Bahamas Blue Holes 2016: Speaking Up for Safety

Jill Heinerth serves as the documentarian for the Abaco Blue Holes Project. Her hybrid career includes teaching, photo-journalism, motivational speaking, consulting and pretty much anything that keeps her underwater. She is the Explorer in Residence for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and a member of the inaugural class of the Women Divers Hall of Fame.

Expedition Blog 8 / Dec. 10 / By Jill Heinerth

Kenny Broad found a hilarious video online about train safety. After a good laugh, we decided to try our hand at sending our own safety message out into the world. Our singing talents are rather weak, but our hearts are in the right place.

Cave and rebreather diving have been called the most dangerous “sports,” and unfortunately we have all lost our fair share of friends to lapses in judgment and poor choices before they got in the water. Years of accident analysis have shown that when divers break our “cardinal rules,” accidents happen.

In the 1980s, cave diving pioneer Sheck Exley determined that most fatalities were caused when at least one of these rules were broken:

  1. Get proper training from a qualified and active cave diving instructor before entering the overhead environment and then dive in conditions which are similar to or better than the environment you trained in.
  2. Run a continuous guideline from the open water so that in the event that visibility is lost, you will have a tactile reference to get you home safely.
  3. Always reserve at least two-thirds of your gas supply for the exit portion of your dive so that you can assist a teammate in the worst case scenario of a catastrophic gas loss.
  4. If diving deep, use an appropriate helium gas mix that leaves your head clear and your mind sharp.
  5. Dive with the appropriate redundant backup gear including at least three sources of light.
Alex Brett near the cave warning sign in Dan’s Cave. These signs are used in overhead environments around the world to discourage unqualified divers from entering caves without training. Photo: Jill Heinerth

After more recent examination of cave and rebreather diving fatalities, we have added several more specific rules that mitigate the risks. These include:

  1. Personally analyze and properly mark the breathing gas in your cylinders.
  2. Complete a proper pre-dive check prior to diving a rebreather.
  3. Pre-breathe your rebreather for five minutes on the surface in a safe place and watch your electronic controls to determine proper function.
  4. Do not jump in the water if your rebreather fails a safety check.
  5. Change oxygen sensors frequently and pro-actively, and do not dive with fewer functioning sensors than the manufacturer’s standard for your unit.

Cave and rebreather training is available globally through training agencies and professional instructors that are good safety role models. If you choose to take on these activities, please seek out an active and experienced instructor who can take you through an industry recognized training program. The NSS-CDS, NACD, GUE, RAID, IANTD, TDI and other agencies can be found online.

So please forgive our lack of pitch and if you want to see a truly professional and humorous safety video, check out this one from our friends in railway safety:


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Meet the Author
Environmental anthropologist Kenny Broad is an National Geographic Emerging Explorer and Expeditions Council Grantee. Along with the late underwater photographer Wes Skiles, he was named “National Geographic's Explorers of the Year,” in 2011 for the pair's extraordinary achievements in documenting the Blue Holes of the Bahamas.