Feb 2020

The Top 10 Scuba Diver Errors

By Candace 

Scuba diving is an exhilarating sport where divers get to witness some of the most spectacular interactions among animals and explore the underwater world. Let’s face it, diving is fun, but it is a very serious sport. Proper training is necessary to help reduce the risk of diver errors, but accidents can happen.

Diver error is the #1 cause of most scuba diving incidents and fatalities. This article will focus on common diver errors that occur in recreational diving.

Here’s a list of the top 10 ways diver error could lead to potential problems underwater:

1) Not being SCUBA Certified

This may seem logical, but I know of instances where people have gone scuba diving without any training or proper training. This is dangerous because little things like do not hold your breath or mask flooding could lead to very dangerous problems. Do not take someone out that has not been certified or do not go diving with someone that lets you go without yourself being certified by an acredited dive agency.

2) Running Out of Air

This is one of those diver errors that can be mostly avoided. We drill this into students during their open water classes for beginning scuba divers. Running out of air while diving should never happen as long as you keep a close eye on your air remaining and dive the plan you made. If you happen to run out of air, proper training will help you get your buddy’s alternate air source or do a controlled emergency swimming ascent.

3) Panic

Preventing a panic underwater is easier said than done. With anything that could possibly go wrong during diving such as mask flood, free-flowing regulator, or out of air, we teach the “stop, think, and act” procedure. Stop and breathe. If you cannot breathe, then get your buddy’s alternate air source. If you can breathe, get your breathing under control. A diver that is breathing very heavily will quickly become panicked and over breathe their regulator. Thus, it is very important to get your breathing under control and then figure out what the problem is and fix it.

4) Barotrauma

You’ve paid all that money for a scuba diving trip to an exotic location and right as you are getting ready to leave you become sick! We learn early on that if you are sick, you should not go scuba diving. If you are sick, while descending, it is hard to equalize the ears. Middle ear barotrauma is common among divers and is a diver error that could be mostly avoided if divers pay attention to their bodies and do not forcefully equalize when they are having trouble. Equalize early and often, before discomfort is felt.

5) Exceeding your Limits

Decompression sickness as a diver error is never 100% avoidable, but the risk of decompression sickness can be significantly reduced by not exceeding your no-decompression limits, doing a safety stop at 15 feet for 3 minutes, and drinking plenty of water, among others.

How does decompression sickness occur? As we scuba dive, the atmospheric pressure increases by one atmosphere every 10 meters or 33 feet. According to dive physics, the partial pressures of the gases we breathe while diving also increase. Therefore, if you are breathing compressed air, the partial pressure of oxygen and nitrogen will increase as you go deeper. Our bodies use oxygen for metabolism, but we do not use nitrogen, and thus, we absorb nitrogen. Recreational dive tables were developed to help divers plan their dives as to not exceed their limits on nitrogen absorption. The times listed as no-decompression limits for a certain depth are general, meaning every person is different and someone might get decompression sickness at less time than is listed for the no-decompression limit or someone might accidentally exceed the no-decompression limit and not get decompression sickness. Always dive conservatively and never dive your limits! (i.e. If you are allowed 55 minutes at 60 feet, you should not get close to 55 minutes at that depth.)

6) Ascending Rapidly and Holding Your Breath

Lung overexpansion can occur when a diver ascends rapidly and/or holds their breath while scuba diving. Gas becomes trapped in the lungs and during ascent, the gas expands and ruptures the lung tissue. Very safe, slow ascents should be a part of every diver’s plan to avoid this diver error. As always, just keep breathing. Do not hold your breath!

7) Missed Buddy Checks

Buddy checks can save lives. I have seen a skipped buddy check end badly when a diver rushed to enter the water and ended up dying because he forgot to turn his air on. This can be an avoidable diver error. BWRAFis what most scuba diving students are taught to run through the steps of a buddy check: BCD, Weights, Releases, Air, and Final OK. These buddy checks should be completed on every dive just before getting in the water.

8) Equipment Malfunction

Scuba diving equipment needs to be serviced according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Failure to use properly serviced gear can lead to equipment malfunction while scuba diving that could trigger panic. A free-flowing regulator can lead to an out of air situation. A BCD that will not inflate can lead to buoyancy trouble while diving and improper control at the surface. It is rarer for equipment that is properly taken care of to fail on you while diving. Thus, this type of diver error could be avoided with proper gear maintenance.

9) Not Diving Your Plan

Plan to dive and dive to plan! Planning a dive involves talking about where you will be going, what you will be seeing, what turn pressure and/or time to go back to the exit, missing buddy procedures, etc. When you are diving, you should follow what you and your buddy planned to do. When divers deviate from their planned dive, things can go wrong such as running out of air or surfacing far away from your intended exit.

10) Overweighted

Being overweighted might not seem like an immediate danger from diver error, however, a diver that is overweighted will not be able to reach and maintain neutral buoyancy. Such a diver will spend a lot of time adjusting buoyancy, kicking harder, and breathing more air, making them at risk for over exhaustion, over-breathing, and panicking. Being overweighted could also lead to a rapid descent that can cause other problems to occur.

These are just some of the top diver errors that could be encountered while scuba diving. Other things, such as preexisting medical conditions, could potentially lead to unforeseen events.

Overall, the more you dive, the more comfortable you will be in the water. Never let complacency set in! Never hold your breath, watch your air, stay with your buddy, do your buddy checks, equalize your ears, ascend slowly, and make a safety stop if feasible.

Safe diving everyone!

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Candace is an avid scuba diver and acclaimed writer, with a PhD in Biomedicine. She has been diving since 2002 and is currently a PADI IDC Staff Instructor. When she is not instructing, she enjoys writing about scuba and volunteering at the local aquarium where she dives with the sharks!