Blackwater Search & Rescue trial new diving equipment

New diving equipment which will benefit search and recovery divers is being tested by Blackwater Search and Rescue Unit.

The full face mask has several benefits, which includes it to allow a diver with a wider view clearly underwater, it provides the diver’s face protection from cold and polluted water, it increases breathing security and the communication between the diver and the surface support team when equipped with under water communication system. 

Blackwater Search and Recovery Divers have been using such equipment for over twenty year and were one of the first search units in the country to acquire same. 

By Declan Keogh
Search divers or even recreational divers cannot juts don a full-face mask and carry on the dive. Members of the Irish Underwater Council are required to complete a one-day course for theses mask, covering various skills such as clearing the mask, quick, complete mask removal and replacement, communications and maintenance of the mask.

The biggest consideration is that the mask and breathing are now one complete unit, unlike normal masks where you would have your separate regulator. Clearing the mask, quick, complete mask removal and replacement, communications and maintenance of the mask.

A noted advantage is the greater field of vision, the ease of breathing and ability to breathe through the nose. A great aspect of the full-face mask would be for cold water diving as it provides excellent coverage and protection against cold water.

960 Blackwater SAR FAce Masks
Pic: (Blackwater Search & Rescue)

Blackwater Sub Aqua Club or otherwise known as Blackwater Search and Rescue Unit was first established in 1981. The unit has 25 trained search and recovery divers, a support crew and an overall membership of 35 volunteers.

Noel Hayes, Blackwater SAR Unit and Southern Regional Coordinator for the National Body of Irish Underwater Council spoke to Emergency Times at the Voluntary Emergency Services open day in Cork recently. The SAR unit is affiliated to the Irish Underwater Council and there is also a Service Level Agreement with the Coast Guard. Noel said: “On average we get approximately 3 to 5 serious call outs per year. We have had well over 200 call outs since we were established, and we recover 2 to 3 people per year. We also had live rescues where we had to rescue people who became trapped in various places.”

960 SAR Noel CIT
Noel Hayes speaking at the Voluntary Emergency Services day in Cork. (Photo: Declan Keogh / Emergency Times)

Like many other SAR units, they would be called out by the Irish Coast Guard, and Blackwater’s local coast guard unit is one of the main communication centres of the Irish Coast Guard, Valentia. “We are also turned out by the gardaí but our insurance covers us that we can also be called out by locals or the public. Whenever we are turned out we will always contact and inform the gardai if the incident or of we are involved in a missing persons case or whatever the nature of the call out is” he said.

Blackwater VES IRCG
(Photo: Declan Keogh / Emergency Times)

Blackwater SAR has been involved with the Voluntary Emergency Services (VES) for the past 15 year and they carry out integrated training each quarter. “The good thing about meeting four times a year is when we meet, we do so at a different location each year, so part of the meet and greet would be an introduction to equipment and resources that you have, or any new equipment that we would have got recently, we will go and give a quick demo on that. Also, because we’re involved with the VES, each member unit would have their equipment and their asset declared onto the matrix of capabilities, so it is marked up on the booklet that they have. What we have and what were capable of doing.”

Blackwater at VES
Blackwater SAR members L-R: Noel Hayes, Olan O’ Farrell, Kenneth Barry, Eugene Whelan. (Photo Declan Keogh / Emergency Times)

Mandatory Search Training for Annual recertification

The Irish Underwater Council CFT which is the governing body of all Irish Sub Aqua clubs is required to register all Search and Recovery Divers in Ireland. As part of the Irish Underwater Council certificate for training, Search and Recovery Units must undergo mandatory bi-annual training. The Blackwater Search and Rescue completed their mandatory training over a recent weekend in April.

The training was conducted under the supervision of David Carey, Search and Recovery Dive Officer and Noel Hayes CFT Regional Search and Rescue Coordinator. Members of the Blackwater SAR team attended both days to practice some search pattern techniques and procedures. With visibility underwater quite clear the search teams were able to concentrate in search methods which included search line control and fast water search techniques. 

960 Blackwater SAR Divers 2
Pic: Blackwater Search & Rescue Unit

Familiarisation to the new digital underwater communication system took place with all divers on the Saturday session.  This new system which is of a higher quality and works better in fast flowing water ensures that the divers and the surface can keep in constant contact.  

While the local search and recovery unit work closely with the local emergency services in incidents locally they are also available to be called upon by the national body as well as the Regional Emergency Task Force. With over twenty qualified search divers and support personnel within the unit, the unit is very strong in the experience of the various divers and support. Ongoing training also takes place within the club when conditions allow.  The localised training is ongoing with the side scanner technology with more members gaining competence with the equipment. 

960 Blackwater SAR Shark and Diver

Blackwater SAR Featred 960
Pics: Blackwater Search & Rescue Unit

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