The various equipment configurations, hand signals and techniques that revolve around an out of gas emergency are ripe for a good old fashioned internet bun fight. From the contentious to the just plain wrong there are plenty of arguments for the best way to donate gas.
There is a general consensus amongst some divers that in an emergency an out of gas diver will simply rip the reg out of their buddies mouth. This has led to some people poo pooing octo donation as a waste of time or teaching people to cover their reg with one hand whilst handing off the octo with another which gives the overall impression of someone handing medicine at arms length to a plague victim.
In actual fact, most of the time, people follow their training in an emergency. Therefore if they learn to breathe from an octo that is predominantly what they will attempt to do.
At the other end of the scale there used to be a 2 step signal for an out of gas diver whilst practising an out of air drill. This involved giving the standard swipe across the neck to indicate out of air followed by a more plaintive hand to mouth gesture that was supposed to be a request for sharing gas. I used to love the idea that someone might swim up to someone under the water giving a frantic out of air signal only to have their potential rescuer simply look at them blankly in a ‘what do you want me to do about it?’ kind of way until clarification is provided in the form of the air sharing signal: ‘Oh, you want me to give you some gas- why didn’t you say so in the first place?’
The current status quo in teaching is to teach the out of gas diver to locate and secure the octopus after giving the signal whilst the donating diver throws their arms wide in a crucifixion pose of beneficence. ‘Here’ it seems to imply ‘Pluck my alternate from my lean and muscular torso and I shall grant you the precious gift of air’. The logic of this methodology seems sound: We are teaching divers to self rescue so we are essentially making the donor an irrelevance during the exercise. However when we look at this set up, do we really want to be teaching the donor to fling their arms wide whilst the out of gas diver attempts to free the octo from one of the myriad of attachments on the marketplace? Surely a bit like telling people not to yell for ‘pizza’ in a rescue course it would make more sense to inject a little more realism?
We don’t really want to teach people right off the bat to do nothing in an out of gas emergency so therefore let’s teach the donor to pass off the octopus.
First off before a collective gasp of horror emerges from the angry instructors of milton keynes this is a directive filtering through from the top bods at PADI. Secondly, let’s have a look at the performance requirement: ‘Secure and breathe from an alternate air source’. It doesn’t say to remove it from the donor’s BCD. In fact, it doesn’t say what side the octo should orient, how long the hose should be nor does it say octo at all. This means that if you want to teach primary long hose donation then knock yourself out. This also means that, just like turning valves a half turn back, the arms wide open gesture is a teaching technique that has caught on without actually being a requirement of the skill. I find this is often the case with many skills, a few other training agencies often like to make out that they teach skills differently to the PADI system but a quick look at the performance requirements of the skill show that there is a lot left to individual interpretation.
I teach this skill by getting the donor to pass off the octopus to the out of air diver but I leave the responsibility of ensuring that the reg is the right way up and the hose free and clear to the receiver. This ensures that the performance requirement of securing the reg is met whilst still differentiating this from a rescue course skill where the emphasis is on the rescuer ensuring that the reg is supplied correctly to an out of gas diver.
The other bonus of doing this is that the donating diver releases the octo clip. Whilst the release of the octo should be covered in the buddy check quite a few divers often have their octos secured in hose clips that often don’t release the reg but simply slide down the hose and restrict it’s length. It’s therefore also crucial that the release of the octo and how it’s secured is something that divers are taught to think about and discuss as part of their checks
I was once given some advice by an instructor who told me that in an emergency the best thing that you can do is consciously slow down your actions and ensure that you get things right the first time instead of speeding up and then forgetting something which causes you to have to repeat it under ever increasing stress. Hopefully by priming students early on to help in a real emergency we might increase the likelihood of gas sharing being completed successfully so that a panicked situation is avoided.