Australia has experienced a tragic week with the loss of six people who died scuba diving or snorkelling in Australian waters.
C McKenzie from the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators has reminded the press that the global average for a fatality when diving is one per 100,000 dives. He went on to state that in Queensland, the fatality rate is one per 450,000 dives – a record that is 4.5 times better than the global industry’s average. The Australian Underwater Federation is considering the need to review Australian standards in the wake of these accidents.
Our sympathy is with the affected families and such accidents serve as a useful reminder to continually review dive skills and dive safety to minimise the risk of future accidents occurring. Whilst Australia considers what to do to improve dive industry safety, divers can help themselves and their dive buddies by following some basic tips for safe dives:
Dive with a buddy
Utilising the buddy system and keeping a buddy within arm’s length during dives is one of the first things new divers learn and yet that advice is often ignored when divers swim off after ocean critters and leave their buddy stranded. Before diving, be sure to remind your buddy to keep close in case of emergency and review dive hand signals together.
Never hold your breath
Another fundamental of scuba diving safety is to ensure divers never hold their breath. Continuous, calm breathing is the key to preventing a pulmonary barotrauma and assists in breathing efficiency and maintaining buoyancy.
Scuba diving is a sport and, as with any sport, a reasonable level of fitness will not only enhance enjoyment during dives but also minimises the risk of injury. Being fit for diving makes carrying heavy kit and long surface swims easier and helps to protect divers from decompression sickness and heart stress.
Drink plenty of water
Dehydration is a risk factor for decompression sickness and reduces the volume of blood circulating in the body, the blood flow and the removal of gases from tissues. Dehydration also increased the viscosity (thick/stickiness) of blood, which further reduces blood flow. Divers can lower their risk of dehydration by avoiding caffeine and alcohol before diving and by drinking plenty of fresh water.
Plan your dive and dive your plan
There are various tools to assist in dive planning and dive buddies should always plan their dive objectives, dive depths, entry/exit points and route before entering the water. Planning a dive not only allows a buddy team to understand their objectives but also provides an opportunity for divers to ensure they are going to depths and conditions well within their limits and to discuss what they will do in an emergency. It isn’t all about planning though. As with every dive plan, the key to success is diving that plan.
Know the local conditions
Before diving an area, check local ocean conditions with dive centres and get in touch with the coastguard for weather and tide information as needed. Up to date local knowledge is important for reducing the chances of an accident due to unknown conditions such as rip currents and tidal fluctuations. We recommend divers complete an introductory dive with a local dive centre whenever diving a new area.
Check your gear
Although it is common practice for many dive centres to assemble divers kit pre-dive, always check your dive kit yourself and run through a full buddy check before entering the water. Human error happens and frequent, consistent gear checks can spot mistakes and eliminate the potential for an accident due to gear failure.
Practice safe ascents and safety stops
A safety stop is recommended at the end of every dive and is mandatory for certain dive depths. We recommend a safety stop is always completed at the endo of a dive to make it a routine and well-practiced part of every diver’s skill repertoire. Divers should also practice their different ascent procedures regularly to ensure normal ascents are completed at the correct rate and to prevent panic in an emergency when a different type of ascent may be needed.
Practice dive skills
Regularly practicing dive skills such as mask removal and replace, buddy towing at the surface, kit removal underwater and buoyancy techniques helps to improve muscle memory and allows divers to assess which of their skills may need improving. In an emergency, having a skill set that is routine and comfortable to a diver can assist in resolving that situation promptly.