Self-help is another term for self-rescue. It enables divers to have a more enjoyable dive by increasing their knowledge on how to solve problems underwater. Pause, think, and act are the three important steps that divers should follow when faced with situations requiring self-help.

Self-help is what you do to problem solve on your own behalf. Liberal doses prevent incidents from becoming accidents. Self-help is a nondramatic name for self-rescue.

Self-help begins with an awareness of where you are and how things are going. Does everything seem to be working and feeling right? Are you relaxed and having fun? Look at your console and see if air supply, depth and direction are all as you thought they would be. That’s a quick personal status check and the simplest method of self-help.

If you develop an awareness of what feels and looks right, then you have a better chance of noticing earlier when something is out of kilter. Effective self-help begins with a pause.

The pause gives you time to do a quick mental and physical inventory. When you stop what you are doing, it is easier to identify what is going on. For example, if you are kicking but feel as if you are not moving forward, what should you do? Self-help strategy is to pause, think and look to see why you are not moving. Is a strand of kelp caught in your fin strap? Has a current come up? Is your dangling console wedged in the rocks? Identify the problem.

The next step is to solve the problem. Slow, deliberate actions are the result of a reasoned decision. Stop kicking, turn around and untangle the kelp or remove your console from the crevice. Make a decision to swim at an angle or get out of the current by changing depth. An appropriate action allows you to continue the dive safely and enjoyably.

Self-help problem solving has three steps – pause, think, act. It would take an entire book to cover every situation you could get into. Would you read or remember it? Probably not. However, focusing on becoming aware of your surroundings and then implementing pause, think, act self-help is easy to recall and do.

Mental focus is another important part of underwater problem solving. It helps you organize your response and then follow through with step 1, step 2, etc. Calmly evaluating the situation during the pause step allows the options you have learned to be considered. If the pause is skipped, an unthinking, perhaps inappropriate action might be taken. If you failed to pause and discover that your console was stuck in the rocks, you might have jumped to ridiculous conclusions – such as you were trapped and probably about to die. This incorrect assumption could have resulted in wild, frantic thrashing around, further entanglement of your other equipment, losing your mask, disorientation, panic and drowning. A pause and look moment would have nipped this accident.


The old saying “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” certainly applies to scuba diving. Check your gear to look for signs of wear and age.

  • Replace mask and fin straps when the rubber develops hairline cracks.
  • Fill your buoyancy compensator on land. Does it hold air? When was the last time you unscrewed the CO2 cartridge in your BC, if it has one? Can you remove it or is it rusted in place?
  • When was the last time you replaced the battery in your dive watch, light or computer?
  • Do you still have a set of dive tables in your BC pocket?
  • Are the tears and leaks in your wet or drysuit mended?
  • Do you have all of the needed equipment for the dive?

Before you get in a difficult situation, think about your responses. A little soul searching now makes for easier decisions in times of crisis.

  • Would you settle down on the bottom and problem solve or immediately bolt for the surface?
  • On the surface, would you inflate your BC (out of habit) to receive the benefits of positive buoyancy?
  • Would or could you really drop things (and lose them) if you were struggling at the surface? When was the last time you practiced dropping your weightbelt at the surface? Would you drop a $2,000 camera setup?
  • Are you in acceptable physical shape for scuba? Can you touch your toes? If not, how can you adjust a fin strap or massage a cramped calf?
  • Have you consciously accepted that you are responsible for your own safety? Your buddy may be a backup and help but are you unreasonably dependent on someone else for your basic safety?


Pause, think, act are three simple concepts that will make your diving more fun. Instead of a bunch of crises during a dive, you will have a series of successes. Enjoy the friendship and camaraderie of a dive buddy but begin each dive by accepting responsibility for your own safety and well-being. A buddy dive is a pledge to assist a partner who practices self-help first.


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