Scuba diving is an exhilarating activity enjoyed by millions of people all over the world.
From the amazing ocean landscapes to the rare and beautiful creatures encountered, it is an unforgettable experience each and every time you submerge into the blue.
But just like virtually every other sport, there is an element of risk involved.
So is scuba diving dangerous?
Scuba diving is in fact classified as an extreme sport due to the fact that we have left our natural environment and ventured down underwater where we rely on our equipment to keep us alive.
Even then, scuba diving is still considered relatively low risk compared to many other sporting activities. For example, there are higher recorded fatality rates with such sports as jogging, swimming, biking, skating, etc.
According to an article on the PADI website, in the US there are only around 1,500 admissions to the ER per year. That compares to nearly 20,000 from snowboarding, 45,000 from horse riding, and over 100,000 from something as basic as swimming. Check our other post if you’d like to learn more scuba diving statistics
So, although an element of danger does exist, scuba diving is still considered a safe activity. Most accidents and problems can be avoided with proper training and sufficient dive planning.
Let’s go over some of the hazards, dangers, and all things we can do to prevent them from happening.
This article will give you a better understanding and the confidence to continue diving and enjoy your amazing underwater adventures for many years to come.
What are the Most Common Scuba Medical Issues?
Fortunately for us when it comes to diving the most common medical issues that tend to pop up are generally minor issues that don’t require any type of medical attention at all.
These are things like sunburn, dehydration, seasickness, fatigue, etc.
All of which can be easily avoided. Just make sure you pack your reef-friendly sunscreen, a rash guard, and a little water, and if you need it, take a seasick pill before you head out and make the boat ride a little more enjoyable.
But unfortunately as safe as diving is, there are still some risks that are more serious and that should be taken into consideration.
What are the Dangers or Risks When Scuba Diving?
Middle ear barotraumas are normally a result of failure to equalize your ears on the descent.
As you descend the surrounding atmospheric pressure increases and to help counter this you need to push air into your middle ear to balance the pressure.
Failure to do so may result in a ruptured eardrum or fluid entering the air space behind the eardrum.
How to Avoid Ear Barotrauma
Just make sure that you equalize regularly and always before pain or discomfort.
If you do feel pain then just stop your descent and only continue once you have managed to equalize. If you are still having problems with equalization then maybe it’s better to halt the dive to avoid damaging your ear drums.
It could just be a temporary blockage or maybe you just need a little more training.
Just as on land, there are of course dangerous creatures swimming and crawling around our oceans.
Most of them don’t consider us to be food and would rather avoid us completely. So if we leave them alone they will almost always leave us alone.
Then, there are the big ones like sharks! Most non-divers consider them to be big bad people eaters but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Many sharks pose no real danger to humans and those that do, account for very few incidents per year. And as a scuba diver, you are even safer. According to statistics, almost 90% of all shark-related incidents happen at the surface.
How to Avoid Marine Life Injuries
Just follow one simple rule, “Look but don’t touch!!!”
One of the main reasons drowning may occur is of course a lack of oxygen underwater.
This can be due to anything from an empty cylinder to faulty equipment or even a panicked diver spitting out the regulator.
Another reason might be exhaustion at the surface due to a failure to inflate your BCD.
How to Avoid Drowning
Always check your dive equipment before you dive, Keep an eye on your air gauge, and dive with a buddy. Scuba diving alone is not recommended, if you start to panic you need to let someone know.
Don’t just continue as if nothing is wrong. Similarly, if you think there is something wrong with a member of your dive group, make sure you deal with it early and don’t wait for the problem to escalate.
Make sure you are experienced enough for any particular dive. If you are not a very good swimmer then maybe a strong current dive is not for you. Pick a nice gentle easy dive.
If you have any chronic illnesses that could cause issues when diving, like Asthma, you’ll want to make sure you’re cleared to dive.
DCS (Decompression Sickness)
Decompression sickness (aka the Bends) occurs when a diver breathes compressed air at depth.
During the dive nitrogen is absorbed into the tissues according to the surrounding pressure. As long as the diver remains at the same pressure the nitrogen won’t do any damage.
Problems occur when the pressure is reduced too quickly. This may cause the nitrogen to come out of solution and bubbles can form in the tissues of the body.
This can cause anything from fatigue to paralyzation. If you have signs of decompression then medical treatment is always advised. Consult a doctor as soon as possible..
Symptoms of Decompression Sickness
- Joint and muscle ache
- Clouded thinking
- Numbness and weakness
- Poor coordination and balance
- A rash
How to Avoid Decompression Sickness
Firstly, pre-plan your dive so you know how long you can safely stay at depth without increasing the risk of decompression sickness This can be worked out using an RDP table or using the dive plan mode on your dive computer.
When planning, always start with the deeper part of the dive first and then work your way up to the exit point. Try not to reverse the profile as it is proven that this will increase the risk of DCS. For the same reason, make sure that the ascent from depth is as slow and linear as possible. No bouncing up and down like a yoyo.
Once you have your plan, stick to your plan and stay well within your no-decompression limits.
In general, make sure that you are fit and healthy, and well-hydrated for the dive. This can significantly reduce your risks of decompression sickness. Avoid excessive smoking or drinking of alcohol as both of these are risk factors for DCS.
If you should make a mistake and go beyond the no-decompression limit on your dive then make sure you advise your buddy or a group member and then ascend slowly making the necessary emergency stops. After ascending monitor yourself for any symptoms.
Lung Over Expansion Injury
A lung over expansion injury is caused when you breathe compressed air at depth, hold your breath and ascend.
Due to the increasing air pressure in the lungs, the tissues are compromised causing such injuries as a collapsed lung or an air embolism.
This can occur if a diver panics and heads to the surface with their breath held.
How to avoid lung over expansion injuries
Always make sure that you are well prepared mentally and physically for the dive and always follow the number 1 rule in diving “NEVER HOLD YOUR BREATH”
How Can we Minimize the Risk when Diving
So, now we have gone over some of the major issues associated with diving, let’s have a look at how we can dive safely and limit the chances of anything happening.
There are many ways in which you can be a safer diver and minimize the chances of an accident occurring.
Here are are few to get you started:
Always Dive Within your Limits
Never put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Recreational diving as a whole is very safe and can be enjoyed by all.
However as we become more adventurous we may start thinking about cave diving, drift diving, wreck diving, and of course deep diving.
All of these require additional training and shouldn’t be attempted by a novice diver.
Quite simply if you don’t feel prepared for a dive or haven’t done the required training then maybe you should give this one a miss. Never be afraid to call the dive.
Be Fit to Dive
Make sure your general health and fitness are good enough to dive. For example, a person with a pre-existing heart condition should always consult a doctor before diving.
Also, make sure you a fit to dive on the day. If you are feeling a little unwell or slightly delicate after a night out then maybe again it’s a good idea to call the dive.
Also practice your skills at safety stops with games or just on a dive to keep sharp here are a few ideas for you to give a try.
Make Sure Your Gear is Well Maintained
Make sure your dive gear is well maintained. Always rinse in fresh water after diving and have it serviced when necessary.
Most regulators will need servicing at least 1 a year or after 100 dives.
Always Plan your Dive and Dive your Plan
If you are planning your own dive then plan your dive conservatively. Plan so that you have enough air and time to get to the surface in the case of emergencies.
If you are using a dive computer to plan the dive then make sure you at least have basic knowledge of decompression models.
That way you will have a greater understanding of the processes your computer is making and become aware if something is not quite right.
Once you have made your plan, stick to your plan.
Make sure you have an agreed dive time and depth limit and run through any signals that you might need on the dive.
Always make sure you are aware of all safety procedures in the region you are diving, as they may differ.
Listen to the Dive Brief
If you’re diving in a group, make sure to listen to the dive briefing.
The dive guide will have invaluable knowledge about the location and give you information on local wildlife and any dangers that you may encounter, as well as what you need to do in the event of an emergency.
Avoid Diving Alone - Buddy system
Diving with a buddy is the only way to be absolutely sure that you will never run out of air.
As trained scuba divers, you will both be aware of how to donate air in an emergency essentially making sure that you always have access to oxygen if your equipment fails or you have simply not been checking your gauge and have run low.
If you’re set on diving alone, we recommend getting proper training to do so.
Check your gear before the dive (Buddy Check)
Always check your gear before you dive in. In your dive course, you will have learned all about the “Buddy Check” or “BWRAF”.
This is an essential skill to eliminate any problems that may occur during the dive before you even hit the water.
Never Hold your Breath
As we have already mentioned, this is the number one rule when scuba diving. If you breathe normally then there are no risks of a lung over expansion injury.
If you hold your breath then there is a chance that the compressed air that you are breathing will expand on ascent causing serious injury to the lungs and needing vital emergency treatment.
Keep Your Skills up to Date
If you are a novice diver or simply don’t dive regularly then the best way to make sure that your skills are up to scratch is to do a refresher course/dive with your dive center.
They will be more than happy to help as it minimizes the risk of accidents and shows that you are a serious diver.
Work on your Buoyancy and Never Overweight Yourself
Buoyancy is a key part of diving. If you have good buoyancy control then you have complete control of where you are in the water ensuring that you can avoid potential problems and ascend and descend safely.
Never overweight yourself. It may seem that sometimes it’s the only way to go down but we promise you if you work on your technique you won’t need those extra kilos.
In the end, extra weights mean that buoyancy control becomes way more difficult at depth and on the ascent causing you more problems.
Use your Air Wisely
In terms of air, your should plan to only use two-thirds on the dive itself and leave at least 1 third as a reserve in case of emergencies. This will allow plenty of air for all contingencies and practice and knowing these skills to allow you to get the most out of your dives.
Most of the dive sites around the world are specifically chosen because they are safe for divers. That doesn’t mean that there are no dangers at all. You can still get some nasty stings and bites.
Even some corals such as fire coral can give you a nasty burn. So, remember we are all visiters down there and need to respect the underwater world.
Don’t be Afraid to Say You Have a Problem
So many accidents can be avoided by just speaking up. If you feel under pressure to do a certain dive or if something just doesn’t feel right before or during the dive then make sure you notify somebody.
A small problem can be solved but if ignored can become a large problem. So never be afraid to let someone know.
Always Inflate Your BCD on the Surface
As soon as you hit the surface, fully inflate your BCD. It may sound obvious but it is often overlooked, especially by panicked divers.
Positive buoyancy at the surface will keep you safe and will eliminate many potential problems
Never dive if you...
Simply put, your buddy is your lifeline. Make sure you always dive with at least 1 other qualified diver and that you communicate well underwater
…are not feeling well
Decompression models don’t take sickness into account and therefore will give inaccurate data. Besides, you are more likely to make a mistake if you are not feeling 100%
…the dive center seems a little dodgy
You will generally get a feel of the dive center and how they operate as soon as you arrive.
Check the equipment and see how they operate. If it feels unsafe then move on to the next center
…you are not qualified or experienced enough
Dive to your level and experience. For example, if you’re not a qualified nitrox diver, you shouldn’t be diving on nitrox. There are added risks that you just won’t be aware of and are opening yourself up to potential problems.
The same goes with the conditions, only dive in conditions similar to those you trained in and where you feel confident in your ability.
…the rental gear looks sketchy
If the rental equipment doesn’t look well maintained then it probably isn’t.
If it looks the part but there is an underlying problem. You should pick this up with a thorough buddy check before the dive. Let the dive guide know if you do have any potential problems
you don’t feel comfortable
If you don’t feel comfortable then, don’t dive. It’s always your choice.
If you have a specific issue, speak to your dive guide or buddy and maybe you can solve it together and carry on with the dive.
If you are still not happy then it’s better to call the dive.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, a dive computer will definitely make your diving experience much safer as you have access to real-time data regarding depth, time, and decompression.
That means you can even adapt your dive plan if necessary during the dive.
Dive computers work on an algorithm that tracks nitrogen saturation in the body.
We suggest that everybody using a dive computer should at least understand decompression models before relying solely on a computer.
That way if anything should go wrong, you will be aware of it and able to react correctly.
There are a few other safety devices that you might want to take along.
A surface marker buoy (SMB) is always useful, as well as a surface signaling device such as a whistle or some kind of reflective material to attract attention in an emergency.
Most divers don’t love them but a snorkel will definitely come in handy if you have to move across the surface of the water or wait a long time for the boat to collect you.
If you have your own dive gear and you need a service then you just have to do a quick google search and you will find many dive centers willing to help you.
Try to find a dive shop that services your particular brand of equipment and make sure they are an officially certified service center.
This is a tricky one to answer. To get the advanced certification you theoretically only need to do 9 open water dives.
This will cover the open water and advanced criteria. To be honest this will make you a good beginner diver but by no means an expert diver. In our opinion, it is training and experience to become a truly advanced diver.
Plus there are courses designed for specific types of diving such as nitrox, cave diving, deep diving, etc. These will give you invaluable information and make your diving safer.
So we have mentioned a few problems that can occur when scuba diving but we have also seen how we can minimize the risk of any of these things happening to you.
So, instead of asking “is scuba diving dangerous”, the real question we should be asking is “Is scuba diving safe?” And the answer is “Yes, as long as you follow the rules”
Of course, there are potential issues that can occur but if we stay within our training levels and use safe diving procedures then there really is only a small chance of these things happening.
Diving is enjoyed by young and old. It is a great way to explore the underwater world.
So, stay safe and enjoy
Let us know in the comments if there is something we may have missed.