Ten tips to rescue one’s self in a dive emergency were presented. Proper training tops the list followed by experience. Air sharing should be practiced including the succession of things to do when mishaps occur during the dive. Emergency equipment and other survival gears should be available. The diver should always be aware of the surroundings, air pressure and depth frequencies. When caught in a dangerous situation, emotions should be controlled then one’s air supply should be prioritized. Lastly, the problem should be dealt without hesitation according to plan.
In a dive emergency, your buddy shouldn’t be your sole shot at survival. Follow these 10 steps – and be ready to save your own hide.
Swimming through a gap in the kelp forest, you realize that although you are still finning, you are no longer moving. After a moment’s surprise, you realize the obvious: you’re caught by a strand of kelp. You can’t see where you’re caught, so you turn your head cautiously to look for your buddy. You see him swimming away, around the other side of the stand of kelp. At least for the moment, you’re on your own.
If something like this hasn’t happened to you yet, it will sooner or later. But even if your buddy watches over you like a mother hen, you’ve got to take responsibility for your own safety and your own rescue.
The ability to rescue yourself, to solve your own problems, begins long before you get wet.
- GET TRAINED
The need for training is obvious, but most divers learn emergency procedures only at the beginning of their diving career and then immediately begin to forget them. So take an advanced course. A rescue diver course would obviously be especially relevant, but most of the others also provide refreshers in emergency management.
- GET EXPERIENCE
More hours under water will make you more capable of dealing with emergencies. Most “emergencies” are only emergencies the first time they happen. Afterward, they’re annoyances. As you dive, you gain confidence in your ability to solve problems under water.
- GET PRACTICE
We all know we should actually practice air sharing, for example, but few of us actually do it. Do it at the beginning of your next dive, just before you leave the descent line. You and your buddy will both be fresh then, and with full tanks it won’t seem so much like “wasted” air.
- VISUALIZE PROBLEMS, PLAN SOLUTIONS
Planning the dive should always include playing the game “What if?” What if one of us becomes entangled? What if one of us runs low on air? What if we get lost? Answering the questions ensures that you and your buddy will work in tandem. Whether the best course of action is to reach for your pony bottle regulator, swim to your buddy, or dump your weights and make an emergency ascent, it’s essential to verbally rehearse your contingencies so that you have a plan at your fingertips, on your mental “desktop,” where it can be acted on if needed.
- GEAR UP
Attitude and training are more important than equipment, but some pieces of gear are critical if you are going to be able to rescue yourself. (See “Ready for Rescue.”)
But most of all, pay attention to the details. When you assemble your gear, take the time to ensure you do everything right. It may help to establish an order in which you always do things, or even to use a written checklist.
- BE AWARE
We’re all taught to check our air pressure and depth frequently while we dive, but they are only two of the important variables. At the same time, you should also check your direction of travel. You should update your estimate of where the dive boat (or exit point) is, and you should pause long enough to gauge the direction and strength of the current. You should check that all your gear is still in place – that your weight-belt is not loose and slipping, for example, or your octopus is not dangling. And you should ask yourself how you’re feeling. Are you getting tired? Cold? Nervous?
All this helps you anticipate problems before they snowball into emergencies.
- WHEN STUFF HAPPENS, STOP AND GET CONTROL
If you’re suddenly caught in kelp or fishing line, for example, it’s natural to feel a rush of adrenaline. But your first task is to get control of your emotions. Otherwise, anxiety can quickly grow into fear and then panic, and when panic comes in the door, reason and your ability to solve problems go out the window. Panic knows only two responses, fight and flight. Neither is much use under water. So before you do anything else, stop all movement to reduce your sensory inputs. Take a slow, deep breath and exhale fully. Remind yourself that as long as you can breathe, you’re not in immediate danger.
What if you can’t breathe, what if, against all odds, your regulator suddenly cuts off your air supply? Even in the case of an interruption to your air supply, you have a minute or more of air in your lungs. When every second counts, that’s all the more reason to get yourself under control so you can use them wisely.
- TAKE CHARGE OF SOLVING THE PROBLEM
Once you are in control of your emotions, take control of the situation. Do not merely summon your buddy and wait passively to be rescued. If your buddy can help, so much the better, but expecting your buddy to take the lead can render you tentative and passive.
Taking charge yourself also helps keep panic at bay because the first specific steps you take put you on the road to solving the problem, and they build confidence. Remaining passive, on the other hand, increases your feeling of helplessness, your anxiety and your vulnerability to panic.
Taking the dominant role yourself is also likely to result in a quicker, more efficient rescue. You know your predicament and your equipment best, after all, whereas your buddy has arrived on the scene late, can’t easily question you and may be slow getting “up to speed.”
Also, if you are the one who takes charge of the rescue, you will learn more from it and be better able to cope with the next emergency. Deciding what to do and actually doing it is what converts a scare into a learning experience.
Your first priority is to secure your air supply. Even if your air supply is not immediately threatened, check how much air you have left so that this does not become a problem too. Next comes your vision. If your mask has been bumped in the excitement and is beginning to leak, deal with it now. Then, make sure your buoyancy is under control. In most cases you’ll want to get neutral, though if you’re on the bottom, you may be more stable if you make yourself negative. Now you’re ready to take problems one at a time. Most of all, avoid flitting from one problem to the next without really solving any of them.
- ACT DELIBERATELY
Begin dealing with the problem itself. Plan how to solve it, then act out each step in the plan carefully and, if conditions permit, slowly.
In the case of entanglement in kelp, for example, take care not to thrash around, as that could just make the tangle worse. If you can’t see where you’re caught, reach carefully behind your back to find it. If you can’t reach it, you’ll have to take off your BC, carefully and slowly, so you can break or disengage the offending line or strand of kelp. (If you’re wearing a weight-integrated BC, take it off only part-way, leaving one arm through an armhole.) If a knife will solve the problem, be sure you have a firm grip on it before you pull it free of its sheath. Forcing yourself to move slowly and deliberately minimizes errors like dropping a knife, and also has a calming effect on your nerves.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Notice that the solution to the problem when you are alone is no different than what you were taught to do anyway. In virtually every situation, your buddy should be there to help you solve your problem, not to solve it for you. The key to a successful self-rescue lies not in specific tricks or gadgets, but in controlling your anxiety, staying calm and thinking through the situation.
READY FOR RESCUE
When a dive becomes a dive emergency, you must be able to breathe, escape from entanglements, return to the dive boat or call for help. Here’s what every safety-conscious diver should have to do just that.
Your octopus regulator should not dangle out of sight and out of reach. It should be clipped in front of you, between chest and belt buckle. One yank should free it for use.
Essential for cutting quickly through entanglements like large clumps of kelp, nets and weed. Too big, however, and it could become a cause of entanglement itself. It should lie flat against your leg or chest or wherever it’s mounted.
Some entanglements are caused by man-made fibers that can resist even a good dive knife. EMT shears, called Sea Snips in their scuba incarnation, will cut nearly anything that will fit in their jaws and they’ll do it one-handed.
DIVE ALERT HORN
A good way to attract attention on the surface is a loud audible alarm. The Dive Alert is a horn that fits between your BC’s power inflator and its air hose. It’s so loud you’d better slip your ears under water firsts or you’re likely to damage your hearing. Requires some pressure in your tank and a functioning first stage, however.
REDUNDANT AIR SUPPLY
Unlike your octopus second stage, a redundant air supply backs up your entire system, from tank to mouthpiece. In low-air emergencies where your octopus (or your buddy’s) wouldn’t help, one of these will get you back to the surface safely, even from 130 feet.
The difference between returning to the dive boat under your own power and calling for help may be a compass. Essential features: a rotating bezel, a side-view window and a luminous dial.
To get the boat’s attention at night, a strobe is a lot more effective than a flashlight. The Tektite Mark Lite Strobe is one of the most compact strobes available and comes with Velcro strap and battery.
If the surface is choppy, the dive boat may be only 100 feet away but hidden by waves. If there’s current, it might be a mile away. If there’s current, it might be a mile away. To attract attention with movement, you must wave something bright. A good sausage is four to six feet in length, easy to operate and of an eye-popping color.