Scuba diving is an enjoyable, relaxing and at times exciting sport but your first priority should always be your safety and that of your dive buddy. Most accidents could easily have been avoided by simply adhering to what you learn during your PADI open water course.
Luckily, Koh Tao diving incidents are very few and far between and even worldwide statistics show the chances of a fatality while scuba diving are very slim; around 2-3 per 100,000 dives. However, that doesn’t mean you should rest on your laurels. Here are some basic safety factors that contribute to being a safe diver.
1. Never Hold Breath
As soon as you have started your first classroom session you are told that this is the most important rule in scuba diving. The air we breathe underwater is compressed meaning that in accordance with Boyles law as it rises to the surface it will expand. This means if you were to hold the air in your lungs and ascend it could cause a serious injury known as a ‘pulmonary barotrauma’.
Even small depth changes run the risk of causing some damage so you should avoid holding your breath and breath continuously at all times, which is not really that hard now is it. You’ve been doing it all your life!
2. Make Slow Ascents To The Surface
Ascending at the end of your dive at now faster than 18 metres per minute should be relatively easy in this day and age as most people now dive with computers. In fact, most dive computers are even more conservative than PADI recommendations, many having an ascent rate of 10 per minute. Like with the PADI Recreational Dive Planner, and you should always stay within your computer limits. Swimming to the surface too fast may increase your risk of suffering Decompression Sickness (DCS).
DCS is caused from the nitrogen that has absorbed into your blood during the dive does not having the opportunity to release from your blood. As a result, bubbles may form. At the end of every dive, you should always make a safety stop at 5 metres for 3 minutes. This is an in built safety measure to your dive profile, and allows any excess nitrogen to expel from your body before you swim to the surface.
As you finish your safety stop don’t forget the acronym ‘STELA’ before you swim to the surface:
- S – Signal to your buddy that it’s time to go up.
- T – Check the time on your gauge.
- E – Elevate your right arm for protection and your left should hold the hose up.
- L – Look up and around.
- A – Ascend slowly to the surface while maintaining neutral buoyancy.
3. Stay Close To Your Buddy
The old saying of ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’ is never truer than when scuba diving. Your dive buddyisn’t just there to share your underwater experiences with. Maintaining good buddy contact throughout a dive and keeping to the dive plan you have agreed will give more peace of mind and enable a more relaxing time scuba diving.
Your buddy could be your lifeline underwater so straying too far away from each other may cause a problem in the unlikely event you have an equipment malfunction. Remember, if both you and your buddy are diving with computes to always adhere to the most conservative dive computer or air gauge.
And don’t forget the lost buddy procedure – search for no longer than one minute before ascending to the surface if you do become separated.
4. Stay Within Your Personal Limits and Level of Training
You should always stay within the depth limit that you are certified to and never let yourself be pressured into doing dives you aren’t comfortable with. A lot of accidents can occur by people doing things that they are trained for. Deep diving, Wreck diving and using NITROX Enriched Air all require extra training and without the correct certifications your insurance company will not pay out if you are outside your boundaries.
Diving is a nice easy and relaxing sport but you should never be lulled into a false sense of security or make silly judgement errors that could put you in unnecessary danger.
5. Check Your Equipment
As a certified scuba diver you should always check your own equipment as soon as you assemble it. Never rely on someone else to do it for you – you are the one who will be underwater using it. Being lazy and not taking 5 minutes before a dive to perform a pre-dive safety check could prove a mistake if the equipment isn’t set up correctly.
If diving with NITROX be sure to analyse the tanks you will use yourself and fill out the log. This way you know how deep, and for how long you are able to dive.
6. Plan Your Dive, Dive Your Plan
Whether diving with a Divemaster or an unfamiliar buddy you should always make sure everyone understands and is happy with your dive plan. Be sure to go over hand signals, depth and time limits plus what to do in the case of a lost buddy as people may be from other parts of the world were practices differ.
When planning for the navigation you don’t need to have an intricate plan. Keep it simple as this will make it easier for everyone including yourself to execute.
7. Don’t Be Afraid To Brush Up On Your Skills
Skill fade is natural in any walk of life especially if you don’t perform that task on a day to day basis. Scuba diving skills are no different. If taking an extended period out of the water ensure that you brush up by taking a refresher course, which we call a ‘Scuba Review’.
During a scuba review we will go over the skills mastered during your open water course. These skills form the backbone of being a safe diver, and include all the problem solving exercises we teach, to prepare divers in the unlikely event something was to go wrong underwater.
After your scuba review, an ideal first dive would be relatively shallow dive, preferably with nice environmental conditions. This way you are easing yourself back into it to scuba, allowing time to practice, apply and fine tune your buoyancy skills and blow out the cobwebs before getting stuck in to the more advanced and adventurous dive sites around Koh Tao.
Author: Crystal Dive