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Scuba Emergency Procedures

Scuba Emergency Response Procedures


Knowing the priorities and performing the correct procedures in a diving emergency requires good judgment and an accurate assessment of the situation.

We offer you a thorough, yet simplified diving accident management guide.

Learn how to formulate an action plan for scuba emergencies and incidents such as a missing diver or a serious aquatic life injury.

When a diver gets into trouble, your immediate reaction may be to instinctively rush in to help.

The safe procedures of assisting a victim result from protecting yourself first.

It is important to recognize and avoid any hazards which may impede your aid for the diver in trouble. Before you immediately jump in, consider the following points of making an in-water rescue.

Emergency Procedures - Response, Approach, Tow, Exit

Unless it is absolutely necessary, you should avoid entering the water. Try to assist the victim by extending a pole, throwing a float, or a rope. Maybe you can wade out or take a small boat or craft to reach the diver.

If you decide to enter the water, consider whether you have the right training and equipment for your own and the victim's safety. There are some diving accidents that would be outside the normal capabilities for untrained professionals such as inside an enclosed environment, cave, or shipwreck.

If you choose to make the rescue, you might also consider the chances of being successful without endangering yourself. Making contact with a panicked diver could be an extremely dangerous situation if the victim overpowers you.

There is rarely one single procedure to act in a diving emergency but the initial steps should be to stop, think about the risks, and then help if you can safely do so.

Responding to Diver Emergencies at the Surface

Your response to a diving emergency differs depending on whether you are already in the water or responding from the shore or a boat. Entering the water, making your approach, and then exiting the water with the victim can be challenging and dangerous.

As we already mentioned, when possible try to opt for a reaching or throwing assist before you enter the water to respond.

When making an in-water rescue, take a few moments to choose what equipment to take with you. Your mask, snorkel and fins should be a minimum. If you swim to the victim, take some form of flotation. This will help you as you approach and you can offer it to the victim if appropriate.

You may also choose to don your scuba gear if the victim shows signs of going underwater. Consider whether more than one rescuer can make the approach, perhaps one quick response at the surface while another prepares to descend in scuba if the situation gets worse.

However, someone should always keep the diver in view so that you don't lose track of their position. This could be a crew member back on the boat or you should make your approach with the victim constantly in sight.

Swim quickly but try to conserve energy. The victim's size, your physical fitness, and the environment could make this challenging and demanding.

The Quick Reverse

As you get near to the victim, stay out of reach and evaluate his condition. Make sure you have sufficient buoyancy and note the location of the victim's BCD inflater.

Give clear, verbal directions to encourage the diver to remove their own weights. If they panic and try to grab you or climb on you, be prepared to use the quick reverse.

This technique allows you to back away from their reach by leaning backwards from them in the water and kicking with your legs to put distance between you and the victim.

Using Floats

Personal flotation devices are rescue aids that provide immediate buoyancy. You can offer the PFD to the diver or you can tow the diver back to safety using the float instead of making direct contact.

You may need to improvise with items such as a BCD, a boat tender, or anything that has enough buoyancy to support the diver. As a last resort, you may need to make direct contact and assist them using suitable techniques for tired or panicked divers.

Water Exits with Responsive Divers

After you have established ample buoyancy for yourself and the victim, calmed the situation, and regained some energy, you will probably choose to assist the diver back to the boat or shoreline. We often get asked 'when should you remove the victim's equipment'?

The answer depends on many factors that are usually out of your control. If you determine the distance you need to tow the diver is considerable, you made decide that dropping non-essential gear early will reduce drag and save your energy.

If the surface conditions are choppy, you may choose to retain most of the equipment to help you stay buoyant for the final exit. Assessing the victim's condition, tired, rational or injured, may aid your decision and you should choose the best option that will most likely make a safe exit for yourself and the victim.

PADI Tired Diver Tow

There are several different ways that you can help tow an inert diver. Ideally, the method you choose should keep the face out of the water and reduce excessive drag.

Make sure you can keep control and swim horizontally so that it does not restrict your swimming action and to reduce fatigue. Many rescuers prefer to have eye-to-eye contact with the casualty to help communication and to increase reassurance.

Further Considerations Before Exiting the Water

Assuming that your diver or divers are responsive, the exit from the water will probably be affected by the terrain, the surface conditions, and whether the divers need medical care.

You may be able to offer physical assistance if they are too weak, or you may choose to wait a little time until the divers have taken some time to rest and need less help. The diver may decide to crawl out of the water if the surf conditions are challenging but carefully choose the most appropriate time to remove the scuba unit.

Emergency Response Procedures - Post Exit

Having safely transported the diver back to the shore or boat, it is then a good time to assess for any injuries or illnesses. If you determine an injury or a serious illness you should contact the local emergency medical services. Refer to your evacuation plan and emergency first aid procedures.

You may also need to notify personnel or staff members. Encourage injured divers to lie on their side and administer emergency oxygen (100% if possible) while monitoring the patient's vital signs. Transport them to the nearest medical center even if the facility does not have a recompression chamber.

If the diver has fully recovered from the incident, try to be sensitive towards his self-esteem. Divers often feel embarrassed and frightened about getting back into the water.

Encourage them to go diving again in the near future. Suggesting a less challenging dive site next time may also be a prudent decision.

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