A Life Saving Device Every Diver Should Own
Almost exactly a year ago, a very unfortunate event occurred just offshore in Islamorada. I remember this day like it was yesterday. We ran a charter in the morning and the conditions were absolutely beautiful--about a foot on the seas, a slight current, and 50 ft visibility. The weather report stated it was going to pick up a little in the afternoon, but still going to be okay for the afternoon dive charter, so we headed out to our first dive destination--a reef roughly 4 miles off-shore. The seas began to pick up and we were getting steady 3 footers with an occasional 4. Again, not awful, just needed to get in and get down and we would have a good dive. Not so fast. When we did our giant stride off the boat, we were immediately whisked away by what was one of the strongest currents I’ve ever encountered at this particular area. The current not only picked up intensely from the morning, it also changed direction. We attempted to complete the dive, but the current was too much so we decided to abort and get back on the boat. After we struggled to get back to the boat, we discussed with the captain what we should do. That’s when we decided to call it, based on the current, and head back into the dock. Little did we know that a tragedy was taking place just off our bow.
Matt and Jeff were brother-in-laws and dive buddies.
They would come to the Keys often from their home in Orlando. They loved diving, fishing, and all the other activities the Keys has to offer. On this day, they were going to do a little spearfishing just off Crocker Reef. The conditions, as they looked out over the water in the morning, looked awesome, so they decided they would head out after lunch. They motored out to their spot and dropped the anchor. They sensed the wind was picking up, but it was still fine for diving. As they back rolled in, they commented that the current was going pretty good, but it was yet to hit its full force. Unfortunately, that would happen while they were diving.
Matt and Jeff had been diving for about an hour and noticed the current was progressively get-ting worse, so they signaled to each other it was time to go up. Upon surfacing, a diver’s worst nightmare would ensue. The boat must have broken loose from its anchor and was gone. Now on the surface, the duo was at the mercy of the ocean and, on that day, she had no mercy.
The two men started to drift with the current, pushing them in a south direction, out to sea. After drifting for hours, Jeff saw our dive boat in the distance. We had just anchored up and were getting ready to stride in. Seeing our boat, Jeff began to kick toward it in hopes to at least get with-in shouting distance and maybe we would hear him. The current had pushed the friends apart and, with the increasing swells, they soon lost sight of one another. We never did hear Jeff that afternoon; but, by kicking toward our boat, he managed to come across a mooring ball at the wreck of the Eagle. He tied himself to the line where he would remain until almost 11:00 pm that night, when he was finally rescued. Matt has never been found.
I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to take Matt and Jeff’s family out on my boat to honor Matt’s life and Jeff’s survival. We would go to the spot they dove that afternoon and Jeff and I would do a dive--his first in the ocean since that tragic day. After some words were spoken and roses released, it was now time for the celebration. I learned that Matt was the life of the party, a great husband, and a wonderful Dad. His Mom beamed when speaking about him. I couldn’t help but analyze that day and ponder how it could’ve been prevented. Immediately I thought of one, cheap piece of dive equipment that MAY (not saying it would) have helped these guys--the safety sausage.
A safety sausage is a safety signaling device. It rolls up to a 3 inch roll that clips on your BCD. When needed, a diver will unroll it and inflate it by either blowing into the valve or using the inflator valve on their BCD. The safety sausage, when filled, stands erect at 5 to 6 feet and is neon orange or yellow. It can be seen from a very long distance and in rough seas. This $30 piece of equipment will get you picked up by any boater, fisherman or dive boat that sees it. It is a must have for any diver.
It sometimes takes a severe tragedy to remind us to be more careful, to wear the proper safety gear, and to live to dive another day--I know that this horrific tragedy is going to do exactly that. In turn, it will save other divers’ lives, as well as other families from having to grieve the loss of a loved one. And from what I learned about Matt that day, he’d probably be pretty cool with that.
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