Scuba diving can be an incredible experience for people of all ages. The things you see underwater while diving can be eye-opening, life-changing, and often become memories that last a lifetime.
With that said, scuba diving is not without its perils. A question we routinely hear (usually from people unfamiliar with diving):
Is scuba diving safe?
The answer we give them: It depends.
In this article we’ll review scuba diving safety and how you can make sure you’re doing everything possible to stay safe while diving.
We’ve found that people who ask if scuba diving is safe are often looking for reassurance to take the plunge or to be reassured that their loved ones will be safe while scuba diving, so our answer for them is often disappointing, but it’s exceptionally true — scuba diving safety depends on a variety of factors, such as the extent of your training and knowledge, your past and current diving instructors, and how well you’re able to follow diving safety guidelines in real-time situations.
However, if you dive haphazardly, without regard for common safety practices, scuba diving can be very dangerous. It’s important to follow standard safety rules while diving.
While you can’t predict everything that can happen while diving, there are things you can do before and while diving to be as safe as possible.
(Note: As far as swimming ability goes, we don’t mention it on this list because we’re assuming you’re at least an average swimmer, preferably above average. If not, we recommend you look to improve your swimming skills before you dive or even try to find a good snorkel mask.)
The following list is certainly not exhaustive, but should better prepare you for diving safely. (Of course, the best way to improve scuba diving safety will always be to take an official scuba diving course and get certified.) Read on to learn about some of the most important scuba diving safety guidelines.
Before you even get in the water, you have important choices to make. To this end, make sure you’re getting good scuba diving gear. While it’s often smart to be frugal, skimping on your diving equipment is not a good idea. In the case of scuba, the smarter choice is to get quality stuff that is reliable and will last. Equipment choices are important. Your life literally depends on them.
Along these lines, for example when choosing the right wetsuit for your dive, be sure to select one that is optimal for the water temperature you’ll be diving in. Consider both ends of the spectrum — a 1mm suit is often not enough for diving in the northeast, and a 7mm suit is way too thick for tropical waters.
These equipment decisions, while appearing to be simple and even no-brainers on the surface, are sometimes overlooked. But they are important to take seriously because they play a crucial role in your safety while diving.
While it is possible to scuba dive in some places without being certified, it’s generally not a good idea to do so. Why? Because while getting certified all the safety recommendations will be hammered at you and if you don’t learn them well, you’ll likely fail your certification exam. Diving without certification just means you haven’t had adequate opportunity to really learn about important safety practices.
In short: Get certified. Yes, it requires some work and learning. But it’s absolutely worth the in-depth training and peace of mind that comes with that. You’ll find that most diving safety recommendations (and diving skills in general) are all things learned and mastered during a diving course.
So go through the necessary steps to get certified from an experienced professional dive instructor, preferably through a course run by a reputable organizations such as:
- Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI)
- National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI)
- Scuba Schools International (SSI)
Taking a dive course and getting certified through any of the above programs will improve your level of safety while diving exponentially.
The golden rule for scuba diving is to never hold your breath. Holding your breath while diving is extremely dangerous, capable of causing serious injury or even death.
The danger comes from the way air compresses and decompresses depending on depth. If you are breathing continuously while the air in your lungs decompresses, it can escape via your airways. However, if you hold your breath, the excess air has nowhere to go and your lungs can rupture. It’s as unpleasant as it sounds and can prove deadly.
Again, never hold your breath. Not ever.
Another major scuba diving rule is to always dive with a buddy. Your dive buddy is there to help you (or vice versa) on the off-chance that something goes wrong, such as when a piece of equipment fails or other non-dive-related medical emergencies.
While certainly not a requirement, try to dive with someone you know well and trust. This way you can know for sure that they know what they’re doing and can assist you should the need arise. But diving with a total stranger is better than diving alone. We repeat: Never dive alone.
Another important piece of advice is to plan out your dive. Not just where you’re diving, but everything, down to every last detail. Planning for things like locations, duration, depth, air temperature, water temperature, etc. is important. An organized diver is a safe diver.
If you’re having difficulty planning your dive, recruit an experienced scuba diving friend to help you (even if he or she is not accompanying you on the dive). Following the lead of an experienced diver will help you learn and practice how to properly plan a dive.
You don’t need to be an Olympic swimmer in order to scuba dive, but it is important to be in decent physical shape. Be able to swim an adequate distance without passing out from exhaustion. Be capable of performing the movements necessary for diving.
Before even starting to dive, it would be a good idea to get checked out thoroughly by a licensed medical practitioner who is able to carefully assess whether you are healthy enough to dive. Scuba diving has enough dangers to worry about; the last thing you want is to be struck by a preexisting medical situation that could have been avoided.
This recommendation goes along with the advice about training and getting certified because while enrolled in a course and during the steps to get certified you will practice these skills until they are burned into your muscle memory and you can perform them without having to think to much about it.
Here are some of the important skills to master (in no particular order):
- Safely ascending/descending
- Checking air levels
- Regulator recovery
- Sinus pressure management
While not complete, this list of skills gives a taste of some of the things you need to know how to do well for safety reasons. Practice them until you can do them without much thought.
So, in closing — is scuba diving safe? Yes, scuba diving is safe — if you do it how you should.
Do freak accidents occur on occasion? Of course, just as they do with any activity. However, if you abide by scuba safety guidelines and don’t get careless with your diving, scuba diving is very safe and one of the most exciting and fulfilling activities you can do in the water.