As technical divers, we accept that there may come a day when we have to make a difficult decision: Can I really help this person, or am I just going to hurt myself in the process? We may be dealing with a hard overhead environment like a cave or wreck where trying to tow an unconscious diver may add risks that need to be considered. We can also be dealing with decompression obligations that may result in severe decompression sickness if ignored. As a technical dive team, it is important to have a plan in place to deal with these situations. Everybody needs to know what their role is and how to perform that role before the dive.
On a dive where you have direct access to the surface, the response is straightforward:
- Perform a risk assessment before assisting the affected diver.
- Hold the regulator in the diver’s mouth and maintain an open airway
- While ascending to the surface, completing necessary decompression stops along the way.
- Surface the unconscious diver and call for help.
- Check for breathing and pulse.
- Remove the diver’s equipment while providing rescue breaths if necessary.
- Move the diver to shore and contact emergency medical services (EMS.)
- Monitor all vitals, administer oxygen, and treat for shock, or provide
- Administer rescue breaths and CPR if necessary until EMS arrives.
In technical diving, however, we rarely have direct access to the surface. In an overhead environment where you have a long swim before you reach open water or significant decompression obligations, a few of the factors to consider include:
- Is there enough room for me to exit while towing my teammate, or are there restrictions that may create entanglement hazards?
- Towing an unconscious technical diver can be slow and exhausting; do I have enough gas to get me to the exit?
- Are there support divers that can take over the rescue, or will I have to omit decompression in order to get the diver out of the water immediately?
These questions are difficult to answer with clarity in the heat of the moment; you should know the answers and be committed to the response before you even enter the water. Have a plan, make sure everyone in the team is aware of the plan and their roles, and be prepared to make the decision.
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