Ocean Safety Prevents Scuba Diving Accidents
Few things make me happier than a Maui scuba diving adventure with fish, turtles, and sharks. So when I get asked if diving ever gets old, my swift and proud reply with a smiley is, nope! Being underwater, especially at this time of year, with constant whale song, treasure hunting for rare sea life, away from my phone, bringing joy and fun to the day, I cannot think of a better way to spend my days. I find the ultimate calm in even the most challenging of dives. How do you arrive at that feeling? When does your descent become an exhale into peace rather than a moment of reaction ranging from elevated breathing to sheer panic? Experience and practice are the obvious answers, but for scuba divers, one more element should always be at the forefront of your mind: Ocean Safety.
It is unfortunate that in just a short month and a half of 2018, Maui has experienced 11 water deaths. Two of these fatalities were scuba-related. With this rather dramatic spike in incidents this year, I feel compelled to remind potential visitors and residents about the risks of being in the ocean and how to avoid turning them into reality. While ocean safety precautions often seem like no-brainer statements, complacency can turn a great sunny day into a second nightmare. Knowing how to be prepared and respond in an emergency can mean a difference in your life.
Four Key Safety Tips in the Ocean
Reminder 1: The Buddy System
What’s the first rule in diving? Well, it’s Always Breathe and NEVER Hold Your Breath, but a close second is adhering to the buddy system. While I do not wish to cause any of the family members of the deceased harm by using their loved ones as examples, both divers were found alone. Scuba diving is not a solo activity. While the likelihood of an incident is slim with proper training and preparation, the chances of going wrong exponentially increase if you dive alone.
The buddy system allows us to help each other in and out of our equipment, notice something out of place or tangled, and monitor air consumption. If we run low on air, the buddy system also provides us with immediate assistance. Dive and snorkel buddies should always complete an ocean safety check before entering the water. Then, while in the ocean, they should remain close to one another, regularly check-in, and always help each other.
If, for any reason, you become separated from your buddy or dive leader, and find yourself alone, count to sixty seconds and slowly ascend to the surface. It is much easier to find your buddy with an inflated BCD at the top than underwater with limited visibility. The same goes for the rest of the group. If you notice a diver has gone missing, do not just assume that they went back to the boat or shore alone. Go to the surface and look! Recreational or no-stop diving means we are allowed a slow ascent if any part of our dive does not go according to plan. If possible, safely bypass your safety stop and look for your missing buddy.
And let us be frank about buddy teams! Say you go scuba diving or snorkeling alone, and you see something incredible, like a pod of passing dolphins. No one is going to believe you unless you are with a buddy!
Reminder 2: Know Your Limits
Whenever I repeat this phrase over and over to my Open Water students, I tend to see a general eye roll. So naturally, you will most likely not do your first shore dive after your PADI Open Water Diver course in ripping current to 100 feet. But knowing your limits addresses more than just challenging scuba diving situations.
Divers and snorkelers should first and foremost be in good general health with a fitness level that allows them to enter and exit the ocean without assistance. Ocean conditions and currents can change without warning. Having comfort and confidence in your swimming capabilities is paramount to a successful day in the water. Drowning is not as dramatic as it gets depicted in the movies. It happens in silence, and without supervision (buddy system!), a tired swimmer or panicked diver can slip beneath a choppy surface unnoticed.
Upon completing the PADI Open Water Diver course, which consists of four open water dives and extensive skills practice in pool-like ocean conditions, divers may technically dive with a buddy to a maximum depth of 60 feet without professional supervision. While the course does make you a proficient diver, Banyan Tree Divers Maui recommends collecting a significant number of dives in varying conditions before diving without a guide. Personally, it was not until my PADI Divemaster course that I finally felt comfortable navigating a dive site without a professional. Diving with a professional ensures correctly assembled equipment, supervised ocean safety, and a meaningful dive plan. Until you feel comfortable completing each of these tasks unsupervised with your buddy, please DO NOT just rent gear and go.
Reminder 3: Maintain Dive Knowledge and Training
A PADI Open Water Diver certification is good for life. However, PADI does recommend that certified divers maintain their training by getting a Scuba Review after several months without diving. While this is not something a dive center can legally require, we see time and time again people wanting to forego spending the extra time or money. We get into the water under the assumption that they are comfortable with their dive training.
Consequently, precious moments are spent at the beginning of the dive calming the diver or correcting inadequate buoyancy while others wait to begin. Waiting is not only unfair to others that are ready to start the dive, but it also removes the attention of your dive leader from the rest of the group to focus on avoidable stresses. Finally, we cannot highlight enough the benefits of refreshing your skills if you have had an extended break from scuba diving.
Reminder 4: Stop. Think. Act
Imagine you encounter a diver or snorkeler who is face down in the water, seemingly not breathing. What do you do? The Emergency First Response and PADI Rescue courses were the most beneficial experiences that developed my confidence in dealing with dive and water-related emergencies. Of course, we all hope that we will never have to use these skills, but if you find yourself in that dreaded situation, the likelihood of being helpful and potentially saving a life is the product of that training.
Even without training, anyone can help save a life by reacting quickly in a controlled manner. Alerting emergency medical services (EMS) is the most critical step. The faster the victim is assisted by professionals, the more likely they are to survive. Time is crucial. If you do not have CPR training, you can help others by controlling the scene, keeping spectators at a distance, and allowing an easy path to the victim for EMS.
If you are interested in becoming CPR certified, contact your local dive shop or complete your half-day course in Lahaina with Banyan Tree Divers Maui.
Ocean Safety Summary
My best wishes go out to the families of the recently deceased. I hope an informative video about ocean safety gets shown on every airline headed to the Hawaiian Islands in their memory. Preventable ocean accidents seem to occur all too often that would be deterred by improved preparation and self-awareness. So, let us all enjoy Hawaii’s natural majesty by having fun and looking after one another.