Is scuba diving dangerous? Even among scuba divers, animated discussions come up fairly often on this issue. It is a really good question, and I think the correct answer is this… diving is as dangerous or as safe as you want it to be.
There is no question that putting on equipment and submerging beneath the surface of a lake or ocean has inherent and obvious dangers. But if you practice safe diving habits, diving is not very dangerous at all, certainly no more dangerous than most recreational sports.
Let’s review some safe diving practices.
1. Unless you have special training to dive in caves or inside wrecks, limit your dives to open water with no overhead environments. That means only dive where you can go directly to the surface, if necessary, without any obstructions.
2. Again, unless you have specialized training, only dive within recreational limits, which means no deeper than 130 feet (40 m) beneath the surface. Newer divers or those without advanced certification should stay above 60 feet (18 m).
3. Dive within the limits of your training and experience. All divers should learn and get better with each dive; as you dive more, you’ll get better at it. If you’re trying something new, like your first drift dive, or first night dive, go with a professional or at least with other divers experienced in the conditions and environment you are about to dive.
4. Maintain good health. A substantial portion of dive accidents, especially those that are fatal, actually relate to a pre-existing disposition to a medical problem such as cardiac failure or other issues. Maintaining good health will substantially reduce your risks when diving.
5. Maintain your diving skills by being an active diver. Active divers are safe divers who remember and follow their training and safety rules. If you have been out of the water for six months, a year, or even longer longer, you should really consider taking a scuba refresher course before resuming open-water diving. At the very least, spend some time in the pool refreshing your familiarity with the equipment and practicing some basic skills, especially buoyancy control.
6. Dive only with quality equipment, and keep it well-maintained. I’m partial to having my own gear, and making sure it is properly maintained. However, quality rental gear that is well maintained is available most places. Have your gear serviced regularly, and rinse and store it properly after each dive outing.
7. Plan your dive and dive your plan. Proper dive planning and execution will eliminate a substantial level of risk, but no plan is safe unless you follow it. Once you are at a level of experience at which you can independently plan and carry out a dive with your buddy, you have truly arrived as a competent and safe diver. That leads to the next safety rule.
8. Always dive with a buddy. I know some of you are solo divers and even have training for that kind of diving, but it is far safer to dive with a competent dive buddy unless you have that special training, plenty of redundant equipment, and always follow specialized safety rules. Diving with a buddy means staying close to each other in case either of you requires assistance. Too many divers forget that.
9. Do a thorough pre-dive check with your buddy. Too often divers get casual about this. Take a minute to make sure air is turned on, all regulators (even alternates) are working properly, and that any weight belts or pockets are secure. During that check, also learn where releases are on each other’s equipment, and look over each other generally to make sure you are both are ready to enter the water. You probably know someone who entered the water having forgotten their fins, or light, or didn’t have their air turned on, or they didn’t put in their weight pockets. Doing a good buddy check will catch these little annoyances, which can create real safety issues if not corrected before getting in the water.
10. Follow no-decompression dive limits. We were all trained how to calculate our no- deco limits, and now we all almost always dive with a computer. When your computer tells you it’s time to go to shallower depths, go to shallower depths. If you are timing the dive and monitoring depth without a computer, then ascend when you have been at depth for the duration planned. This is really just another way of being sure you plan your dive and dive your plan.
11. Don’t feed the animals. Divers know that dangers from sea creatures are minimal, almost non-existent in fact. But these dangers do exist. That danger level increases a bunch if you feed sharks, or eels, or other potentially aggressive sea creatures. Altering the natural behavior of any creature is not a good idea.
Follow safe diving practices, including those listed above, and scuba diving is not very dangerous at all. Many other recreational activities present equal or greater danger of serious injury or death, including bicycling, skiing, and frankly, even walking across the street. However, if you try to dive without proper training, or with rusty skills, equipment in disrepair, no planning, no buddy check, and an “every man for himself” attitude in the water, scuba is very dangerous. Even tech divers and cave divers (who are the best at safety planning, redundancy with equipment, etc.) will tell you that a properly planned and executed technical dive, while having substantially greater danger factors than a recreational dive, can be executed quite safely.
So is scuba diving dangerous? If you train properly; become an active diver; maintain your skills; maintain your equipment; plan and execute dives within your personal limits; and maintain good health, you’ll find diving to be perfectly safe.
Happy diving, everyone!