#1 Reason Scuba Divers Die

by Sean Harrison:

Scuba diving is a great sport and like any activity it is not without its risks, and that is what attracts some divers. Other divers pick up the sport for the weightlessness, to see the beautiful marine life, or as an added activity for their vacations. These are all great reasons and they bring a lot of value to our lives as well as make for fun stories of adventure. If you pick up underwater photography along the way you get the added bonus of photos to share with family and friends.

Like all sports or activities, people gain a level of comfort with time and  experience, and many times right after that comes complacency. We often read of day hikers that ventured beyond their ability to navigate back, or failed to bring enough water, food, or protective clothing. They may have also not paid attention to the weather and now find themselves in a pretty sticky situation and in need of rescue. The one distinct difference between a hiker (even an experienced one) and a scuba diver is – the hiker has time on their hands because they can breathe and rescuers can be called, scuba divers have a finite amount of air and no way to call for help.

Another parallel, sticking with the hiking analogy, is basic skill failure.  Just like the hikers who did not bring enough water or food and failed to watch the weather, or went beyond their navigational abilities, scuba divers do the same. Looking over all the data of scuba diving accidents, there are a few things divers can do to improve their chances of avoiding an accident: monitor their air and gauges, practice basic skills, and turn on their air.

What we see in most accident reports is: diver ran out of air, weight belt/weight system still in place, cylinder valve closed or not all the way open. Basic skill failure. You might think by reading those findings, they come from open water or sport divers but that is not the case. These same causations are found in the most experienced diver accident reports. There are, of course for technical divers, some other basic technical skill failures that are reported, but that is for another article another time.

The key question is how to stop this from happening? The solution is pretty simple and yes, basic. The first step is to do a buddy check before dives, this is often not done and not only will this find any potential problems before the dive, such as cylinder not turned on, it also puts both divers a little more at ease. Second step, practice some basic skills during your dive:

  • Flood and clear your mask.
  • Reach back and feel the cylinder valve just so you know you can reach it.
  • At the end of the dive, remove and replace your weight belt/system.
  • Get in the habit of looking at your gauges every minute. Turn how much air you have into a game, before you look at your gauge guess what you think you have then look at your gauge and see how close you were. Do the same with your no decompression time.
  • Use at least three different kicking styles on every dive: scissor, frog, modified frog, etc.
  • Before your dive check the weather forecast.

One final thought is, information tells us that an accident almost never has a single cause; it is a chain of events. With this in mind, if something happens before or at the beginning of the dive and you don’t think you can mentally get past it, rethink if you should do the dive. If there is an equipment issue that cannot be repaired properly, don’t do the dive, or abort the dive if you have already started it. Any diver can call any dive at any time.

The problems and the solutions are all very simple, they just need to be recognized and practiced. Practicing skills on every dive and good buddy communication will increase the chance of a positive dive outcome dramatically. The best thing to do is don’t get complacent. The number one reason divers die? Basic skill failure.

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