Scuba diving is a pretty safe sport, but there are some risks involved.
In order to ensure your safety you should always dive within the limits of your training, experience and comfort level.
But for each risk that comes with diving, there are ways in which you can reduce or even eliminate them, and this is what we will discuss in detail in this article…
What should divers do for their own safety and the safety of others?
How Do Divers Ensure Their Own Safety?
Safety guidelines and procedures exist for all levels of divers from beginner to technical.
For divers to ensure their own safety, and the safety of those around them there are a number of ways they can do this.
Ensuring their safety isn’t just something a diver must think about underwater – Pre dive, mid dive and post dive protocols should all be followed.
Common Causes Of Scuba Fatalities
The most common causes of scuba fatalities are;
- Gas supply problems
- Emergency ascent
- Cardiac events
It’s no co-incidence that the information I present to you in this guide (and what you learn during your training of course), is heavily focused on procedures to help prevent the above from occurring.
Lets look at the best pre, mid & post dive procedures to ensure your safety during a dive..
Plan Your Dive, Dive Your Plan
Planning your dive is one of the most important tasks you need to complete.
How complex your dive plan is, will depend on how complex the dive is.
A cave dive in an area you haven’t explored before will involve more risk than a shallow reef dive that you have done many times previously, and would therefore require a more complex and detailed dive plan.
Here’s some key things to plan for;
- Research about the site you plan to dive in advance
- Investigate before you dive; the currents, depths, temperature, entry and exit points, marine life, boat traffic, visibility etc.
- Research any local laws and regulations that apply to where you’ll be diving.
- Establish with your buddy what the plan is for your dive. What will be your max depth, bottom time, what sites do you want to see, what will be your ascend and return pressure. You and your buddy should both be on the same page when it comes to the plan.
- Discuss a contingency plan. That is, what will you do if something outside of your dive plan occurs? What will you do if you and your buddy become separated? Environmental conditions as well for example (weather/currents), can sometimes change quite quickly.
- Discuss emergency plans. What will you do in the case of an equipment malfunction or an out of air situation? Do you know where the nearest medical facility is, and how you will get there?
- Let someone who isn’t going on the dive with you know where it is you’re going, what you’re doing, and when you expect to return.
- Review hand signals with your buddy.
- Go through your equipment/buddy checks
Know & Maintain Your Equipment
Investing in your own scuba gear is one way to help ensure your safety.
In statistics collected by DAN, about 15% of scuba fatalities were due to equipment problems.
So by being familiar with your equipment, by servicing it regularly and maintaining it to a high standard you can reduce this risk of equipment problems dramatically.
Renting or using gear that you’re unfamiliar with has the probability of making an emergency situation even worse when you unable to use it correctly or can’t locate something.
Pre Dive Safety Checks / Buddy Checks
Pre dive checks are to test and ensure that yours and your buddies equipment is working correctly – These checks are very important for ensuring a divers safety.
If a piece of equipment isn’t functioning properly, it’s best that you find that out whilst still on the boat/dry land rather than underwater 😉
Never skip your buddy checks. Because We Really Aren’t Fish …
- BCD – Firstly make sure everything is connected properly.Inflate and deflate the BCD to check that it’s working correctly. Check the release and dump valves, and check that there isn’t any air leakage. It’s good to be familiar with your buddies BCD as well should an emergency occur.
- Weight – Ensure that you have your weights on, and whether it be your weight belt or weight pockets, or any place that you have weights – Check that they’re all secure.
- Releases – Check all of your releases to confirm they’re secure including the tank strap, BCD straps, weight belt, etc, and make sure that there is nothing positioned in the way of you getting out of your equipment in an emergency.
- Air – Take multiple breaths from the tank to ensure that the tank valve is open. Check your SPG/Air integrated computer whilst doing this, and look to see how much is in the tank. You should also be checking that it tastes ok. Check your alternate air source as well, and that you and your buddy are familiar of their location.
- Final Check – Gather up all of your remaining scuba gear. Your mask, fins, snorkel, SMB, lights, camera etc. and do one final visual head to toe check that you and your buddy are good to go.
During Your Dive
Dive Within Your Limits
It’s really important to dive within the limits of your training.
Going beyond those limits, (such as cave diving without the proper training) is one example of how a diver could easily get into difficulty. An emergency situation for a diver in this situation could become disastrous!
Deep diving, cave diving, specialist equipment and the use of nitrox are all examples of where additional certification is needed.
Further training in these areas will teach you how to enact these dives safely and what to do should a problem arise.
As well as diving within your training limits, it’s also important to stay within you comfort level.
Even if you are trained, if a situation just doesn’t feel right to you or you are uncomfortable (eg poor weather conditions), it’s sometimes best to just abort the dive and reschedule.
Rule Of Thirds
It is very easy in today’s world to monitor the amount of air you have left in your tank, yet the leading cause of scuba fatalities is due to running out of air.
In fact, the majority of scuba diving deaths (41%) relate to running out of air.
The importance of gas management cannot be understated. Most incidences of running out of air relate to poor gas management by the diver, not equipment malfunction.
One way of managing your air supply is the rule of thirds. It’s pretty basic, but, it’s effective;
- Use a third of your tank for the descent and the dive itself.
- A third of the tank for your ascent/return to the surface.
- And the final third left over is your contingency plan should anything unexpected happen.
Part of the reason for scuba diving being a generally safe sport (and certainly much safer than it used to be) is due to the evolution and advancement of the equipment used.
Owning a dive computer is a no brainer when it comes to ensuring diver safety.
Your dive computer will monitor your depth, time, your no stop time remaining, alert you if you ascend too quickly & more.
An air integrated dive computer will also tell you exactly how much is left in your tank in real time.
SMB / DSMB
SMB’s (Surface Marker Buoys) and DSMB’s (delayed surface marker buoy) are very valuable and effective scuba safety equipment.
Launched from underwater prior to surfacing, your DSMB will alert those at the surface of the water of your whereabouts before ascending to the surface.
This not only alerts any nearby boat traffic to be cautious around the area, but if you are diving from a boat it will alert them to your location so that they can come and pick you up.
Diver Down Flag
In some dive locations the display of a diver down flag is required by law.
The flag alerts boaters and other watercraft (jet skis for example), that there are divers close by, and that they must reduce their speed – keep a distance – and pass by slowly.
Check out my article all about diver down flags for more information.
Possible entanglement is a very real hazard that can occur.
Fishing line and kelp forests amongst others present a very real danger if you get caught and don’t have the means to free yourself.
You may rarely ever need to use a dive knife or shears, but if that need ever arises you’ll be thankful you had them!!
Ensuring your safety doesn’t stop as soon as you hit the surface from your dive. There are several post dive guidelines that should also be followed;
- No flying. Going to high altitude too soon after diving increases your risk of decompression sickness (which can be fatal). A good rule is to wait at least 24 hours from your last dive before you board a plane.
- No going to high altitudes. To follow on from the above rule, you should avoid going to high altitudes for at least 24 hours (so that means no activities like mountain climbing for example).
- No heavy drinking. Most would acknowledge that you should never dive after heavy drinking, but this also extends to no heavy drinking after your dive as well. Drinking interferes with your body expelling the nitrogen from it and can dehydrate you, therefore it is simply best to avoid it.
- Using a hot tub. You have an increased risk for bubble formation when your body warms up in a hot tub. Avoid this activity for 12 hours from the time of your last dive.
- Go Freediving. The 24 hour rule should also be followed when it comes to freediving – Give it at least 24 hours after diving before you consider free diving.
- Get a deep tissue massage. There is concern that the increased blood flow from a DTM could lead to bubble formation. Avoid getting one for at least 12 hours after diving.
In 2019 DAN recorded 162 scuba related deaths worldwide.
According to general statistics scuba diving has an estimated average of 3-6 deaths per 100,000.
To compare diving to other popular activities
- Approximately 128 people per 100,000 die horseback riding.
- Boxing, another popular but potentially dangerous sport offers a 1 in 2,200 chance of death (that’s a much higher death rate compared to scuba divings 1 in 34,000)
Comparatively, scuba diving is generally very safe when you follow the guidelines set out by your training.
Most scuba diving accidents are avoided simply by having a plan, (following it of course!), by knowing your gear inside and out, and by not exceeding your training and capabilities.