DSC_0611_c

Keep Your Cool: What to Do in a Dive Emergency

by Josh Norris:
dive emergency
There is no way to tell what your reaction will be during an emergency until you actually go through it. For all of you out there who believe that knowing CPR and going through a three day rescue course has you prepared to face some of the horrible things that could go wrong in scuba diving, you are incorrect. Let us be honest for a moment. The rules of CPR seem to change more often than some of us change our shirts. Many people believe that giving rescue breathes in the water while dragging someone out is simply a waste of time, and there will be someone there to tell you all about the things you did wrong even if you pull someone to safety. Despite the many opinions out there, there is no way to predict when something will go bad. The only thing we can do as divers is try to be as prepared as possible for when they do. Believe it or not, under the water is not a natural place for human beings to play around. So how do you keep your cool and stay calm during an emergency situation?

Man the Hell Up!!

There are certain moments in life where you realize the universe is giving you an opportunity to prove yourself. Seeing a loved one, or regular dive buddy, trying to hold onto life while you desperately attempt to help them could be just the opportunity for you to step up and knock it out of the park. While this is obviously not an ideal scenario, the world is simply not an ideal place. After all, no one made you get in the water to begin with. The adrenaline rush and sense of adventure is what drove many of us into diving in the first place. Without that basic need to push further and further, there would be no use in wreck diving or all of cave country. We could all be satisfied by seeing the pretty reefs at 40 feet. However, no one actually watches a NASCAR race to see people drive in circles. The wrecks make it worth it right? Just like no one wants to watch a soccer match for nine hours just to see people faking knee injuries every twenty seconds. The point is that because we push further into caves/wrecks and because we dive deeper and deeper, the chance for some really bad stuff to happen increases exponentially. Finding the inner beast to do what needs to be done may just mean the difference to someone. Dragging someone out of the water half dead may be better than pulling them out a few days later and trying to collect from your dive insurance.

Do Not Hesitate!

Once you make the decision to intervene with someone to help, you better not stop until that individual is safe, killing you, or dead. There is no room for a half measure when it comes to emergencies. Wrapping your head around this notion is necessary in staying calm in the midst of something chaotic. Once you make the conscious decision that you will not stop, everything else becomes easy. Either you will succeed or you will die trying right? Either way, no one has time for you to second guess yourself. If you were wrong and misinterpreted the actions of your dive buddy as a sign of distress, then fight it out on the surface or at the bar. Maybe they should not have been acting erratically while diving to begin with. When it comes to dive professionals, there is a big line in the sand it seems. When should a pro get involved with someone? What if that person is not my student? What if the other Instructor ends up hating me? Who cares? If someone is in trouble, or you think they are in trouble, then you should probably go ahead and help out. If someone sees me stroking out in the water, please send me to the surface and help me get out of the water. I promise that I will not hate you for ruining my dive. All of that said, DO NOT be the guy who has to stick their nose into everyone else’s business at every turn. There is still a learning curve in diving and some take a bit more time to learn than others.

What is the Worst that Could Happen?

So you may have found yourself in an emergency situation, and your mind is racing with all of the information you could possibly remember. Take a moment and think about this though; what is the absolute worst case scenario for you? I always tell my students, in a very matter of fact way, that “Josh is gonna be alright.” In essence, I will go through hell trying to save you but if it comes down to it; I will walk away and be just fine. Any time there is a diving incident, there are so many people who want to point to the Instructor or dive operation and scream that it is their fault. Whatever happened to bad things just happening sometimes? No one expects for a high pressure hose to explode under water 200 feet down or 7,000 feet into a cave, but it happens sometimes. Good luck trying to sue the Chinese guy who made it. Sometimes bad things just happen. Ironically, bad things seem to happen to the nicest of people. So when you are handed the chance to help out, think about how bad it could possibly be. Try to do the right thing and everything will be alright.

So basically, there is no magic answer to staying calm during an emergency. I would say that all you need to do is pop a couple of Xanax before your dive and you will be calm no matter what. However, there are so many things wrong with that. As long as you understand that the longer you stay in diving, the more likely you are to run into a bad situation; you will become more and more prepared. That does not mean that you should bust out the red cape and start a new superhero scuba trend. All it means is that no matter what, you should have a basic understanding of what is right and what is wrong. As long as you stay on the “what is right” side of things, a bad situation will work out one way or another.


– Josh Norris
Owner/Instructor – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC

6 replies
  1. Steve Marshall
    Steve Marshall says:

    Hi Josh,

    Very true article. I recently helped save a rebreather divers life and without the instinct and determination to succeed and help him using whatever I could do to achieve that he would have died. My 40 years of military diving certainly helped but at the end of the day the ability to think outside the box helped

    Reply
  2. diver with a purpose
    diver with a purpose says:

    Hi Josh, thanks for the article. I have been an instructing for 7 years now. I had my first real life and death scenario this summer. I was pushed down a wall with my Dive Master. we were pulled apart and seperated. My BCD was fully inflated as I kicked with all my strength. My Meter reading 80 then 90+ feet. I was able to get out of that current. I floated for a while on a safety stop and finally made it back to shore. When I reached the beach My other 2 Dive Master Candidates had made it to shore and got the boat. We were still missing my Buddy. We were in the Bali Straights so the boat refused to go down and look for my Buddy because the current had gotten to strong. We spotted a tank 1/4 mile down the reef. I stripped my gear and started running. I could feel my adrenaline, but at the same time my head was clear. I new that my other 2 guys were behind me. I knew they were tiered. I also knew that I had this time to formulate my plan and make sure we got my Buddy back to the beach. I had to swim out another 200 yards over very shallow razor coral. I had my 2 guys mark him from shore so I could get a direct line and they could rest. When they caught their breath they came out and met me. My Buddy was ok, We all made it back safe. I found the biggest benefit to this rescue was being in very good shape, having confidence, determination and staying calm. Nothing is predictable out there, you have to be able to use all your skills and tools to do your best.

    Reply
  3. Mark
    Mark says:

    I read with interest your article and as one trained in emergency first response could not disagree more with most of your approach. It is reckless and violates all decisions necessary prior to attempting any rescue procedure. Perhaps you assumed these would be observed prior to the commitment to “man up”, but it certainly was not clear.

    Reply
  4. Joshua Norris
    Joshua Norris says:

    I must respectfully disagree with your disagreement. I feel that acting quickly and providing the best level of help during an emergency situation is anything but reckless and violates nothing. If you are in an emergency, you may not have time to plan out each and every thing. The ability to “man up” and push through to the end may just be needed to help someone out.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*