As an instructor who trains divers in surge-y conditions, it is difficult to look a seasick student in the eyes and encourage them to throw up into their regulator. After throwing up at a depth of 190 feet, on night dives with hungry fish, and floating at the surface in rough waves, I have learned that throwing up in your regulator is just a part of diving. The queasiness that often precedes the need to throw up underwater is largely the fault of seasickness. And the best way to handle it is prevention — we discuss a few of the best methods here. If you do become sick underwater, it’s a situation you don’t want to be unprepared for. So, let’s talk about throwing up in your regulator and ways to cope.
How to handle throwing up underwater
I teach students early on that they can cough or throw up into their regulator. Regulators are designed to withhold flexible chunks and your food exits the same path as your bubbles. We also prepare divers for this scenario when they master regulator recovery, a free-flowing regulator, and airway control during their first scuba course. Here are a few of the best ways to cope if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.
Breathe slowly and deeply
When you feel symptoms coming on, think about breathing deeply from your diaphragm. The key is to stay calm and remember you are in control.
Let your buddy know that you have a problem so they can provide support. Also, it will give you peace of mind knowing there is a third air source available if need be.
Hold and position
When expelling vomit underwater, we want to keep our regulator in our mouth. This is our air source, and it is common to inhale immediately after exhaling vomit. Start by securing your regulator hose to keep your second stage in your mouth and be ready to reach for your alternate air source. I suggest positioning your body at a 45-degree angle and avoid constricting your diaphragm and stomach. If you are mid-water, your buddy should be prepared to help you with buoyancy. When you are near a clear bottom, it may be a good idea kneel on the floor until symptoms abate. If you are wearing a full-face mask, it’s best to switch to your alternate air source when you begin to feel nauseous to avoid having vomit in your mask.
I use a few techniques when I must vomit underwater. When I have light to mild symptoms, I use barf-control. This means I let a little go up in my mouth and then blow it out of my regulator. I follow up with a purge and two breaths and then repeat. I can generally accomplish this while swimming and the gross stuff will drift behind me. When it’s more severe, I sing it out. I stop and make low-pitched “whhhhhhhhoooooo” sound as chunks come out. I cautiously purge and slowly resume breathing. If water is entering your regulator, your exhaust cover is no longer sealed and you should switch to your alternate air source.
Generally, you’ll feel much better after you throw up. But if that’s if not the case, it’s time to end the dive. When you return to the surface, drink plenty of water and eat bland food, such as saltine crackers.
After you’ve joined the underwater upchuck club, you may need to give a little extra love to your regulator when you rinse it. If you are using a rental equipment, clean your gear as you respectfully would and notify the shop. As for my personal gear, I repeatedly dunk my regulator in fresh water while it is still under pressure. I rinse the mouthpiece and exhaust cover while pressing the purge to moisten any dried food and allow the air escort it out. If you don’t rinse, you may experience a wet breathing regulator. Although throwing up underwater is of course unappealing, knowing how to handle the situation will help ease your mind should it happen to you. Stay calm and in control, and you should be able to finish your dive as if nothing happened.