Scuba divers can drown. Certainly this isn’t the first thing that you want to emphasize to a nervous, entry-level diver, but it is an important aspect of the sport that every diver needs to be aware of. The DAN article goes on to list equipment problems, gas-supply problems and rough water as some of the main factors that led to these drowning incidents. Lower your own risk of drowning by following safe diving practices.
Dive fit and healthy
Everyone is familiar with the diver medical statement and all the questions we routinely answer with “no.” Many people treat it as a formality, as just another piece of paperwork that needs to be signed, but its importance should not be underestimated. Even though we try to be efficient and move as little as possible underwater to conserve air, diving still requires some physical activity. We carry heavy gear and swim against mild currents. Sometimes we must swim on the surface to an entry or exit point, buoy line or boat. In some places you must use your arms to pull yourself onto the boat while finning fiercely. It is thus important to maintain good health to ensure that the experience is safe, fun and relaxing.
Just keep swimming
Have you ever wondered why swimming and floating skills are included in every milestone dive course? If you find yourself in a challenging situation, the ability to swim to the shore or boat — or at least to float on the surface until help arrives — could save your life.
If in doubt, sit it out
Diving is often perceived as a hard-core, extreme, cowboy sport where you’re not allowed to show fear or nervousness, or anything that can be perceived as weakness. The largest percentage of dive fatalities occurs among dive professionals. Granted, these individuals spend much more time in the water than recreational divers and so are at greater risk, but I have a pet theory that perhaps part of the reason for these fatalities is that we become overconfident and blasé about following the guidelines that we drill into our students and customers.
Whether diving for pleasure or professionally it is important to choose a dive site that suits your (or your customers’) abilities and comfort. Often the most popular and requested dive sites are also the ones with the most extreme conditions. These sites probably have strong currents or poor visibility or perhaps great depth, all of which require additional training and considerations. Though these sites are usually spectacular, it is not worth putting yourself and other people in danger just to dive there. If the conditions are poor, or you feel uncomfortable with the level of difficulty, sit out the dive (or change the dive site if you’re a professional.) There is absolutely no shame in making a safe choice.
Maintain your equipment
Duct tape, cable ties, spit and prayers should not be a part of your dive kit. Using old, broken, ill-maintained or self-fixed and self-modified equipment could lead to complications, injury or death.
Learn to lose weight
Dropping weights is a skill that could save your life, and yet, almost 75 percent of drowning victims were found with their weights in place. Ensuring that you know how to ditch your weights in an emergency is a vital skill that you must master and practice throughout your dive career. Accurate weighting is important for the same reason. Being over-weighted leads to poor buoyancy control, as well as making it more difficult for you to drop your weights if you must.
Maintain buddy contact
More than half of drowning victims were alone when the accident occurred. There’s help available when you stick close to your buddy, and you can provide assistance as well. Being close enough to your buddy to provide or receive timely rescue and first aid increases the likelihood of survival in a critical situation.
Avoid out-of-air situations
25 percent of drowning victims were found with no gas in their cylinders while 15 percent were low on gas. This situation is easily preventable if you check your gauges often and inform your buddy or dive leader when you are approaching the caution zone and, based on this, end the dive. Stick close to your buddy to deal with out-of-air situations, and use their alternative-air source if the situation arises.
Divers can drown, but remember: diving is a safe sport if we remember to follow the safety guidelines that we are taught, maintain good health and fitness, practice good judgment, and ensure that we have correct and well-functioning equipment.