Diving is a very safe activity. Compared to other outdoor activities very few people get injured and certainly fatalities are very rare. Still accidents happen and they can happen more easily if some basic safe diving guidelines are not followed. Are you a safe diver? It is interesting to look at diving accident reports and think about what you would do in the described situation. In this article I would like to look at some major contributing factors to diving fatalities and the value of continuing your education.
In most accidents there is a combination of things going wrong but studies show that there are a few major contributing factors for diving fatalities. What do you think those are? Diving too deep? Equipment problems? Not checking your air?
Almost 90 percent of the victims from diving accidents were found, still wearing their weight system. Researchers think that in many accident cases the victim made it to the surface but consequently drowned because they didn’t drop their weights. You can imagine that a diver who got separated from the group and who has to make a long surface swim in rough seas can run into problems. In 2014 PADI revised their Open Water Diver course and introduced the ‘weight drop’ skill because of this. I imagine other organizations have similar skills in their entry level courses. When was the last time that you practiced dropping your weights? It’s an easy but life saving skill! You can easily practice in shallow water with a sandy bottom.
40 Percent of the victims were grossly overweighted. Diving with too many weights is uncomfortable and can be dangerous too. The number does not come as a surprise to me. In my experience many divers carry far too much weight. You can read my article about teaching buoyancy control. When was the last time that you did a buoyancy check yourself? Or do you just choose your weights based on your ‘experience’? On the surface with a deflated BCD and holding a normal breath, you should float to about eye level. An other way to check yourself is on your safety stop. Are you constantly finning? Do you still have a lot of air in your vest? This means you probably dive overweighted.
One of my favorite courses to teach is the ‘Peak Performance Buoyancy’ course. Every diver, no matter how experienced can learn something in this course. Basic hovering, distributing your weights for comfort and proper positioning, different kicking styles. Most students are surprised that they can dive with very few weights and consume less air on a dive after this course.
In most fatal diving accidents the victim got separated from their buddy at one point. Like the overweighting mentioned earlier, buddy separation is not the cause of the accident but it is a contributing factor. Fact is that only 14 percent of the victims was still together with their buddy at the time of the accident.
What courses can you do to train yourself in the buddy system? Well, maybe the advise should be to do your courses together with your buddy! A great course to do together would be the ‘Rescue diver’ course. Many divers stop their education after the ‘Advanced Open Water’ level. I don’t understand why. I guess it is no problem for them to totally rely on their Divemaster or diveguide to keep them safe. The ‘Rescue Diver’ course teaches you how to act in an emergency situation but more importantly how to anticipate and avoid accidents in the first place. Most students say that it is the most rewarding course that they did.
Another course to mention is the ‘Self Reliant Diver’ course. PADI does not promote this course much because they favor the buddy system. But a ‘Self Reliant’ diver is not the same as a ‘solo’ diver. If you dive without a regular buddy and you always find yourself ‘buddied up’ with divers you don’t know, you may want to think about this course. You will learn to depend on yourself even if you do not dive alone. If you are interested in ‘going tech’ then this course is also interesting. It gives you just a little preview of things you would learn in real tech diving courses.
Diving beyond your training level
It’s a fact that most divers in fatal accidents were trying to do something that they were not trained for. I think there is no better argument for continued education than this. If you want to dive deeper and do more difficult dives, get the training for it! Experience is not the same as having many dives. When I was working in the Maldives I noticed that even divers with many (100+) dives got totally stressed out when diving deep in strong currents. They got tired and used their air a lot quicker than they expected. They thought of themselves as experienced divers but diving in cold shallow water with bad visibility doesn’t necessarily make you an experienced diver, even if you have many dives.
I could only convince very few divers to do a ‘Drift Diving’ course. I guess many people feel that divecenters are trying to push them to do courses to make more money. They don’t see the value of further education. Off course dive centers need to earn money but if you are going to a holiday destination that has many divesites with strong currents, you may assume that the dive instructors there are very experienced in drift diving. If you are going to a place that has many deep wrecks, you can be sure that they are experienced in deep diving and wreck diving. Use it to your advantage and get trained by them! It will make you a better and a safer diver!
The numbers in this article are based on research but the tips on safety and education are my own opinion. I have been a diving instructor for over 15 years. I teach diving instructors but I also still do open water courses and introduction dives on a daily basis. I still learn new things every day. Also from diving instructors who may be less experienced and even sometimes from my students. Experienced divers should normally be safe divers but if you are unwilling to learn you can never call yourself experienced. Experience and safe diving practices also require an open mind! Don’t be stubborn, get yourself trained!