Tag Archives: Underwater Search & Recovery

Ouch! You never know what you might run into.

One of the shortfalls of becoming good at something is that you tend to forget about Murphy. It is human nature. We do things so well and are always striving to do those things faster and better, just to make lifehello my name is sign with blank white copyspace for text message

easier. However, once you cross those tactile and cognizant barriers you become open game for Mr. Murphy. I am referring to “ Murphy’s Law,” which basically says that if something can go wrong, it probably will.


I remember one time when I was called out at 3:00 am to respond to a single car accident where the vehicle ended up in a canal. When I arrived on the scene, the police unit and the heavy duty wrecker were already there and ready to go. Obviously, not much is happening at 3:00 am in this part of the county. It took me about fifteen minutes to arrive and my partner was still twenty minutes away. The car was sitting in about six feet of water across a thirty foot wide drainage ditch. The top of the vehicle was visible about one foot below the surface of the murky water, which was flowing past the car at about a quarter knot. (If a 1 knot current moves at 100 feet per minute, you figure it out!) Now let us reason this out logically: Five minutes to suit up, two minutes to hook up, five minutes to pull vehicle from the water, and five minutes to gear down. Once the vehicle is hooked and I am out of the water, there is no need for my partner to continue responding. Since we both had to report in at 8:00 am, this logic was a no-brainer.


Enter Mr. Murphy. As I began pulling the chain and hook across the  fifteen feet of no man’s land between me and the car in full SCUBA gear, I immediately realized that there was zero visibility. So I placed my outstretched hand in front of me so that I would feel the side of the car before I swam into it. After about five steps, my facemask struck something hard and immovable without warning. “OUCH!”



I had not considered the possibility of the windows being down, and as my probing hand entered the window my face introduced itself to the top of the door. (Murphy will always find a way in).   I then placed the chain around the right front wheel axle and attached the wrecker hook to the chain. I then exited the water and geared down. By the time I got back home I had developed a nice goose egg just above my right eyebrow. OUCH! You never know what you might run into.


-Written by Michael W. Gast

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Journey of 540 Dives

This post goes out to the dedicated and hard working men of ALERT’s Unit 51. 

I have been on the road for most of April in the great state of Texas, teaching at the International ALERT Academy.

This is one of the twice-a-year moments that I get to teach there, and it is hands down my favorite group to teach.

We cover a LOT in a very short amount of time! In just 14 days, these young men are taken from not being very confident in the water to open water, advanced open water, and then through the special response diving course. Like I said, a LOT!

There are a few reasons why I enjoy this.

  1. These guys are beast. Like Nike, they just do it. No reservations or holding back when they are told to do something- they just get it done.
  2. Big, giant, human shaped sponges. All of them are eager to learn and grow.
  3. Competent. It’s not like they just learned to dive in the ocean and now they won’t dive for another year. No.. in just these two weeks they put 20 dives under their weight belts. Most people learning to dive won’t even do that many dives in a year!
  4. Let’s not leave out comical. It’s not perfection all the time, and there are a lot of screw ups, but we have fun doing it! The difference is that these guys are willing to learn from their mistakes.

These are only a few of the many reasons I enjoy working with ALERT men. I’m also an Alumni of the Academy, so there’s that…

There is one thing that stands out the most, however, among these young men. It’s their desire to go out and do. They have a fire lit inside to take the skills that they learn and go and serve their communities and public safety departments. And that’s exactly what we need. We need the next generation of public safety divers to get excited to take on the job that is there.

An interesting shift is going on in the public safety diving world right now. It’s the shift from the experienced old salts to the young bucks. Those that have been in the world of Underwater Search & Recovery and have been successful in their craft are either moving up their respective ladders, or they are retiring. The massive amounts of knowledge and wisdom that comes only from experience also leaves with them. This is leaving a learning gap in many departments. The old is out and the new is lost and left to find help and training on their own; which often means poor training.

But it’s this fresh batch, the newbies, the rookies, the ones with that drive to get it done, that make my job a joy to do. I look forward to the future of these ALERT men and the impact they will have on their communities. Keep up the good work guys!

If you want to find out more about ALERT click HERE!


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I’m sorry. I thought you said it’s a…

As you probably know from earlier posts like: That water is deep…almost as deep as those misconceptions; that I find a lot of entertainment in what I do. A certain January evening was no exception.

I was out with some SRD divers who were training with me down here in Miami, at a canal that we frequently find cars in. It was late afternoon and the searching was coming to an end for the day. I checked in with the last team at the end of the canal and asked what they had discovered in their search area.

The team had been doing a parallel search, so there had only been one diver in the water. The diver then proceeded to tell me about all the random garbage and nick-knacks he found on the bottom. He got to the end of his list of findings when he hesitated for a moment and then said, trying to sound confident, “I also found a Jet-ski…………with wheels.”

Now I have learned that when someone tries to explain something that is out of the norm to others who have never seen it; those that have never seen said item, become instant experts on it. It’s basically a sport. People start forming teams by recruiting others to their view. Wild ideas are now simple logic, and suddenly the only person who has actually come in contact with the object of interest, is the only person who is wrong.

So pretty much with the divers comment, this was shaping up to be a big enough event that ESPN2 should probably send out a van and crew to cover it.

“I’m sorry. I thought you said it’s a Jet-ski with wheels.” I said this thinking he was just making up something for all of us to have a good laugh at. After all, that’s my kind of humor. “Um, yeah…it’s a Jet-ski…with wheels.”

I have a rule with my company. There is to be no shouting at the surface between divers and surface support while on an operation. Even if you’re at the other side of the lake, you handle all your discussions close enough to whisper if need be. It’s just plain professional. There is no need to be yelling all over the place, especially if you’re dealing with a sensitive situation like a body recovery.

So this being the rule, I called the diver to the waters edge and asked again what he had found.

The audience at the time was myself, the Lieutenant from the auto theft division, and an special agent from an insurance firm. So, in the interest of not having the diver embarrass himself, I called him over close and asked what it was he saw. He repeated his answer doing his best to sound like he wasn’t second guessing himself. “I’m not crazy Jordan. It’s a jet-ski with wheels.” I told him to go down again and confirm his claim.

Now while he was down, another unit pulled up and two officers joined the discussion of the mystery vehicle. Some said it was on it’s trailer. Others said it was probably a go-cart. The Lt. said it was a Quad (Four wheeler) because they would come out in that area and ride around. I was the team captain for the “On a trailer” team.

After about 5 minutes, the diver surfaced and came over to an eager group of experts just waiting for their moment to tell all the non-believers, I TOLD YOU SO!

Unfortunately the story was the same, and the diver was more confidant now. He explained how he had investigated the USO (unidentified sunken object) and described again in more detail about how it was a Jet-ski with wheels.

Ok, I’m sure there is a simple explanation for this. Like that it’s on it’s trailer and it has two wheels and a tongue and straps tying it down (Go team Trailer!).

So with my new found assurance that I was right, and with the encouragement of my newly drafted teammates, I told the diver to go down once more and look for the trailer. I then gave him a quick lesson on how to tell if it’s a trailer underwater and off he went.

Now the above water scene is down right hilarious. We have the original characters, plus those 2 officers, plus another 3 officers. Also the tow truck is on it’s way. Unnecessary you say? Well we can’t just leave all those people in suspense!

So once more the diver surfaces, spit’s out his regulator, and just starts smiling! “I knew it! I was right! It’s on it’s trailer.” I said to the Lt. as I nudged him with my elbow.

Ok, this guy is on his own now!!! No more trying to bail him out of embarrassment! He will just have to learn his lesson the hard way! Some diver he’ll turn out to be. Can’t even identify a trailer underwater!!!


The tow truck showed up. Bet’s were placed and battle lines were drawn. The moment of truth had arrived.

And here it comes…


It’s on it’s trailer I tell you…


A little further…


It’s a…it’s a……..What the….




Well then. It’s a Jet-ski………………..with wheels.

I know the picture is as blurry as one of Sasquatch, but it’s real. That right there my friends is why I love my job! You just never know what you might find!


Apparently, the engineer who created this beauty, had taken out the motor and everything else inside, and installed something similar to a go-cart frame. There was no seat and no engine, but I bet that thing rolled down hill like a champ!


This has gone down in my memory books as one of my favorite recoveries. It’s also the favorite of all those “experts” that were on scene as well. It’s times like these that remind us that we only know what we know. And I know now, there was no trailer. Maybe next time team. Maybe next time.


Search negatively my friends,



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The positives of negative buoyancy!

Finally, some clear thinking on the importance buoyancy has in the diving community. Wait a minute, what diving community is it important to? As a matter of fact, how many diving communities are there? Why don’t you just think about those two questions while I continue with the first thought.


Buoyancy is all about Archimedes, who was a Greek mathematician/scientist living in the 3rd century BC.archimedes

Using scientific methods he determined that “…an object immersed in a liquid partially or totally is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the liquid displaced”.


Well, have you thought long enough on those two diving community questions? The answer is… understanding and mastering  Buoyancy is important in every diving community.

In the recreational diving community the attainment of Neutral buoyancy at any depth is the desired objective to be considered a competent diver. However Positive buoyancy is the most sought after and taught skill for a dive profile to have a happy conclusion. Then there is Negative buoyancy which has become the bain of sport divers and those who teach them.


In the Commercial diving community the knowledge, skills and abilities  (attitudes) when it comes to buoyancy is more a job for job tool and capability. That means that Positive, neutral and negative buoyancy is mission dictated and performed professionally to a successful conclusion.

In the Special Response Diving community Negative buoyancy is king! This community includes Police divers, Public Safety divers, medium_21-280213113545emergency response divers, tactical divers, military divers, forensic divers and any other group that performs underwater search and recovery missions. Believe it or not trying to find something on the bottom while neutrally buoyant is a fools errand. Now some will argue that neutral buoyancy keeps the diver from disturbing the bottom, and that may work once in a while, but if you want to find something on the bottom you must become the bottom. This is achieved only with negative buoyancy. The only way to constantly have a positive resolution to an underwater search is becoming proficient in the use of negative buoyancy.


Remember, in underwater search & recovery you get positive results when negative buoyancy is king!


Written by – Michael W. Gast

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He who has the most gear is an idiot.

This post will probably upset a lot of people. Probably because you have already spent all that money on your awesome new gear. So please hold your judgment until the end.

I love gadgets! I love cool gizmos and tools that allow me to conquer the challenges of life. You want to make me happy? Just drop me off at Home Depot and I will dream and scheme for hours. I probably should have an adult with me when I go there…

Every sport, profession or hobby, has some new must have tool or toy breaking into the market almost every month. Sometimes they are really amazingly helpful inventions that improve whatever it is you are doing. But sometimes they are a little bit weird and a lot of useless. I mean just look at the picture to the right!

Dive gear is no exception, and is one of the most widely discussed topics of any diving field. From Sport Diving to Public Safety Diving to Commercial Diving; dive gear is talked about among divers, like street racers talk about their cars, or my family and Fantasy Football. It’s your connection to the underwater world. For some people it’s just a tool, while for others, it’s their identity.

Let me clarify something. This blog is about Public Safety Diving. I’m not saying anything about sport divers here, so please continue to hold your judgment. Alright, here we go.

I have written previously about The Importance of Uniformity. I believe very strongly that as a team, every piece of gear should be the same. And I’m also a big believer that if it does not serve a purpose to your mission, get rid of it. Some of you are thinking about the “what ifs?” What if I drop my knife? What if I lose the search line? What if my regulator free flows? What if my light dies? What if my fin strap breaks? What if my depth gauge stops working? What if my computer batteries decide to give up the ghost while I’m 30 feet down? WHAT IF?!!!

Ok. So what? Does this means it’s the end of the world? No!

 Last week I wrote about not trading in your common sense for toys and technology. The same thing applies here. Divers tend to feel that the more gadgets they add to their BC, the better a diver they will become. Even equipment manufacturers will rename something and make a diver believe they will be a better diver if they just buy that piece of equipment. Be careful that you do not become easily swayed by the shiny box and smooth talk.

For sport diving, there are some really cool accessories to enhance your gear and overall diving experience. For example, this thingy pictured right here is a personal favorite of mine. —————————–>

It’s a device that is capable of sending out a signal to rescuers, that you were an idiot and have no idea how to navigate, monitor your air, or start your dive into the current, and in some cases, all three. It asks you on the home page of the website, if your life is worth $299. I know mine is! That’s why I’m gonna buy two of them! So I can be extra stupid!

Really people?!!! We are just making it easier for divers to operate without the basic skills! Learn to use a compass and be back on the boat when the captain says so! There, I just saved your life, and your wallet $300. Take your dive buddy out for lunch and tell them I said they are welcome.

Public Safety Divers need to understand that the gear you use does not make the diver. And in the hazardous arena that is Public Safety Diving, the more equipment you have the greater chance of entanglement.

So when choosing your diving setup, here are some things I recommend you take into consideration.

  • Find a BC that is low profile. The less you stick out the better. I use Zeagle Scouts for me and my team.
  • Regulators should be streamlined, and if possible, should be environmentally sealed. Your gonna be on the bottom stirring up all kinds of sediment, so the more you have sealed the less maintenance you will need. The Atomic Line is great, as well as Aqualung Titans.
  • Knives should be attached to the BC somewhere around the waist area. You should be able to comfortably be able to take it out and replace it just by feel. It should also have a basic, yet effective, locking mechanism.
  • We use AIR 2’s as our safe second regulators. It reduces the amount of hoses coming from the first stage and slims down the whole setup.


These are just some things to think about. You have to keep in mind entanglement, entanglement, entanglement. The more you stick out with your gear, the better chance you will end up in a very awkward dance with something on the bottom.


Ok, you can judge now.


Search negatively my friends!

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