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There are inherent dangers for all scuba divers, no matter your skill level or experience. The question that faces all ocean lovers is, what should divers do for their own safety? The simple answer is, you need to be well prepared, cautious and knowledgeable while exploring the deep blue. Failure in any one of these areas puts you and those diving with you at risk.
Diving is an extremely exhilarating, liberating and unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else. That feeling of buoyancy, weightlessness and solitude while surrounded by ocean water and marine life is addictive. Divers should always approach their underwater experiences prepared for accidents and risks, and fully aware that your safety depends on you! No amount of fun, beauty or adventure is worth the risks of putting your life in jeopardy.
To keep yourself safe underwater, every diver should develop steps and a set of procedures they will follow before each dive anticipating the unexpected. This prepares you in the unfortunate instance that an accident happens, and sets you up for success on deep beyond the beach.
Here we’ve gathered expert suggestions to help divers develop a safety process ensuring ultimate protection under water. Keep reading to find out how you should keep safe while scuba diving.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Everything in scuba diving starts and ends with your preparation. The wise words of Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” applies here. Failing to prepare when diving could ultimately cost you your life, leaving you the best possible reason to prepare before every hitting the water.
Things to Consider When Developing your Dive Plan
- Know your depth and time limits.
- During your scuba training you were likely introduced to Dive Tables, which can be confusing. Consider acquiring one of the variety of electronic dive planning devices available.
- Plan for contingency room relative to the length of time and depth of your dive. Dive a few meters shallower than maximum depth and for a shorter time than your maximum air supply.
- Stick to your dive plan once you’ve created it.
- Research the waters you plan to dive (i.e. water temperatures will determine appropriate gear, know the local species, etc.).
- Know the local currents. Some waters are just not safe to dive.
- Know the laws governing the waters you will be diving.
- Most places will require the use of a diver down flag. Even if they don’t in your area, we recommend you use the flag for safety.
- Use the Alfa Flag on your vessel to indicate diving activity.
- Know the animal life that will be present in your dive area and the precautions you need to take.
- Before diving, have all of your personal and the local emergency numbers on hand. You do not want to be scrambling to find this information if an emergency situation arises.
- Have your insurance and medical information readily available.
A common saying amongst divers is, “Plan your dive and dive your plan”; it’s crucial to plan a dive before you go into the water.
Develop a pre-dive checklist to make things as easy and convenient as possible while underwater. Do not rely on your memory. We all get busy and distracted, causing us to overlook or neglect critical considerations. Your checklist should include the following items and more depending on what best suits your diving needs:
- Check, and double check all gear before each dive. If you haven’t used your equipment for a while, it should be tested in a pool of water prior to your trip.
- If you’re using another person’s equipment or are renting gear, take the time to familiarize yourself with the new items and understand how each functions.
- Implement a “buddy check” system where each diver checks the other divers equipment to make sure it’s functioning correctly.
- BWRAF is a quick and easy procedure for conducting a buddy check:
- BCD/Buoyancy: Check each others Buoyancy Compensator Device (BCD), inflating and deflating.
- Weights: Make sure you have enough weight and check the emergency release system.
- Releases: Moisten the band/releases to allow for maximum size and have your buddy give your tank a tug to ensure it’s snug.
- Air: Make sure your valve is fully open, breathe from the primary regulator, have your buddy try your alternative air source.
- Final Okay: Double check you have everything you need, your computer is working, your mask is defogged, and that nothing is tangled or twisted.
Know Your Limits Underwater
Each and everyone of us have our limits, and we need to be honest with ourselves about what they are before every dive. Do not let your pride or ego fool you into engaging in something you are not reasonably capable of doing, ultimately putting your safety at risk. This becomes even more crucial the more you dive and the more experience you gain, as you’ll want to start pushing those limits. It’s always a good practice to honestly look at yourself critically, understanding your limits, and ensuring you don’t put yourself in any situation where you will have to confront those limits. It will not likely end well.
Physical Fitness Level
Part of knowing your limits is to assess and understand your current level of physical fitness. The probability of something going wrong increases exponentially the less physically fit the diver is. If you have any physical conditions impacting your fitness, you’ll need to consult with your personal physician before attempting any dive. Certain health conditions can make diving incredibly dangerous, so always check with your doctor first.If there are no pre-existing physical conditions that could impact your diving, you still need to be in good general physical shape. Diving will require at some point for you to swim long distances, possibly against a current, and you may also be called upon to assist other divers. If you’re not sure that you’re able to respond to these types of physical demands, you should not be diving. The AlertDiver provides an assessment tool for determining your fitness level for diving if you’d like to find out more about whether you should be diving.
Every diving location and environment presents varying conditions and levels of difficulty that are fluid and can change quickly depending on the weather, tides and currents. As a result, it’s crucial you be observant, alert and aware for the entirety of your diving adventure. You need to be mindful of any potential dangers so as not be be caught off guard, and be prepared with appropriate gear for if they do. Before your dive, the following items should be assessed:
- Forecasted weather conditions.
- Water temperature.
- Dive location tides, currents and surface conditions.
- Local and state dive laws.
- Personal and local emergency numbers and information.
- Information from local experts and dive shops.
- Never dive under conditions or in an environment that is beyond your physical limits, training and qualifications.
- Be alert and routinely check your gauges and make sure you can see your dive buddy.
Maximum Dive Depth
Humans were not created to be underwater for extended periods of time. Reminding yourself of what happens to the body underwater will support you in making good decisions and ensure you have an enjoyable dive to remember for years to come.
Before each dive you should use a dive computer or tables designed to calculate the amount of time you can spend at the depth you are diving. Know the time you can stay underwater and make sure you have your divers watch on, so as to not exceed your time limits.
Know Your Diving Dangers
Decompression sickness, drowning, nitrogen narcosis, air embolism, equipment failure, or marine life- take your pick. If you don’t know and understand the dangers you potentially face while diving, you won’t know what to do to avoid them. Always prepare for the dive before you hit the water.
Diving is an activity that comes with its own special risks and dangers. Knowing the common and most serious risks when diving and how to avoid them is absolutely essential for your safety.
You have technology readily available to you for a reason. You should establish a routine for regularly checking and understanding the readings on your computer and instruments. Knowing your levels of air, location, and time you’ve been diving need to be assessed throughout your dive to ensure your safety.
It’s also important to have established a means of communication such as sign language, for you and your dive buddy to be able to communicate and share each others circumstances. Hand signals may become a life save in an unexpected situation.
Stay Focused During Your Dive
Not being aware, not paying attention, not continually monitoring your circumstances will put you in a situation where you are more exposed to unexpected dangers. Underwater, there are many things which can impact our focus or cause us to become distracted. Every effort needs to be made to lessen distractions and ensure you are at your peak levels of performance.
Although it may seem common knowledge, alcohol should be avoided before your dive. Make sure you are well rested, and aren’t feeling ill or fatigued before diving deep. Canceling your dive is a much better option than ending up in the hospital, or worse.
Safe Ascent and Descents
You’ve been trained and you should have the knowledge base to help avoid complications while ascending and descending during your dive. However, constantly reminding yourself on how to avoid dangers that are associated with your ascent and descent are crucial. Failure to do so can be both hazardous to your safety and health.
Simple things like being aware of you breath during your ascent to avoid air embolisms, or avoiding ascending to fast and as a result experiencing decompression sickness, or having an awareness when you reach the surface, are all important as part of a controlled and measured descent and ascent during your dive.
Although scuba diving is a fun and exhilarating ocean sport, it should only be done by those physically fit enough, trained and prepared. There are preventative steps you can take that will help you to avoid the dangers associated with diving, and keep you safe while exploring underwater.
Using this guide to diver safety, you’re taking your first step in preparing for your most successful dive yet- or a successful first dive! Do your research, invest in quality gear, get familiar with your equipment, and practice safety protocols to create a diving experience unlike any other!
When diving, remember the following safety protocols:
- Display a diver down flag.
- Stay in close proximity to the diver down flag (a red flag with a white diagonal stripe).
- Use a stable boat for diving and anchor securely.
- Avoid overloading your craft with supplies, divers or equipment.
- Dive with a buddy, always.
Megan Jones is the lead author of Seaside Planet. She is an avid surfer, scuba diver, and travel enthusiast who takes any opportunity she can to spend time in the ocean. You can learn more about Meg and the rest of the editorial team here.