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How You Can Prevent Diving Emergencies

Preparation can prevent problems large and small.
By Annie Crawley | Updated On November 19, 2020
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How You Can Prevent Diving Emergencies

Close up of scuba diver

Don't take basic equipment like masks for granted – it can make or break a dive.

Annie Crawley

Even with nearly 10,000 dives, I’ve only had my mask or regulator kicked off twice—both times by students—but I’ve had to clear my mask on every single dive. (If you see fins coming too close to your face, get your arms into action and push those fins away!)

Twice I’ve had to deliver an alternate air source to a buddy, both during a safety stop. I prevent out-of-air emergencies by checking my own air supply—and my buddies’—multiple times on every dive. I’m vigilant about preventing incidents from occurring, and value continuing education for all divers. Nothing can ruin that trip of a lifetime like not being properly trained or prepared for the adventure you seek.

Recently, I taught a weeklong Rescue Diver program. The skills students learn in this class—and what dive professionals gain teaching it—will change your diving life forever. I recommend all my students become rescue divers, and also recommend they invest in dependable dive gear from their local retail dive center.

Breaking down important considerations and protocols will help you “dive like a pro” and recognize and prevent in-water emergencies.

1. Consider the ABCs of diving: airway, breathing and clearing, on every dive. Even the most experienced divers can have an issue if their eyes, ears, nose or mouth unexpectedly come into contact with water. At the surface, make sure you inflate your BC and are positively buoyant. Have your snorkel or regulator in at all times, to keep your airway clear. When changing between them, dip your face in the water to avoid swallowing water from a passing swell. I know many divers skip the snorkel in pool-like conditions, but wind and weather can change during a dive, turning that “pool” into a washing machine with 3-foot waves. I’m always kitted with a snorkel, on every dive, in case of changing conditions.

2. Never force your ears to equalize. If you are prone to congestion, check with your doctor. Find a decongestant that works for you. You can get snotty on any dive; knowing how to blow your nose into your mask is an art form. Sometimes when you have difficulty equalizing, you have one stubborn piece of snot in your ear canal. You are stronger than your ears and can hurt them if you push too hard—always relieve pressure by ascending to a shallower depth or to the surface to blow your nose.

3. A comfortable, properly fitted mask is the No. 1 piece of personal equipment a diver carries. If you or your buddy struggles with mask issues on a dive, it can ruin the dive. There’s nothing worse than a foggy mask—except a night dive with a foggy mask. After you rinse the defog from your mask and seat it on your face, don’t break the seal; if you do, you will need to re-defog your mask.

During your dive, if you smile, adjust your reg or your mask strap moves on the back of your head, your mask may leak. Clear your mask. If it fills with water again, usually your mask strap is too high or low on the back of your head, or too tight or too loose. The mask could be riding up, giving you a rabbit nose, or falling down over your lips—either way, it breaks the seal and causes a leak. It’s physics.

Exhale through your nose and move your mask around on your face to seat your mask properly. Adjust your mask strap and check again. A leaky mask can lead to congestion and equalization issues. If you get water in your mask, you can inhale the water, leading to issues with airway control.

4. Create a routine for every time you dive. Set up your equipment the same way every dive.

Together with your buddy, do a precheck on your equipment. Remember BWRAF: Begin With Review And Friend, Big White Rabbits Are Fluffy, Beer Wine Rum And Fun—no matter the acronym you choose to use, be sure to check all points and talk about your dive plan before getting into the water.

  • BCD: Make sure it is on properly and you know how to operate it.
  • Weights: Do you have the correct amount, and do you know how to release yours or your buddy’s if needed?
  • Releases: Check all releases including tank release.
  • Air: Do you have a full tank? How do you communicate air issues?
  • Final check: Discuss your dive. I teach this “pre-check” before getting into our exposure suits; our “buddy check” before we get in the water goes quickly because any issues were spotted in our pre-check.

5. Inspect your mask straps, fins, compass, dive knife, gear collecting bag. Have you bitten through the mouthpiece on your regulator? If you are wearing a hood, have you adjusted your strap to compensate so it is not too tight on your face? Carry a dive slate and dive light with you on every dive. If you are renting gear, does the needle on your air gauge read zero when the air is off, or is it permanently stuck at 500? How did you learn to show air?

I recommend showing how much air you use with your buddy every 500 psi/40 bar. That way, both buddies are aware of how to adjust their dive plan throughout the dive so they will never run out of air, while maximizing their dive plan and time underwater. Review hand signals.

Remember to ask for help not because you are weak, but because you want to become a stronger diver.