Last Updated on February 6, 2015
Editors Note: This article deviates from our normal post format in that the subject matter is more of a debate between two professionals around a single subject. I was hesitant to post this at first, but Captain Bill convinced me of the importance of debate on this subject and not having another outlet; this format, while not perfect will suffice. As I told Bill, our community is made better by discussion and even disagreements on occasion. Discussion that is two sided doesn’t always come across well in print, but hopefully this article provides value to the dialog of people all over the world who are looking for new and creative prepping ideas.
The article ‘Underwater Cache – Great Idea or Prepping Disaster?’ has generated a lot of interest, including Mr. Rodney Dial’s responses to the observations of my article, which are contained in their entirety herein below with my additional comments. As some people know, Mr. Dial and his family recently appeared on Season 3 of National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers in an episode titled ‘Take Our Country Back’.
I do want to make sure everyone realizes that I respect Mr. Dial for his service to the State of Alaska and for the work his family has done to try and become more prepared, which is admirable. The value of any debate is to evaluate both sides of an idea or concept with some level of scrutiny, such that the unvarnished truth is revealed.
Most people realize that presenting something as highly controversial as the edgy preps depicted regularly on National Geographic Doomsday Preppers to a TV audience of mainstream Americans and then offering ‘scoring’ for those preps with opinions that may be just as controversial, is at best a challenging endeavor for sure, but is certainly fair game for any reasonable counterpoints and observations, such as those I have provided. So with that said, here is the point counter-point debate:
“Having seen the episode depicting ‘underwater caches’, I had to jump in here to keep it real, and to keep people from making a huge mistake by taking this idea to heart… it’s nothing more than a TV stunt, and has NO real application for Preppers!”
Mr. Dial’s response:
I would disagree. From my perspective one of the most important elements of prepping is having some level of redundancy. Items at your home or bug out location are subject to theft, destruction from disasters, etc. This includes items that may be buried at or near your home(s). Far easier to find items buried with a metal detector around your property (and officials can easily find all properties associated with you) than it would be to determine if and where supplies were stored under water. Think about how deep you would need to bury your stash on your property to prevent detection by metal detector. The depth required makes burying items on your property highly susceptible to detection by those so inclined.
Capt. Bill’s comment to the foregoing:
First: Why would ‘officials’ be looking to “find all properties that are associated with you” unless you have broken some law or you are a criminal sought by the law? Is this advice (?) and if so, to whom? From my chair, most Preppers are law-abiding citizens and are not worried about any unwarranted threat from ‘officials’.
I do agree with the survival paradigm of redundancy, although redundant assets which are lost or un-retrievable are totally useless. Who really believes that in an actual disaster anyone will be going door to door with metal detectors looking for supplies? Any ‘Digger’ (hobbyist treasure hunter) will tell you that you spend many, many hours finding hundreds of pieces of junk (nails, beer cans, pipes, etc.) on a normal day before you actually find anything worth keeping. So even in normal times, if someone was a suspected criminal and authorities were executing a legal search of a property they would have their work cut out. Nobody during a disaster scenario will spend that much time in the open looking for a ‘possible’ buried cache unless they had actual intel as to the precise location. I am sure that people who have an understanding of metal detecting would also know, all you need to do to essentially defeat any search by a metal detector (making it take so long they give up) is to distribute a few rolls of pennies and a couple pounds of steel washers throughout the area into the ground; this will increase search time exponentially!!
“So what qualifies me to make any comment on this in opposition of the gents at Practical Preppers? Well, for one thing, I am a PADI certified DiveMaster with more than 1,000 day and night dives all around the world over the past 35 years, including underwater mining and SAR work. My certification can be found at my website. “
Mr. Dial’s response:
If we are comparing qualifications I likely have this gentleman beat. I have been diving for decades, am also a PADI DiveMaster, as well as NAUI and ACUC certified Public Safety Diver and underwater navigation expert. I supervise the public safety dive team for the entire state of Alaska and have for many years. We train on how to locate evidence such as guns (far smaller than tubes) on a routine basis. Nat Geo also filmed me diving for the Alaska State Trooper Show where we were searching a bay for a stolen firearm.
“Here’s the real scoop: First of all, when you place objects on the bottom of the ocean or rivers, you run the very real risk that currents will deposit debris over the top of the object, and this is in addition to the host of marine organisms that will grow on any underwater surface, thereby camouflaging the object and making it very difficult to re-locate.”
Mr. Dial’s response:
There is some truth to this and that is why I would not place my items in a river, or location subject to extreme tides. We use protected waterways (inside passage) and natural terrain features to our benefit. If you remember from the episode, after several tidal actions the tube was located in an upright position (on end) The tide in the area was not even strong enough to knock the tube over. This is also why tubes in a proper location and depth would not be affected by a Tsunami. The inside passage where we live was created over thousands of years by glaciers. The bottom is very rocky. Tubes can be down there for decades undisturbed. I know this because I frequently pull up bottles that have been there for decades and the current is not even enough to pull them down to the deep. On the sea cucumber clip you will see that I recovered an old bottle for the film crew, with the cukes.
Capt. Bill’s response to the foregoing:
There’s a lot of truth to the fact that in any body of water the turbidity (suspended particles) will greatly affect a diver’s underwater visibility; heck, any fisherman knows this much. Even in what could be considered the still waters of lakes and ponds, there is turbidity that may be caused by wind, rain and run-off.
Let me remind readers that the waters in Alaska (‘inland passages’ or not) are subject to some of the largest tidal fluctuations in the world, with changes ranging up to 12 or more feet. Anytime you have tidal changes like that, you have tremendous surges of tidal currents which stir-up sediments! Heck, even with a 6 foot change, the tidal current will stir up tremendous turbidity… that’s a tremendous volume of water has to come in, and then go back out, inland water-ways or not. I am bit surprised by this naive (coy?) response; As a diver, Mr. Dial should be acutely aware of this, and even mentions the huge tidal change on his episode at the site where he’s just deployed a cache.
Also, regardless of localized bottom topography and regional terrain, water turbidity is a simple fact of life and those suspended solids will greatly reduce visibility in the water, and they also settle-out on the bottom and objects on the bottom. The work-around with a possible underwater GPS ‘listens good’, but is yet another device, in a host of necessary devices/equipment subject to a host of failures, which is why we carry two sextants onboard our ship to backup 4 commercial-grade GPS systems. Since this entire exercise deals with survival during disaster scenarios we need to keep in mind things like a strong solar-flare (doesn’t necessarily require a CME component) or a HEMP weapon can easily take-out or damage much of the GPS satellite constellation (poof! no more GPS!). And that reduces you to an unaided search in water with low visibility, which increases search times substantially.
Mr. Dial mentions finding bottles as some form of evidence of a lack of localized current, to which I say: I for one appreciate the fact that like a lot of divers, he removes the bottom litter when he can; kudos! However, stumbling upon bottom garbage that is regularly ‘deposited’ by some uncaring boaters is very common in well-used waters regardless of depth and is no indicator of the localized effect of tidal currents or the effectiveness of any search for a targeted item. It bears repeating that anywhere you have tides that range from 6 to 12+ feet, you have tremendous amounts of water flowing, creating currents and turbidity; this is a scientific fact. And the tidal changes happen every day.
“Secondly; when you are in a ‘survival mode’ the last thing you want to do is to burn more calories than is necessary (calories = food). As in the sport of Judo, survivalists are seeking ‘maximum efficiency with minimum effort’, which results in the increased sustainability of a given paradigm. Even assuming your wet/dry suit keeps your core temperature constant, and prevents shivering (shivering alone uses 400 calories/hour), snorkeling/diving will use about 500 calories per hour as compared to hunting (walking average pace), which uses about one-half as many calories per hour (250 calories/hour).”
Mr. Dial’s response:
Sorry but he is stretching here. Properly weighted, a person in a dry suit uses very little effort underwater. That is one of the reasons a trained diver can make an 80cf tank last a half hour or more. I am assuming that he knows this with his diving skills. Foraging in the woods would require more energy than I expend floating near weightless in the water column.
In the episode, I was under water for less than 20 minutes and easily pulled up enough food to feed my family for days. If I was on a real food gathering mission I could have obtained various sea weeds, clams, scallops, crabs, spear for fish, etc. I held back for the crew to get some good film shots and still filled up a dive bag with food. I was being very serious with you when I said I can easily feed my family for a week off of one dive. There are pictures on my Facebook page of us doing just that this summer. We went camping and I pulled up all kinds of critters from a dive to eat.
Part of the episode that was cut was the creation of a solar system to charge batteries to provide diving air. I have a completely self-sufficient ability to dive indefinitely. The ocean is walking distance from my bug-out location.
Capt. Bill’s response to the foregoing:
First of all: We can all guess what the caloric burn rate might be for various activities, including diving. I don’t like ‘guessing’; this is where the information (“500 calories per hour”) was sourced; http://www.nutristrategy.com/activitylist4.htm
Unfortunately, regardless of how well you have your Buoyancy Compensation fine-tuned, we all have to wiggle our arms and legs to propel ourselves through the water, which burns calories at the stated rate.
Next: Mr. Dial also responds with a comment as to the endurance of an 80 cubic foot air tank: In fact, some divers will engage in a practice known as ‘skip breathing’ which will extend the length of a dive on any given size tank. However this is a dangerous practice and is not recommended by any professional and should only be used under emergency conditions; but that’s not the point. How long a tank of air might last is not responsive to the point I made about burning calories at an accelerated rate as compared to calories burned using other food aggregating activities that can be implemented on land by even a child, using far fewer calories (adult or child).
Regarding Mr. Dial’s alluding to the relative ease in procuring a smorgasbord of sea foods during a dive: I’m sure the camera crew would have loved to have seen and filmed such an array and all the other species that you claim you could have easily retrieved (crabs, fish, scallops) as opposed to some ill-tasting (by comparison) sea cucumbers; it’s a shame we didn’t get to see that on the episode.
“Third; while you are in open placing your cache, or searching for your lost cache, you will be exposed to potential onlookers, who may take advantage of your situation by meeting you when you return to shore, exhausted and vulnerable.”
Mr. Dial’s response:
I suppose…. However that is why I have an armed family waiting on shore and drive my tank to the dive location. I think you could make the same argument about someone digging holes in their yard for their stash and I assure you it is harder work to dig deep holes in your yard than it is to let a lift bag bring your underwater cache to the surface. I also have the ability to dive a night. He is far more vulnerable in his boat then I will ever be in my tank.
Capt. Bill’s response to the foregoing:
First of all: Arming your family is a great way to get them shot dead by anyone desperate for resources, or something more. Your tank sticks out like a sore thumb and it will be highly sought-after by everyone in your area, and since you are not supported by a company of marines, sooner or later, a group of organized survivalists will get your tank, period. Given that your family will be essential waiting for you in the open on a shoreline, with panoramic views in all directions, they are not from what I can see ‘under cover’. Older tanks have many serious vulnerabilities as you probably know. Anyone within 500-800 yards with a high-power scoped rifle could snipe people moving to or from the tank easily (at your base of operations or at the dive site), and then walk in to take what they want, including your tank. And then when you return to shore, you would likely face the same fate. As far as the tank goes, your family might hide there, but to what effect? They would have to come out to meet you, and you are in any event totally vulnerable as you enter and return from your dive. Being on your shore boat, close to shore poses the same serious risks; you are within rifle range.
Second: Since you mentioned our ship: It’s clear you have a poor understanding or interpretation of ‘Nautical Prepping’. The concept of ‘Nautical Prepping’ revolves around the use a boat as your home and shelter, which also houses all your preps and can move away from any ‘perceived’ threat, well before that threat manifests. Unlike the vast majority of people like you who would be land-bound and forced to contend with multitudes of hostile post-disaster factions who cannot be underestimated, we can leave from an anchorage or our dock and head for an uninhabited island in the equatorial Pacific within five (5) minutes of even suspecting or anticipating a mounting problem. That means that if the grid went down (for instance), while other people are wondering why the lights went out, we are already well to sea, and no need for any gun-fights or bleeding. Our ship can be safely and easily operated by any one of our family members, so if I’m sick or I kick-the-bucket, it’s not a deal-breaker.
People seem to forget that: The number one rule in survival is; don’t get dead! Gunfights are very risky for both sides. Our best trained military and police personnel are killed regularly by untrained personnel with inferior weapons systems! People forget that John Rambo is a fiction, and people with the ‘Rambo Complex’ will likely die first.
Once at sea, we are far, far safer that you are being landlocked with others in your vicinity who are also well armed and trained, and who will want your ‘tank’ and supplies, and possibly more. In fact, we are safer at sea (and at our island) then you are in your car during good times! DOT figures (varies, some say 1 in 5,500) put accidental deaths attributed to cars, shows that people have a 1 in 7,700 chance of getting dead on an annual basis.
And when it comes to boats, the risk for death is about 1 in 390,000 on an annualized basis (DOT). Even young kids (teen boys and girls 16 years old) have safely circumnavigated the globe in sailboats as small as 26 feet (books: Maiden Voyage & Dove).
So in our scenario, while people who live on land are just finding out they have a problem (pandemic is announced, grid goes down, etc.), and well before any violence begins, our ship and family will be already well over the horizon on our way to what may more aptly be called a ‘Doomsday Vacation’ given the outstanding environment and sustainability at most Pacific islands. Added to which, if you arrive at a location where there are no guns, and you happen to have a gun, you are the big dog.
With regard to Nautical Prepping, we aren’t testing a ‘proof of concept’, we’ve done it successfully for years, twice! (sailing expeditions: 1991-1994, 2008-2011)
“Fourth; if for any reason you become injured or suffer an equipment failure, you may never be able to recover any of the so-called ‘underwater caches’.”
Mr. Dial’s response:
Once again… another “what if” from this guy. I have several sets of gear so the equipment concern is minimal.
I think people lose sight that this was the first time I did this… a “proof of concept” for the episode. It required determining tube weight, water displacement, ability to recover, storage capacity, etc. As can be expected I have refined and improved this substantially since the episode. We now use GPS and terrain mapping for cache locations. I improved upon our contingency plans by adding a 100# lift magnet to our supplies. If needed we could use the GPS location, our underwater cable camera and the lift magnet to recover the tubes. Keep in mind that a 150# tube on the surface does not weigh #150 underwater.
Anyway, we produced an update video for Nat Geo and have already made all the recommendations you suggested. If you want to watch it check it out below.
Perhaps this gentleman is forgetting that we can learn from these shows and all improve on what we are doing. I am unable to keep up with the emails, Facebook requests, etc. this has generated. People are calling the underwater tube idea brilliant and the best possible way to truly keep supplies in a very difficult place to find. Some of the benefits include: Only divers can go look for your tubes (eliminates most of the population), and they would only have about 30 min per tank to do so. Unless you know where to look, this is practically impossible… underwater vis at depth is 20’ or less and we have thousands of square miles of ocean to hide our tubes. Only divers with the proper lift gear could recover the tubes if located. In a disaster type of situation no one will be expending their resources looking for your tubes, they would likely use their dive supplies to gather food instead… a far more productive use of their time and resources. Anonymous. Unless you placed something in the tube with your name on it no one would know it’s yours. The cold water will keep the contents highly preserved. While you are down recovering your tubes you can harvest food at the same time.
Capt. Bill’s response to Mr. Dial’s closing ‘sales pitch’:
First of all; what good is extra dive gear or equipment if you’re sick, injured or dead?
I think that Mr. Dial’s ‘disclaimer’ that the whole notion of Underwater Caching is merely a “proof of concept” is well taken. Mr. Dial goes on to discuss how he has tried to improve the ‘concept’. I think in addition to myself, many readers will by now be asking; why bother trying to improve a ‘concept’ so rife with problems and risks? When you have a manifestly defective concept, why not discard it and move on?
Since this entire exercise is based upon a disaster scenario…
If the GPS satellite constellation is damaged by a HEMP weapon or a high intensity Solar Flare (doesn’t necessarily require a CME component), getting a GPS signal at all may be a once or twice a day affair, if at all, which then requires your search and recovery timing to match the schedule of the satellites passing overhead, which in a disaster will be on an ‘unpublished’ schedule. Of course the visibility (time of day/night) and your own ability to dive or operate your small boat must also line-up if there is any chance of success. So even it you’re fishing for the cache on the bottom from a small boat with a magnet on a line from 12-30 feet above, that would be like actual fishing, and you may not catch.
Mr. Dial then defaults to an appeal, to wit; ‘we need to consider all things in order to learn’. And I agree, I think that some of us have considered and learned that underwater caching is not a viable solution for Preppers or Divers.
I am 61 years old and among my other vocations, I have been a diver most of my life, and you can be assured that if I saw any merit in this ‘concept’, I would be one of the first people onboard with the idea at some level. But as a diver (with a lot of equipment), I am acutely aware of all the issues and risks associated with this concept (the Devil is in the details). We all know how easy it is, and how often we get injured or sick; common colds and Flu are more than enough to keep a diver out of the water regardless of the situation. If you burst your eardrums in a futile attempt to equalize your ears as you descend to search for a cache or hunt for food, you have likely killed yourself in the process. A broken eardrum is a serious problem even in good times. And it also can affect your equilibrium; not a good thing in a survival situation. This doesn’t even take into consideration that diving in of itself is risky:
How risky is diving compared to some other common activities? Let’s see; play close attention to the ‘rate’ (time: per activity, or annually):
This website, which is a ‘pro-Scuba site contained the information just below:
- 1 out of every 211,864 dives ending in a fatality! (Capt. Bill: that’s on a per-dive basis, not annually)
- 1 out of every 5,555 of registered drivers in the US died in car accidents in 2008 (www.cenus.gov) (Capt. Bill: This is an ‘annual rate of death’)
- 1 out of every 7692 pregnant women died from pregnancy complications in 2004 (National Center for Health Statistics). (Capt. Bill: ‘annual rate of death’)
- 1 out of every 116,666 skydives ended in a fatality in 2000 (United States Parachuting Association). (Capt. Bill: This is a per jump rate of death)
- 1 out of every 126,626 marathon runners died of sudden cardiac arrest while running a marathon between 1975-2003 (National Safety Council) (Capt. Bill…OK you get it)
Contrary to an Underwater Cache, a land-based cache properly hidden (if that’s your thing) is far superior in that even a child can fetch it, in any weather, day or night without any special equipment or training, and it can be just as secure and safer than any underwater cache. If you’re injured and limping or sick with a cold, flu (or?), you will quite likely be able to recover your cache, when you need what’s inside!
Dive equipment, especially high pressure compressors and low-pressure hookah compressors are like any other device, subject to breakdown. This means more time and energy (and money) devoted to a high-risk low utility paradigm. Compressors also require some form of energy (fuel) to operate, which may or may not be available. Even if you use solar (in Mr. Dial’s high-latitude location, solar is far less effective) it would take a large array to develop the amount of power that would be required on a regular basis to charge a lithium-ion battery for a portable hookah compressor. And even with the best battery, the hookah compressor will have a very limited run-time, especially if the diver is at any real depth where air use is greatly increased.
One of Mr. Dial’s rebuttal points is that only divers could go and look for an underwater cache. In reality, all divers will be subject to all of the same issues and risks that Mr. Dial is subject to, so that is a moot point.
Mr. Dial mentions that unless your name is in or on the cache, you remain anonymous. How is this of any value to Preppers? Maybe a consideration for a criminal hiding something illegal?
In the final analysis, the risk to benefit ratio of the concept of underwater caching is very low, and therefore, from my chair it makes for interesting TV, but is of no practical use in regard to actual survival and prepping. I am personally surprised by the score that was awarded for this overall prepping paradigm.
When you need your stuff in an emergency, the last thing you want to have to do is to depend on a bunch of gimmicks, and hope that all the planets line-up!
Cheers! Capt. Bill
Frequent contributor, Capt. William E. Simpson II is a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, who has successfully survived long-term off the grid at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family using sailboats that he equipped for that purpose. Capt. Bill holds a U.S.C.G. 500-ton captain’s license for commercial inspected passenger vessels, including, power, sail and assistance towing vessels. He is also the author of many articles on sailing and the book ‘The Nautical Prepper’ (Ulysses Press) You can read more from the Nautical Prepper on Capt. Bill’s personal site at www.williamesimpson.com