Aug 2014

Diver Rescue

By Mike Waddington

In order to become a dive professional there is a skill that is to repeated time and time again, and assessed to become a Divemaster and then again to become an Open Water Scuba Instructor. It is considered one of the most important skills a diver should master.

The skill involves discovering a diver unconscious on the surface, discovering they are not breathing and getting them back to the boat or shore whilst providing rescue breaths either using mouth to mouth, or mouth to pocket mask, while removing the unconscious divers and your own equipment. It can be difficult skill to teach as it has many steps, and can be easy to confuse the steps.

To help you prepare to take your Rescue Diver course, or remind you of the necessary steps we will break the skill down into smaller steps.

1) Discovering the Diver

Upon discovering the diver you need to try to get their attention, either by yelling at them, or by splashing water on them. If they are face down try to wave in their line of sight, just in case they were looking at something under the surface. If they were face down you need to turn them face up. Cross your arms and grab their hands, then uncross your arms and they should turn face up. When approaching any problem in the water you should be fully buoyant, have your mask on and regulator or snorkel in your mouth.

2) Establish Buoyancy

Fully inflate their BCD and drop their weight system, followed by your own. This is the right time to remove both masks and regulators/snorkels.

3) Check for Responsiveness

Tap them somewhere to see if there is any movement, tip the head back by placing a hand under their chin and the other under their neck (to help prevent water from entering their airway). Lean over them, and put your ear just over their nose, and look down the torso, this will allow you feel and hear any breathing. Some divers also like to place the hand that they used to tilt the chin on the stomach as an extra way to feel, this is especially useful if the unconscious diver is wearing a dry suit. Count to 10 while look, listening and feeling for breathing.

4) Call for Help

Once you have established that there is no breathing you need to call for help. You should yell out something along the lines of “Help, There is a non-responsive non breathing diver. Call EMS and prepare the emergency oxygen

5) Begin Rescue Breaths

Once you have called for help you should administer 2 breaths. Do this by pinching the nose and tilting the victim towards you, and exhaling fully into their moth. You should keep one hand under the neck the entire time to help prevent water from entering their airway. The hand you use depends upon which side you are on. You should always use the hand closer to the victim’s legs, as if you use the other hand you will block access to their nose. Once you have administer the first 2 breaths then you should continue with 1 breath every 5 seconds. If at any point during the skill then administer 2 breaths and continue with 1 every 5 seconds.

6) Begin Towing

Keeping the hand under the neck, being towing the victim to safety. Swim fast, but don’t exhaust yourself as then you will not be as effective as you could be. Always pace yourself.

7) Ditch Equipment

Drop things in a sensible order. Start unclipping the BCD buckles but go one clip at a time, until you become more comfortable with the timing. Keep the Velcro cummerbund in place as it will keep the BCD stable under them, as you will need it for buoyancy. If they are wearing a drysuit you will need to disconnect LPI (Low Pressure Inflator) hose. Once all clips are undone then start with your own, but only do this when you are close to an exit point as you need it for buoyancy.

8) Prepare for Exit

Once at an exit point fully remove your gear, and undo their cummerbund and carefully take them off the BCD. Administer 2 final breaths and begin with a suitable exit technique for whatever environment you are in.

The rescue drill is by far the most complicated, yet most important skill you can learn. Once you have learnt it you must practice and practice or you will forget the steps, and lose your rhythm. It is a good idea to get together with other divers every now and then, and run realistic rescue scenarios so if anything bad does ever happen, you will be prepared. Often after teaching this skill many people say they would not feel comfortable to really rescue somebody, and many instructors would say this too. I also said that even though I had taught many people the skill. I believed this until I actually had to use the skill, at which point all those beliefs disappeared and I just did exactly what I was trained (and had been training others) to do.

The real issue many people worry about is not doing it right, or making things worse, but when you think about it how worse can being it get than being unconscious, not breathing while in the water. Anything you do to help, no matter how small can make a huge impact, and it is important not to forget this!

It is also a good idea to add an Oxygen Provider course to any rescue training. This will give you the knowledge and skills necessary to provide Oxygen in a diving emergency, and it is also a requirement in most parts of the world to work as a professional diver.

‘Diver Rescue’ was written by Mike

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Mike Waddington

I first discovered diving in 2008 after going snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. After trying diving at a flooded quarry in England I decided to head out to warmer more interesting waters in Thailand where I ended on the Island of Koh Tao completing my Open Water course. Instantly addicted with money to spend and plenty of time on my hands I decided to continue until I became a Divemaster so I could live what seemed as the perfect life.

After that I headed to the Caribbean to an island called Utila to complete my instructor course, I spent several months out there completing the MSDT internship, teaching students and leading dives. This is also where I discovered my interest in the technical side of diving, taking part in equipment repair courses and learning about blending gasses and running compressors.

With all my new qualifications it was time to head back to where it had all started, Back to Koh Tao where I intended on living the dream. Once I arrived I quickly found a job and started teaching straight away. During my time on Koh Tao I took part in all many technical diving courses, learning how to dive with re-breathers, in caves and even going down to 90m/300ft!


PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer
PADI/DSAT Tech Deep Instructor
PADI/DSAT Gas Trimix Gas Blender
PADI/DSAT Trimix Diver
TDI Intro to Cave Diver
TDI Advanced Wreck Diver
TDI Inspiration rebreather Decompression Procedures
PADI Professional Videographer
BSAC Compressor Operator
TDI Equipment Service Technician

Dream Dive Locations:

Silfra, Iceland
Cenotes, Mexico
Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia
Ice Diving in Russia