There are boatloads of scuba diving training providers out there, so how do you choose one? A good rule of thumb is to go with one of the big three—PADI, NAUI or SSI. If you get your basic scuba diving certification from any of these organizations, you’ll acquire the same knowledge and skills and be allowed to dive anywhere in the world. Course options range from open water diving to professional instructor training, including specialty courses like night, nitrox and wreck diving.
PADI and others now offer online versions of the classroom-based portions of certification courses online. E-learning may be a good option for prospective divers who want to learn at their own pace as well as already certified divers looking to refresh their scuba diving knowledge and theory. Of course, this may not be a good option if math and science are not your strong suits, or if you learn best from an in-person instructor who can answer your questions on the spot.
Check3GPS Readiness Quotient
Your supervisor may use the following checklist to determine if you have adequately addressed the risk factors for parasailing. If you can answer “yes” to all the questions below, you should be good to go!
1. Are you trained/certified?
2. When diving, do you:
a. Budget your dive time to ascend before your pressure gauge decreases to 500 lbs./square inch (psi)?
b. Test all equipment and mark dive area with a dive flag prior to entry?
c. Always have a dive partner and two regulators in case one fails?
d. Avoid decompression sickness (DCS) by ascending at a rate of no faster than one foot/second (fps)?
3. Are you familiar with dangers in your dive zone (such as creatures, caves, caverns, surges)?
4. If cave diving, do you use a guideline to assist in egressing from the cave?
5. If cave diving, are you familiar with the top five rules of cave diving: training, guideline, depth rules, air (gas) management, and lights?
6. If you are diving in an unfamiliar area, does a guide accompany you?
7. Do you allow at least 12 hours between diving and flying, or flying and diving?
8. If diving on a commercial dive boat, do you ensure there is oxygen on board in case of decompression sickness?
9. When you dive from a private boat, do you ensure someone on board is trained in advanced first-aid?
10. Do you ensure there is a cellular phone/marine phone available to use in an emergency?
11. Do you ensure compressed air is obtained from a reliable source?
This checklist has been adapted from the Pacific Air Forces High Risk Activities Guide.
Top Hazards And How To Mitigate Them
1. SCUBA DIVING IN AREAS/CONDITIONS BEYOND YOUR CURRENT ABILITIES (E.G., CAVE, WRECK, AND NIGHT DIVING)
Mitigate: Specialty diving requires advanced training beyond standard open water dive certification courses. Maneuvering through tight spaces of a wreck, for instance, demands excellent buoyancy control. Cave diving also requires special skills, due to low visibility and lack of easy egress. Even cold-water diving presents new challenges to the novice diver, such as the need to adjust weights to compensate for the added buoyancy of dry suits and undergarments. Equip yourself with the knowledge and skills you will need by taking a specialty dive course before plunging into uncharted territory.
2. FAILURE TO CALCULATE MAXIMUM DIVE TIME USING CERTIFIED CHARTS OR DIVE COMPUTER
Mitigate: Divers must calculate their “no decompression limit” (NDL) for every dive in order to prevent decompression illness. As divers descend, nitrogen compresses in the body under the increased pressure of the water. If divers stay down too long and/or come up too fast, the nitrogen expands (decompresses) on the ascent, forming bubbles that can damage local tissues and even harm the lungs and central nervous system by blocking small vessel blood flow. That is why scuba divers must use NAUI Dive Tables and/or a dive computer to determine their allowable time at depth. Most divers today use dive computers, which make calculating NDLs much easier. Dive computers are particularly handy if doing multiple dives in one day, which involves figuring in residual nitrogen from previous dives.
3. SEPARATION FROM BUDDY
Mitigate: According to Divers Alert Network (DAN) statistics, 57 percent of scuba diving fatalities involved buddy separation. In fact, combining divers who chose to dive solo and those who became separated from their buddies, 86 percent of divers who perished while diving died alone. In addition to helping each other put on and check equipment before a dive, buddies help each other problem-solve in challenging situations and provide assistance in case of emergencies. Primary reasons for buddy separation include diver distraction, low visibility, strong currents, and an attitude that the buddy system is unnecessary. It’s imperative to maintain close visual and/or physical contact with your buddy at all times, including at the surface. Before you dive, devise and discuss a plan with your buddy for what to do in case you get separated. The recommended procedure for buddy separation is to slowly spin 360 degrees for one minute, scanning up, down and at eye level for your buddy. If you still don’t locate him or her, ascend slowly with a safety stop, unless you know your buddy is in trouble. In this case, ascend directly to the surface and seek assistance.
4. WORN-OUT OR UNSAFE EQUIPMENT
Mitigate: An Australian study of 1,000 scuba diving incidents revealed that 10 percent were caused by equipment failure, which is consistent with similar statistics in aviation, medicine and industry. More than half of the equipment failures involved the regulator and air supply, 23 percent the buoyancy control device (BCD), 13 percent the dive computer and depth gauges, and 10 percent other equipment. Properly conducted pre-dive checks will detect most problems with BCDs, hoses, and gear. Beyond that, divers should compare their depth gauges with those of other divers before, during and even after their dives. It’s also a good idea to invest in a dive computer with a low-battery alarm or at least a battery-testing mechanism.
5. LOSING TRACK OF TIME, DEPTH OR TANK PRESSURE (AIR REMAINING)
Mitigate: There are many ways to get distracted while scuba diving: following an exotic fish, adjusting the settings on your camera, and exploring the remains of an underwater wreck, for instance. If you fail to keep track of both how deep you are and how long you have been down, you can easily exceed your “no decompression limit.” And if you are cold, nervous, or having trouble controlling your buoyancy, you can consume your air much more quickly than expected. When diving, make sure to regularly check the time elapsed, air remaining in the tank, and depth gauge; your life literally depends on it.
The Lowdown On Decompression Illness
Decompression sickness, also known as the bends, is a risk all scuba divers face, be they novices or experts. In brief, here’s how it often happens: The deeper you dive, the higher the ambient pressure. The higher the pressure, the more the nitrogen in your breathing gas accumulates in your body. Sometimes, upon ascent, the excess nitrogen doesn’t get adequately released and forms dangerous bubbles in your tissues and bloodstream, causing the bends. This is most likely to happen if you dive deep for an extended period and/or ascend too quickly.
Unfortunately, decompression sickness strikes somewhat randomly; you can do identical dives on different days, and only one of them will result in the bends. It’s hard to tell whether decompression sickness will be mild, with minimal symptoms that quickly attenuate, or serious, potentially causing tissue or even organ damage. In the latter case, the more quickly you get treated, the more likely you will make a full recovery. That’s why it’s critical to recognize the following symptoms of decompression sickness, which generally appear from 15 minutes to 12 hours after a dive:
Pain in joints and muscles
Tingling, numbness or other odd sensations in the extremities
Muscle weakness or paralysis
Itchy or blotchy skin
Coughing up bloody or frothy sputum
Collapse or unconsciousness
Although predicting an occurrence of decompression illness is by no means an exact science, the following prevention strategies will minimize your risk:
Be well rested and maintain a reasonable level of physical fitness
Determine your “no decompression limit” (NDL) for each dive, and don’t push the envelope
Take plenty of time at the surface between dives to rid your system of extra nitrogen
Avoid cold water, strenuous activity and stress during diving
Avoid “yo-yo diving” (lots of ups and downs)
Ascend slowly, taking recommended safety stops (typically at 15 feet for 3 minutes)
Don’t fly less than 12 hours after your last dive
The definitive treatment for decompression sickness is hyperbaric oxygen therapy--the intermittent delivery of pure oxygen in a pressurized room or chamber. Sending a diver back underwater to decompress is risky and only recommended when travel time to a hyperbaric treatment facility is too long to save a diver’s life. The severity of the decompression sickness symptoms will determine the length of time required in the chamber. Reputable scuba diving operators will have oxygen kits and a trained administrator on board to start treatment immediately.
Associations & Websites
Largest scuba diving certification organization offering recreational through professional training
Non-profit organization for recreational and technical divers known for its high training standards
World’s largest recreational scuba diver association dedicated to diver safety and emergency assistance
Retail-based dive training organization offering scuba, freediving, snorkel and swimming training