A proposal has been put forward for a “Cayman Dive Response Network” to help prevent and manage incidents on the water.

The concept includes a team of trained volunteers ready to respond quickly and efficiently to dive accidents.

Kate Holden, a former dive instructor who now works for Copper Beech Communications, submitted the 15-page plan to the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency review of Cayman’s search and rescue capability. Matthew Forbes, head of the Governor’s Office in Cayman, said it was one of the recommendations from the report being considered for implementation.

Ms. Holden said the network would be a way of formalizing the ad-hoc volunteer response that happens whenever there is a diving emergency.

The proposed network would also provide training and create standard operating procedures for water sports businesses to follow in an emergency.

“The time has come to formalize a professional response network to support and mitigate water sports related incidents in the Cayman Islands,” she wrote in the proposal.

Part of the remit of the network would be to be ready to respond to water-related rescue and recovery missions in support of the emergency services.

The proposal was referenced among a series of other recommendations in the coastguard report, published in February.

Ms. Holden says she is waiting to see if there is any interest in progressing it further.

She said there are multiple incidents involving injured or missing divers every year, as well as boating or other water-related incidents that require the support of divers.

She said there is significant goodwill within the dive community and many professionals are happy to lend their skills and time in emergency situations. She believes the dive support network would help ensure they had the skills and the processes to do so effectively and efficiently.

Ms. Holden, who has personally been involved in three dive search and rescue efforts in the Cayman Islands, recalled one incident during a search where a volunteer diver got into difficulties and had to be rescued. She said, “The response we have currently is very informal, considering the number of incidents we have each year.

“Cayman has one of the most professional dive industries in the world and the network would seek to provide a unified body that supports and helps develop this local industry.”

Her proposal involves maintaining a roster of up to 200 trained volunteers with the expertise to participate in search and rescue dives, as well as a core leadership group to coordinate with emergency services in such incidents.

She said the network could also be responsible for providing ongoing professional development for all dive staff in Cayman and developing standard operating procedures for all water sports businesses when incidents occur.

Ms. Holden said Cayman follows the global trend of increasing dive fatalities, largely due to a growing number of older divers in the water.

She said it is important for the image of the tourism industry that the Cayman Islands does all it can to address the issue.

She wrote, “The local dive industry therefore needs to respond to the problem with a unified, coherent plan, not only to try and reduce the number of incidents and fatalities but to also give tourists confidence in the dive industry here – [that] Cayman is not just doing business as usual but is working hard to combat the trend in increased dive and water sports related incidents and deaths.

“This plan must provide the dive community and those professionals supporting the dive industry with better skills to prevent an incident and to ensure that when an incident occurs, the response is professional and to the highest caliber possible.”

Mr. Forbes of the Governor’s Office said the provision of new equipment to marine police and firefighters by the Royal Navy last week was the first recommendations to be implemented from the coastguard review.

He said, “There is wider consideration currently being given to the future of search and rescue services and this will include evaluation of all the recommendations in the [Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s] report, including the point about the possible establishment of a Dive Response Network.”

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8 COMMENTS

  1. I would like to see a compulsory medical questionnaire for divers over a certain age – say 50. Where the diver takes any medication or reports Yes to any of the medical questions, they should supply a ‘fit to dive’ certificate before being allowed in the water. Diver incidents and deaths are tragic, but they also have long-term effects on dive staff who have to deal with them too, or who put themselves at risk to attempt a rescue. Preventing unfit and unwell people getting into difficulties in the first place should be the first line in preventing accidents.

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  2. As a former watersports operator for over 20 years and handled 100’s of thousands of people and never had the need for even CPR . Knowing and seeing what was happening in those years in the watersports operations, I had suggested in many watersports meetings that we needed to do more prevention in our operations , like boat handling and paying attention to our passengers , but all of that went on deaf ears , but I implemented it to my business , and that’s why I didn’t even need to use my CPR training , except on my little dog .

    I have to agree with Ms. Holden efforts in forming a search and rescue team , but self-responsibility goes a long way . I had many of my clientele that kept coming back and taking my trip until they were old and they enjoyed every part of the trip and nothing ever happened to them .

    The last Charter boat incident of Captain running his boat up on the iron shore , says that much more is needed in the watersports operations than a search and rescue team .

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  3. @ Susan Weeks

    You clearly do not scuba dive because if you did you’d be familiar with the waivers all customers have to sign at dive centres. I was a PADI MSDT for 14 years and also a CMAS 2-star instructor for part of that time. There are three main problems. The first is that people lie on the waivers – I dived with customers who declared there was nothing wrong with them then proceeded to pour half a pharmacy down their throats during our first dive trip. The second is that all too often when dive operators see something like this they don’t pull the plug and beach the customer because they regard that waiver as literally their ‘get out of jail free’ card is anything happens. But the final problem is that these incidents are all too often completely unpredictable. Under CMAS rules medical exams were mandatory – all my open water students required a full medical exam including a chest x-ray and an ECG if they were over 40. Despite that one of my colleagues had a 35-year-old female student go into fatal cardiac arrest during a confined water training session in 10 feet of water. People die playing golf, they die going out for a meal in the evening and they die scuba diving – that’s life.

    However, I must applaud this initiative. I was also a First Responder/Paramedic Instructor and had first hand experience of managing some fairly major incidents. The priority you always have is establishing protocols and a chain of command. Without that there’s a real danger of it all turning into a complete Charlie Foxtrot. What tends to happen is that if someone who knows what they’re doing doesn’t take charge at the very beginning the people who can shout and scream loudest take over – that’s a recipe for disaster and I’ve seen the aftermath of situations where it’s happened.

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  4. Mr. Williams you’re ever so right in your comment . When I started doing my charters I learned very quickly that people wouldn’t give honest answers . So what did at the start of the trip was gave them all of what was necessary for them to enjoy the trip and keep themselves safe, and answered about all the questions that they would all ask for the day . That made it very enjoyable for them and me .

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  5. Ron,
    You sound like a very smart, careful, professional guy.
    Were your trips SCUBA or snorkeling?
    Obviously someone is much safer on the surface than under it.

    A big problem with diving are hopeless dive buddies. Especially if they are just paired up on the boat one has no way of knowing if their new buddy is competent.

    On one occasion I had a leak from the top of my tank that I could hear but not see. Luckily I have good breath control and there was no emergency. After the dive I asked my new buddy if he had seen it and he said he though it was my breathing out. For the benefit on non-diving, when you breathe out the bubbles could could from the mouthpiece in, obviously, your mouth, not from the tank at your back.

    Another time my tank had slipped from the straps securing it halfway down my back. Holding it with one hand I chased my “buddy” who of course had never looked at me once. They were quite surprised when I tugged on their fin to get their attention.

    By contrast, while diving with my son once his high pressure hose burst, emptying his tank in moments. I was right by his side and we safely shared our air back to the boat.

    My answer is to always dive with a “Spare Air” secondary air supply so I can surface in safety if needed. Perhaps all boats should have one for each of their divers?

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