Not many people are keen to try scuba diving. Not even the promises of exploring beautiful coral landscapes and swimming with magnificent marine creatures can persuade them to consider putting a dive suit on. And that’s actually pretty normal. After all, venturing into the deep and cold waters while breathing oxygen from a tank is a very unnatural experience. Besides, you need to attend a scuba diving safety course and learn how all those diving equipment work (which can be pretty overwhelming for some people) before you plunge into the water; otherwise, your gear may malfunction and you may find yourself running out of air. And what about sharks? What if you suddenly find yourself face to face with one these blood-thirsty creatures? All these scenarios are more than enough to scare anyone away from even thinking about scuba diving.
But just how dangerous is scuba diving really? Well, here are some fast facts about the risks and hazards of this activity.
- About 1,000 cases of diving incidents are admitted by emergency rooms every year. This is pretty small, considering that ERs admit almost 19,000 bowling-related injuries and over 50,000 volleyball-related cases annually.
- The fatality rate for scuba diving is approximately 2 out of 100,000 whereas fatality rates for horseback riding is about 128 per 100,000 people. That said, you have a 0.00002% chance of meeting your end while scuba diving.
Although the numbers are pretty encouraging, we still can’t discount the fact that there are various things that can go wrong while you’re underwater. Fortunately, many of these problems are preventable with proper training, quick thinking and some common sense.
1. Equipment Failure
Your scuba diving equipment will serve as your life support while you’re underwater. And an equipment failure is definitely a concern especially when you know that your life practically depends on how well these things perform.
Fortunately, the chances of these malfunctions ever happening are very slim. More often than not, diving equipment failures are related to improperly working diving regulators or low air tanks. Other equipment breakdowns rarely happen if ever. So in the event that you find your regulator is not working or that your air supply is running low, simply signal your dive buddy and you can share his or her oxygen supply while you both swim back to surface.
To eliminate or reduce any chance of you using a malfunctioning diving equipment, make sure that you borrow them from a reputable diving shop or a certified diving school. They make use of the best scuba diving equipment their business can afford and have them checked and serviced regularly. They’ll also do a full function check before they hand you the equipment just to be sure.
Hypothermia is a condition where your body temperature drops below normal which can happen if you’re diving in cold waters. When hypothermia sets in, you begin to shiver and your hands or legs start to feel numb. When this happens, your coordination suffers. At worst, hypothermia can lead to more dangerous situations like cardiac arrest or even death.
However, very few beginning scuba divers ever experience hypothermia while doing their dives when properly guided, and experienced divers rarely report ever suffering from one.
The answer to this particular problem is pretty simple: wear the right diving suit. Wearing a wetsuit or a dry suit while diving minimizes any risk of hypothermia from ever occurring. If you’re diving in tropical or warm waters, a diving wetsuit should be enough to keep you from getting cold. If you’re diving in colder waters, you should consider wearing thicker wetsuits or even a dry suit. You’ll want to wear a good pair of diving gloves and diving boots as well. Remember also that almost 25% of heat escapes through your head, so you’ll want to put on a dive hood to complete your outfit.
The thought of being eaten alive is definitely scary and is something that many first-time divers constantly worry about. However, reports show that you have a lesser chance of being attacked by a shark when you’re scuba diving than when you’re swimming or surfing in the ocean. Truth of the matter is that you may actually be safer with a shark than with your dog. Reports show that between 2001 and 2013, there were 364 deaths related to dog attacks, whereas there were only 11 deaths related to shark attacks. And as we mentioned in earlier post about diving with sharks, you are 25 times more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than by a shark.
Diving with sharks isn’t that dangerous since these sea creatures are generally very reserved and cautious about approaching something they don’t understand. In fact, many divers actually look forward to seeing one, although not up close and personal.
Besides only a few species of sharks actually attack people. For instance, nurse sharks that frequent the shallow waters are very docile and are the highlight of most diving and snorkeling expeditions. Tawny sharks on the other hand have a very specialized diet of shellfish and lobsters, and the chance of one attacking you is just as high as the chance of a goldfish attacking its owner. Remember though that not because it doesn’t want to eat you means that it won’t bite you. Biting is a defense strategy for many animals, sharks included.
Diving with sharks has its potential dangers, which is why before you go on any dive, you’ll want to acquaint yourself with the different shark species that you are likely to encounter in your dive site. Also, when you see a shark, it is best to watch it from afar, preferably behind a rock or a cover.
4. Decompression Sickness
One of the biggest concerns for many divers is decompression sickness (also referred to as “the bends”), an illness characterized by skin rash, skin tingling, and joint pains among others. In general, this is caused by a quick reduction in the ambient pressure surrounding our bodies.
You see, the air we breathe from scuba diving tanks contain significant amounts of nitrogen which our body absorbs as we go deeper into the dive. This shouldn’t be a problem as long as the diver remains in acceptable pressure levels. However, when the pressure level is quickly reduced (which happens when you try to swim up to surface or ascend too fast), the nitrogen forms bubbles in our tissues and bloodstream, which then leads to DCS.
The best way to avoid getting decompression sickness is by following a dive plann or using a reliable dive computer. These computers measure the time and depth of your dive (as well as other pertinent information) and calculates a safe ascent profile. There are also several things you can do in order to avoid getting DCS like avoiding alcohol before and after a dive, staying warm while underwater, keeping your body hydrated and many more.
5. Entanglement or Entrapment
Many divers dream of being able to explore deep underwater sea caves and century-old shipwrecks. For many, this is the ultimate scuba diving experience. As exciting as it sounds, there are dangers associated to such a quest, including entanglement or entrapment.
These scenarios often happen when divers decide to explore a certain area which they aren’t familiar with. As soon as the swim a short distance to get a better look, they suddenly find themselves entangled in old, abandoned fishing lines or in a kelp forest. Sometimes, when exploring underwater sea caves and caverns, divers are swept away by the strong currents in those areas, thus preventing them from swimming back out.
The right training and equipment, coupled with quick thinking and common sense is the best way to avoid entanglement and entrapment. Never swim into a shipwreck or underwater sea cave without proper training and a dive buddy. And if you find yourself entangled in kelp, stay calm and don’t flail your arms and legs around since this will only get you more entangled. Instead, calmly reach for your diving knife and cut yourself loose, one kelp at a time. You can also deploy your safety sausage or surface marker buoy to signal for help.
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Many divers go through their diving careers without coming across any serious complication. However, it is still prudent to take all necessary scuba diving safety precautions before going into a dive, especially if you are a first-time diver. As mentioned earlier, many of the fears that people have about scuba diving can be easily countered, making it safer than other types of pastimes and hobbies. And believe us when we tell you that once you get over these fears, you’ll have nothing but good underwater memories and tales you’d love sharing with your family and friends.