Scuba Diving Safety

Scuba Diving Dangers: Your Guide To Diving Safety

Scuba diving is a world-famous activity enjoyed by millions of people globally each year. It’s a way of connecting to the underwater world and exploring its marvelous beauty. It uses a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, where it got its name, SCUBA is actually an acronym!

Saying that though, any underwater activity comes with its fair share of risk, so we’ve put together this comprehensive guide on how to mitigate scuba diving dangers as much as possible.

Let’s dive right in!

Scuba Diving Safety

Is Scuba Diving Dangerous?

It may look as though it is a high-risk sporting activity, but to say it is dangerous, well, it depends on how you quantify danger. For example, in the US, an annual average of 1,092 emergency room admissions was recorded for those who went scuba diving.

Seems a lot, right? On its own, it is a significant number. However, if you compare it to other seemingly less risky activities like fishing, which records 170,216  cases per year, or bowling with 19,802 cases, it will look like a safe sport.

There are risks involved with scuba diving but such is the case for all other activities that you usually enjoy. Even just walking can lead to accidents if you are not careful. The crucial thing is that you know the possible risks to avoid them as much as possible.

What Are The Common Risks Involved In Scuba Diving?

Knowledge would often save us from harm. Knowing the risks involved when scuba diving will help you put safeguards in place to avoid them. Below are some common dangers associated with this sport.

Arterial Air Embolism

Arterial air embolism is a condition wherein the arteries are blocked by bubbles formed during a diver’s ascent, which could prevent blood from flowing freely. It may be caused by pulmonary barotrauma, lung damage that is due to pressure differences.

Improper breathing techniques can cause this risk. When ascending, the diver must go slowly without holding his breath as the air could expand and could result in damage to the lungs that could even be fatal.

Decompression Sickness

Also known as DCS, it is the most popular diving-related injury. Too much pressure can cause high amounts of nitrogen to dissolve in the blood. During the ascent, as the pressure decreases, these could form bubbles inside the tissues. It can result in a lot of pain, tissue damage, and in worse cases, death.

Several factors can lead to DCS, such as poor health conditions, too much alcohol consumption, dehydration, stress, and lack of sleep. It can be prevented by sticking to what you learned in your open dive course. Follow your dive tables, ascend slowly, and perform standard safety stops to avoid such a scenario.

You have to listen to your body and do not push it to the limits. Address symptoms, should they manifest. Seek treatments immediately. Do not think that you are immune just because you followed all the rules. It is better safe than sorry.


More fatalities are resulting in drowning compared to the other risks involved in scuba diving. The problem is more often on the side of the diver. Not to play the blame game, but often, it is due to the panic that leads to unconsciousness or other health-related problems that were not disclosed.

Panic usually happens when there are emergencies, like running out of oxygen. You do not know what to do, so instead of calling for help, you may struggle to the point of losing consciousness. It can be prevented by getting proper training and effectively utilizing the buddy system.

Medical emergencies unrelated to diving occur when the diver does not disclose adequately the medical conditions that may interfere with the activity. You have to be honest when filling out the medical checklist because that will be the basis of whether you are allowed to drive or if there are extra precautions you need to take before you take off.

Nitrogen Narcosis

When you suffer from nitrogen narcosis, it will feel like you are giddy or drunk. It often occurs as the diver gets to around 80 to 100 feet in seawater. Its symptoms include short-term loss in reasoning, motor coordination, and even decision-making skills.

As it is, it may not be as severe as the other risk. However, when not immediately addressed, it could lead to other dangers, such as DCS, especially when panic hits and you start ascending fast.

You must have the proper certification when diving beyond 60 feet because extra training is required for such a feat. You can avoid nitrogen narcosis by following that critical rule.

Scuba Diving Safety Guide

There are dangers associated with scuba diving, such as those mentioned above. But there are also ways to minimize, if not avoid, them. Your very first line of defense is understanding the safety rules, and of course, applying them.

Scuba Diving Safety

Having identified the risks and dangers associated with scuba diving, let’s jump into our diving safety guide and learn how we can mitigate these dangers.

Pre-diving safety rules and tips

Before going for a dive, some things are necessary for you to do and to learn. These safety rules will help you be very well equipped to have a safer scuba diving experience.

Getting certified (mastering skills)

Since there are risks involved, you must master the skill requirements before diving. You do not have to go pro. There are curriculums developed for recreational divers on the skills and principles that you must learn.

Don’t worry; you will not be overwhelmed because each piece of information is broken down into stages. You will be taught how to tackle each risk on the diving levels that you aim to master. PADI offers some great courses to get you up to scratch.

Some of the skills you will learn are performing a Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent (CESA), using your buddy’s alternative air source, disconnecting the pressure inflator’s hose, and performing CPR, mask clearing, and giving oxygen during an emergency. These are all crucial in ensuring a safe, scuba diving experience.

Mind your health

How can this be a safety check? It may not look like it, but it is essential when scuba diving. Going under the water with poor health can lead to many possible complications from simple disorientation to a fatal heart attack.

For your safety, these are the things you must, or must not, do before a dive:

Do not pull an all-nighter. Make sure that you have enough sleep the night before the actual event. Your ability to focus and lack of control of your motor skills are just among those that could be jeopardized by doing this activity.

Go for a checkup. Whether or not you have a specific medical condition, consider going to a doctor before you go diving. Some medical concerns do not go well with this activity, and you will be putting yourself at risk if you take the chance. Get a medical certificate, if possible. It will guarantee that a professional permitted you to proceed with this sport.

Quit the smoke. At least for 12 hours, try not to smoke because it can decrease tissue oxygenation, which will hinder your body from functioning at its best.

No alcohol. When you drink, it can increase the risk of nitrogen narcosis, impaired judgment, attention span, reaction time, visual tracking, and heat loss, among many others. Need I say that that spells danger?

Exercise. You will be doing quite a strenuous activity when diving, so you have to make your body adequately adjusted to it. When you work out, you allow your body to have better oxygen circulation, which can help avoid decompression sickness.

Warm-up, work out, even if it is just a day or two before your dive. It will give your body enough time to adapt, and will not be stressed out.

Learn the proper breathing techniques

Your greatest need when you are underwater is air. You have a tank with you, but you need to know how to maximize its use. That will help you stay down longer and enjoy, and ensure that you will not run out of supply, leading to panic.

The proper method required in scuba diving is deep breathing. You can practice doing it by lying on the floor, place one arm on the chest, and another on your stomach. Breathe slowly and make sure that it is the arm on your tummy that moves and not the one on the chest. Keep doing it until you get used to it.

You may also practice relaxed breathing. Take breaths that will not make your heart rate race. Keep it slow and steady. Inhale slowly, and then gradually breathe out. If you master this, you will be able to maximize your air supply.

Learn more about breathing techniques in our refresher course.

Gear up

It is best to have your scuba diving gear if you are serious about this sport. Not just for sanitary reasons but familiarity. It will fit you perfectly, you will know very well where the snaps, buttons, and zippers are, and you don’t have to keep calculating for buoyancy.

Buying your full set of gear will help you focus more on the dive rather than trying to adjust to it on the onset. You may begin with the wetsuits, waist belt, regulators, and those that are handy. You can save the tank for later if you feel it’s uncomfortable.

Gear check

Go over your gear before a dive, even if you did not rent it. Double-check for wear and tear, ensure that all locks and straps are in place and are working fine. Inspect for leaks and the overall functionality. It is dangerous to dive with the slightest issues with the gear, so do not miss this step.

Tag a buddy along

You must be capable of taking care of your needs when diving, but bringing a good friend along is safer. Most recreational diving sites require that you have someone with you during a dive unless you are a professional.

Statistics show that around 86% of diving-related deaths resulted from diving without a buddy. More than just a companion, this person will be your life-support system. You will be each other’s extra pair of eyes, hands, and alternate air source if there is an out-of-air situation.

Plan your dive and stick to it

You and your buddy (or buddies) must have a clear dive plan before going underwater. Some of the things you need to agree on are the length of time you will stay down, the maximum depth, hand signals to use, who will be buddies, etc.

You can use many devices when planning your dive, and one of which is the dive computer. It will help you time your activity so that you will be sure not to get carried away. Stick to your plan, even if you feel like you can do more or go further. Straying could mean danger.

More underwater issues can be easily fixed with a buddy than doing it alone. You are entrusting yourselves to each other while on the dive. However, this setup is only useful if you keep your eyes on each other.

Familiarize yourself with the dive site

Every dive site is different. Not because you’ve done scuba diving in one place doesn’t mean that it will be the same for the next. Everything will depend on the location. Your gear, the most favorable time to dive, the best spot to begin, and so on, will vary based on the venue.

If you are doing it with your friend without instructors, ask the locals about the sea’s behavior, the visibility, the current, and even the wildlife. Make sure that you know where to get help when needed.

Know your signals

It is impossible to talk when underwater, so scuba divers devised a way to communicate using signals. There are many hand signals that you must learn before you go on a dive. These are important to let others know if you are ok or if there is a problem. You can also communicate other stuff like how much oxygen you have left or if you want them to look at something or if you already want to ascend, etc.

You do not have to know everything. Just make sure that you know the basics. It is vital that your buddy also knows it so that you will understand each other.

Know your limits

More than just the limits of your certification, you must also listen to when your body tells you that you have reached its limit. If you feel uncomfortable going through it, better cancel. Do not force yourself into doing this because it could lead to panic. Panic could lead to many other horrors, so just let it go.

Stick to what you know and your level of expertise, even if others say that you can. Your dive must always be following your training and experience. Do not let others persuade you otherwise.

Get insured

You will never know what will happen, so better, be sure. It is costly to go through medications and hospitalization, especially when you are in a foreign country. Get accident insurance or travel insurance that covers activities such as scuba diving.


Diving Safety Rules and Tips

Now that you have all you need to prepare, it is time to get into the water finally. Again, there are safety guidelines to keep in mind, especially during the actual dive. When you are confident about what you are doing, you can minimize panic and ensure that your dive will be successful while mitigating the dangers of scuba diving.

Observe proper descent steps

Once you have fulfilled the rules in pre-diving, you may then begin your descent. Divers use an acronym to remind themselves how to descend, and it is embodied in the acronym SORTED or Signal, Orientate, Regulator, Time, Equalize, and Descend.

First, signal to the team that you are ready. Orient yourself to your environment, take note of the distance from the shore, the boat, and from your buddy. Check your regulator if it is working, and it has the right amount of air. Mind your time; stick to your timetable. Equalize early on and do so every 3 to 5 minutes. The last step is to descend slowly.

You have to go through each of the things outlined in that safety rule to ensure that you are well prepared as you go into the water.

Equalize your ears

Ear barotrauma is a common injury experienced by many drivers because of pressure imbalance between the middle and outer ear. It is riskiest during the first 14 feet (4.2 meters) because rapid changes occur in the relative volume of gas as the diver starts to descend.

Equalizing, or clearing your ears, is the method of making the pressures on your ears the same.

Do the Valsalva maneuver by pinching your nose and gently blowing. You may also begin swallowing to engage the throat muscles, which will open the eustachian tubes. Once opened, high pressure will enter the middle ear, equalizing it with the one outside. The popping sound it creates indicates the tube’s opening, which means you are doing it right.

Breathe regularly

Do not hold your breath when underwater because that can be fatal. As you go deeper, there is a more significant pressure buildup on the lungs. Upon ascent, the lungs gradually expand, and it is when the air in the lungs can be dangerous.

Ascending will cause your lungs to expand, so if you hold your breath, there will be too much for it to keep. It will cause swelling along the walls that can lead to air metabolism, lung collapse, or put a lot of pressure on your heart, and that could lead to death, in worse cases.

Practice safety stops while diving

Safety stops may be optional but are highly recommended, even in shallow dives. If you dive deeper than 100 feet (30 meters), do safety stops for every 5 or 6 meters during ascent.

Take a short 3 to 5-minute break to allow the nitrogen that your body absorbed to be excreted from your body. After every stop, carefully ascend with a speed of around 60 feet (18 meters) per minute.

Observe Decompression Stops

The deeper you go underwater, and the longer you stay there will determine how you should schedule decompression stops. It is a requirement once you exceed the no-decompression stop limits because as you go deeper, more nitrogen is absorbed by your body, and too much is dangerous when not regulated.

Too much nitrogen getting absorbed by the blood at once can form bubbles that could cause blockages. You need to allow the nitrogen to be excreted gradually or put yourself in danger of decompression sickness. It is a must to do this, unlike safety stops.

Avoid touching marine life

No matter how attractive they look, keep your hands off the marine creatures. Many of the species you will encounter are foreign to you, and you do not know the danger they could bring. From getting pricked to getting strangled or poisoned, you cannot tell what exactly could happen.

By being content with just observing and marveling at their beauty, you are keeping yourself from harm’s way. It will also help preserve the marine beings and ecosystem because you might accidentally harm or destroy them.

Check your gauges periodically

Checking your oxygen gauge now and then is very crucial. It may seem obvious, but once underwater and you get absorbed by the beauty around you, there is a tendency to forget. Remember that your stay underwater is highly dependent on how much oxygen you have left in your tank.

Practice the rule of thirds in determining if your tank still has enough to get you back to the surface. A third is for your descent and exploration, another is for your ascent, and the final third is your reserve. You may also choose to set a limit, like having at least 500PSI or 50 bars left before heading back up.

Maintain optimal buoyancy

Keeping your buoyancy at the optimum will begin even before you start the dive. Calculate your scuba buoyancy to determine how much weight you need to be neutrally buoyant. When you achieve this status, you can ascend and descend from the water at will.

Inferior buoyancy skills can lead to many issues like improper gas consumption, inability to control your maneuvers, and many others. You must know when to adjust your gears while underwater to maintain your buoyancy neutral.

Stay focused

One of the main reasons for scuba diving accidents is panic. Once you get into panic mode, your reasoning skills are affected, which could put you, and even your buddies, in great danger. Learn some breathing techniques that can keep you calm while having episodes of attack to overcome it.

It will help a great deal to be very aware of everything around you before you go on a dive. Fear is often due to confusion or not knowing what to do or where to go. You will be more focused on your next decisions if you know where you must ascend, which direction to go, or how to reach your buddies.

If you feel signs of panic, signal to your diving buddy quickly so that they can help you out.

Always have a dive computer

A dive computer is a diver’s best friend. Everyone should have it, whether a novice or a professional. It will keep you on track as to how deep you have gone, how long you have been underwater, and all other crucial details that you need to remember during a dive.

Practice safe ascents

You must follow the safe ascent rate to ensure that you are not causing the nitrogen your body absorbed to be turned into bubbles. Maintain an ascent rate of no more than 30 feet per minute. Your diving computer can be set to warn you should you go beyond that.

Divers are taught to remember the acronym STELA when ascending. It stands for Signal, Time, Elevate, Look, Ascend. Signal to your buddy that your dive is over. Check your dive watch if you are within your planned time. Start elevating. Look where you are headed and check if there are potential dangers. Finally, ascend at the recommended rate.

Look out for boats

Scuba divers usually descend from boats. Several ships will likely either be running on water or standby waiting for their divers. They are often conscious of their surroundings because they know there are drivers around them. But you must also be careful to observe if there is one nearby that might fail to see you when you begin your ascent.

Look up and lookout. Emergencies can happen, so always assume the worse. Use a safety sausage or a dive flag to signal those at the surface of your presence. Slowly make your way up once you see that all is clear.

Post-dive rules and tips

If you think you are done because you are finally out of the water, think again. Even when you have perfected the pre-dive and actual dive rules, you still have to go through the post-dive safety reminders. It will guarantee that you have done all things right and that no complications may come from oversight.

Avoid flying within 24 hours

Deep dives require at least 24 hours of no flying afterward. For no-decompression dives, it is 12 to 18 hours. It is implemented because of the dangers of experiencing decompression sickness, even if you are no longer on water.

The reason for this is that the nitrogen buildup that created microbubbles in your blood may still be there. If so, being elevated could introduce pressure that could trigger these bubbles, resulting in having DCS.

Do not go ziplining

Within 24 hours after your dive, temporarily stay away from the zipline. Same as the reason above, it may also result in decompression sickness. Although it is not as risky as flying, being at high altitude can cause pressure buildup. If you want to do this activity, schedule it before your dive. The same goes for mountain climbing since high altitude is also involved in it.

Drink moderately

Getting dehydrated is a contributing factor to DCS, and alcohol can cause that. So, after your dive, if you ever choose to drink, do it moderately and do it a few hours later. A bottle or two perhaps, but do not go drunk. Getting wasted may also prevent you from recognizing the symptoms of decompression sickness, so it could be too late when you realize that you have them.

Scuba Diving Safety Rules and Tips in Summary

Now let us recap the things that we learned about scuba diving dangers. There are three batches of guides for you to remember when going scuba diving: the pre-dive, actual dive, and post-dive rules. The above is quite an extensive list of things you need to follow, and it may take time for you to memorize them but please do because your safety in doing this sport will highly depend on them.

Let me just add one additional tip before we wrap up. Practice vital skills. It means that even if you are not going to scuba dive any time soon, you must keep recalling the things you learned from your open watercourses, such as equalizing, hand signals, computing scuba diving weights, and all the rest.

The problem with many divers is that they tend to cram everything up days before their plan to do this sport. Yes, the tips and tricks may not be too hard, but they are numerous. Unfamiliarity is often a reason for panic.

Even when at home, long before your trip, memorize the acronyms. Learn how to use your buddy’s gear as an alternate source. Study how to disconnect your pressure inflator hose and other vital stuff that could spell life and death during a dive. Do not stop until you are confident that you can do them correctly.

Dangers are everywhere; it is always present, especially to those who do not pay enough attention to what they are doing. Even getting eaten by a shark could be prevented (remember those movies?). The antidote is following the rules to the tee. The safety of scuba diving is often up to you – the diver. Many of the common issues that lead to emergency cases can and should have been prevented with the right information, training, and application. So, if you are serious about trying it out, you must also spend time learning all the safety rules and tips outlined above.

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