DAN Asia-Pacific recently published an article titled ‘Divers can drown’. Certainly this is not the first thing that you want to over emphasise to a new, nervous entry level student. Based on DAN’s study nearly half of diving fatalities were caused by drowning. Thus it is, however an important aspect of the sport that every diver needs to be aware of.
The article list equipment problems, gas supply problems and rough water as some of the main factors that led to these incidents. You can lower the risk of drowning or potentially drowning by following safe diving practices.
Be diving fit and healthy
Everyone is familiar with the diver medical statement and all the ‘No’ questions, and many people treat it as a formality, as ‘just-another-piece-of-paperwork’ that needs to be signed. The importance of this, however, should not be underestimated.
Even though we try to be efficient and move as little as possible underwater to conserve air, diving is still a sport that requires some physical activity. We carry heavy gear and swim against mild currents. Sometimes we need to swim on the surface to an entry or exit point, buoy line or boat. In some places you need to use your arms to pull yourself onto the boat while finning fiercely. It is thus important that you maintain good health and be diving fit to ensure that the experience is safe, fun and relaxing.
Just keep swimming…
Have you ever wondered why swimming and floating is a skill that is included in every milestone dive course? If you find yourself in a challenging situation being able to swim to the shore or boat, or at least float on the surface until help arrives could save your life.
If in doubt, sit it out
Diving is often perceived as this hard-core, extreme, cowboy sport where you shouldn’t show fear or nervousness, or anything that can be perceived as weakness. The largest percentage of dive fatalities is made up of dive professionals. Granted, this makes sense because these individuals spend much more time in the water than recreational divers. I have a pet theory that perhaps a part of the reason for this is that we become over confident and nonchalant or blasé about following the guidelines that we drill into our students and customers.
Whether diving for pleasure or professionally it is important to choose a dive site based on your (or in the case of professionals, your customers’) abilities and comfort.
Often the most popular and requested dive sites are also the ones with the most extreme conditions. These sites probably have strong currents or poor visibility or perhaps it is a deep dive which requires additional training and considerations.
Though these sites are usually spectacular and live up to all your wildest dreams, it is not worth putting yourself and other people in danger just to experience it. If the conditions are not good, or not something you can fairly comfortably take on, rather sit this one out, or change the dive site.
Duck tape, cable ties, spit and prayers
Using old, broken, ill-maintained or self-fixed and self-modified equipment could lead to complications.
Dropping weights is a skill that could save your life and yet, almost 75% of drowning victims were found with their weights in place. Ensuring that you know how to drop your weights in an emergency is a vital skill that you need to master, and practice throughout your dive career.
Accurate weighting is important for the same reason. Being over weighted leads to poor buoyancy control, it also makes it more difficult for you to drop your weights if you need to.
More than half of drowning victims were alone when the accident occurred. By sticking close to your buddy you have help available, or are able to provide assistance if you need to. Being close enough to your buddy to provide or receive timeous rescue and first aid increases the likelihood of survival in a critical situation.
How am I supposed to breathe with no air?
One quarter of drown victims were found with no gas in their cylinders while 15 % were low on gas. You can prevent this by checking your gauges often and informing your buddy or dive leader when you are approaching the caution zone and, based on this, ending the dive.
Out of air situations can be dealt with by sticking close to your buddy and making use of their alternative air source if the situation arises.
Diving is a safe sport if we remember to follow the safety guidelines that we are taught, maintaining good health and fitness, by practicing good judgement and ensuring that we have correct and well-functioning equipment.
* A version of this article first appeared at www.scubadiverlife.com