Following my theory and pool training for PADI’s rescue diver certification I proceeded to the open water training over the Christmas weekend. A bunch of us boarded a morning ferry from Singapore to the Indonesian resort island of Bintan on Saturday. The group consisted of five rescue diver trainees, fifteen or so open water trainees, dive masters, instructors and DM trainees.
We headed out on two launches to the dive site, Kelong. The rescue divers kitted up and rolled backwards into the water. The situation underwater was bleak. Visibility was about 2 metres. I got separated from the group once, moved back to where I had been a few seconds prior and looked around. A vague fluorescent-greenish shape seemed to move in the murk – it was the easily recognisable rental fins worn by someone in my group. We tried the tired-diver tow at the surface, but had to give it up because we had floated too far from the boat. We swam back. When we were back on the boat, a dive master called out to get the first aid kit. Someone had got stung by jellyfish. I found the kit but no vinegar. My instructor Rio picked up what looked like a bottle of cleaning fluid and sprayed it on the diver’s stung leg. It turns out the spray cap of cleaning fluid bottles works to spray vinegar as well.
The second dive had to be aborted. The group got separated proper and we had to ascend after searching for one minute. The third dive was messier than the second. We were supposed to head down following a line that had been tied to the sea floor. It should have been a simple feat, but a large number of open water students seemed to be on the line as well. I let go of the line to descend further. My ‘classmate’ Jing Yi found me and signalled to me whether we should ascend, the others being nowhere to be seen. I indicated that we should proceed along the line. We met Rio somewhere along the line. We practiced the panicked diver underwater scenario – get the diver to breathe slowly and calm down – and ascended. Two others had gone missing despite having the line and we found them at the surface. They went down again briefly and completed their scenario. All this while the depth did not exceed 6 metres.
The diving was slightly better than on the first day, visibility at dive site White Sand being 3-4 metres. Toward the end of the first dive, two dive masters appeared to be unresponsive underwater. We worked in teams to bring them up, ensuring that their regulators stayed in their mouths. At the surface we towed them toward the boats, one person simulating rescue breaths every second and the other removing dive equipment from the victim. I had taken off my own dive gear when the call came: “Missing diver!” Someone looked out for bubbles and to coordinate the rescue while others helped me put on my gear. I rolled back out of the boat into the water. The bubbles were easy to locate. Another trainee, Shah, got there first and descended. I reached the same place, emptied my BCD (buoyancy control device) of air, and descended a metre or two. I was breathing too quickly and could not empty my lungs for long enough to go down. After a bit of struggling, I remained at the surface. I saw that one of the instructors had gotten himself tangled in a rope. Shah helped him ascend. At the top we called to the boat to call emergency and to ready oxygen. We proceeded to tow the victim to the boat and to provide rescue breaths. Dive master Darren later advised me that I was underweighted. I put on one more kilo of weight and did not have any problem descending after that.
I was still in the water when someone appeared to be thrashing about on the surface of the water without dive gear. A watcher threw down a float which I took to this victim. Shah helped me put the victim’s arms around the float and we towed him to the boat. No sooner was this done when a third person started thrashing about on the surface. “Inflate your BCD”, I screamed. The float was thrown down again. Shah and I again got the victim back to the boat.
One of the last exercises was the deployment of our surface marker buoys (SMBs, also called ‘sausages’). These are bright orange / yellow tubes which can be filled with air to indicate that a diver is below. It turned out to be a more difficult exercise than I had imagined. I was given a sausage that had a manual inflator – the diver had to blow air into it to inflate. I focused heavily on not floating up to the surface with the device and felt a discomfort in my chest. It took me a second or so to realise that I was holding my breath. I put my regulator back into my mouth, cleared it of water and inhaled.
We had been warned many times that there would be emergency scenarios thrown at us at any point during the trip. This was not the case. The scenarios were given us only at specific points during and immediately after dives. It was not the punishing course that I had been made to believe (not that I would have minded), but the practical exercises at sea gave a good indication of our capabilities and our weaknesses and I am better aware of areas where I need to improve. The PADI Rescue Diver is a good course and I strongly recommend it to divers who are Advanced Open Water Diver certified – just do not do it in Bintan.
Also read: Rescue Diver: Part 1