Sifting bad information from good in diving forums

Online information for divers is great, except when it isn’t

In an age when everything is going high tech, it’s nice to see that diving is keeping with the times. Nowadays divers with questions can hop online and pose their queries to like-minded water worshipers around the world with online forums like ScubaBoard, DeeperBlue, Spearboard and more.

This ability has really changed diving as we know it. You can scope possible dive locations by reading reviews from other travelers and you can check out a dive shop’s reputation without having to step through the door. You can even seek advice on technique, decompression and safety with relative ease. But as with any easily accessed Internet information source, the general rule for the prudent Web surfer is simply: beware.

Whenever I sign onto diving forums, I’m always impressed that so many people are willing to spend time advising one another and providing various opinions on everything from the best mask on the market to the proper way to ascend from a dive. There are even threads (that’s forum lingo for a new topic) dedicated to reminiscences about favorite diving moments.

I know it may just seem like a small way for weekend divers to escape the daily grind for a minute or two, which reminds me how blessed I am to get to talk about diving all day long at work, but it’s also created a worldwide meeting of the water-logged minds.

I’ve read conversations where Americans, Canadians and Thais have all gotten together to help one person learn the correct way to adjust their buoyancy underwater. I’ve also been in forums where divers from all over the planet are discussing possible advances in technology, research into diving physiology and many other topics that could really signal changes in current diving practices.

But as with any written word (except mine of course), you have to question the source. Simply ask yourself, who wrote this and why should I believe it? Much of the advice available on those forums is correct and valuable, but some is not.

Here’s a perfect example of that. I was on a forum (not one I listed above) that discussed freediving and I came upon a thread titled, “Increasing Your Lung Volume.” In this thread the poster explained that you can increase the size of your lungs by breathing off a scuba unit underwater, holding your breath and ascending “just a little,” which he said would stretch your lungs enough to increase their size and therefore your breath-holding ability. What he failed to mention is that you can very easily kill yourself doing this by causing a lung over-expansion injury, which means popping a lung.

Putting ideas like that out into the world is just criminal. Most scuba divers learn the dangers of holding your breath in their introductory scuba classes, but there’s no certification required to read these forums and if even one uncertified diver happens upon a post like this, they could severely injure themselves.

Now I am definitely not saying uncertified divers should be banned from these forums. I think they’re a great way for possible future divers to test the waters and see if this sport might be something that appeals to them. But as readers we are all responsible for the information we accept and if something seems odd, like the advice from our lung popping friend, it’s probably not right. You can always appeal to other divers on these forums for confirmation and you can do outside research to make sure you’re not being fed a load of bologna.

On the brighter side though, most forums have conscientious moderators who pull unsafe or incorrect posts from the boards, so if they do see the light of day, it’s not for long. You’ll also see lots of long-time posters decrying the bad information, explaining why the deviant post is bogus.

So enjoy the coffee break forum perusing. Post a thread asking whether Curacao is a better dive location than Bonaire. Figure out which fins to buy based on the opinions of your distant diving comrades. But trust your well-honed diving instincts to discern the few yahoo posts from the wealth of information available to you.