert, Newport, Shropshire
I and 15 others have just enjoyed a week in Sharm with Emperor Divers and its guide Pino. We had the dayboat to ourselves - except for one day when a couple who had experienced problems were given a day's diving as compensation.
Diving had gone smoothly all week but that day we ended up short of tanks so couldn't do the third planned dive. There was no taxi at Sharm port when we returned, one of our group lost his watch and another his computer. This couple obviously brought their luck onto our boat.
While aboard, the male was heard to utter to his wife: "They're all bloody PADI divers." He then impressed by telling us: "I dive with twin tanks back home and all my dives are between 40 and 65m. It's not worth diving otherwise."
We had realised before the first dive that these people were prepared to ignore a briefing and do exactly as they wanted. Why should they follow the guide when they could go the other way and surface somewhere unexpected?
The previous time I had met a BSAC diver abroad, I was on a boat in the Med and, in front of a dozen other people, was told: "No disrespect to you PADI divers, but us BSAC divers are the best-trained divers in the world."
I, of course, agreed with him, then asked him to explain the idea behind BSAC's thinking of wearing wetsuits back to front, as he was doing. At that point he suddenly remembered that he had left something at the other end of the boat.
Most British divers abroad tend to respect the environment, but why are some BSAC divers so intent on running down PADI divers?
People respect British divers as having trained and dived in what can be a harsh environment, but such arrogance causes people to treat British divers with disdain.
Tony Gray, Swindon
I took up diving in 2000, at the age of 43. Recently I broke an ankle in a fall while emerging from the waters of Liverpool's Duke's Dock.
I am now fully recovered, but to my surprise my insurers who cover income lost through illness have now decided that diving is hazardous, and will not meet any future claims that result from diving accidents, including such non-specific injuries as breaking an ankle on the way out of the water. This seems rather an over-reaction to me, but may well be based on actual data.
I am a doctor in private practice, with a family including a daughter at university and another aged 11 and already a Junior Open Water Diver. I can't afford to have a gap like this in my life or income-protection cover, but I'm not giving up diving at any price.
With so many divers of all ages and occupations, there must be a lot of data as to the risks involved to an insurer, and I can't imagine cover not being available. Do you know of any specialised cover available, or of the attitudes of any of the major insurers?
Dr Simon Fordham, Liverpool
Dive Master Insurance Consultants replies: We offer exactly the sort of insurance Dr Fordham describes, at the same rates for divers as for non-divers. Many life assurance companies do not offer cover to divers - or, at least, not at affordable rates.
Before we offered this cover, many divers had been unable to purchase long-term disability cover, critical illness cover or term life assurance. We understand the needs of divers and the real risks involved.
I bought a secondhand Buddy BC from a private supplier a few months ago and took the precaution of having it examined by my local dive shop, Seascape Scuba Ashford, before using it.
It found a fault with the Auto Air and agreed to source the spare parts needed to fix it. The BC would not be ready in time for a planned holiday, so I had to make other arrangements.
I returned to an answerphone message from the owner of Seascape Scuba, stating that the company had gone into receivership but that the BC had been left with a business in the adjacent industrial unit for me to collect.
I phoned this business, to be told that it had been given a BC matching the description, but it had been collected by an unknown person with a lot of other dive gear left by Seascape Scuba. I am left without a jacket, the company is uncontactable, the neighbouring company isn't interested and I am thus stabbed in the back by my own jacket!
Clive Barnard, Broadstairs
I recently completed my PADI Open Water and AOW courses and wish to suggest the addition of a module entitled "Diver Etiquette".
Despite my limited experience, I have come across many divers who seem to have no regard for their dive companions. They stop suddenly, cut across other divers causing underwater pile-ups, bash masks and regs with flailing fins etc.
During my first week of diving I was marvelling at a great school of barracuda at Ras Mohammed when a fellow-diver ruined it all for us by zooming straight at the fish with his camera, causing them to turn and flee into the blue.
Thanks, mate. Worse still, this guy was an instructor. I hope PADI realises that the behaviour of divers towards each other is just as important as any other aspect of the sport.
Paul Banoub, London
May I correct your brief item about Tim Yarrow and his dive endurance record (News, January). Tim is in fact English and was born in Yorkshire, where his father was a GP near Harrogate.
Richard Suter, London
My son and I recently passed our PADI Rescue Diver and Master Scuba Diver qualifications. Does that make us expert divers? Clearly not.
We have passed the equivalent of a driving test and will only become more proficient, safer divers through experience. In our first year we each clocked up more than 50 dives in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and UK.
On our Rescue Course were two other adult divers. Both just scraped through a very easy multiple-choice final exam which my son passed with flying colours. One had a habit of swimming slightly inverted and had to be held down to stop him bobbing to the surface feet-first.
The other had just bought a technical wing, having completed no more than his four open-water and five advanced dives.
I questioned whether he should be on the course, given his lack of experience. No problem, I was told, he has good buoyancy control - not evident from his pool work. One of them asked to borrow a pocket mask. He didn't see the benefit of owning one before, during or after the course.
These two are now qualified Rescue Divers and anyone diving with them would expect a level of proficiency they do not yet possess. Lead a rescue! They can barely look after themselves.
So, do I dive with the adult Rescue Diver with a wing, no experience and no safety equipment? Or my son, who has assisted in a real rescue, is properly kitted up, dived in a variety of conditions and environments and has shown maturity and ability under water? I know who I would trust.
By the way, my son is 13.
Jeff Pike, East Cottingwith, Yorkshire