Image via WikipediaTips for scuba diving emergencies
For a scuba diver, panic is one of the most dangerous circumstances that can occur. A diver in a panic will forget all they have learned about self-preservation and will become a danger to others around them. The longer that a diver is in a panic, the more likely exhaustion and drowning will occur. Basic training in emergency response techniques could help assist someone in a panic before it can turn into a tragedy.
There is the perception; however, that one does not need to know basic water safety and emergency response skills unless you are planning to become a certified rescue diver. Unfortunately, this makes for a large percentage of divers who have inadequate training to handle an emergency, or to be capable in preventing one. I am not talking about managing an underwater crisis, but situations and events that happen at the surface. Let’s face it; all diving emergencies eventually will come to the surface. That is why it is prudent that even the most novice diver be prepared to assist in aiding a victim, or at minimum, be alert to the potential dangers.
Ultimately, non-swimming rescues are the safest option. Most of the time, though, you find yourself already in the water or the diver is out of reach. If you do attempt a swimming rescue, and are not wearing a buoyancy compensator, remember to take a floatation device to aid in the assist. If you are wearing a BC, be sure that it is slightly inflated. The best way to perform a swimming approach is to use a heads-up front crawl. This will allow you to maintain visual contact with the victim in the event they begin to submerge. Do not come within reaching distance of the person until you assess their level of stress. Panicking is one of the greatest threats to both the victim and the rescuer in an aquatic emergency. If they seem to have some control, close the distance to assist. Make sure you do not over-exert yourself. Take into account that your own safety is the primary concern when assisting a diver in distress, and that practice and repetition are essential to executing a successful rescue. Never attempt anything that is beyond your capability.
When assisting a panicking diver, you should:
1. Try to communicate with the victim, be calming and reassuring.
2. Establish buoyancy for the victim. Inflate their BC by circling around behind them and reaching over their shoulder for the power inflator. Keep your other hand on their tank valve so they cannot turn around.
3. Assist the diver in recovering their regulator and keep them turned away from the waves so the water does not splash into their face.
4. If the victim begins to struggle, you need to maintain a defensive position. Swim away on your back while keeping your eyes on the victim. Bring your knee up with your fin extended towards the victim. If they get too close to you, place your foot gently on their chest and push them away. Do not kick at them as this may cause injury. Swim in the direction of safety, as they may continue to follow you there.
5. If you cannot retreat to a safe distance then as the diver reaches for you, respond by grasping their wrist with your opposite hand and pull them hard towards you. This will cause you both to spin with you ending up behind the victim.
6. If the victim has grasped you around the head or neck, they will try to climb you. To escape, you need to turn your face away from the crook of their arm and towards their hand. Then grasp their elbow with your hand closest to the crook of their arm while grasping their hand or wrist with your other hand. Push up on their elbow and pull out on their hand, and as you sink, twist their arm away from you. Immediately swim clear and prepare to regain control.
The optimal way to assist a panicking diver is to not let them panic in the first place. It is much easier to lend a hand to a tired diver then it is to help one in a panic. Be observant of divers lagging behind or off by themselves. Before the onset of panic, almost all divers will show signs of fatigue. If you notice this, talk to the diver to determine the potential problems (i.e. muscle cramps, overweighting, onset of hypothermia, etc.) and ask if you can help. Always talk calmly and try to be reassuring. If it is necessary to tow the diver back to safety, then ask the diver to stay on their back. Grab them by their tank valve, being sure to make yourself buoyant first, and then pull them along while you swim. If the diver is able, have them fin as much as they can. If they are hypothermic, though, have them keep as still as possible. Excess movement from the victim will decrease body temperature when swimming in cold water. Be sure not to tire yourself out, taking a slow and steady pace and resting when needed.
A diver is not required to hold a Rescue certification to be a conscientious and observant diver. Common sense and a little practice will enable any diver to be able to avert a potentially dangerous situation. Scuba diving in general is a well-regulated sport, but it is up to the individual diver to make it a safe sport. Even if you never intend to go past Open Water certification, check with your local scuba diving shop to see if they teach any basic water safety courses. If they do not, check with a Red Cross chapter in your area. Most have water safety classes, though not diving specific, that can teach you excellent water safety and rescue skills. Keep in mind that these skills are applicable for all who participate in aquatic activities, not only for scuba divers.
Thanks to J.W. Dawson