Lobster Mini-Season 2016
Before we moved to the Keys, I had no idea of the craziness that is lobster mini-season. People have already started pouring into the Keys, US1 southbound was slowed to a crawl all day yesterday. In total, 59,000 people will descend on Florida for this yearly event with more than half of them expected here in the Keys. That’s a lot of people on these little islands. We’ll plan on staying home during the season which is the 27th & 28th this year. The boat traffic is expected to be 900 times greater than normal & I’ve seen firsthand how out-of-towners drive on US 1 (please turn the right way!).
The majority of lobster hunters will don scuba gear to search for their limits which has lead to diving fatalities at a rate of 130 times greater than the average incident rate for recreational divers. DAN is working to get to the bottom of what it is about this two day event that sparks such a spike in incidents.
Over the next week, DAN will be holding a series of lobster hunting safety talks all over Florida free of charge for anyone interested in learning the facts about hunting related incidents & tips for safely participating in this event. We caught Peter Buzzacott’s talk on Friday night at the Coral Restoration Foundation in Key Largo. Peter is the director of injury monitoring & prevention and has been focusing on the causes & prevention of incidents among lobster hunters. His presentation was extremely informative and I figured I’d pass on what I learned to anyone who can’t make it out to one.
Mini-season hunter fatalities are 130x greater than that of recreational diving
On average there are 2 fatalities each year during this 2 day event. That doesn’t sound high based on the number of people in the water (59,000) but that’s a rate 130 times greater than normal recreational diving which sees on average 2 fatalities in 260 days, that’s a huge difference. So what’s driving this spike?
We learned from Peter’s talk that a combination of things lead to these incidents each year with most being related to running out of breathing gas and making a subsequent rapid ascent. A lot of these hunters were also diving solo which I found interesting.
Check your gauges & check them often!
So what leads to divers being surprised that they’re tank is almost empty? And these incidents in general?
- Distraction – divers are so focused on the hunt that they forget to check their gauges often enough leading to out of air situations. I’ve seen the same thing happen with new divers carrying cameras. Even good divers can be turned into bad divers once a task is introduced. Don’t underestimate this! Check your gauges often.
- Exertion – hunting leads to more exertion than a leisurely dive on a reef. You’ve got small window & you want to catch your limit – I get that – but don’t risk your life. When you exert yourself, you breath harder and use your air more quickly. Check your gauges & always start your dive into the current so you can take advantage of the lift on the way back when your bag is full. Getting your buoyancy dialed in will also help you use less air.
- Physical Condition – be honest with yourself. Maybe you’ve been hanging out on the couch binging on Netflix a little too much the past few months. You know when you’ve let yourself get out of shape so plan your dives accordingly. Exertion stresses your heart and can lead to incidents. Take it easy! It’s okay if you don’t catch your limit – you’re still having a great vacation!
- Experience – if you’ve been out of the water since last year’s season (or longer) stop by any of the local shops for a refresher course. If your schedule allows, arrive a day early and go on a few fun dives to get reacquainted with your gear & diving.
- Equipment Condition – if you’ve had your gear for a while & it hasn’t been serviced, get it serviced before the season or rent gear from one of the many reputable shops. This is life support equipment! Do you really want to trust your life to gear that’s been hanging with the dust bunnies in your attic for the last few years?
- Diving Solo? – a lot of incidents occurred with hunters who were diving solo. If you find yourself diving alone for whatever reason – consider bringing a backup air supply, you can get a pony bottle at many local shops.
If you do find yourself in a low/out of air situation do your best to relax and ascend as slowly as possible.
More tips & facts from DAN below:
Finally, get dive insurance. It’s surprisingly cheap and could save your life! Check out the plans offered by DAN. Always have DAN’s phone number, a first-aid kit & oxygen on board if at all possible. Even if you’re not a DAN insurance customer you can call their hot-line for medical advice free of charge. If something feels off – give them a call, they’re experts in this and deal with over 13,000 calls a year.
Thanks again for the presentation Peter! We learned a lot and enjoyed meeting you!
Have a fun, safe season everyone!
Until next time …
Warm thoughts to all!