Tips for All Divers
If you’ve been diving for a while, or if you’ve just learned how to dive, there’s a lot to learn — and remember — about diving. You can start by remembering that each dive should be a SAFE DIVE, directly related to:
- Diving skills
Diving, like life itself, is an experience best shared. You are responsible for your own dive experience. Self-reliance is a skill your safety depends upon, topside or underwater. While divers are trained to use the buddy system to improve safety and reduce risk, you should be able to make informed decisions about your safety during any dive, without relying on someone else to think for you.
Following a dive leader or your buddy into an environment, condition or depth that you are not trained for, not comfortable in or is outside your experience is an invitation to disaster. Being self-reliant means knowing your limits — and those of your equipment.
- Take care of your equipment. Keep it properly serviced and maintained. Do not modify your equipment outside of the manufacturer’s original design.
- Check it out. Always use a checklist when packing equipment for a dive outing. If you get to the dive site and are missing an essential piece of equipment, consider renting or buying a similar model. If you’re not comfortable with these options, you may want to cancel the dive.
- Suit yourself. You need to wear all of the required equipment for the type of dive you’re making.
- Stop, Breathe, Think, Act. If you’re experiencing a problem underwater remember this: if you’re still breathing, you have some time to deal with the problem. Bolting for the surface is dangerous.
- Pause and refresh yourself. If you haven’t been diving for a while (six months or longer), attend a refresher course.
- Learn to say NO. “A ‘good’ diver is not the person with the most gear, or the one who dives the deepest,” says DAN Medic Eric Schinazi. “It’s the one who can make a mature decision that they should not make a dive.”
- An ancillary maxim is that good buddies respect this decision.
Have The Right Attitude
- Assess your goals. This is critical for safe diving. What are your motivations to dive? Your buddy’s? Buddies with different attitudes or goals for a given dive are likely to be incompatible. A diver who seeks adventure or is out to set personal records will be at odds with a diver who hopes to observe and photograph underwater marine life.
- Assess yourself. Are you psychologically ready to do the dive? Are any of the dive’s prospects causing you stress? If they are, talk about it with your buddy and work to resolve them prior to entering the water— you’ll find your stress levels dropping once you’ve begun talking about your concerns. Don’t let anyone dismiss your feeling as insignificant or unimportant.
- Don’t dive if you feel pressured. Remember, if you’re not having fun, stop diving.
- Check yourself. Checking and maintaining your equipment is a good-sense tip, but how many divers stop to check their personal health and fitness before diving? Fitness for diving adds to the comfort and enjoyment of each dive.
- Think fast. Dive conditions can change quickly underwater as tides and currents shift. You may be swimming in from a dive and suddenly get caught in a rip current; or be along a reef when a sudden current forces you down the wall. While these occurrences are unexpected and rare, you need to have the fitness and resources to exit safely.
- Clear signals. If you’re diving in areas where currents are common, carry a signaling device like a flare, whistle or safety tube to alert people on the boat or shore if you encounter any difficulty.
- Nothing to sneeze at. Dive only when you’re healthy and your ears and sinuses are clear. The most common diving injury is ear barotrauma, often caused by congestion. Because of the time and money involved in a dive trip, many divers ignore the early stages of a cold or congestion and dive with the assistance of over-the-counter medications. When the medications wear off (sometimes this happens at depth), your body’s ability to manage the effects of changing pressure is limited, and barotrauma may result.
- Be heart-smart. Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of diver death in divers over the age of 40. If you’re over 40, have an annual physical with a physician knowledgeable in diving medicine. A cardiac stress test may also be a beneficial preventative measure for you.
- Bag it. If you’re fatigued, sick or just not feeling well, don’t dive. Illness and injury increases your risk of decompression illness (DCI), and your performance underwater will suffer, too. Dehydration may also contribute to DCI. Hot and humid climates, the hot sun, dry compressed air from your scuba cylinders and immersion diuresis all help to dehydrate you. When you’re traveling and diving, make sure you drink more than eight glasses of water a day.
- Know your limits. Overall physical fitness is important, but knowing your physical limits may be more so. When you begin to feel overexerted or tired, rest and discontinue diving until your energy level has returned. Watch for signs of overexertion in your buddy, too. While you can’t necessarily control the tides and currents, you can improve your fitness and your preparedness for those environmental changes.
Have the Right Experience Level
- Be careful. It’s paramount to your safety and enjoyment. If you’ve never been on a dive to 100 feet / 30.4 meters or if you’ve never made a dive at night, consider buddying up with an experienced diver or taking a course with a diving instructor to expand your comfort zone. If you feel uncomfortable about the dive, it may be because you feel you’re not ready.
- Proceed with caution. Slowly extend your diving experiences. If you’ve been diving to 60 feet / 18.2 meters, try a dive to 80 feet / 24.3 meters. For your first night dive, go at twilight. Also, make sure your buddy has the needed experience.
- Take a course. The best way to extend your diving range is to take a diving course for the environment or experience you want. Want to learn how to wreck dive? Sign up for the course so you’ll learn about the planning, hazards and techniques associated with it. While experience is a good teacher, a teacher with good experience can maximize your understanding of the skills involved in the specialized diving activities you pursue. Plus, you’ll be able to document your experience with a certification card so you can pursue your interests further.
Practice Your Diving Skills
- Practice makes (almost) perfect. Diving skills can get rusty through long layoffs between dives, especially for new divers. When was the last time you practiced removing your mask underwater? How about out-of-air drills or removing your weight belt underwater? It was probably during your first scuba class. How long ago was that?
- The Big Four. Four primary diving skills need to maintain: mask skills, buoyancy skills, emergency skills and general diving skills such as swimming and equipment handling. One of the best times to practice these skills is during your safety stop.
- Weighty matters. To determine the amount of weight you should dive with, you should be neutrally buoyant during your 15-foot / 5-meter safety stop at the end of your dive with between 300-500 psi / 20-34 bar in your tank and no air in your buoyancy control device (BCD). If you remain motionless and you sink, you’re over weighted. If you start floating to the surface, you’re underweighted. Adjust your weight on the next dive accordingly.
- In your pre-dive plan, review out-of-air procedures with your buddy and practice them at the end of your dive. During your safety stop, or prior to descent, locate and breathe from your buddy’s alternate air source. Practice buddy breathing if your buddy doesn’t have one. Remove your mask and replace it.
- Learn to love snorkeling. Many new diver students haven’t had much experience or skill in snorkeling. If you become completely comfortable in open water, regardless of depth or whether you can see the bottom with just mask, fins, and snorkel, you’ll have much better odds of being a relaxed, safe scuba diver.
- Taking a few moments at the end of your dive to refine and master these basic skills will mean that in the unlikely event that you’ll need to use them in an emergency, you’ll be ready.
- Make plans. Getting involved in the local community is a great way to meet new people and find out more about the local diving scene. Find a local dive club or dive center and sign up for meetings, programs and courses. This provides for excellent opportunities to find a buddy, locate a great lobster hole or wreck and socialize with other divers with similar interests.
- Make friends. When you become active in the local diving community, you also get the opportunity to find a diving mentor. The friendship and camaraderie of a group of divers is one of the many reasons why people keep diving.
- Says DAN Director of Special Projects Chris Wachholz, “As a hesitant 14-year-old diver in 1971, I would never have learned to love the sport without the advice, security and role model of (not always) patient, older and more experienced divers.
- “I believe this advice goes to experienced divers as well, who should give something back to the sport by being a mentor and help another person become a lifelong enthusiast.”
Savor The Variety
The spice of diving. From the wrecks off the coast of North Carolina or Truk (Chuuk) Lagoon, to the kelp forests in California waters, lobstering in Florida, or capturing your underwater moments on the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Africa or the Middle East, diving has something for everyone. One of the greatest ways to keep your passion for diving is to explore your underwater world. Traveling the world and experiencing new cultures is one of the most fun ways to keep active.
However, with each new experience comes caution. It is vital that you are familiar with your environment or are under supervision by an experienced dive guide. “The variety of interesting diving experiences is matched by the variety of potential hazards,” says Barry Shuster, DAN’s Director of Marketing. “Awareness of local currents, underwater topographic formations, marine life and proper entry and exit techniques can save you a great deal of grief.”
Take three. There are three primary equipment considerations for divers:
- Do you have all the necessary equipment to conduct the dive? Do you have a depth gauge? A timing device? An alternate air source? All of these items are critical for dive safety. If you don’t have a depth gauge or timing device, you’ll be unable to judge your ascent rate and plan your dives to be within the no-decompression
- Do you know how to use and maintain your gear? Many new divers (and some experienced ones) are unfamiliar with equipment maintenance procedures. Rinse and soak your equipment in fresh water and let air dry. Pay particular attention to your regulator. Look for signs of wear (See “Dusting Off Your Gear”, page 32) and check the hoses for leaks and cracking. Take an equipment maintenance course for more information on gear maintenance.
- Can you get to your equipment? Is your alternate air source in your BCD pocket, or is it readily available? Is your equipment properly sized for you? Many divers wonder why neoprene shrinks year after year. (It’s not the suit!) Your equipment is a tool to let you safely explore the undersea world. Take care of it, and it will take care of you.
By making every dive a SAFE DIVE, you’ll expand your skills and knowledge — and have more fun. You’ll also help your fellow divers by demonstrating the steps of safe diving.
The American Association of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) makes these recommendations for general dive safety and dive computer use:
- All divers relying on dive computers to plan dives and indicate or determine decompression status must have their own unit.
- On any given dive, both divers in the buddy pair must follow the most conservative dive computer.
- If the dive computer fails at any time during the dive, the dive must be terminated, and appropriate surfacing procedures should be initiated immediately.
- Divers should not dive for 24 hours before activating a dive computer to use it to control their diving.
- Once a dive computer is in use, it must not be switched off until it indicates complete outgassing has occurred or 24 hours have elapsed (whichever comes first), or if no more dives are planned over the next few days.
- When using a dive computer, nonemergent ascents are to be at the rate(s) specified for the table, or by the make and model of dive computer being used.
- Ascent rates shall not exceed 60 feet of sea water (fsw) / 18 meters of sea water (msw) per minute.
- A stop in the 10- to 30-fsw / 3- to 9-msw zone for three to five minutes is recommended on every dive.
- Repetitive and multilevel diving procedures should start the dive, or the series of dives, at the maximum planned depth, followed by subsequent dives of shallower exposures.
- Multiple deep dives should be avoided.
- Breathing 100 percent oxygen above water is preferred to in-water air procedures for omitted decompression.
- It is recommended that divers’ attention be directed to emphasis on the ancillary factors to decompression risk such as: fitness to dive, adequate rest, hydration, body weight, age, and especially rate of ascent — which should not be more than 60 feet / 18 meters per minute.
- Divers are encouraged to learn and remember the signs and symptoms of decompression illness and report them promptly. This enables them to receive effective treatment as rapidly as possible and helps prevent residual injury later on.
Breathing oxygen on the surface whenever possible via a demand regulator mask system (to ensure the highest percentage of oxygen to the patient) is recommended while awaiting treatment if decompression illness is suspected. The use of 100 percent oxygen in the water while awaiting treatment is not recommended.