Friday, May 27, 2016 

Congratulations to Kona Underwater Photography Shootout Winners!

1st Place overall and 1st Place Wide AngleBo Pardau
We were happy to be a sponsor of the 1st Kona Underwater Photo Shootout along with Kona Honu Divers and other leading manufacturers! Some great photos and good fun! Congratulations to the winners!

3rd Place Wide AngleDeron Verbeck
and a $100 gift certificate from
Optical Ocean Sales.
The results of the 2016 Kona Underwater Shootout are in! A big THANK YOU to our sponsors for this year's event; SEA&SEA Underwater Imaging, Waterproof USA, Optical Ocean Sales, Light and Motion Dive, TUSA, Cressi, MARES - just add water.

Twelve contestants gathered from Oahu, California and Kona at the headquarters of Kona Honu Divers on Friday May 20th to celebrate the start of the competition. The contestants had 2 days to shoot wherever and whatever they wanted, as long as the images were uploaded by midnight on Sunday the 22nd

By the end judges, Doug Perrine and Jeff Milisen, had the difficult choice of trying to determine which images deserved top honors. With such varied subjects as models, baitballs, moray eels, blackwater critters and even minute brittlestars, the choices weren't easy to make. Nonetheless, the winning images emerged in each category and with an overall combined score the winning photographers picked their prize out of a pile of gifts ranging from wetsuits, dive computers, gift certificates, light, strobes, regulators, masks, dive bags and lots of other goodies.

Honorable Mention Macro by Tim Ewing and a $100 gift certificate from Optical Ocean Sales!

Thursday, March 31, 2016 

Egypt & The Red Sea Aggressor Photo Expedition

The last time I saw the Egyptian Pyramids was 18 years ago. A lot has changed, and a lot hasn’t, having already all ready lasted 5,000 years. One of the things that was new is the lack of tourists, mostly due to misplaced fear. Fear of different cultures, and fear of the unknown. Some is founded on media hype, and some is due to mistrust, but most of it is misplaced.

Divers, however, are a strange breed. When somebody yells “shark”, most people run away, but divers say “Where?” and jump in the water. Underwater photographers are even worse. They’re experienced divers who want to take shots of the most unusual animals and situations. They may be apprehensive and careful - that’s a good thing - but never so scared that they miss a great opportunity.

Our Optical Ocean Sales Photo Expedition was for two weeks; Feb. 22 to March 7th, 2016. Twenty people had signed up, but as usual we had a few drop out due to work conflicts or health reasons, and a few join in. Several dropped out, however, because they were afraid of the political situation or for their safety. And I’ve had several inquiries since we’ve been back  asking if we had problems or if the Egyptian people were hostile to us. We all found that the answer was quite the opposite. We had a great time. We felt quite safe. People were extremely warm and friendly, just as they were on my last trip to Egypt, 18 years ago. Some things in Egypt, like the Pyramids, don’t change. It’s all a matter of perspective.

We started out our land tour in crazy, raucous Cairo (“why use your turn signal, when you can use your horn?”). This is a terribly over crowded city, with heavy, 24/7 traffic. Cairo is the very definition of urban sprawl with 24 million people. It now surrounds the Giza plateau, which was once well out into the desert.

We toured the Egyptian Museum, Pyramids, Solar Boat and Sphinx at Giza and had a great dinner at a Thai food restaurant. Seriously, one of the best Thai dinners we have ever had was at “The Birdcage” in the Cairo Intercontinental Hotel.

Our group then flew down to Luxor, where we stayed at the Jolie Ville Hotel. It was busy and disorganized, having been mostly vacant for a while. They had an oncology conference in progress, where about half of the doctors were smoking like fiends. Public smoking is still pretty much the norm in Egypt; I guess Joe Camel lives on.

One of the highlights of our trip was the next morning when we went hot air ballooning. Taking off just before dawn, with the heat of the burners warming us, we watched a spectacular sunrise from 2,000 feet over the Nile. We looked down on farms, and the tombs of the West Bank, where we would spend the rest of the day touring. Visiting 5,000 year old tombs, with vibrant paintings as fresh as yesterday, the ancient temples of Karnak, Luxor and Medinet Habu, gave one a sense of perspective.

Many times young Egyptian school kids, practicing their English, asked politely to have their pictures taken with an American. We couldn’t have felt more welcome in their country.

But on to the diving: We left the next day on a long 5 hour bus ride to Port Ghalib, near Marsa Alam, where we met the Red Sea Aggressor liveaboard. We came across large hotels, condos and resorts without anyone in them as we drove along the coast. They were like ghost towns. All very sad, as this was high-season. Reaching the boat at dusk, we were welcomed aboard and shown our cabins on this luxurious ship.

The Red Sea Aggressor was rebuilt a couple of years ago and is very comfortable. Although our cabins were pretty small, the dive deck and various sun decks and the salon were very nice and newly appointed. The camera tables were a bit small for our large group, but we managed, with a couple of us using the cocktail tables up near the bar on an upper deck. Throughout the week we were treated to amazing service (better than the other Aggressors I’ve been on) with excellent food, served in a fine dining atmosphere. I’ve been on a lot of liveaboards, and I could see how well the crew had been trained; not just to do their jobs, but to take care of guests anyway they could.

The next morning the boat headed out of port to a couple of close dive sites to test our weighting and settle into our skills. The water was a bit brisk at 74F, but with 5mm suits and beanies on, we were pretty comfortable. The weather this time of year is pleasant, in the upper 70’s and low 80’s. Some days we had some wind, but it wasn’t too bad.

We then steamed most of the night to Daedulus Reef. It was a bit of a bumpy ride, so most of us didn’t get much sleep. However, we were up at dawn and woke up in the cool depths after a zodiac ride out to the reef.

Daedulus is a coral atoll out in the middle of the Red Sea with an old lighthouse on it, first built in 1863 and rebuilt in 1931. We were hoping to see some hammerhead sharks and other pelagics there, but were skunked, only seeing one silky shark (I am told it swimming under my feet while I surfaced on the last dive). But the walls were nice, and there were lots of great hard and soft corals of every hue, in very clear water. That afternoon, we took a break to hike up the dock to the lighthouse, where we climbed our way to the top. A few of us almost lingered too long; the keeper had us locked in!

Steaming our way further south that night, we arrived at the St John’s reef area, where we had some spectacular dives in the caves and swim-throughs located there. We then moved a little north to a great spot that had some pinnacles covered with soft coral and clouds of orange Anthias. Although the current was ripping, it meant the corals were open and the photography opportunities abundant. Also on many dives we were seeing jellyfish, and had a great time on the surface shooting them and each other. Some divers practiced their blackwater dives and got some great night shots of squid and other small squishy critters.

The next couple of days we hit a few atolls and reefs along the southern coast, then moved up to “dolphin reef” lagoon, hoping to snorkel with some dolphins. They weren’t home, so we did a couple of easy dives enjoying the scenery. After surfacing, we found that another boat had anchored next to us. Much to our dismay, a group of snorkelers were standing on the reefs, not really understanding the damage they were causing.

The last day we hit famous Elphinstone Reef for a couple of morning dives on walls and a drift dive along the reef. Schools of trevallies and sardines were amongst the soft coral, with some nice gorgonian fans, not usually seen in abundance. We then steamed back to Port Ghalib for a fun cocktail party and then off to Cairo and home the next day.

Although this was a long trip, all who came seemed to enjoy it and have many happy memories of the ancient cities and colorful reefs of Egypt and the Red Sea. My thanks to Donna at South Pacific Island Travel and the Red Sea Aggressor for providing us with an excellent experience. Cairo & Giza, Egypt Luxor
Red Sea Aggressor

Saturday, March 21, 2015 

More New FREE Underwater Photography Handbooks

Five NEW FREE Handbooks join our Basics of Better UW Photography Series and are now in the Optical Ocean Sales Education Resource Center. These downloadable Acrobat files are easy-to-read with lots of photos and illustrations to help you gain basic skills and understanding of their subjects.

The first is for those wanting to get their feet "wet" with Underwater Photography. Titled "Choosing an Underwater Camera & Housing", it goes over basic things to look for for on both cameras and housings. Basic camera parts and their importance for underwater photography, classes of cameras, basic system configuration, housing considerations and materials, accessories and much more are covered.

Another new Handbook for video photogrpahers or wannabies is  "Video Tips for UW Photographers Handbook". Loads of great advice for those starting out, or for still photographers wanting try shooting video! Cameras, tips, techniques and settings will help you make the plunge into trying out that video button on your camera.

The next handbook is titled Photographing Animals and includes tips, tricks and help on getting great photos of underwater critters! How to improve your Luck, Skill, Knowledge, and Patience in taking underwater animal photos are just some of the areas shown and discussed.

An accompanying piece "Photographing People" is full of tips and techniques from staff writer Margo Cavis on working with divers and models, it will help you add a human element to your photography.

We've also published an accompanying article; How to Photograph People Underwater in our Articles section that gives more in-depth coverage.

Called Strobe Positioning this handbook is maybe the most important and everyone can get something from it. This guide goes over most aspects of using artificial strobe lighting underwater in photography. The Handbook discusses light theory and equipment. It shows how, why and where to use both one and two strobes in macro and wide angle photos. This new guide includes many illustrations done by our own Margo Cavis and is a great resource for new and old underwater photographers.

See the Optical Ocean Sales Resource Center for many more Handbooks, articles, trip reports, spec charts and reviews!

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Sunday, March 15, 2015 

Raja Ampat: Nothing More Needs to Be Said

Raja Ampat in Indonesia, has always held a lot of fascination for me. Customers on their way there, or just back, were awestruck by the area. “Best in the diving in the world!” they’d say, but having dove for many years, I’ve heard that before…

After several days of long flights and airline frustrations,  I was on the Damai II steaming down the straits in Raja, after a wonderful late-afternoon dive full of vibrant undersea life by Batanta Island, I was getting a massage, drinking a Bintang beer, and enjoying the sunset. I reflected that all of these divers’ comments were right! It was pretty hard to beat!

Over the next 10 days, eleven divers on the Optical Ocean Sales Photo Expedition concentrated their dives in the southern Misool area of Raja, as there had been wind and rain in the north. This is common in many areas in Indonesia, given that dive sites are so spread out; if the weather is bad in one place, another is fine.

The Damai specializes in small dive groups, so we were spread out amongst 3 boats. I ended up staying with one guide, Salim, diving with another couple of divers who rotated through. The other divers tended to go their own way a lot, so Salim and I ended up diving closely together most of the time.

I’ve been diving with literally hundreds of other divers over the years, some are just fine, others you tend to have communication or other issues with. Human nature I guess. Salim and I settled into an easy rhythm.

He spoke English, but we didn’t talk much between dives, other than to ID some weird nudibranch I’d never seen before, or to help him set up a GoPro he found on a dive. But we communicated underwater without difficulty, knowing what the other wanted, or where the other person was without guessing. During the course of some 30 odd dives spread out over 440 miles, there was no fuss, no muss. If we had a problem like my tank coming loose, we just dealt with it in a relaxed and purposeful manner. If I ran low on air at the safety stop, I’d grab his spare octo, without either of us even taking much notice.

I used him many times as a model, and he was eager to learn, picking up on my directions easily. He loved to see the shots of himself and tried hard to improve his positioning. I could concentrate on my photography without worry. He always showed me great wide angle options, and was a master at pointing out macro critters as well. We’d get excited about a rare find and shared that enthusiasm underwater as I took photos. The unspoken communication between experienced divers was easy and robust.

Misool has a great many world-class dive sites. Even though the visibility was limited in places, we had calm seas and very good diving. The sheer variety of the dives was amazing; muck dives, reef dives, drift dives, caves, undercuts, canyons, fans, soft coral and acres of hard coral - all were there and almost always surrounded by great masses of fish. The schools were so thick it actually was somewhat frustrating; “Can somebody get the fish out of the way, so I can take a shot of the other fish?”
And there were special places like the Blue Water Mangroves at Nampale Island, where gorgeous soft coral grew in 2 feet of shallow water. Or Window Rock, with the afternoon light streaming in onto fans and soft coral. Or the huge schools of barracuda, snapper, and many other fish that challenged Salim and myself to move in close enough with them for photos.

Moving to the north Dampier Straits area, the weather improved, but the visibility was more limited. Still, we had excellent diving - muck dives at Deer/Kofiau Islands, with wonderful afternoon lighting at famous Arborek Jetty. On a deep dive off Blue Magic, Salim showed me a few white tip sharks. As we went along the edge of the slope at 120’, we found a huge ball of hundreds of Sweet Lips, packed tightly together over a rock.
Riding the current, I swam through them several times to take photos and they quickly regrouped tightly around me back into their school. Low on gas, and without much more than a quick fist pump to my chest, Salim led me back up the slope behind coral outcroppings to do deco and a safety stop.

On our last day, we opted for a dive at Cape Kri. It wasn’t that impressive sort of a lot of rubble on a hillside, and I struggled to find something interesting to shoot. But then, at the end of the dive, in shallow water, was a bommie with fans and a huge school of glass fish swarming all over it. With the early morning sun streaming through clear, calm water I was able to take one of my favorite shots of the trip.

Sometimes you just have to keep on shooting and trust that things will work out. No need to talk about it.

Monday, June 30, 2014 

Mirrorless in Mexico

On our recent shop trip to The Sea of Cortez, I left behind my trusty, but large, D800 Nauticam rig and decided to try a new mirrorless camera: The Sony a7 full-frame camera in a NA-A7 Nauticam housing.

It was much smaller to pack and handle and the results were better than I hoped for. The Sony a7 with an old Nikonos 15mm FE amphibious film lens shot remarkably well, sharp and was quite small to handle compared with large domes normally used for a full-frame rig.

The Sony a7 (and a7r, a7s) are very impressive; the first full-frame camera in a mirrorless body! With it being much smaller and lighter than the D800, it was easy to carry around. Performance was very good, the camera is very comfortable and solid to shoot.

The controls to change ISO as well as other features are right under your fingertips on the Nauticam housing. One big advantage of the Sony over the Nikon is that you can program several function buttons and use them on the housing to bring up other screens providing convenient access to various functions that otherwise are buried down in the menus.

Besides the Nikonos 15mm FE, I shot  the a7 with the kit Sony 28-70mm lens behind the Nauticam flat port. This lens works pretty well as a moderate mid-range lens, fairly sharp for it’s modest cost, with good imaging characteristics. In low light at deeper depths, I was still able to catch focus and it shot fish portrait type shots quite well.

The legendary Nikonos 15mm FE film lens, mounted in an adapter, lived up to it’s reputation. It delivered stunning wide angle, even though it has manual aperture and focus controls. external Nauticam 180 viewfinder to good result with a wide range of displays offered in both. A nice feature of the electronic viewfinder was that you could turn the image lighter or darker, something you can’t do with the optical viewfinder of the D800.
By setting it to f/9-f/11, I had a large depth of field for focus and only changed it when changing from long distance to close focus wide angle. It was also easy to use Sony’s focus peaking feature to “fire when you see the red of their eyes” and know you had the shot nailed. I used both the large, sharp rear view screen and the electronic viewfinder with an

One area where the Sony a7 was a standout is shooting at high ISOs in dark environments. I shot the very dimly lit holds inside of the Fang Ming wreck at ISO 3200 and got good results, even with the older Nikonos 15mm lens. Not much noticeable grain, and I’d say it was better at that high ISO than my D800 was at ISO 2000. Dynamic range was pretty good, comparable to the Nikon.

I shot it with two electronically synced Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes in manual. TTL is not currently available, although Nauticam has come out with a new optical sync trigger that simplifies things quite a bit.

Compared to the Olympus E-M1
We shot the Olympus E-M1 with the Panasonic 8mm and Olympus 9-18mm lenses quite a bit in an Aquatica AQ-EM1 housing. (We hadn’t brought any macro lenses, expecting to be shooting all large animals.) The 9-18 behind Aquatica’s new SW8 dome was quite impressive, allowing for a nice range of focal lengths from close-focus wide angle to more moderate shots. It was very balanced and rugged, with easy to reach controls. Port and lens changes were easy, and the cam latch made access to the camera literally a snap.

Right now, if you don't need the extremely high ISO shooting characteristics and dynamic range, I think the OM-D E-M1 is a more mature platform with a lot more lenses to choose from. It has easy to use functions and is easy to shoot well and is less expensive.

Compared to the Nikon D800
The D800 has many more lenses available and with the new D810 coming out with even better low-ISOs and other features, I’d give it the edge over the Sony a7. but it is a much larger, heavier system to use, and the Sony a7 was easier to swim with than my D800, certainly for free diving. The same advantage goes to the D800 for availability of lenses, even more so as it can use old Nikon film lenses that are comparably cheaper than the new Zeiss Sony lenses.

I think the Sony a7 will come into it’s own as new Zeiss and other third-party lenses come out, and it certainly sets a precedent for smaller, lighter professional level cameras to come.

Saturday, June 14, 2014 

Sea of Cortez: The Only Sure Thing is Whale Sharks

Twenty-one underwater photographers boarded the Solmar V dive boat in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on June 23rd expecting to steam the next 25 hours to the Revigadagos Islands, aka "The Socorros", 250 miles offshore. Alas, "Amanda" had other ideas.

Having built up to a Category 4 Hurricane, Amanda was an early violent storm a few hundred miles south of Socorro Island and heading straight for the area we were to dive. Needless to say, the Captain told me that we had to make a big change and head north into the Sea of Cortez. I had taken several trips to the Sea of Cortez ten years ago, but I hadn't enjoyed the long runs to the dive sites from shore. This would be a great opportunity to re-explore it from the comfort of a large live-aboard.

The good news was that the diving there is pretty good, and we could be diving the next morning in Cabo Pulmo.

After a checkout dive, we dropped on the wreck of an old tuna boat, descending right through 9 large bull sharks. Enjoying large schools of grunts and snappers. We explored what was left of the old boat, really just a few large pieces, seeing the large sharks circling in and out amongst our group in somewhat murky conditions.
Continuing north towards La Paz, we dove La Reina and Swanee Rock, both teaming with life. Diving in the Sea of Cortez is very "fishy" with huge schools of grunts, snappers, goatfish and others on nearly every site. Friendly pandemic green morays also greet you from almost every hole. Corals are mostly hard, and not all that colorful, so the aquatic fish life is what you go for. Yellowtail sturgeon fish, puffer fish of every variety, colorful hawk fish, and grouper abound on nearly every site.

However, with a boat load of photographers bent on looking for large animals, we decided to take some chances. Whale Sharks are found in La Paz bay in the Spring; but there had been no reports so far. Would we spend a half-day to cruise the bay and most likely find nothing? A multi-cultural debate raged that evening over dinner, as the French contingent felt the whale sharks weren’t guaranteed, but were finally out voted.

Good thing too, as the next morning we arrived at the bay and no less than 5 Whale Sharks were waiting for us to free dive with! We broke into the pangas and with our guide Geronimo acting as a drill instructor – “Swim!! You guys want to see whale sharks, you have to swim faster! Over there…, swim!” We all had a lot of laughs and got run over by these 25’ gentle giants while taking photos. Using available light and wide angle lenses, it was “gun and go” - no time to compose, just shoot shutter priority and hope for the best. In the end, we all got a lot of great shots and had a great time in the beautiful bay that morning.

Continuing north, we finished the day on the wreck of the “Fang Ming”, an old freighter that had been confiscated by the government and sunk many years ago. A large green turtle swam into the wreck and pandemic Cortez Angelfish were playing along the sides. Visibility was poor, but I was able to shoot some video and some interiors.

The next morning, we traveled north to the EL Bajo sea mount, hoping to find hammerhead sharks. We tried on a couple of deeper dives but had no luck, so we came back to the small islands of Los Isolotes. They are home to a large sea lion rookery, as well as swim throughs, and another shallower seamount called El Bajalito. The next morning we had sunny skies and many dives with the very frisky sea lions. The young ones love to play with divers and snorkelers and make great photo subjects, hamming it up for the cameras, but watch out for the bulls!

After a day and a half there, we again went south to La Paz to try for more whale sharks, as they were a “sure-thing” at that point. Succeeding with a few, we wore ourselves out again swimming with these huge fish. Next, we repaired to Swanee Rock for shallow dives on the reef. Huge schools of spot-tail grunts swarmed over the divers and followed us around. “Can someone get the fish out of the way? I can’t see the reef…” Some divers also found a few sea lions to play with.

On the way back to Cabo the next day, we hit Cabo Pulmo for another morning’s dives on the tuna boat wreck, but the sharks were even more shy. Arriving back in to port, we reflected on what a nice week we had in the Sea of Cortez. Even though Amanda had had her way with us, we rolled the dice and came up with a winner!

Mirrorless in Mexico
On this trip I left behind my trusty, large, D800/Nauticam rig and decided to try two new mirrorless cameras: The Olympus OM-D EM-1 m4/3rds camera in a new Aquatica housing system, and a Sony a7 full-frame camera in a Nauticam housing.

They were much smaller to pack and handle and the results were better than I had hoped for, particularly with the Olympus and Panasonic 8mm combination and the Sony a7 with an old Nikonos 15mm FE amphibious lens. Both of these were much easier to swim with than my D800, and although the results aren’t quite as impressive as the professional formats, they were pretty darn good.

We, my friend Jim Boon and I, shot the Olympus EM1 with the 8mm and 9-18 lenses quite a bit. (We hadn’t brought any macro lenses, expecting to be shooting all large animals.) The 9-18 behind Aquatica’s new SMC dome was quite impressive, allowing for a nice range of focal lengths from close-focus wide angle to more moderate shots. It was very balanced and rugged, with easy to reach controls. Port and lens changes were easy, and the cam latch made access to the camera literally a snap.

The Sony a7 (and a7r) are very impressive; the first full-frame camera in a mirrorless body! Being much smaller and lighter than the D800 made it easy to carry around, and I shot it with the kit 28-70 as well as the Nikonos 15mm FE. The kit lens works pretty well, but is average in focal length range, like most kit lenses. It probably works best as a close up lens, but again not having one along I could only shoot fish portraits and moderate wide angle.

The legendary Nikonos 15mm FE, mounted in an adapter, lived up to its reputation by delivering stunning wide angle, even though it is a manual aperture and focus film lens. By setting it to f/9-f/11, I had a large depth of field for focus. It was also easy to use Sony’s focus peaking feature to “fire when you see the red of their eyes” and know you had the shot nailed. I used both the large rear view screen and the electronic viewfinder with an external viewfinder to good result with a wide range of displays offered.

Video is one-touch on both cameras, and they shoot very smoothly with continuous auto-focus.

Choices, Choices, Choices
Which did I prefer? Well, the Sony a7 is definitely better in low light, and it delivers a wide dynamic range of color and detail, but I really liked the lenses available on the Olympus EM1. Its dynamic range and sharpness was excellent - Jim and I both felt it is as good or better than the DSLRs we have shot. The Sony a7 will come into its own as new Zeiss lenses come out. So maybe the edge goes to the Olympus EM1 right now, which is the less expensive format as well.

Created with flickr slideshow.

Saturday, April 12, 2014 

Complacency Kills

Mid-way through their 10 day live aboard dive trip, the large, experienced group of underwater photographers seemed to have a good rhythm down of diving, eating, resting, editing photos and hitting the water again in search of new subjects. After many days of rain and mediocre conditions, the tropical Pacific paradise of Palau beaconed them that late-afternoon with calm seas and sunny skies.

Setting out from the mother ship, the skiff was crammed with divers and photo gear, and quickly made it’s way out in the lengthening day towards an easy dive site, sheltered from the strong currents and seas that mark much of the intense diving in Palau. They would dive a shallower area with small bommies and rocks sewn along a sloping sand bar, ending in a small island marked with a light.

Everyone eagerly geared up and jumped in. As it was about 4 pm, there was still plenty of light for another couple of hours, so no serious dive lights were required, although many divers had focus or video lights on their rigs. All of the divers had been given a serious safety briefing first thing on board, and had been issued surface markers and some sort of sound signaling device if they didn’t have one. Having done 15 or so dives together, the group split off comfortably into pairs and smaller groups. Led by two dive guides, they spread out to be able to capture the macro subject matter they were after without interference.

Early in the dive, one diver, having brought wide angle gear along, was bored, and decided to signal the dive guide and head up. The guide watched the diver reach the surface and resumed herding the others around to new subjects to shoot.

After close to an hour, the groups of divers ended their dives and surfaced in the warm golden rays of a tropical setting sun. They remarked at the complete lack of currents during the dive.

The skiff when along the line of divers picking everyone up, and many remarked once on board, “Gee, where’s Jim? He’s usually the first one up”.

Jim had surfaced ok an hour previously. He saw the dive boat off a short distance away and waited for them to pick him up, it was a sunny afternoon with just a light breeze and clear skies, he was sure they’d see him in a minute or two. And it just seemed like routine for him to surface earlier than the others. But the crew on the boat never expected a diver to come up after 20 mins, and were relaxed after a long day, chatting with another skiff, comfortable in their routine that the divers would be down for another 40 minutes or so. After all, usually if somebody had a problem it was in the first few minutes of the dive.

Jim sat on the surface, and then slowly drifted away in the light wind. He inflated his surface marker and blew on his whistle. But he was silhouetted in the bright sun, and the wind blew his whistle sound away. He had some difficulty holding the surface marker upright as well.

He saw the boat start up and move a couple of times, but nobody saw him by then. He watched them start to pick up the other divers, then start to do searches for him. The boat did “S” sweeps around and around upwind from him, but nobody could spot him in the gathering darkness. He continued to drift uncontrollably away, even trying to swim a bit.

After it became dark, Jim turned on a small strobe light that he had on his BC desperate to be seen. He tried to swim a bit, but realized that impossibility. Frustratingly, he could see the boats looking for him, but none ventured far enough in his direction to see him.

The mood on the boat was one of frantically searching back and forth in a directed manner. After radioing the ship, long S sweeps were made by the well-trained crew in a lengthening manner, never realizing the distance downwind Jim had traveled in an hour. Twenty pairs of eyes were looking for Jim in every direction. The boat sat and listened for his whistle at times, not hearing any sounds. There was also the sand bar to search, as Jim had remarked that as a strong swimmer, he would try to swim to shore if he had problems.

As night fell, there were the guests on board to think about and the boat was out of fuel. Reluctantly, it returned to the live aboard. The authorities were advised, and several other liveaboards launched boats to take their place in the search, keeping in touch by radio.

His dive buddies and the trip leader got cleaned up and discussed the events in a somber manner. Many speculated that he had suffered some sort of medical condition after reaching the surface and had slipped back below. The easy routine enjoyment of the dive trip had turned into a nightmare.

After refueling, the Captain took the helm and they returned to the dive site to search. Finally, they saw a very small light downwind in the distance.

The boat drove at 29 knots for 6 minutes before they caught up with Jim and plucked him from the dark waters. He was tired but unharmed, and very lucky to be alive, after drifting a long 5 miles away from the dive site into the open Philippine Sea at night.

The lesson learned? Complacency can kill you. If you don’t carry all the safety gear you need to attract attention, on every dive, whether it’s a “no-brainer” dive or not, you can be lost at sea. If the boat crew doesn’t watch for divers surfacing early, divers can be lost.

Even if you’ve done 15 aggressive dives together previously and had no problems, don’t relax on the last dive of the day. It really could be your “last” dive.

See and Be Heard - Use What You Have

Even on a simple, easy dive, don’t jump in without a good light, surface marker and strong sound device.

Jim was prepared with a strobe light and it saved his life. But a better surface sound signaling device like a Dive-Alert would of gotten him immediate attention. Inflating his surface marker completely and waving it for attention may of helped too. But in the event that nothing else worked, or in adverse conditions, a Nautilus Lifeline with it’s GPS-linked digital VHF radio and strobe light would of made finding him much more assured.

A large surface marker buoy (SMB) is now required on most offshore dive boats. Some even have lights. Be sure you are familiar with their deployment and practice using them in easy conditions. Holding the end of them down underwater makes them stand up rigidly. Many guides deploy them at the safety stop for the dive skiff to spot and keep divers from being hit by other boat traffic. Try letting out a big burst of air from your octo just before you surface, then surface in it’s wake. The large surface boil will signal traffic where you are.

But what if you don’t have those great devices? Grab an old CD and put it in your BC pocket - they make a great signaling mirror. Most divers now carry some sort of light, and photographers have powerful strobes on their camera. Put your camera into “automatic” mode and the strobe will fire. Firing them in a burst of 3 shots every minute towards a boat should attack attention. Don’t have a surface marker? Take off your fins and wave them above your head, the idea is to make yourself “large” in the water. Remember to stick together, a larger group is much easier to spot than a small one. Conserve your strength, ditch your weights and other cumbersome gear if you have to. Relax, breath in the troughs of the waves, not at the top, where it breaks over your head.

Remember good communication with the boat crew, your guides and dive buddies is probably the most important part of your safety. If you think you might come up early, tell the guides and driver to be on the lookout. Plan your dive and dive your plan; it’s a basic part of any underwater adventure.

Friday, April 11, 2014 

New Handbooks: Guides to Better Underwater Photography

We've developed some great FREE handbooks to help give you a basic guide to many aspects of underwater photography. Titled "Guides to Better Underwater Photography", these are easy-to-read articles with lots of example photos designed to get you out in the water trying new techniques quickly.

They give you basic concepts and practical tips that will help you get better photos; from how to get started, to more advanced lighting techniques. These are applicable to any type of system from compact to advanced DSLRs, whether you're just starting out, or have more experience - everyone will find some helpful information.

The Handbooks cover many different areas such as Starting Concepts, Composition, Choosing a Lighting System, Close Focus Wide Angle Photography and Maintenance. They are in .pdf format and are an easy way to quickly improve your knowledge and skills.

About Jack

  • Adventurer, diver, sailor, photographer, writer and sometimes graphic designer. Proprietor of Optical Ocean Sales, LLC. Enjoy the blog, check back and please leave comments!
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