Role of the Safety Diver

By John Davidson

There are many jobs on the Aucilla River Prehistory Project which are vital to the safe and smooth conduct of dive operations. The most important of these is that of the Safety Diver. The Safety Diver is responsible for the safety of the all the divers on that dive rotation. This person must be able to don their SCUBA equipment and enter the water in one minute once an emergency situation has been declared by the divemaster in charge.

The duties of the Safety Diver include helping divers into their gear and then assisting them into the water. While doing this, the Safety Diver will check air pressures and make sure the diver’s scuba rig has been turned on. Once the diver enters the water the Safety Diver will call out “Diver in the water” loud enough for everyone to hear. The Safety Diver will also ensure that the diver is OK by the use of hand signals. Hand signals become necessary because the number of internal combustion engines used during daily operations makes verbal communication difficult. The Safety Diver will then pay out the surface air supply lines, being careful to remove any kinks that could hinder air flow.

Once the divers are ready to descend they will communicate this through hand signals to the Safety Diver who will return the hand signal back. Once the divers begin their decent the Safety Diver will call out “Divers down”. While the divers are down the Safety Diver will constantly monitor their bubbles. The Safety Diver will also keep an eye on the weather, watch for other boats and be on the lookout for any wildlife that may pose a threat to the divers.

Because the Safety Diver must focus her/his senses of sight and hearing on constantly monitoring as many as six divers, as well as the open water environment they operate within, the social conversation usually engaged in by off duty divers and screendeck operators is ignored by the vigilant Safety Diver. She/he reserves their audio channel for monitoring real-time events which may bear on the safety of their charges.

During conversation which does have bearing on the status of the divers being monitored, the Safety Diver also exempts her/himself from the social convention of establishing eye contact while conversing, in order not to interrupt the more relevant visual data stream. To minimize distractive pressures on the Safety Diver’s ability to concentrate on her/his primary responsibility the diving operations barge is specifically declared off limits to all personnel besides the Safety Diver, Divemaster and on-deck dive teams.

When the dive is over and divers come to the surface, the Safety Diver will call out “divers up” and get an OK from them using hand signals. The Safety Diver will then assist the divers out of the water and neatly coil the air lines so they can be easily deployed on the next dive rotation.

While the Safety Diver is not the most glamorous job on the ARPP it is one of the most important. The Safety Diver could be called on to enter the water at any time during her/his watch to lend assistance to a diver in distress. Therefore the Safety Diver must be mentally and physically alert at all times because her/his actions could literally mean the difference between life and death for divers in the water.