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Scuba safe if rules are followed

| 16/04/2015 | 2 Comments

(CNS Business): With only four months into 2015, the Cayman Islands has had nine water related deaths on record. So far, four people have died while snorkeling, three while diving, one while jet skiing and one death due to drowning.

Cayman News Service

Coral Gardens, Grand Cayman

As with any recreational sport, risks are always involved. Whenever a diver descends, or a snorkeller goes out to sea, that person relies completely on his or her equipment, skills and emergency training to ensure they return to the surface or land safely.

However, as diver death rates on the Cayman Islands continue to rise, many are asking the question, is scuba diving dangerous?

According to the Diver’s Alert Network (DAN), a diving fatality occurs in 1 out of every 211,864 dives.

However, putting that statistic into perspective by comparing it to others activities, one out of every 116,666 skydives end in a fatality (Parachuting Association); and one out of every 126,626 marathon runners die of sudden cardiac arrest while running a marathon (National Safety Council).

All water related deaths this year were tourists, except for the first person to be killed at sea, a Cuban migrant who drowned. The ages of the scuba diving or snorkeling victims range from 47 to 88 years old. While the causes of several of these deaths are still being investigated, CNS Business posed the question to local diving experts, if there is an age limit where diving is no longer safe.

DAN reports show cardiac disease is more prominent among the elderly and diving introduces more cardiac hazards than many other sporting activities. The study stated a third of diving deaths each year are a result of cardiac arrests. The DAN report also said more than half of people who die from attacks knew they had heart problems.

DAN lists the top three root causes leading to diver fatalities as:

  1. Pre-existing disease or pathology in the diver
  2. Poor buoyancy control
  3. Rapid ascent/violent water movement

Diving legend Peter Milburn said he fell in love with the sport when he started his diving sport in 1968.  However, he explains it’s more than just throwing on some gear and strapping a tank to your back before diving in.

“You got to understand diving is not a totally safe sport. You got to respect it and stay within the parameters of safety and take time to learn it properly,” Milburn stressed.

Milburn explained, when it comes to the snorkelling incidents that have occurred on the island, one thing he believes can help, is putting lifeguards on the beach in front of every major hotel. When it comes to scuba diving, the main issue he sees as a dive instructor is people not being honest about their medical history. Milburn explained the age is not usually a problem; it’s more to do with general health issues.

After presenting your official PADI card to a dive instructor, a diver must fill out a release form that includes any medical conditions. Milburn explained, most of the time a person is not going to admit they’re asthmatic or that they have a heart condition because it could stop them from be able to dive.

The DAN report goes on to explain other leading contributing factors to diver fatalities are buddy separation and inadequate training for the dive being attempted. Both of these are violations of the standard safe diving guidelines.

“My own personal feeling is that when people first come here, if they haven’t been here before, they haven’t been diving in whatever amount of years, go on a dive boat the first day. Spend that money, go out with someone who knows what they are doing and then, if you want to go shore diving every day after that, that’s fine. At least you know, in your own mind you are properly weighted and you know how to use the gear properly,” Milburn explained.

As of now, the youngest age to become a PADI certified diver is 10 years old. Milburn feels that may be a little to young.

“I think 12 to 14 is the best age to start diving,” he said.

Today, the majority of divers receive their certification online. Milburn said he isn’t completely against that way of learning, but feels there are certain techniques and skills that an online course just can’t teach you.

“The gear that we have today is about 99% fool-proof, but somebody might be fixing your regulator and they might have forgotten some little thing and then something happens. So then what do you do?”

However you learn, Milburn said for a diver who approaches diving with the right attitude, the risks are minimal.

“Be safe, don’t do anything that might put you in some kind of dangerous situation. Just stay within your own safety limits. That’s the most important thing,” he said.

Good rules to follow for safe diving include:

  1. Never try a dive you’re not comfortable with. During descent, you should gently equalize your ears and mask. At depth, never dive outside the parameters of the dive tables or your dive computer (information that helps you avoid decompression sickness).
  2. Never hold your breath while ascending. You should always ascend slowly while breathing normally.
  3. Become familiar with the underwater area and its dangers. Learn which fish, coral and other hazards to avoid so injuries do not occur. Be aware of local tides and currents.
  4. Never panic under water. If you become confused or afraid during a dive, stop, try to relax and think the problem through. You can also get help from your dive buddy or dive master.
  5. Never dive without a buddy.
  6. Always plan your dive; then always dive your plan.
  7. Be sure that your diving equipment can handle the dive you have planned and that the equipment is working well.
  8. Don’t drink alcohol before diving.
  9. Never dive while taking medicine unless your doctor tells you it’s safe.
  10. Diving can be dangerous if you have certain medical problems. Ask your doctor how diving may affect your health.
  11. Cave diving is dangerous and should only be attempted by divers with proper training and equipment.
  12. If you don’t feel good or if you are in pain after diving, go to the nearest emergency room immediately.
  13. Don’t fly for 12 hours after a no-decompression dive, even in a pressurized airplane. If your dive required decompression stops, don’t fly for at least 24 hours.

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Category: Featured, Tourism, Watersports

Comments (2)

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  1. Lynn says:

    Well actually, you can’t get certified online. That is 100 % untrue. You can do your BOOK study online. But nobody can get certified without practical experience, which has to be done face-to-face, in the water, with a scuba instructor. Your open water test has to be just that: not even in a pool, but in OPEN WATER, like in a lake or the ocean. Please do your research before writing an article.

  2. This is generally a good article. Just a few important points to clarify.

    1) While a portion of the traditional ‘classroom’ components of training may be completed online, proper entry level training requires in-water activity with an instructor. No one should dive without this critical experience.

    2) Alcohol is best avoided immediately after diving as well since the effects could mask symptoms or awareness of, or response to, a diving injury.

    3) The current DAN flying after diving guidelines (Sheffield and Vann 2004) recommend a minimum of a 12 hour pre-flight surface interval after a single dive within the no-decompression limits. For repetitive dives or repetitive days of diving within the no-decompression limits, the recommendation is for an 18 hour delay before flying. The recommendation following decompression dives is “substantially longer than 18 hours.” This was in recognition of the limited relevant data. Since most divers will be doing more than a single dive, a 12 hour wait to fly is shorter than optimal. A good rule of thumb is to plan for a 24 hour delay before flying. Save your surface activity and enjoy the last day on land.

    Diving can be a safe and enjoyable activity. Knowing the hazards, your capabilities, and the good strategies to reduce risk can eliminate most concern. One of the items not on the ‘good rules’ list was the use of safety stops. Knowing that an in-water stop is required reduces ascent speed, reducing the risk of trauma from expanding gas and decompression stress. The shallow stop further reduces decompression stress by allowing time to eliminate inert gas before making the final ascent (which generates the greatest change in relative pressure of any part of the dive). Long safety stops (or prolonged obligatory stops) offer extremely inexpensive insurance against a bad decompression outcome.

    Happy diving.

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