Tathra laundromat incident 2007

It’s early afternoon, and 8 eager divers are lined up along the Kianinny Bay boat ramp to do a well known, easily accessible shore dive. The group is largely inexperienced with south coast diving, with two “more experienced” club members. Buddy pairs are formed, with the two least experienced divers buddied with the two more experienced members, and the other two buddy pairs tagging along. Dive planning for most of the buddy pairs was limited to an “I’ll follow you” style plan.

There was a moderate south-easterly sea and swell present, not ideal conditions to dive Kianinny Bay. It was suggested by some club members that it may be more appropriate to dive at Tathra Warf, rather than diving at Kinanny Bay. The details of this discussion are uncertain, however contributing factors to continuing the dive at Kianinny were reported as:

  • Issues raised about the rock entrance and exit at the wharf
  • Frustration and impatience to dive. A significant time had elapsed due to fixing issues with one of the boat trailers. Divers were keen to dive now, rather than relocate

One experienced club diver was going to go on this dive, but aborted from this shore dive due to the conditions. The conditions were not sufficiently severe to explicitly stop diving at Kianinny Bay, although the less than ideal conditions present a dive that is not ideal for a large group of inexperienced or rusty divers.

After gearing up, the 8 divers entered the water, and snorkeled out of Kianinny Bay, on the left hand side. The divers descended through a small quantity of white water, to a depth of about 10 metres. The dive was free of current, but surge was present through the duration of the dive. The dive progressed to the north, and turned shortly into the dive to return to the bay, roughly following the green line on the aerial photo below:

The most experienced diver missed the desired exit point (top-most channel), and instead followed an alternate channel towards the shore – the red line leading to the shallow rocks. The diver found that their channel came to a dead end and surfaced to undertake a visual check, after signaling for the other divers to remain at depth. The diver surfaced, and re-descended, having obtained their bearings. However, at this stage, 6 divers all surfaced, into an area with very poor surface conditions (shallow with a breaking swell).

At this stage, the six divers attempted to climb out of the water onto the rocks, with a varying quantity of gear (some had removed equipment to assist their exit). Divers ended up in a very uncomfortable position, on the rocks in a breaking swell. Once noted on the rocks, additional club members rendered assistance to help get divers and gear back on land. 2 divers successfully navigated back in the entry channel, and surfaced uneventfully.

Once back on land, first aid assistance was given to divers, treating head wounds for two, and a hand injury to one. Three divers attended hospital following the incident.

This incident was unfortunate, and could most likely have been avoided. A few lessons were apparent from the dive:

  1. The club has a habit of advertising trips with “easy shore dives”. Whilst shore dives are often easily accessible, conditions on the day can quickly turn an otherwise benign dive, into a challenging dive, or make a dive unsafe to do. The club should advertise shore dives as easily accessible, rather than easy.
  2. Mixes of experience level. This dive had 8 participants, with the majority of divers relying on one experienced club member. People should consider if they actually feel comfortable with the dive and dive group prior to diving. For divers of unknown ability, very inexperienced or very rusty divers, a 1:1 experienced to “rusty” diver should be considered. This dive had a ratio closer to 1:4, but with one of the “experienced” divers being relatively inexperienced in mentoring new divers.
  3. When people were in rough white water, they wanted to surface and get out of the water. Whilst this is an instinctive thing to do, it’s not always the best course. Usually, white water indicates nasty surface conditions, and its often a good idea to head into deeper water. Then slow down, and think about the easiest exit.
  4. Conditions can often change through a dive, for the better, or worse. Consider the conditions for the water, and for the exit point. It’s a good idea to identify an alternate exit point too.
  5. Make and follow a dive plan! You and your buddy should have a plan for your dive, that is not dependant on another diver. If your plan looks like it is dependant on a third diver, consider an alternate exit strategy.
  6. Navigation aids. The use of navigational aids, combined with the knowledge of their use may help to mitigate incidents. Compasses, reels and a map / laminated aerial photo may have been of assistance.