According to Diver Mag, 100 U.S. divers and another 100 worldwide die each year in dive accidents. Though true accidents do happen, the vast majority of these tragedies are due to poor planning.
Many of the equipment failures can be attributed to a lack of maintenance and inspection, so to avoid having one of these incidents happen to you, make sure you keep your gear well-maintained and inspected.
Your BCD can have two types of failures that impact your buoyancy: one that overinflates, such as a stuck autoinflator valve, risking an uncontrolled rapid ascent. On the opposite side, if you find yourself sinking and nothing happens when you hit the inflator button, risking an uncontrolled rapid descent, you might have forgotten to attach the hose from your tank, or the valve itself failed.
Disconnect the hose or keep your dump valve constantly open if over-inflation is the problem. If no inflation, check to see if your hose is disconnected, use the oral inflator or drop some weight if you are truly free falling.
Time for a new BCD?
This is one that can hurt even the most experienced divers. You should always know the tides and conditions of the dive site, even if it’s one you’re familiar with – conditions can change quickly. Strong currents can knock or pin you against structures, which can dislodge your gear as well as cause injuries. You can also get separated from your buddy or have trouble returning to the surface at your intended spot. You should always carry a surface marker buoy or other signaling device so you can be easily spotted on the surface.
Currents tend to be a little less near the bottom so if it’s not too deep or uneven, you can try sticking near the bottom or find shelter behind large structures. You might get pushed up or down so be ready to inflate or dump air quickly. Avoid swimming directly against it or you’ll wear yourself out and chew your air.
Medical conditions are much more serious when you’re underwater. If you think you are having one, ascend immediately but safely and inform your buddy and/or captain. If your buddy is having one, do your best to keep them breathing and conscious while you help them ascend. Their air supply most often can do the breathing for them. Get help and administer first aid as needed when you surface. This is a more difficult one to prevent, though regular medical checkups are important to ensure you’re in good diving health.
If you end up in a situation where the surface currents are too strong to swim back to your boat or to land, the best bet is to signal someone using surface signaling devices such as this DAN Surface Signal Tube Kit. Inflate your BCD as a raft. Once you have your raft, choose the closest point of safety, and alternate swimming and resting from atop your flotation device. The best way to prevent this is to understand your limits as a swimmer and to avoid dives that are far from shore or a boat, and weather conditions that make swimming too challenging.
This is a common issue with cave or wreck diving. Getting tangled in a fishing net or rope, stuck in a collapsed shipwreck or stuck under a rock are all very possible. First, bang on your tank to get the attention of another diver if possible who can better see what’s entangling you. If you are stuck in something that can be cut, use your dive knife to release yourself, but be very deliberate and careful to avoid air lines. If something like your fin is stuck under an immovable object, you may need to leave it. Do what you can to free yourself, but be ready to leave gear if you need to.
This is also a situation where having up a quick deploy signal marker kit can mean the difference between life and death.
Sharks and sea lions, urchins, fire coral, jellyfish and trigger fish are all dangerous under the right conditions. If you end up feeling at risk from a wild animal, take the appropriate steps to help yourself. Keep your eye on the animal and ascend slowly until you feel the danger has passed or hide against a structure, (while facing the animal) until it moves on. Reportedly, triggerfish won’t bite as long as you continue to look them in the eye, and sharks can be driven back by hitting them on the nose, though hopefully it will never come to that. If you are cut or injured by an urchin, coral or jellyfish, then first aid will be necessary. Though there is little you can do to prevent this, education on how to make the best of it is your most powerful ally here.
Though it might seem like all of the danger is underwater, diving in an area with high boater traffic is risky as you surface. If you are in an area with lots of boats, be certain to listen and look up as you go, and be prepared to be as visible as possible when you surface. If you know you’ll be surfacing where boats are a risk, a 6′ tall inflatable dive buoy and exaggerated arm movements are some of the ways to stay safe. Having a dive boat with a prominently displayed flag along with someone on board to warn boaters away is probably your best protection of all, along with an easily identifiable anchor line to ascend near, so you can stay safe beneath their stationary hull. The trick is proper gear and good planning to avoid any accidents with boaters and divers.
Your ascent was too rapid after all due to overinflated gear. Get yourself to a decompression tank, and avoid ascending to altitude, not even to the local volcano top to watch the sunset until you’re given the all clear. Most of this can be prevented with proper ascent technique. If your dive computer fails, rise slower than your bubbles, and take a rest stop anyway while singing the lyrics to any song you can think of, or several based on what your dive plan called for. These make great substitutes for ascent rate and countdown clocks.
If you’ve overstayed your dive length, ascend as soon as you realize, and be generous with rest stops. Being narced will go away as you ascend, but the better your dive plan, the less creatively you need to think while your brain is impaired, and the more you can just follow directions. Oxygen toxicity will begin to dissipate when you ascend, but it is important to let medical staff know if you are also going to a hyperbaric chamber, as they often implement pure oxygen as a part of that, which can make it worse. Good dive planning and proper education are the best ways to prevent these issues.
If you can find something to grab to slow your ascent, do so. Dump all of your BCD air and flare your body to try to slow your ascent. Don’t forget to exhale out!
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The main reasons that any dive accident happens are because of poorly maintained gear and lack of information. Good, complete dive pre-planning and a regularly scheduled maintenance plan will do more to prevent a dive accident than anything else.
Dives at your level of education are also very important, which means that if you are always learning, and diving at the level of the least experienced person, you are most likely to be safe. If you want to try something harder, take the time to take a class.
Scuba Toys offers year-round courses and all the gear you need to be a safe, happy diver. Check us out online or visit our shop in Carrollton, TX!
Have you experienced a dive emergency? Let us know what happened in the comments section below!
Cave diver – Pete Nawrocky (Pete Nawrocky) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Dive boats – By Alexander Vasenin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons