Three main factors account for most possible causes of scuba diving accidents: human error, equipment failure and the environment. In 2007, researchers Peter Buzzcott, Michael Rosenberg and Terri Pikora investigated three known risk factors for scuba diving accidents: running out of air, losing buoyancy control, and making rapid ascents. These incidents are often associated with decompression illness, barotraumas, and drowning or near drowning.
The researchers interviewed medical experts, dive professionals and expert divers (identified as divers with more than 1,000 dives) in order to find the likely causes of these incidents and found the following:
Possible causes of divers running out of air
Eighteen possible causes were listed for divers running out of air. The top five include failing to monitor the air gauge, inexperience, overexertion, inadequate training, and poor dive planning.
Possible causes of divers losing buoyancy control
Fourteen possible causes were listed for divers losing buoyancy control. The top five reasons include inexperience, failure to release air while ascending, poor skills or training, incorrect weighting, and panic, anxiety or stress.
Possible causes of divers making rapid ascents
Sixteen possible causes were listed for divers making rapid ascents. The top five causes include panic, anxiety or stress, failure to release air when ascending, inexperience, running out of air, and improper use of the BCD.
What does this tell us?
While some of the causes are situation-specific, in several cases the causes are the same. Factors like inexperience, inadequate or poor training and panic, anxiety or stress frequently contribute to these three main risk factors that could potentially lead to diving accidents.
The findings emphasize the need for divers to gain experience in a safe environment. While some divers take to diving like fish to water, others need more time and practice. Additional pool sessions and dives with a dive professional could greatly benefit these divers.
Skills training is equally important. With instant gratification being the norm today, we must change student divers’ attitude that merely paying for the course entitles them to a certification. Resort courses churn out divers in three to four days in between sipping cocktails and general vacationing. While this may be suitable for divers with a natural feel for diving, other novices might be overwhelmed by the information, leading to poor retention of both knowledge and skills. Again, additional training and time in the water would benefit these divers.
All divers can feel panic, anxiety and stress — regardless of their experience or skills — based on their frame of mind on any given day. While more experience and better training could lower the chances of a diver experiencing anxiety or panic it still does not eliminate the possibility completely. Read more here about the science of a panic here.
Running out of air, losing buoyancy control and rapid ascents are some of the main causes that lead to scuba diving incidents. While the environment and equipment failure are possible contributions to these situations, adequate training and experience could possibly lower the risk factors of divers entering into these types of situations.