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Jackstay Search


WARNING - What you are about to read DOES NOT take the place of qualified training!!


I have read over the years and heard different PSD instructors say that no one uses a 2-man search pattern or that the jackstay pattern is a useless pattern so no one should use it. What a joke! I can understand how someone coming from the rescue side of the house using an arc search or a variation of it, searching for targets the size of a body might think that. But they forget there is this other side of the house. The recovery side of the house is actually the most used and active side of public safety diving that uses other search patterns and have other ways of doing things and have been doing so very effectively and safely for years. So to say something that stupid shows their lack of experience and knowledge.


To a police diver and/or Underwater Criminal Investigator, the jackstay is our number one search pattern and it has been used effectively by those who know how to use it for years. I have been using it myself for over 35 years and have been teaching its use for over 30 years. Thousands for public safety divers use this search pattern! Those that learn it, usually love it. Those that criticize it don't understand it.

So, as you can tell, the jackstay search is my favorite search pattern and it's the one that confuses the most Public Safety Divers.  Having a proper understanding of this one pattern can increase your recovery rate tremendously.  Learn it and have it as a key part of your search pattern arsenal. 


Why is the jackstay so important?  The jackstay underwater search pattern can be a true grid pattern.  In land and underwater search and rescue/recovery, a grid pattern is the most accurate pattern when you want to find what you are searching for.  In fact, if a grid pattern is used in the search and it is conducted properly and thoroughly by someone who understands the pattern and is comfortable in the conditions under which the pattern is being conducted, you can have up to a 99.9% chance of finding what you are searching for.  To get your jackstay to produce a 99.9% chance of recovering the item it takes three things:


1. Knowing how to set up the pattern

2. Two divers that know how to conduct the pattern

3. Two divers that can stay focused while searching while in the environment they are in


After searching the area with a jackstay search pattern conducted correctly and thoroughly, can you look the land investigator in the eye and say, "It's not there," if you didn't find it?  You sure can!  Can you say, "This area has been cleared!"  You sure can!  Are you going to find what you are searching for if it's there?  You will do so just about every time … if you know what you are doing.  So, let's talk about my favorite pattern.


The jackstay search is indicated when you need to be precise and absolutely need to find what you are searching for.  It's especially helpful when you are searching for small items but is great when you are searching for medium and large items as well.  It can be used when you are close to shore or away from shore and it's the one search pattern that allows you to cover a large area with accuracy.  As you can see from its description, this one pattern does just about everything.  What more could you ask for!


The three important features of the jackstay search are:


1. The same area is being covered two or more times prior to the divers leaving that area. The area searched by the lead diver (two or three times) will also be searched by the back-up diver (two or three times), the number of times depending on how far the pattern is moved each pass.

2. The divers are able to maintain constant contact and communicate with each other throughout the search in case one should need the other.

3. The complete pattern has up-and-down lines on both ends to assist in making ascents and descents, checking air gauges and bottom times, or for just allowing surface personnel to see the pattern (by its two surface buoys).


Because it involves rigging ropes, down weights, and surface buoys together, many teams are intimidated and shy away from using this pattern, thinking it's too hard or too complicated to set up.  I assure you that with a little practice you can become quite proficient in rigging the items and using this valuable search pattern, and you'll be glad you did.

PVC pipe grid patterns


I do not use this type of grid search underwater. It came about through underwater Archeology where research and scientific divers grid off a wreck or reef and count and search for things within the square. Some public safety divers have converted this technique to searching for evidence. I have found that it is slow, does not mold into the environment well (rigid pipe) and can just be too much trouble than its worth.


So, I choose to stay with the jackstay due to it being able to do everything I want it to do, it's simple, and very accurate.


Parts of the jackstay


There are two main parts to the jackstay search pattern:


1. Your up-and-down lines (ascent/descent lines) which include ropes, surface buoys, and down weights.  ("Up-and-down lines" is a name I gave ascent/descent lines years ago because it was easier to say.)

2. Your search line (bottom line).  Note: Never use rope that floats, like polypropylene rope.  Your search line needs to be negative so it lies flat on the bottom.

The equipment you'll need:

  • Surface buoys - I like having a number of surface buoys available in different sizes and with different features depending on my conditions and needs.  If I'm in deep water, I like to use large buoys or surface floats, which you can purchase in boat stores and dive shops, or can be made from large plastic jugs, Freon cans, and other receptacles.  If I'm in navigable waters and/or need a dive flag displayed, I like to use surface floats (buoys) that have a dive flag attachment.  If I'm in calm, relatively shallow water, I like to use water ski buoys because they are light weight and easy to work with.

  • Down-weights - As with buoys, I like to have a variety of down weights to choose from depending on my conditions.  If the bottom is deep mud, I prefer to use a light weight "mushroom" anchor (10-15 pounder).  I lay the weight down on its side and push it into the mud. The mushroom shape gets a good bite and holds it in place.  If I'm working in less mud or on a sandy/rocky bottom with little to no current, I prefer a heavier weight (15-20 pounder), either a mushroom or a "can" down weight.  When dealing with current or depth, I use a still heavier down weight (25-30 pounder) so my pattern is not moved by wave action or current.

  • Ropes - Having a number of different lengths of rope on site is expedient when you are dealing with different depths and conditions.  They are useful for other jobs during the recovery operation as well.  As mentioned before, I prefer to use nylon rope of approximately 5/16" to 1/4" in diameter. Personally, I have a rope box with various lengths.  I carry a couple 50-foot lengths, 75-foot lengths, 100-foot lengths and 150 foot lengths.  I even have various shorter lengths for whatever need might come along.  My box grew over the years to handle all the possible conditions and number of jackstays I might set up and conduct at one time in large search areas.  You don't have to get that much rope just yet unless you already have the need.  I recommend starting off with a couple of 75 foot and 100 foot lengths. 


Is there a lot more to say about the Jackstay search pattern? You be there is! Unfortunately, I don't have the time or the space here to write it all down. I hope this information helps. Good luck in your search and recovery diving!

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