10 Tips to Avoid a Diving Emergency

What might increase a dive fatality?

Scuba diving is a reasonably safe sport as long as guidelines and protocol are followed. Here are 10 tips to avoid a diving emegency that might help you.

Dive with a Buddy

If you dive solo this, does not mean it will cause an accident, but in the event of an emergency there is additional help close by if you have a Buddy. When experienced divers are around, a potentially fatal accident often ends as a near-miss or an injury with lesser consequences. Newly qualified Open Water divers and ones who have been out of the water for a while, should dive with supervision and support. Solo diving and technical diving are not for everyone!

Your Overall Fitness

Studies through DAN indicate that many dive fatalities are the result of circulatory/heart problems. In most cases the incident happens in or under the water, often with a fatal outcome which is usually listed as drowned. Medical conditions and even your prior lifestyle set the stage of the scenario. The physical and mental stressor triggers the event, in or under water the event takes place. Sadly, statistics read, middle-aged men are higher ranked in this scenario. Obesity plays here a large roll too, some divers BMI indexes are well over the average acceptable level. Other concerns for fitness include stress of cold water, fatigue underwater and recent illness. Smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use and respiratory problems all stack the odds against use. A healthy lifestyle, exercise, rest and harmful habits go a long way to being on the safer side of the line drawn in the sand. Although it is easier said than done, as divers, we should always undergo a regular medical examination to determine if we are fit to dive and our body is capable of managing the stress of multiple dives. The stress factor is often underestimated by many. Statistics say, it would prevent as many as one-third of scuba diving fatalities.

You Can Say ‘NO’

It is every divers right to say ‘No’ to any dive. This decision can take place at any time before, during or after a dive, and this decision should be respected by all fellow divers without question. It is a skill which comes with experience, knowing when and where to dive. If you do not feel comfortable with the decision or dive plan, stand up and say when it is enough–this decision is worth much more when you can sit and think “I wish I was down there with them, rather than down there wishing you were at the surface.

Problem Prevention

In our basic diver course, we all learnt the basic rules of scuba. We ascend slowly after each dive, the safety stop should be included in each dive too. We are not underwater to compete who surfaces with the most air, skip breathing and deliberate actions to try to save air is very bad practice. Breath easily, stay in control of your actions and check frequently gauges and environmental changes. Allow yourself time to adjust to depth, slow down and think each step through. Communicate with your Buddy often and allow time for your body to adjust to its new environment. Both our respiration, heart rate, weight, centre of gravity, hearing and vision all need to adjust to new factors. Slow down, allow these changes to happen and you can prevent an emergency before it starts to form.

Be in Control

At all times you should be in control of your buoyancy and your depth. Perform a weight check if uncertain of the correct amount. If you are using unfamiliar gear, or new equipment, choose a dive-site and depth that is appropriate. Control is a mental situation too. Think through the task ahead, and you can do it, it is linked to relaxation as well, another important aspect of a good diver.

Relax on your Dive

If you relax, you become comfortable and you enjoy the dive. Be aware of your situation, breath calmly and stay focused. Buoyancy, equalisation, orientation and breath control become much easier if you are in a comfortable state of mind. Mental stress factors will diminish your control and ability to relax, if not checked in time this can lead to a panic. The bottom line here is the mind, and body work together.


A very important adaptive skill. We breathe to adjust minor buoyancy adjustments as well as supplying our body with the vital oxygen we require. Apart from being told ‘never hold your breath’ over-breathing is also a poorly managed skill. Over-breathing has been implicated in many diving accidents, where the diver demands more air than the regulator can provide. How does that work? Evidence suggests, the diver was not receiving adequate air, although the regulator worked perfectly. Over-breathing results in panic, the diver thinks he does not receive enough air. Panic becomes an emergency and often leads to an uncontrolled ascent. This situation can be mastered by slow, deep breaths in a relaxed manner. The regulator manufacturer or even top regulator care will not change this situation. However, some diver fatalities have been caused through the tank valve not been turned on fully. This situation causes air-flow at depth to become restricted, the diver then panics as he feels an out-of-air situation has occurred. Remember, a thorough Buddy check is a must!

Ascend in Control

An ascent, in control with a safety stop will reduce the risk of decompression sickness, which includes air embolism and lung over-expansion injuries. A normal ascent minimises the risk of over-head collisions with objects and boat traffic. The recommended ascent rate is 10 m per minute and a safety stop at 5 m for three minutes. All dives over 30 m must include a safety stop, but prudent divers make a stop after every dive. Read carefully your computer for ascent rates, stop at given intervals if required. If you are low-on-air, you may have to choose one of the options below:

  • Ascend slowly, remember more air will be available as you ascend
  • Switch to a redundant air source if available
  • Switch to your Buddy’s alternate air source
  • A Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent, deflate expanding air as you ascend from BCD or drysuit
  • Make an emergency buoyant ascent, ditching your weights as you ascend
  • Buddy breathing is another option, where you share your Buddy’s regulator on ascent. This should only be attempted if you are well trained and in control.
  • If you ascend out of control, try to flare out in a spread-eagle manor, dump air to slow the ascent, breath easy and look up.

Positive Buoyant

Most case studies show that the majority of victims have not ditched their weights. It is far better as a rescuer to ditch the victims weights and be positive on the surface, rather than at the bottom with no air. The risk of DCS or AGE is better than being drowned at the bottom. It is important to know how your Buddy’s integrated weight system functions and that a weight belt is correctly fastened with the loose end accessible at all times. To ditch a weight belt often takes two hands, be sure that you clear yourself and the victim from the weight belt before it is dropped. If both weight belt and integrated weights are worn, it might be enough to ditch just one set of weights.

Be Prepared for an Emergency

Over the years hyperbaric medicine has improved significantly. Divers still should ha ve emergency training, an emergency plan and Oxygen with them on each dive. If an accident occurs, reassure the patient, conduct CPR if necessary, provide Oxygen and get the patient to the closest medical facility available. All emergency numbers should be written down in the dive vehicle, oxygen kits should be accessible to others just in case the victim is YOU!

Dive safely and enjoy our wonderful underwater world at the Blue Hole, Gozo

If you require emergency first aid training, join us here at Dive Smart Gozo for one of our EFR courses.