What Potential Risks do we Face?
Scuba diving is an outdoor, underwater sport. Gozo offers some of the best scuba dive sites in Europe, but how high is the potential risk of an accident?
The Human Body.
Human-beings are not configured for breathing underwater, we live and breath on land. All outdoor sports carry a potential risk, this not includes scuba diving on Gozo where we live, but around the world. Biologically, scuba divers enter a beautiful, underwater realm not designed for the breathing apparatus that we are born with. Scuba divers are much the same as astronauts living in space, they too enter another environment; this brings with it a certain amount of risk.
How much risk do we face?
This is something we cannot determine by saying the risk is high or low. High or low is a relative term that determines nothing. Compared to most outdoor sports scuba diving has a fatality rate lower than swimming, cycling and running. Car accident fatalities have an even higher rate, so once we start the car engine the risk increases.
DAN; Divers Alert Network
Divers Alert Network, DAN for short, monitor dive fatalities around the world. They offer workshops for divers to take part in, as well as offering diving insurance. One workshop back in 2010 covered diving fatalities stating that newly qualified divers are less likely to be involved in accidents. The concerns lie more with bad diving practice, lax buddy checks, ill-fitting equipment and loss of buoyancy control. Another factor is divers carrying too much lead leading to a struggle to maintain neutral buoyancy.
Let’s take a look at where these risks in scuba diving are originating from in more detail;
Poor or Lack of Buoyancy Control;
Lack of buoyancy control leads to an increase in air consumption and potential risk of DCI. Buoyancy control and managing buoyancy is the fundamental skill of being a good diver. Scuba dive with a professional or a very experienced buddy until you feel confident in your ability to stay at the pre-determined depth. Make sure you dive with the correct amount of weight if in doubt do a weight check. Use your BCD to compensate for the decompression of your wetsuit and the increase in surrounding pressure as you go deeper.
Your lungs play a large role in minor adjustments to fine-tune your buoyancy too. Practice buoyancy skills such as the hover and fin pivot, but be aware of the sensitive environment. Shooting up without a safety stop, or not being able to stay at a given level increases the risk of an uncontrolled ascent. A controlled descent is something that each scuba diver should strive to achieve. Sometimes, dive sites such as Reqqa point do not have a seabed to stop your descent, so stay in control of depth and decent rate.
If you find it difficult to improve your buoyancy, take a PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy course and practice with your PADI instructor.
Health Checks and Diving Medical;
In some countries, a signed medical statement from your physician is required before any diving activities can take place. Other countries do not have this policy, so check before going to your destination. On Gozo, this is no longer required. Your diving centre will provide you with a detailed medical which you must fill out by answering each question with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ Although most divers assume they are fit to dive it is best to have a yearly check-up.
My advice is, “have a yearly check-up and make sure there are no changes to your health that you are not aware of.” This is important for your safety and it helps to eliminate (some, but not all) major problems that may occur underwater due to undiagnosed health issues.
Ending up with no air is mostly a diver-based error, although it might be the result of an equipment malfunction. Deep dive-sites on Gozo are many, diving beyond your limits with high gas consumption will jeopardise your safety. Diving with a Buddy ensures that you have someone around you who can help out in an out of air situation. A clear out-of-air signal and asking to share air will allow you to end the dive safely on your Buddies Alternate Air Source. A thorough Buddy and equipment check should be carried out at the beginning of every dive; this saves many in-water problems which should have been fixed before entering the water. Remember, safety first!
Rapid Ascents and Poor Water Conditions;
Use a dive computer to help you calculate your ascent rate. Most computers have an ascent rate of 9 – 12 metres per minute, depending on the model and settings. If you dive to 18 metres it should take you approximately two minutes to reach your safety stop. 18 metres per minute is the absolute maximum and should be avoided at all times. Both clear and murky water is deceptive regarding depth and ascent rates. Rapid ascents cause nitrogen in your body to come out of solution and form gas bubbles. These bubbles may expand to quickly and block your veins causing DCS; this is a very basic expression of DCS, read more in the DCS link for further information.
Dive within your personal limits and stay physically fit. Diving equipment is heavy, in rough sea conditions physical fitness is required to be able to move. Sea conditions change, waves and currents can be challenging, if you are not ready for such dives, don’t dive there.
Training, Experience and Skill Knowledge;
Diving deep, beyond your comfort zone and certification limit, is not a good idea. Have you ever thought about your insurance coverage if something happens and you are deeper than your certification level allows? Yes, you guessed correctly, your insurance company will not pay! Gain knowledge and experience before embarking on dives that are out of your experience and certification level. Take another course and gain the knowledge and experience with a PADI Pro at your side, before going off and giving it a go on your own! Dive with an experienced Buddy when wreck or cavern diving and learn from them as you go along. Remember, practice in a safe environment, perfection and comfort comes only from the repetition of skills and drills.
Correct Equipment for the Task ahead;
Your diving equipment should fit correctly and every diver should strive to get their own. Your own equipment provides you with better comfort, familiarity and a good fit, this cannot always be said for rented equipment. Correct equipment should be on hand for special dives, such as night and deep dives, wreck and cavern dive just to mention a few. Back up lights, reels, compass, computer and underwater writing slates are just a few to mention that need to be available for speciality diving. Embarking on a wreck dive without torches, a reel, computer, no compass direction and a lack of knowledge may prove to be dangerous. Equipment must be maintained, fit correctly and in good working order, if not, leave it at home and get it serviced!
Dive safe everyone and stay within your Limits!