Exploring the ocean's depths is an unparalleled adventure, but it's not without its challenges. Divers should be armed with knowledge, training and composure in order to navigate the unpredictable waters of dive-related emergencies. This means the first and most important step in handling an underwater diving emergency is ensuring that you are adequately trained. The more we understand and respect the ocean, the better equipped we become to experience its wonders safely. That being said, accidents still happen. Whether you're an experienced diver or a novice, read on for tips on what to do in a diving emergency.
Receive Proper Training
There's truth in the saying that you can't help others if you can't help yourself. Proper preparation and adherence to safety protocols are your greatest allies when embarking on underwater journeys, so make sure you are adequately trained. This starts with getting your Open Water Diver certification. Depending on your interests, you can further enhance your skills with additional courses, ranging from the Advanced Open Water Diver certification to Nitrox, Cave and Deep Water specialities.
There are also courses available, like the PADI Rescue Diver course, which will train you in water rescue techniques, first aid, oxygen provision and much more. Make sure you refresh your skills each year so that you are up-to-date and ready to act in a diving emergency.
Plan Your Dive, and Dive Your Plan
The old adage holds true: failing to plan is planning to fail. Behind every great dive, a great deal of preparation should take place. This includes making sure you have the right gear for the dive and that it is in good condition. For example, for night dives you will need a dive torch, while for colder dives you might need a dry suit. Also make sure you know the dive site's layout, your maximum depth and length of the dive. Be sure to swot up on the local weather conditions, tides, currents and visibility, as these will all affect your dive. Before entering the water, ensure you have a dive buddy, and both of you should be familiar with underwater hand signals.
Have an Effective Emergency Action Plan (EAP)
Every dive plan should also include an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). In addition to keeping your skills up-to-date, make a list of emergency resources - such as the nearest hospital, search and rescue providers and evacuation services - near your dive site. Ensure your first-aid kit is fully stocked and its contents haven't expired. If you are diving with an operator, familiarize yourself with the location of the first-aid kit and emergency oxygen.
What to Do in a Diving Emergency
While proper training and preparation will greatly mitigate any risks underwater, emergencies can happen. The first step in handling a diving emergency is to assess the situation. Maintain your composure, check your own safety and ensure your dive gear is in order. Next, you will want to ascend safely.
Ascending to the surface may appear to be the logical response in an emergency, but it must be done cautiously. Rapid ascents can lead to decompression sickness or lung overexpansion injuries, so guiding the distressed diver upward slowly and steadily is paramount. Once you're on the surface, you will need to signal for assistance. Surface marker buoys (SMBs), whistles and radio communication with the boat or shore can, quite literally, be lifesavers.
Attending to the Injured Diver
When faced with an unresponsive or struggling diver, knowing how to administer basic life support is critical. CPR and rescue breathing may be needed, but only if you have received proper training in these techniques.
After ensuring the immediate safety of the diver, calling for professional help is the next step. Local emergency services or hyperbaric chamber facilities are equipped to deal with dive-related injuries and can provide invaluable guidance and medical assistance. If you have access to emergency oxygen equipment and are trained to use it, administering oxygen can alleviate symptoms and aid in treating potential decompression sickness. While you wait for help to arrive, continue to monitor the injured divers' vital signs, including breathing, pulse and consciousness.
Post-Emergency: Reporting the Incident
Reporting a diving emergency to authorities and dive organisations is not just a responsible action; it also serves the broader goal of enhancing safety within the diving community, protecting the environment and improving the overall understanding of underwater emergencies and their prevention. It's an essential step in ensuring that the necessary support and resources are available to assist divers in distress and to prevent future incidents.