A version of this story originally appeared at Coast Guard Pacific Southwest and was written by Petty Officer 1st Class Thomas McKenzie.
When you look below the surface, there’s a lot involved in diving safety.
Diving looks like a fun, adventurous activity. Fishing, exploring shipwrecks or just enjoying the beauty of the ocean are all popular aspects of the sport. Despite the beauty in the sport however, there are dangers.
Just off the Northern California coast alone there have been at least seven reported cases of recreational diving deaths in the past year, primarily during abalone season, and more than 25 recreational SCUBA diving deaths and injuries all along California’s coast from Monterey to San Diego.
“The Coast Guard doesn’t regulate recreational diving but is generally called in to assist during diving emergencies,” said Rear Adm. Karl Schultz, commander of the 11th Coast Guard District. “In many of these dive emergencies, injuries and death are preventable. We want everyone who enjoys the water, including divers whose sport leaves little room for error, to make safety their top priority. We want you to survive your dive.”
All the normal hazards of water sports and recreation are more dangerous for those spending time below the surface. Strong ocean rip currents can occur at any time of year. Frigid water temperatures, limited air supply, a heavy reliance on equipment for survival and the lack of underwater rescue capabilities all make it essential that divers are fully aware of their own limits and prepared for all possible problems.
Charles Bushey, command master chief for the 11th Coast Guard District, has been diving recreationally since December 1990 and has logged approximately 350 dives since. “I dive as often as my schedule will allow,” says Bushey. “I dive because I can. The underwater environment offers a different perspective on life, immersing the diver into a world that he or she would never be able to see above the water.”
Bushey has taken two trips back to Key West and Pensacola, Fla., this year solely for diving, and has completed six dives in Monterey Bay since January. He says the best diving by far has been in the Windward and Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. He says even though he’s never personally had a major emergency underwater, he thoroughly respects the dangers that come with the sport and offers the following safety advice:
- First, ensure your gear is properly maintained. Have annual inspections conducted at a licensed facility, and visually check your gear before each dive. Your life depends on it.
- Second, never dive beyond your abilities, or the capabilities of your equipment. Diving is a very strenuous activity, requiring both strength and cardio endurance. Divers die each year as a result of medical related emergencies, such as cardiac arrests and strokes. Inexperienced divers can quickly get overwhelmed or disoriented.
- And third, expect emergencies and have a contingency plan. Divers should carry a few items to increase their chances of survival and detection when a dive goes bad, including a whistle, dive signal and light. These three tools can help attract attention, increasing the chance of survival.
“I hear a lot of divers say they don’t want to ‘carry all this stuff’ because it weighs too much or it’s too bulky. That’s just not true,” said Bushey, producing a small pile of life-saving gear from the pockets of his dive rig. “A diver is nearly weightless in the water. And besides, that’s why they make dive gear with big pockets.”
“Plan your dive,” said Bushey. “Then dive your plan.”