Alone in Open Water

Darwin's Arch

“Only two people have died this year,” the dive master tells me, sipping her coffee in a café close to the scuba diving shop I’ve just stepped out of… Becky Wicks,Galapagos 2012.

Short clip on what you see diving at Darwin’s Arch, Galapagos.

Nobody expects to die on holiday. Nor does anyone plan to be lost at sea, yet that is exactly what happened while diving in Galapagos. One of the members of our party prematurely surfaced after failing to locate his dive buddy underwater. His flotation marker and horn were not seen or heard by our diving zodiac. For 90 minutes, the muscular pull of the Humboldt Current swept him further away from the site. He was one small neoprene head bobbing in open water 926 km off the coast of Ecuador, and thousands of kilometers from westerly New Guinea. As are all Galapagos divers, he was equipped with a GPS device to mark his location. Linked to the ship, it allows a diver’s location to be pinpointed in case of emergency (if you lift it out of the water). And so, for the duration of his solitary float, accompanied by hundreds of hammerhead sharks, he was not unduly upset. Only after a tense visual grid search was he was found, kilometers away. It was then, he discovered, his GPS wasn’t working after all. If we had not searched the open ocean, he would now be gone. It was a harrowing crisis with a fortunate happy ending. By coincidence; much funnier now than it was then, the lost diver’s name was Bob.

Several divers die in Galapagos every year. The exact mortality statistics are maddeningly hard to get. Drowning, currents, cold water, equipment malfunction, previous medical conditions (or being unfit), inexperience and diver errors are the common causes. Yet diving Galapagos is the best in the world, and so, many go. My suggestion is to leave the Galapagos to the expert divers, as there are many other excellent dive destinations.

Despite the Galapagos experience, diving is a fantastic hobby. It is a safe, tropical holiday for most people. It is something that couples of differing physical ability can do together. If you have bad knees or hips, the lack of gravity makes it a sport you can enjoy. It is great to share with friends, relatives, kids and spouses. If you are a photographer, you will be in underwater Nirvana. The golden rule of diving, however, is that you are responsible for yourself. It is not a sport for slackers who cannot be bothered to be properly trained, check their own equipment, and then check yours. PADI, NAUI, SSI and SDI, unlike resort dive courses,are excellent programs with 8 hours of classroom and 3 to 5 open water dives. Then you need to start diving. Pick safe sites and go with more experienced people than yourself. You are inexperienced, in my opinion, till you have had a minimum of 60 dives. Upgrade your skills at your local dive shop with courses such as Stress and Rescue, Advanced Open Water or Navigation where you will meet new friends and add more skill. Experienced divers are generous partners and their knowledge keeps you safe.

Find out about the safety record of dive operators before you choose one. Go to to pick up the dirt from other divers. Hints on the best places to go, best prices, gear tips, training courses and much more are available online. Have a good diving buddy, preferably someone who loves you (or, at least, likes you). Practice your new skills with dive holidays in the tranquil waters of Mexico, Hawaii, Palau, Bonaire, Australia, etc. If you are fit, conscientious, don’t overestimate your ability and dive safely, you will never become a statistic.

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