The Dangers of Drinking and Diving


You’re on vacation in a tropical locale in the dead of January – it could be the Caribbean, Hawaii, or even an exotic global destination like Thailand or the Philippines.

And you want to celebrate your arrival after several day-long flights and inefficient local public transportation with a drink or five before gearing up the next day to go on your first of many dives.

Not a good idea.

Yes, it’s tempting to celebrate the start of your trip, the arrival of your friends, or just a good time in a new destination that’s teeming with bars, night clubs, and good-looking locals. You’re on vacation, after all.

Excessive Alcohol Before Diving

But even when consumed the night before a dive, excessive drinking can negatively affect how you operate under the water, and how your body reacts to the pressurized environment. In addition, your body is often dehydrated after traveling, and you may lose more in perspiration in a warm climate. Dehydration prior to diving is a recipe for potential disaster.

Here’s how alcohol in the body works:

  • A single drink, like a beer, a 4oz glass of wine, or an ounce of hard liquor, increases your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .02. (Although this varies slightly depending on the person’s weight and hydration levels.)
  • After you imbibe, 90% of alcohol is metabolized, or broken down in your body, at the rate of .015 of BAC per hour.
  • So effectively, if you have four beers and reach a BAC of .08, it will take 5 hours and 20 minutes for the alcohol to leave your system.

Binge drinkers increase their chances of alcohol remaining in their system, and in some cases, an evening of drinks can affect your body for 10 hours or more. If you’ve woken up on the morning of a dive with a hangover, or you’re still feeling “foggy” and uncoordinated, chances are you’re in that arena.

Now some divers will say that once you hit the saltwater, that hangover or fogginess will go away, but in fact, once you’re underwater, the effects can be enhanced. When you’re breathing compressed air and you’re in a pressurized environment, the negative effects can actually be amplified, and can even last longer.

And this is a problem for three big reasons:

1) Alcohol affects your reaction times. You should always be at your most alert under the water, and alcohol slows your ability to react and make a quick decision when the situation calls for it, which creates a potentially dangerous scenario for even the most experienced diver.

2) Unpleasant physical effects. The after-effects of alcohol can make you drowsy, nauseous, and dehydrated — none of which are fun or easily dealt with when you’re deep underwater or on a rocking boat. In addition, alcohol can increase the symptoms of nitrogen narcosis.

3) Alcohol can affect your body temperature. Hypothermia is a real concern underwater, even in warm tropical climates, and alcohol speeds up the rate at which your body loses heat — which makes you even more susceptible to warm water hypothermia.

So does this mean you should avoid drinking throughout your vacation? Of course not.

But if you do go out, do it responsibly, and be mindful of your BAC, or at least save your “Big Night Out” for a night that’s not before a dive. By being smart, and keeping the hangover at bay, you and your entire dive crew will have a much better time enjoying your vacation.

What about a beer during lunch?

While a cold beer on a hot day can taste like heaven, it’s best to avoid drinking at all before diving. However, if you find yourself drinking midday before your afternoon or evening dive, make sure you wait a few hours to let the alcohol metabolize completely.

Have you had any bad experiences drinking before diving? Let us know in the comments below!

Article Name
The Dangers of Drinking and Diving
While it's tempting to indulge in some great drinks and cold beers while on a diving vacation, diving and drinking don't mix - here's why.

3 responses to “The Dangers of Drinking and Diving”

  1. Vinnie says:

    Unfortunately, I had a bad experience in Mexico. Some buddies and I went for a bachelor party. Needless to say, there was plenty of drinking involved. I was hung over the day of the dive and it didn’t take long until I was back in the boat sleeping and miserable.

  2. Carmen says:

    Drinking and diving is a terrible idea. Fortunately, I plan my dives for mid-week so I can start and end my trip with drinks.

  3. K. Stevens says:

    I’m not much of a drinker, but I can’t understand why anyone would think it would be a good idea to drink, then dive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Keep up with SCUBA news, trips and gear!