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Applying the PADI Rescue Diver Course in the Real World

Although the PADI Rescue Diver course is a lot of fun, there are a few serious considerations when applying learned techniques to the real world.

You must complete the PADI Rescue Diver course if you decide to become a dive-industry professional, but even if you intend to remain a recreational diver, the course is well worthwhile. Although the course can be a lot of fun, there are some serious considerations when it comes to applying learned skills and techniques to the real world. Here are a few of them.

Rescuing someone is physically and mentally draining.

Towing a tired or unconscious diver requires good physical fitness, and the process can be quite mentally stressful for the rescuer. This short video, produced jointly by IANTD UK and TDI, demonstrates this phenomenon. Ensuring physical fitness and mental preparedness means regular practice. If you smoke, you must be realistic about your ability to help under real rescue conditions. Give it 100 percent during the course and try to remain as physically fit as possible.

In-water rescue breaths are very difficult to do properly.

Hoisting yourself high enough out of the water to undertake proper mouth-to-mouth without submerging the victim’s face is very difficult, even in flat-calm conditions. Similarly, practicing on your own hand or on the simulated victim’s cheek is not adequate training for a real rescue. If you’ve never practiced mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, how do you know you’ll be able to do it properly under real stress? Address this with your instructor.

Expecting to carry someone much larger than yourself alone up a boat ladder is unrealistic.

Learning techniques to get unconscious people back on board a boat is important. But if they are much larger than you, no amount of technique will help you. Again, if you cannot complete a task in training, you won’t be able to complete it for real. There should be someone on the boat to assist in a real situation — otherwise why were you and your buddy diving off an unmanned boat?

Shore diving can create similar concerns, especially in remote locations, but dragging someone up a beach or onto rocks will likely be easier for one person than pulling them vertically up a ladder. Always consider having someone remain on the surface or as shore support. Additionally, the person simulating an unconscious casualty must remain as floppy as possible and offer no assistance — a real, unconscious casualty will not help you.

People drown quietly.

Thanks to Hollywood and TV, many people assume that a drowning person will wave his or her arms around and scream for help. Indeed, rescue courses sometimes teach this as well. But it’s wrong. People drown discretely and quietly through something called the “instinctive drowning response.” A drowning victim cannot scream for help, as they are trying to breathe and prevent water from entering the lungs. They cannot wave since they are using their arms to try to keep their head above water. There are also additional factors to consider, which you can see here.

Someone pretending to drown — while shouting a code word so people don’t think it’s a real rescue situation — during a course better simulates the actions of a panicked diver, which requires a different response. Learn to recognize the correct signs of someone drowning, especially when the water is full of other people.

Rescuing someone is a team effort.

As the tragic death of Rob Stewart has recently shown, delegating tasks to other people is vital. You cannot do everything yourself. Anyone on the scene must be given tasks. These include calling EMS (and saying that they have done so); acting as spotters; helping pull someone out of the water; providing rescue breaths; setting up oxygen; setting up an AED; and helping with CPR. Someone must command the situation and coordinate the rescue, and that might be you. So overcome any hesitation about being watched; get into the role and practice.

Practice rescue techniques before applying them under pressure.

While scenarios of people struggling in the water can be fun because an element of role playing is involved, they are useless if you haven’t been given the time to learn and understand the skills in a slow and controlled way beforehand. Dial in your techniques first, and then practice them under different, realistic scenarios.

A rescue will be traumatic for the rescue diver. 

Rescue situations often require sustained high levels of physical and mental effort. You can only run on adrenaline for so long while trying to remember skills that might be rusty. Consequently, emergency first-response techniques are kept as simple and basic as possible. It’s easier to remember mnemonics such as AB CABS (Airway, Breathing, Chest compressions, Airway, Breathing, Serious bleeding, Shock, and Spinal injury), or DR ABC (Danger, Response, Airway, Breathing and Circulation) when under stress. Keep your skills up-to-date with refresher training as well. Knowing you’re doing the right thing in a rescue situation will go far to relieve potential worries that you’re making a situation worse.