The possible causes of scuba diving accidents

The possible causes of scuba diving accidents

Three main factors could lead to diving accidents: human error, equipment and the environment. In 2007 researchers Peter Buzzcott, Michael Rosenberg and Terri Pikora investigated the factors leading up to three known risk factors for scuba diving incidents namely running out of air, losing buoyancy control and making rapid ascents. These incidents are often associated with decompression illness, barotraumas and drowning or near drowning.

The researchers interviewed medical experts, dive professionals and expert divers (identified as divers with more than 1000 dives) in order to find the likely causes of these incident and found the following:

Possible causes of divers running out of air

18 possible causes were listed for divers running out of air. The top 5 include failing to monitor the air gauge, inexperience, overexertion, inadequate training and poor dive planning.

Possible causes of divers losing buoyancy control

14 possible causes were listed for divers losing buoyancy control. The top 5 reasons include inexperience, failure to release air while ascending, poor skills or training, incorrect weighting and panic, anxiety or stress.

Possible causes of divers making rapid ascents

16 possible causes were listed for divers making rapid ascents. Here the top 5 causes include panic, anxiety or stress, failure to release air when ascending, inexperience, running out of air and improper use of the BCD.

What does this tell us?

While some of the causes are situation specific, in a number of cases the causes are the same. Things like inexperience, inadequate or poor training and panic, anxiety or stress contribute to these 3 main risk factors that could potentially lead to diving accidents.

The findings emphasise the need for divers to gain experience in a safe environment. While some divers take to diving like a fish to water, others require more time and practice. Additional pool sessions and dives with a dive professional could be of benefit for these divers.

In the same breath we need to mention skills training. With instant gratification being the zeitgeist of today we need to change student divers’ thinking of ‘I paid for the course, thus I deserve the qualification’. Resort courses churn out divers in 3-4 days in between sipping cocktails and general holiday-ing. While this could be practical for divers with a natural feel for diving, other divers might be overwhelmed by the information, leading to poor retention of both knowledge and skills. Again, additional training and time in the water would benefit these divers.

Panic, anxiety and stress could be experienced by all divers- regardless of their experience or skills based on their frame of mind on any given day. While more experience and better training could lower the chances of a diver experiencing anxiety or panic it still does not eliminate the possibility completely. Read more here about The Science of a Panic.

Running out of air, losing buoyancy control and rapid ascents are some of the main causes that lead to diving incidents. While the environment and equipment failure are possible contributions to these situations, adequate training and experience could possibly lower the risk factors of divers entering into these types of situations.

*A version of this article first appeared at

Juanita Pienaar

Juanita Pienaar is a citizen of the world, recently settled back down in her home country, South Africa, after spending time traveling and living in Asia and Africa. She has a passionate love affair with the ocean and loves to share that passion by teaching scuba diving. She is a yoga teacher and fully believe in finding the balance in life. She has recently discovered the joy and freedom of wearing yoga pants ‘out-and-about’. Juanita loses herself in the written and spoken word.

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