Diving is a safe sport if you follow the rules, avoid taking unnecessary risks, and always dive with a buddy. But that does not mean you will never encounter difficulties during a dive. Learning how to anticipate and solve problems is part of becoming an accomplished diver.
Anticipating Equipment Problems
It is rare that equipment fails during a dive, but you should nevertheless take great care when assembling, storing, and servicing your gear. After all, this is what keeps you alive underwater, so it is worth spending time and money on keeping it in perfect working order.
Consider “what if” situations ahead of a dive, and think through how you will deal with the failure of any element of your gear. Do you have a spare if your buddy is not close by? Your regulator should always have an octopus second stage, to use as a backup in case your main second stage fails.
Free and Buoyant Ascents
If you run out of air, locate your buddy and follow the procedure below: If you cannot find your buddy, you will need to make a rapid “free ascent” by finning to the surface. This can be aided by ditching your weights, but be ready for a sudden increase in buoyancy. Breathe out slowly during ascent to prevent lung expansion injury. If, however, you have a little air left, you can make a more controlled “buoyant ascent.” Let some air into your BC to kick-start your ascent, and tilt your head back to watch for the surface. Again, breathe out during the ascent, control your ascent rate by venting air from the BC, but not so much that you lose buoyancy. Do not rise any faster than your exhaled bubbles. At the surface, signal to boat cover immediately. If there is no boat, swim to the shore. Your buddy will need to be found and, as you have ascended without safety stops, you will need to be monitored for DCS.
Making Emergency Lifts
If your buddy is unconscious or injured, keep their regulator in their mouth and perform a buoyant lift to get them to the surface. This means holding on to your buddy’s harness as you ascend, using their BC to adjust buoyancy for both of you. Alert any boat cover once at the surface. If your buddy is not breathing, artificial ventilation (AV) may be needed until medical help arrives. If there is no cover, or if you are close to shore, you may decide to tow your buddy to safety. Both towing and AV require special training; if your dive training did not cover them, a life-saving course is recommended.
If you feel panic coming on, alert your buddy, stop moving, and steady your breathing. If your buddy panics, reassure them with hand signals but observe them from a safe distance, since a flailing arm can knock your regulator from your mouth or injure you. When they have calmed down, hold their hand or arm, make sure their regulator stays in place, and remain close until normal breathing resumes.