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Simple Surface Survival While Scuba Diving

Being prepared, staying focused, and remembering a few basic surface skills will automatically lower stress and keep you calm in emergency situations.

People probably told you to “relax” and “stay calm” when you first learned to dive. Many divers may think this was just a way for their instructor to calm them down. But if you remember them and dive by them, these brief admonitions may save your life one day when it comes to simple surface survival while scuba diving.

Simple Surface Survival While Scuba Diving

When we become stressed or panic, we often suffer from tunnel vision. It’s harder to think clearly, and normal procedures and skills may seem difficult or even impossible. If you do not deal with an incident swiftly and correctly in a scuba-diving emergency, it can quickly lead to a major accident, or even death. Therefore, divers must not only master a few basic skills learned during training, but also stay calm under pressure.

Obviously there are many different emergency situations that can happen. You’ve learned many skills to deal with them, but there is one particular problem that dive professionals see frequently: divers struggling at the surface. Most dive accidents occur at the surface. Because of this, basic Open Water training courses include two important skills.

Establish positive buoyancy at the surface

You may surface for many reasons during a dive. Perhaps you lost your buddy or, even worse, ran out of air. The first thing you must do is establish positive buoyancy. Sound simple? It is a simple skill, but one that divers frequently forget due to stress. The boat crew can often see a diver struggling at the surface, and will yell at you to inflate your BCD. If you’re shore diving, no one may be there to remind you.  So make it a habit to inflate your BCD first once you surface and practice both methods regularly; oral inflation and low-pressure hose inflation.

To orally inflate your BCD, press the button you normally use for deflation and blow into the hose at the same time. Don’t forget to kick as you breathe out to keep your face well above the surface and avoid taking in water. Many divers, after their initial training, never practice oral inflation, and then will forget this is an option. Be sure to practice this skill even if you never need it. Making it a habit to automatically inflate your BCD immediately upon surfacing will help if you are ever in an emergency situation.

Emergency weight drop

If you have trouble inflating your BCD for any reason, or you have inflated yet still feel negative — possibly due to being over-weighted — then release your weights. This is also an important option if you have no air in your cylinder. All weight systems, whether a weight belt or integrated weights, must be “quick-release,” and you must be able to remove your own. Release the weights, hold them away from your body to avoid entanglement, and let go. You’ll immediately feel more positively buoyant. If you were attempting to orally inflate your BCD beforehand, it will become much easier. If it’s been a while since you practiced this skill, or if you’ve changed from a weight belt to integrated weights, you should consider a pool or shallow-water session to become familiar with this life-saving skill.

You may be thinking that these tips are common sense for most divers. But when anxiety or panic set in, all common sense can disappear. Staying calm and remembering your training is vital in emergency situations. But you must also practice these skills to keep them fresh in your mind. You’re at a great disadvantage whenever you approach any emergency emotionally, rather than logically. Being prepared, staying focused and remembering these two basic skills will automatically lower your stress and keep you calm in emergency situations at the surface — and may save your life.

Contact PADI Course Director Hayley-Jo Carr at [email protected] for details or follow her adventures at any of the links below.