Each year DAN publishes their annual report which includes statistics concerning diving accidents and fatalities. DAN is Divers Alert Network, the diving industry’s largest membership association. Their main focus is safety. They conduct and sponsor research into illnesses/ accidents related to scuba diving. DAN also provides emergency assistance and medical information resources. The network is also a provider of dive insurance. In their 2016 Annual Report, they list what they call their Ten Most Wanted Improvements in Scuba. If you are already a certified diver you should already be aware of the risks that are involved with scuba diving. However, in many cases, divers tend to lose sight of their training and act in a manner that increases their risk sometimes to a fatal level.
Overall, scuba diving is safe when you are properly trained. If you are not a certified diver than the information in this article might have the tenancy of putting you off diving. Do not let it, the report does point out that only 2 out of every million dives results in a death in the United States. There is on average only 1 emergency room visit of ever 100,000 dives. See the article “How Safe is My Scuba Diving Friend While Diving” to get a better overview of dive safety.
Ten Most Wanted Improvements in Scuba Diving
The information in the annual report comes from a number of sources. Most of the more serious come from follow-ups to contacts to the emergency numbers. Divers are also requested to submit a report if something happens while they are diving. Many of these reports are available on the DAN website. DAN has seen ten areas that improvements in scuba practices can be made. The recommendations are not new, as they are all covered in diver training. However, accident reports show that divers need to focus on these items more.
Diving with the correct weights is critical for safe diving. We hear that over and over again yet it still frequently becomes one of the triggers for a diving mishap. If you read the annual report you will find case studies of divers being grossly over weighted. One of the fatal cases concerning a diver using a steel tank found on the bottom after being observed sinking from a safety stop. The diver was found with a fully inflated BCD and he had removed his weight belt. However, this was not enough to become positively buoyant at the depth he was found. Investigation showed that the diver had 50 pounds of weights but only 17 pounds of that was on his weight belt. Another drowning case had a diver 20 pounds over-weighted.
You will also see cases where divers ran into trouble being under-weighted. Mostly these led to DCS when the diver was unable to maintain a safety stop and to control their rate of ascent.
Greater Buoyancy Control
Closely related to the proper weighting is the issue of Buoyancy control. Improper control has led to divers having difficulties exiting a wreck or other overhead environment. Poor control does make your safety stops more difficult and might even cause a diver to inadvertently return to the surface or to dive deeper than intended. Divers who use the BCD extensively to maintain their position in the water are more likely to face an out of air issue. While not as much of a safety issue, good buoyancy control helps protect the environment.
More Attention to Gas Planning
The highest percentage of triggers in diving accidents for divers under 50 is running out of air. It ties with cardiac arrest for divers of all ages. Only a small percentage of these incidents happen because of a sudden loss of air. Faulty gauges are one cause but the biggest reasons are poor planning and the diver not paying attention to details. Divers need to plan the dive with significant breathing gas available to properly return to the surface. We all train for out of air conditions, but, they still happen and divers still die.
Better Ascent Rate Control
DCI is one of the greatest concerns associated with fast ascents. The current “standard” is 30 feet per minute. Still many divers were certified when the “standard” was 60 feet per minute and still use that. Then there are those that believe in a combination when diving deep. They use a rate of 60 feet per minute at deeper depths and only 30 feet per minute for the last 60 feet. There have only been limited studies that show which rate is best. All dives are decompression dives.
What we call an NDL dive is just a dive where the need for decompression is met within the time frame of our ascent. If we allow more time for the ascent, we are in turn allowing more time for our body to off gas nitrogen. If we ascend rapidly, we are not providing the time necessary. Many divers feel that the dive is ending when they head to the surface. That is not necessarily true. A slow ascent can allow you to see things you might not see at a faster ascent. Take your time and look around.
Increased Use of Checklists
The proper use of checklist and dive buddy checks can catch many potential problems before they become one. A checklist makes sure we did not forget to do something to prepare for the dive. Sure getting ready for a dive does become second nature for us. It does not mean we will not miss a step. Pilots always do a pre-flight check before they take off, our position 100 feet underwater is not safer than a pilot 100 feet above the surface. Improvements in Scuba diving checklist usage will help lessen stupid errors.
Equalize often to avoid injuries. Photograph by Greg Grimes
Fewer Equalizing Injuries
Decompression sickness was the most commonly reported concern through the emergency line. However, including the information line and email records, more barotrauma-related complaints were identified, mostly pertaining to ear barotrauma. The most common form of ear barotrauma was middle ear barotrauma. These injuries are caused when the inner ear is not equalized properly. There were also some injuries to the eyes due to mask equalization.
Improved Cardiovascular Health in Divers
While divers are stereotyped as being fit and adventures, poor cardiovascular health is the primary health concern for scuba divers. Cardiac arrest was the leading trigger for diving fatalities. Eighty-four percent of males and 69% of females who died due to a cardiac event were 40 years or older. Fifty-three percent of male and 54% of female victims were 50 years old or more. While drowning was listed in the majority of cases as the cause of death, cardiac arrest was involved in many of those.
Obesity may also a factor in scuba diving deaths. According to the report, Over 50% of the divers who died in the United States were obese. This compares to a rate of obesity of 35% in the general population.
Scuba diving is not always seen as an intense form of exercise. Unlike running or skiing where people prepare themselves for the activity, divers often do not have an exercise program to keep them dive fit. Get yourself fit for diving and for your life.
Diving More Often (or more pre-trip Refresher Training)
Diving is a set of skills and abilities that you must be fresh to be at your best. Divers who have taken a break from diving may need help getting back their skills. Refresher training is good to help assist that. However, refresher training will not bring you back to your optimum best by itself. You will need to continue to work at it to get back where you were. The simple solution is to be a more active diver.
It may look beautiful but if you are not trained for an overhead environment, then stay out. Photograph by Derek Keats
Greater Attention to Diving Within Limits
Dive within your limits is taught from day one, still, it is a factor in many deaths. Certain disciplines such as cave diving need special training. You will find reports of novice divers diving beyond 100 feet and experiencing nitrogen narcosis. There is nothing wrong with expanding your limits, but improvements in Scuba skills should be done gradually and in those cases where training is needed after you get the training.
Fewer Equipment Issues / Improved Maintenance
While Improvements in Scuba diving equipment has made them more reliable over the years, equipment problems can become a trigger that leads to an accident. A poorly maintained regulator might work on a shallow dive but be unable to supply enough airflow at depths. An improperly cleaned BCD might have a value that does not seal properly. Properly maintained equipment will last a long time. Poorly maintain it and it might fail within a year.
As you look forward to your next dive trip or dive season, think over the DAN’s Ten Most Wanted Improvements in Scuba. How do you fare with those tasks?