Jill Heinerth

Jill Heinerth is a Canadian cave diver, underwater explorer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker. From the desert oases of the Sahara to the cold waters of Baffin Bay, Jill Heinerth explores what lies beneath the surface, extending the reach of climatologists, archaeologists, and engineers. Jill was a lead technical diver on the ground-breaking US Deep Caving Team’s project,  piloting the first 3D underwater cave mapping device – technology bound for Jupiter’s moon Europa. When the largest moving object on the planet, the B-15 iceberg, calved from Antarctica, Jill led a dive team into the labyrinth of frozen underwater caves beneath the massive iceberg’s surface.

Jill has made award-winning TV programs for the CBCNational Geographic, and the BBC, consulted on movies for directors including James Cameron, and produced independent documentary films. 

Jill’s accolades include receiving the Governor General’s prestigious Polar Medal and the diving world’s highest honor from the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences. She was inducted into the International Scuba Divers Hall of Fame in 2020 and serves as the inaugural Explorer-in-Residence for The Royal Canadian Geographic Society. She inspires young people about discovery and exploration through talks and workshops that have taken her to under-served schools in every province and territory, both in person and now virtually.

Jill’s book INTO THE PLANET – My Life as a Cave Diver has drawn wide acclaim from the New York TimesWall Street Journal, NPR, and even Oprah magazine. Her children’s book, THE AQUANAUT (2021), is a Blue Ribbon Selection of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

A tireless advocate for the underwater world and issues such as climate change and water resource protection, Heinerth has spent the last thirty-plus years creating awareness, documenting, and inspiring action through her writing, photography, films, social media, podcasts, lectures, and speaking engagements. 

Contact Jill at www.IntoThePlanet.com

Why and how do you use checklists?

I’ve been diving rebreathers since the 1990s, remaining active as a full-time professional diver and instructor. Why would I need to use checklists? I can recite poetry I learned in high school, so why wouldn’t I memorize these essential steps for preparing my equipment? It is a question I have been asked many times. I need checklists because I am human, and I acknowledge that I will make mistakes. In reviewing decades of diving accidents, we can see that a lot of people made human mistakes.

Sometimes it is helpful to look at other activities and how they use checklists. I recall a story about the legendary free climber Lynn Hill. About thirty years ago, when she was at the top of her sport, she went for a day of recreational climbing with friends in France. As she donned her harness for a short rappel down a 70-foot cliff, she went through the steps she always does. She was momentarily distracted when a friend pointed out that her shoe was untied. Disrupting her typical behavioral script for preparing her harness, she bent down and tied her shoe. The next step in her mental checklist should have been to secure the harness, but when interrupted to tie her shoe, her brain somehow drifted from the original list and mentally confirmed: “tied.” She leaned back to lower off the ledge and instead fell through a tree’s branches landing hard between two rocks. It was called a “rookie mistake” that nearly took her life. But it wasn’t a rookie mistake. It was a human mistake by an experienced veteran climber.

Lynn Hill might tell you that she was in a relaxed state of vigilance on a recreational climb, but as in diving, there are no easy climbs. We won’t recognize risk unless we are paying attention.

Most diving accidents follow a similar script. The difference is that we can prevent these incidents just by remaining vigilant with our safety protocols before getting in the water. We may be able to prevent as many as 90% of fatal rebreather accidents by merely using and adhering to a checklist and doing it for every dive.

To keep me on track, I want to share my code of conduct. If I ever waiver from this, please call me out. The culture of dive safety requires all to speak up when something is not in order.

  • I accept personal responsibility for my actions and will carefully manage risk assessment with the recognition that poor choices will affect my family and diving community and may put others at considerable risk.
  • I will be patient and dive within the limits of my training and experience.
  • I am aware that complacency creeps into experienced diver’s practices, and I will be vigilant and unwavering with checklists, pre, and post-dive safety procedures.
  • Recognizing that rebreather diving requires alertness and good health, I will carefully assess dive conditions in addition to my physical and mental preparedness before every dive.
  • I will ensure that I am familiar and up to date with my equipment, skills, and safe operating procedures, recognizing the need for practice and currency.
  • I acknowledge my role in an evolving sport by keeping current with developments and emerging knowledge within the industry.
  • I will personally analyze my gas and prepare my diving equipment, recognizing my responsibility for its safe operation.
  • I will carry adequate bailout gas to allow me to recover from a catastrophic loop failure.
  • I will not rush in my preparation and am willing to skip a dive if rushed.
  • I will only partake in dives where I can self-rescue and am willing and able to support a buddy rescue.
  • I will maintain adequate health and specialty diving accident insurance, such as DAN insurance that will protect my family and me in the event of an accident.
  • I will share my motivations for technical diving with my family and have frank discussions about risk versus rewards, allowing them to participate in sensible family planning.
  • I will not enter the water if my rebreather has not passed pre-dive checks without conditions.
  • I will be truthful and open about mistakes and incidents to help the community learn.
  • I will be an active participant in improving the culture of dive safety.