Interview speakers 2024

Bart den Ouden: Human Factors in Diving


Text: Rene Lipmann | Photos: Bart den Ouden

Accidents and near misses in diving are often caused by poor communication, a wrong decision or a lack of situational awareness. No diving organization pays attention to this during training. The training Human Factors in Diving focuses on decision-making, situational awareness, communication and collaboration skills, and – crucially – their interdependence. Bart den Ouden tells you all about it on Duikvaker.

I come up with the term Human Factors in Diving more and more often. What is this about?

Human Factors (and ergonomics) is a concept that has its origins in the application of psychological and physiological principles in the design of products, processes and systems. The starting point is to reduce “human errors” by organizing or designing everything in such a way that the chance of making the wrong choice is minimized. An additional advantage is that productivity and safety increase.

It has been a concept in aviation for decades and for a number of years Gareth Lock has been trying to get Human Factors applied in diving. He has developed a number of training courses for this purpose and has also written a book. In 2019/2020 he gave the first HFiD Trainer training and I was one of the first five trainers trained by him.


What is meant by skills like Non-technical skills or 'human factors skills'?

To dive you need to have a number of skills. Just think about having good buoyancy or being able to clear a mask. These are so called technical skills. So it has nothing to do with technical vs. recreational diving. 

Human Factors skills or non-technical skills are skills that you need to make the right decision when confronted with a certain situation. So observe carefully, know what is happening, know what the options are and then be able to determine what the right response is. So “the person in the system”.


Causes of (near) diving accidents. What do they usually start with?

People make decisions in different ways. You may have encountered a similar problem before and are drawing on your experience. As long as all other factors are the same, then it could lead to the same outcome. 

It may also be that you have not experienced the situation before but you think you know a rule that applies. As long as you remember and apply the rule correctly and all other factors fit that rule, then it could work out well.

It may also be that you are confronted with a new situation and that you do not know any rules or procedures to deal with it. Then it becomes gambling.

In general, you can easily determine afterwards when something went wrong. The problem is that with today's knowledge you then look at a situation in which that information was not known. So it's easy to talk afterwards. Why something goes wrong can have so many different causes. If I were to generalize, I would say that things often (almost) go wrong due to a wrong assessment or attitude. Overestimation of one's own skills is number 1.


Do diving organizations pay sufficient attention to this during training?

I do not speak on behalf of a diving organization, but as an instructor who teaches or has taught for various organizations. If you ask me, insufficient attention is given here. Training often revolves around completing mandatory exercises and dives so that certification can be obtained. 

What is the difference between how and why during a diving course? The emphasis is on why… why?

Diving training often involves learning certain skills so that a type of dive can be done safely. A certificate is then linked to this at the end and this indicates to which “level” a diver has been trained (for example a certain maximum depth or certain breathing gas).

So it's about “How”. If you have a good instructor, he will also explain “Why”. Why is important in case you ever find yourself in an emergency situation. You then have to make decisions under pressure and it is good to know why you had to take certain actions. But, pay attention to what I said above about being able to clearly perceive what is going on. Otherwise, you may still make the wrong decision with the best intentions.

Don't divers always recognize that they are going to get into trouble at some point? How is that possible?

No, sometimes people are so focused on one thing that they forget everything around them. Or they overestimate their skills, underestimate the circumstances or the situation. The moment you notice that something is wrong, it is difficult or impossible to prevent the problem. For example, think of the underwater photographer who wants so badly to photograph that one animal and therefore forgets to keep an eye on its air supply. Or completely misses the fact that he has lost his buddy for a while?


Are stupid mistakes always avoidable during a dive?

Or something a stupid is wrong is actually a typical comment from someone who looks at a situation afterwards and then shouts: “But he/she should have done… then it wouldn't have happened!” 

Very few people wake up in the morning and think: today is a good day to put myself or others in danger. You can compare it to someone walking through a tunnel and then coming to a junction. The person does not know what comes after the split. The choice is made to turn left and the person comes to a junction again. Same situation, no knowledge. The decision is again made to go left or right and at some point the accident happens. 

If you look at the situation from outside the tunnel complex and after the accident has happened, it is very easy to determine where things went wrong. Should have gone right instead of left, for example.

Of course you have divers who do a dive for which they are not trained or do not have the skills or equipment. This is often an overestimation of one's own capabilities and an underestimation of the danger. By applying Human Factors we try to change the outcome of that decision moment.


Do buddies tend not to discuss things?

In an ideal world yes, but what you see is that when people have dived together before, a kind of laziness creeps in. “I know my buddy inside and out.” The pre-briefing then becomes shorter and shorter until it ends in: “The same lap as last time?” "Fine!" After a dive, a good debriefing is important to learn from certain situations and to increase the chance that a better response will follow next time. The real “learning” takes place in the debriefing. 

Why should I take a Human Factors in Diving course? What is offered to me?

In the two-day program I discuss various aspects of Human Factors. For example, leadership and followership, decision making, good communication, working in a team and situational awareness are examined. With the help of a computer simulation, you will then apply the theory in practical situations. You do this in teams. During these two days you will learn a lot about yourself and how you react in certain situations. It is a very safe way to practice non-technical skills.


You provide a lot of training, from diving with a disability to PADI Instructor training. What's different about the Human Factors in Diving course?

It is about making people aware of the effect of human factors on their decisions and behavior with the aim of increasing diving safety. The extent to which this is possible in two days varies from person to person. There are no “objective performance requirements” as with diving courses. You also don't get a pass afterwards...

Except for one, no diving organization has human factors in the curriculum of their (instructor) training courses. That's a missed opportunity, but I also understand why they don't do it. Technical skills are easy to measure. Afterwards you either tick a box or not. But how do you objectively determine whether someone has sufficiently mastered certain non-technical skills (e.g. situational awareness)? 

Who is this course interesting for? For instructors or novice divers?

This course is interesting for anyone who sometimes has to work together with other people. So in the case of diving: for every diver. Everyone can get something out of it and it is certainly not the case that everything is aimed at technical divers or diving professionals. Certainly not: the majority of dives are still made by recreational divers and this is where the greatest gains can be made in the field of diving safety. 


Bart den Ouden

Bart den Ouden provides many training courses. He has been teaching PADI Divemaster courses since 2002 and PADI Instructor courses since 2008. You can also contact him for Diving with a disability, because there is no such thing as CAN NOT! Are you an experienced diver and do you want to become a technical diver? Or are you already a technical diver and want to take the next step? Bart can train you to become a technical diving instructor for TDI or PADI TecRec. With the two-day Human Factors in Diving training you will learn skills such as environmental awareness and communication correctly, so that you become a better diver at every level. More information at

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