Scuba diving is an exhilarating and unique experience where you can encounter a whole new world underwater. However, like with most things in life, you may face challenging situations underwater and it is best to be prepared on how to react if those situations do occur, however rare it may be.
So to help, we are sharing 5 problematic diving situations which either we or our close friends have encountered and our learnings, in the hope that if anything like this happens to you, you have an idea on how to deal with the situation.
Aggressive Marine Life
We were diving on the Great Barrier Reef during summer with a dive group and our dive guide told us to stay away from the Triggerfish as it was their nesting season. A diver in our group ignored this advice and swam near one of the Triggerfish nests. The Triggerfish attacked and chomped down on what was luckily the diver’s fin and the diver managed to shake the fish free on the way to the surface.
Pay attention to what the dive guides say. If they say to stay away from particular areas then listen and stay away!
Don’t harass marine life. You are there as an observer only!
In this particular situation, the diver should have swum horizontally rather than up, as Triggerfish defend their nest in a cone type shape from the nest up to the surface. Also using your fins to have a greater separation between you the animal (in this instance the fish) allows you to swim away whilst watching where the animal is.
Make sure the dive centre you are going out diving with is reputable and that their boat has first aid and oxygen supplies in case you do get injured.
We were nearing the end of a night dive and we had all huddled around the dive line. The dive guide was rearranging who we were buddied with depending on how much air we had left. Those with low air would ascend, while those with more air could continue the dive. My husband and I split up, I was ascending while he would stay for a longer dive. As I started to ascend (I didn’t realize at the time) that I kicked the regulator out of his mouth. Luckily for him, his new buddy was close by and she helped to retrieve his regulator.
It is essential that you do buddy checks before you head underwater to make sure yours and your buddy’s equipment is working well.
On your ascent from a dive, ensure you look around first to make sure you there is no danger to you or others.
While it is important to be close to others (especially on a night dive) keep a safe distance from others.
Keep a close eye on your buddy and be at the ready if they need your help.
It is important to remember your basic skills and safety training like regulator retrieval and mask removal and clearing.
Friends of ours were diving with the Whale Sharks in Belize and had gone out on a day boat trip. Unfortunately, one of the divers in their group was involved in a boating accident, where they were run over by a boat propeller resulting in a head injury. It was a 40 min trip back to the land where the diver could then be transferred to the hospital. The main problem was there were no first aid supplies on the dive boat.
Make sure the dive centre you are going out diving with is reputable and that their boat has first aid and oxygen supplies.
Always dive with a dive flag to alert boats that you are diving in the area.
When diving (especially when near the surface) keep an eye on your surroundings and be conscious of your depth and listen/look out for any potential danger like boats.
Drift Dive gone wrong
Friends of ours were on a guided drift dive in Bali (which is a place notorious for strong currents). Their dive guide had a reef hook (which hooks onto the reef to stop you from drifting too fast), but no one else in the group was given one, so it was very difficult to stay with the dive guide or find a safe place to grab onto a rock or piece of dead coral without using lots of air and energy. After some time they drifted ahead of the guide. They stopped at a ledge which was about 12m deep (which had a massive drop off down the side) to wait there. Without taking much notice the current took them off the ledge (12m) slightly into the blue. They did not mind this hoping they would see some ‘big’ fish but soon found themselves in trouble when trying to get back to the wall. Unfortunately, there was a downcurrent that dragged them both to about 30m below. At this stage they were panicked, found it difficult to communicate with one another, and were exhausted just trying to swim back to the wall. The more experienced diver of the two managed to make her way back to the wall and then helped her buddy back to safety.
Take appropriate equipment for the type of dive you are doing, eg. for drift dives on a reef make sure you take a reef hook. It is better to have the equipment and not use it, then to not have it and need it.
It is important to refresh your learnings on how to spot and deal with different currents. Eg. for a down current, swim horizontally away from the wall and don’t try to fight it.
Remember if you and your buddy are in trouble, you need to make sure you are safe and help yourself first before you help your buddy (similar to what they say on an airplane)!
Refresh yourself on your diving basics and safety training such as when is it the right time to drop your weights and inflate your BCD. Make sure you and your buddy can adequately communicate and are across what your hand signals mean eg. breathing issues, something isn’t right etc.
Also, while it is difficult to do this when you are in a dangerous situation such as this, remember to keep calm and breathe normally. Panicked and quick breathing will have you gulping through your air.
Out of Air
My husband and I were out on a dive in Tobago. The dive was fairly shallow, we had been out for about 50 mins and we were doing our safety stop. My husband checked his air at this point, and it was in the red (well below the recommended 50 bar to end the dive on). As we ascended, he took his last breath of air from the tank and realized he was completely empty. Luckily for him, we were at the surface and he manually inflated his BCD.
No matter how many dives you have done, or how shallow the dive is, keep an eye on your air and alert your dive guide/buddy when you are low! This is not only for your own safety but for your buddy’s safety, as they could get into trouble and need to share your air.
You also need air at the surface eg. to inflate your BCD, or to put your head back under to swim to the boat if it is particularly choppy.
To enhance your scuba diving knowledge and better prepare you for any unforeseen circumstances underwater, we recommend you do a refresher and/or additional dive courses. So check out our article on must-do dive certifications for ideas on what courses to do!
About the Author
Amanda and her husband Dean have been certified divers since 2009. Amanda has her advanced open water and Dean is a dive master. They have travelled the world and dived many sites in Australia, Asia, Central America and the Caribbean.
Amanda and Dean have a travel blog called Scatabout which details the fun and unique experiences they have had on their world travels. You can find them doing something adventurous like scuba diving, hiking or something strange like running down the side of a building.
You can follow Scatabout: