What’s it like to have a regulator suddenly stop working while on a dive? Yo-Han Cha found out on a recent trip to Indonesia.

I heard and felt it at the same time. A ‘BOOM’ from the back of my head. My initial reaction was to sigh and think “I bet that’s my first stage”. I turned round towards my buddy, who had also heard the noise and when I saw Rick’s eyes go as big as dinner plates my next thought was, “Yup, that’s definitely my first stage. 

49 minutes into the dive it all got very dramatic

I had no reason to believe I would have any sort of equipment failure. My regulators had been serviced by a reputable centre in January. I had successfully jumped into Vobster a couple of times before flying out to Lembeh, Indonesia and everything had checked out. It was my fifth day of diving in Lembeh and my third dive of the day. The regs had been working just fine until then, but 49 minutes into the dive it all got very dramatic.

I have occasionally been asked by non-divers why the Ocean Diver course takes so long. Why is there so much to learn? And if nothing was to ever go wrong, I guess it would be a much shorter course and easier to pass. But, ultimately, through no fault of your own, things can go wrong underwater.  

Like I said earlier, there was no indication that my regulators were going to have an issue. Had I have known that I wouldn’t have dived on them. I would have either tried to fix the issue or asked for the spare set of regulators that were on the boat. In over 1,000 dives, I hadn’t ever experienced a failure like this and no-one else I know has either. But thankfully, both Rick’s training and mine immediately kicked in. 

There was no messing about. Rick passed me his alternate source regulator. Once I was on his alternate, we took a hold of each other’s BCDs and we both signalled to ascend and did so in a controlled manner from 16.5m. There was no panic from either of us. We both knew what to do and everyone surfaced safely. I orally inflated my BCD and we then waited to be picked up by the dive boat. And we were both diving again the next day. All’s well that ends well.

It might be tempting to think that the ‘safety’ elements of training are instructors being boring and pedantic, but it’s all in the entry level diving qualification for a reason. I might have been able to make it to the surface from 16.5m by myself. But would that ascent have been slow and controlled? Would I have even made it?  

Ultimately, good buddying between Rick and myself (and both of us remembering our training) meant that despite the drama, there was no drama. I just had to fend off comments throughout the evening about me owing Rick my life, blah blah blah. I did end up buying him not one but two ‘thank you’ cocktails, as I forgot to take a photo of him with the first one. So, here’s to being a good buddy, Rick Ayrton. Thank you for the use of your alternate source, and may neither of us never have to go through that ever again!

Article ‘Preparation, not panic’ by Yo-Han Cha first published in SCUBA magazine, Issue 136 June 2023. Library image

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