The water is murky as you descend into the cold waters in the San Pedro Harbor tethered to the rest of the team to approach the large, recently docked cargo ship and begin your trek along its hull. The ship creaks and groans as you move along and the vibration from the generators pulses through your body. You pass over the intakes, grateful that they were properly shut off before the search commenced. Out of habit you glance at your compass only remember that its useless next to the large metal ship.
This is just a normal scenario for the Long Beach Search and Rescue Dive Team, who regularly does hull searches of ships looking for drugs and explosives. A few of the members came over to Eco Dive Shop last night to speak at the monthly Dive Club. It was a fascinating meeting, and learning about the application of SCUBA in association with searches and rescues was impressive.
The Long Beach Dive team started back in the 1970’s and has developed and grown into a premier dives team today. Along with hull searches, they assist Police and Coast Guard in emergency rescues, search and recovery missions, and perform regularly scheduled dives such as scanning the bottom of anchorages in the harbor looking for abnormalities that cause difficulty for the ship pilots. The team consists of 15 members, who are all, or have been on permanent staff with the Long Beach Lifeguards. They break the group into 3 dive teams of 4 divers and a leader. They have a variety of equipment from diving wet or dry, sonar that scans 360º or just on each side, full face masks that allow for underwater communications and more.
Team members Allen and Cameron discussed several of their search pattern tactics from expanding circles, jackstay patterns and towed diver grids. They explained differences between a rescue dive and search dive, and how the team reacts to a call.
I found the timing of this presentation pretty perfect as I am getting ready to start my Rescue Diver certification course. While the Rescue course is more geared at assisting and saving a diver in the middle of an emergency, the information relating to conducting searches for missing divers, etc seemed to fit right in.
What was the most important thing we as recreational divers can do to help out this team in any search? Be accurate and sure of your responses. They spoke about having a “Point Last Seen” basically being able to know where the missing person, or thing was last seen. This can be achieved through eye witness accounts, triangulating the position with surrounding geographical points, remembering to consider clues like current and tides, marking the spot with a buoy, or using GPS if available. Being able to provide this information to a Rescue Team member would be crucial in aiding their recovery or rescue.