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Scuba Diving Statistics and Fatality Rate

The answer to the question of how many people die scuba diving a year worldwide comes from the latest edition of the DAN Annual Diving Report.

But, recent statistics for diving deaths show a surprisingly low count when compared to many other popular sports and pastimes.

Diving Deaths Statistics | Table of Contents

So, what do we mean by scuba diving fatalities? Simply put, it refers to the recorded deaths that happen during a scuba dive (or as a consequence of the activities involving divers).

Yet, current scuba diving risks statistics prove that it is a rare occurrence. Nonetheless, the most common cause of diver fatality is human error (often due miscalculations in gas management or poor buoyancy control).

Furthermore, in older divers, data shows that cardiac events (scuba diving with heart conditions) account for about 25% of diving fatalities each year.

Here's the good news:

Statistically speaking, divers who use open circuit scuba are unlikely to die due to a failure of their equipment. But, forgetting (or neglecting) to maintain your dive gear will increase the risk of you having an incident underwater.

Note: Some divers ask 'is scuba diving insurance necessary' and is it a legal requirement? We can answer that by pointing out that diver fatalities can have enormous financial ramifications (e.g. through a loss of income, business bankruptcy, and litigation costs).

Diving Incidents, Injuries, and Fatalities

For one reason or another, there is no way of completely eliminating the risk of dying through recreational scuba, commercial diving, freediving, or snorkeling activities.

In spite of this, we can mitigate the likelihood of serious injury or death through a combination of education and safe diving practices.

Here's the thing:

In fact, severe diving injuries and scuba fatalities are rare. Even so, they do happen - often when there are no obvious contributing factors.

All divers need to understand the pitfalls and hazards. Hence, there are common mistakes and misfortunes that factor in almost all diving accidents and incidents - and we should learn from these insights.

DAN Annual Diving Report [2020]

Every year, many of the victims and witnesses involved in diving mishaps send incident reports to the Diver Alert Network (DAN).

As a result, many of the advances in diver education have come about by tracking the most serious injuries and diving-related fatalities within the community.

Important: We are building a scuba database of recent diving accidents which contains vital insights into actual case summaries and how we can learn from the misfortunes of other divers.

How Many People Die from Scuba Diving?

Releasing the descriptive statistics of known facts about scuba deaths per year is one of the key roles of Divers Alert Network (DAN).

The DAN Annual Diving Report on Diving Fatalities, Injuries, and Incidents highlights the total number of scuba diving deaths worldwide by region and country.

It also states how many of the circumstances and associated risks could have been reduced - or avoided altogether.

DAN's data collection process starts when a diving death has been identified. In most cases, identification arises through scuba news stories, forums, internet alerts, and affiliated organisations (e.g. members of the public, county medical examiners).

So, how dangerous is diving?

Well, scuba is a 'relatively' safe sport when it's undertaken in a responsible manner. Even so, there's a lot more we can do to make our dives free of accidents, scuba diving related injuries, and fatalities.

Expressed as a percentage, common identifiable triggers that initiated a combination of events leading to scuba diving death statistics are as follows:

  • Insufficient gas (41%)
  • Entrapment (20%)
  • Equipment problems (15%)

As a result, all divers should carefully consider the diving decisions they make and take greater care in the water.

Important: New divers can avoid most of the severe risks associated with learning to dive by adhering to the number one rule of scuba diving!

Total Number of Collected Fatalities Worldwide

According to DAN incident reporting, the geographical and seasonal distribution of scuba fatalities in 2018 was 189 diving deaths.

In fact, the number of decedents reported as taking place in the United States (or Canada) was less than in previous years.

Recreational 55 45 100
Breath-hold 29 30 59
Commercial 6 7 13
Public Safety 1 11 12
Military 0 1 1
Not Reported/Unknown 1 3 4
Total 92 97 189

This is some of the notable data about the distribution of fatalities by age and sex worldwide:

  • 80% of decedents (people who are no longer alive) were male.
  • A total of 67% of the fatalities recorded were fifty (50) years of age or older.
  • The average age was fifty four (54) years (median 56).
  • The youngest fatality was ten (10) years old and the oldest was seventy three (73) years old.

The number of accidental (or due to misadventure) diving deaths for citizens in countries outside of the United States and Canada:

Note: The diagram and charts show how many people die scuba diving each year. The latest data shows 80% of recorded and known cases were male and 20% were female (USA and Canada). It also concludes that Florida had the highest scuba diving fatality rate (e.g. at Monroe, Palm Beach, and Broward) in the United States.

Scuba Diving Accidents Statistics and Causes

The scuba diving fatality rate shows that scuba deaths are 'comparatively' uncommon. Even so, most of the mishaps occur as a direct result from one of three (or all) factors:

  • Lack of concentration
  • Overconfidence
  • Sheer negligence

One noteworthy statistic in dive deaths is that about 50% of those recorded were for divers who had made less than twenty (20) dives.

Put another way:

This statistical analysis masks (pun intended) the basic fact that 50% of these deaths were associated with divers who already had some experience (i.e. they had logged more than 20 dives).

Chart showing how many scuba divers die each year worldwide.The exact numerical input for the 50% remains a little unclear. So, was it for a fewer or greater number for any specific level of qualification?

What is worth noting, however, is that serious injury or even death can happen to any diver - and at any of the scuba certification levels.

Statistics equating scuba diving deaths a year with other accidents resulting in death (e.g. road deaths), might be pointless and prove nothing.

In fact, it may be more important to take notice of the insurance companies. Most of them place scuba diving near to the top of dangerous sports/pastimes. Yet, the United States Parachuting Association (USPA) disclosed that skydives end in fatality more often (when compared to scuba deaths per year).

The last time we checked, the risk of dying from scuba diving activities rated as one (1) in every 200,000 dives. That sounds like a risk worth taking!

How Do Scuba Divers Die?

You may now be wondering 'what are the odds of dying while scuba diving'? Information and data from the "Diving Medicine for Scuba Divers" showed:

  • 1% of divers died while they were attempting a rescue.
  • 5% died while cave diving.
  • 10% had received advice that they were medically unfit to go diving.
  • 10% were 'under trained' when they died.
  • 25% got into difficulty at the surface beforehand.
  • 50% failed to inflate their buoyancy compensator.
  • 50% actually died at the surface (not under water).
  • 86% were alone when they died - diving solo or got separated (e.g. misused the buddy system).
  • 90% of the victims died with their weight belt still in place (e.g. they failed to release it).

Note: Despite being mandatory in most countries, we always recommend having adequate insurance cover for scuba divers.

Previous Health Conditions

What then, are the typical reasons for mortalities? In fact, there is rarely a single determining factor that actually causes diver deaths.

More often than not, there are multiple factors - interwoven and intrinsically linked. But, together they can deteriorate and turn a 'minor incident' into a catastrophic death!

In fact, this disastrous thesis is borne out by the well-respected Director of Research at 'DAN' - Dr. Petar Denoble, who suggests:

"Whilst each accident may be different, and some occur in isolation and in an instant, many can be represented as a multiple chain of events that lead to a deadly outcome. Removing any link from that chain may change the outcome and render it 'survivable'."

Diving in a bit deeper:

Let's first consider previous health conditions not 'directly' connected with diving. Recent research shows that a large proportion of scuba related deaths are associated with people who are suffering some kind of poor health pre-condition.

In normal circumstances, these conditions would be somewhat controllable - or at least not subject to any intense medical attention.

They include the usual array of lifestyle complaints, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and coronary heart disease (CHD).

Even less serious complaints, such as the common cold, can also take on a new mantle when undertaking in-water activities.

This is the important part:

As much as anything, diving and having a heart attack is one of the health issues that recreational scuba divers should be concerned about the most.

You might expect that decompression illness (e.g. the bends), or an air embolism would create the highest risk of mortality for scuba divers.

In fact, data from the Divers Alert Network (DAN) suggests that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the cause of 15% of scuba fatalities.

It includes a range of significant medical health problems, but the common issues to be concerned about are:

Furthermore, elevated cholesterol levels, age (40+), and smoking, are all attributed to the most common risk factors.

In addition to taking frequent medical evaluations, other risk-reducing steps you can take include:

Buoyancy Control and Air Supply Problems

A wide range of potential problems can give rise to extreme distress. Typically, they include rapid ascents (or descents), insufficient air supply, and not being able to gauge a proper response - frequently due to panic.

Often, the result will be an uncontrolled ascent. Experts have cited this as being a major contributory factor that results in scuba diver deaths.

Events which act as the trigger can be attributed to poor experience, and in some cases, super-confidence in one's ability (e.g. negligence).

Why is this important?

In a nutshell, it means you are diving beyond your safe limit. It can be in a variety of situations (e.g. wreck penetration) or at different skill or experience levels.

The fact is that on descent, gas in the body cavities will compress. Then, upon descent it will expand. Thus, in extreme cases of rapid descent or ascent, this can cause severe tissue damage - or death!

Equipment Malfunction or Improper Use

Scuba diving equipment failure as a direct cause of death is a rare issue. Even so, you should never use old or poorly-maintained dive gear.

More often than not, the diver will be unaware of the equipment malfunction, or over confident in its use.

Certain situations can arise that start a chain of events leading to a stressed or panic reaction. Comfort and familiarity with all the different parts of scuba equipment is of paramount importance. Thus, you should be 'at one' with your dive gear.

Note: Another section explains the dangers of 'deadly tank valve turns' and how the practice is often taken for granted - even by experienced divers.

Lack of Understanding: Hostile Environments

Floating at the surface of a pool or in open water, such as snorkel swimming, is a pastime that is rightfully enjoyed by many.

Being a reasonable swimmer, and staying within the confines of your own abilities, is generally accepted as being both pleasurable and safe. Yet, snorkeling accidents and deaths still happen!

Think of it like this. Once you submerge your body underwater, you are not 'swimming underwater'. In fact, you have entered an environment for which you and your body were not made.

Key takeaway:

The dangerous 'power' of water is not understood and realised by most, especially people who don't know how to scuba. Certain environmental factors also contribute to fatalities, including:

As an example, those who commit suicide by jumping into water from high bridges, usually die from impact injuries. Thus, they are not officially recorded as drowning deaths per year.

Submerging your body in water brings about many physical and mental changes. It also applies to people with healthy bodies, even when wearing the very best equipment that money can buy.

So, even modern scuba equipment cannot fully negate the effects of intense pressure. All it can do is make you feel as comfortable as possible with the pleasures of going down in the deep blue sea.

What is the Deadliest Dive Site in the World?

There is a famous diving location called the 'Blue Hole' in Egypt. It is a submarine sinkhole situated a few kilometres north of Dahab, on the coast of the Red Sea.

Even though there is a shallow opening to the sea at about six metres (20 feet) deep, the maximum depth inside the hole is a little over 100 metres (328 feet).

It is one of the most popular destinations for scuba divers and freedivers in the world. There is no shortage of vibrant coral formations and reef fishes.

But, the Blue Hole has the infamous reputation of having the most diver fatalities at the same site. Recent estimates suggest up to two hundred (200) deaths.

Cave Diving Fatality Rate

Reliable information about the total number of cave diving deaths worldwide is rather limited. The data and statistics that do exist seem to suggest that following accepted protocols is keeping the cave diver mortality rate low.

Nonetheless, some of the known contributing factors include:

  • Failing to use a continuous guideline back to open water (especially among untrained divers who go inside caves).
  • Excessive depth (including trained cave divers).
  • Running out of gas before reaching the cave exit (e.g. getting lost, panic).

Long ago, cave-diving analysis showed around 90% of cave diving accidents were attributed to untrained divers. Since the year 2000, the trend of accidents has reversed and now involves around 80% of trained cave divers.

The resultant increase of cave-diving accidents averaged at 2.5 fatalities per year (2011). But, the fatality rate reached a peak annual rate the following year (2012) with more than twenty (20) recorded deaths.

Freediving Deaths Per Year Worldwide

As much as anything, the personal level of specialised training influences the depth limits for most breath-hold divers.

That said, the International association for the Development of Apnea (AIDA) recognises several disciplines within freediving competitions.

The following lists of breath-hold fatalities show the most notable locations around the world where fatal incidents occurred the most:

  • United States (22)
  • Cayman Islands (9)
  • New Zealand (6)
  • Australia (5)
  • Mexico (3)
  • Malta (2)
  • Seychelles (1)

Recent statistics released by DAN show that the distribution of breath-hold fatalities by activity category in 2018 were as follows:

DAN statistics show that the distribution of freediving fatalities by activity category in 2018 were as follows:

  • Spearfishing (including harvesting) (12)
  • Pleasure and sightseeing adventures (2)
  • During freediving training activities (1)
  • Unknown (3)

Important: Another section contains information about PADI® Freediving Courses and we have an article with tips for freediving with sharks in open water environments.


The overriding majority of scuba fatalities occur in older divers and are related to health and fitness issues.

Hence, a healthy lifestyle, staying fit, and having regular medical checkups are the minimum prerequisites for life-long, healthy participation in scuba diving.

Summaries about Diving Hazards

Whatever your diving abilities and experience - as with driving - accidents can and do happen. Accidents do not pick and choose. No one is immune!

Glib statistics can prove or disprove anything. But, an estimate worth taking note of is the fact that there is one diving death per 200,000 dives. Even so, that does not mean you have two hundred thousand lives.

Some will die on their first or second dive. Whilst others, and their fellow divers, may log a few thousand during their lifetime.

And why is this so?

Scuba diving risks statistics prove that it's a fairly even spread between experienced and non-experienced divers. Still, there is a greater likelihood that the underwater incidents that happen to experienced divers may be more life-threatening.

Put simply, it is because man will be man, and most men want to go that one step further than before. It is part of human nature!

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