Why Divers Drown: Conclusions

There are many lessons for recreational divers to learn from the data now available, as well as from the diving medical experience and the regulatory requirements of commercial diving, to reduce the incidence of drowning with scuba. They can be summarized as follows.

  1. Diver fitness. Ensure both medical and physical fitness, so that there is no increased likelihood of physical impairment or loss of consciousness or difficulty in handling unexpected environmental stresses.
  2. Experience. Ensure adequate experience of the likely dive conditions (dive under the supervision of a more experience diver when extending your dive profile).
  3. Equipment. Failure to possess appropriate equipment is a risk, but not as much as equipment failure and misuse. Misuse includes the practice of overweighting the diver, as well as an overreliance on the buoyancy compensator.
  4. Environment. Hazardous diving conditions should be avoided, and one should use extreme caution with tidal currents, rough water, poor visibility, enclosed areas and excessive depths.
  5. Neutral buoyancy (dive). Ensure neutral buoyancy while diving. This implies not being overweighted and not being dependent on the buoyancy compensator.
  6. Air supply. An inadequate supply of air for unexpected demands and emergencies may convert a problematical situation into a dangerous one. It also forces the diver to experience surface situations that are worrying and conducive to anxiety, fatigue, unpleasant decision making and salt water aspiration. Equipment failure is not as common a cause of LOA/OOA as is failure to use the contents gauge and/or a decision to breathe the tank down to near reserve pressure.
  7. Buddy diving. Use traditional buddy diving practice – two divers swimming together. Solo diving, for the whole or part of the dive, is much more likely to result in an unsatisfactory outcome in the event of diving problems. It is the divers who are committed to the traditional buddy diving practices who are likely to survive the more serious of the drowning syndromes.
  8. Positive buoyancy (after the incident). Positive buoyancy is frequently required if problems develop. Failure to remove the weight belt during a diving incident continues to be a major omission, and it must reflect on training standards. In most situations, unbuckling and then ditching (if necessary) the weight belt is the most reliable course of action once a problem becomes evident. Buoyancy compensators cause problems in some emergency situations, and not infrequently they fail to provide the buoyancy required expeditiously, especially at depth. They are of great value in many cases – but they are not to be relied on.
  9. Buddy communication. If feasible, inform the buddy before ascent. If correct buddy diving practice is being carried out, the buddy will automatically accompany the injured or vulnerable diver back to safety.
  10. Rescue. Employ the rescue, water retrievals, first aid facilities (including oxygen) and medical evacuation systems that were planned before the dive.

These factors differentiate a drowning fatality from a successful rescue.