Scuba diving is a unique experience - under the water, floating freely with the currents, with exotic marine life and bright colours all around you. But being underwater is not our natural habitat, so mistakes can be very dangerous.
Always get comprehensive training from a qualified instructor before you go out for your first dive. There is a range of respected safety procedures and protocols that must become second nature to you, so that if something goes wrong, you react quickly to maintain your safety.
Never dive alone. Always go out with a buddy and maintain communication and contact with your buddy at all times.
Ensure you check your equipment thoroughly before you leave the shore. Faulty or malfunctioning equipment can be very dangerous, once you are under the water.
If you stay fit, follow the rules and respect the marine environment, scuba diving can take you to worlds many have never seen.
To perform well at any physical activity, you need to be fit. Diving puts unusual pressures on your body and mistakes can have a serious impact on your safety. If you work at improving your dive fitness, you’ll be better able to carry and manage your dive gear, you’ll be a better swimmer and importantly, you will improve your stamina which will help you stay under longer and will prove invaluable if you get into difficulty. If you are fit, you will have more fun and be safer.
Get into the pool
Spending time in the water, even if it’s only a swimming pool, will make diving more comfortable for you out in the sea. Swimming as your regular form of exercise and you’ll also be giving your lungs and heart a workout that will help them cope better when you are under the water.
In the gym
While building muscle might not seem necessary for diving, some weights work in the gym will help your general fitness and make it easier to move that heavy tank around.
Use the dumbbells to do some repetitions of exercises like simple squats, chest presses and the bent over row. Crunches will help improve your core strength by building up the muscles that support your torso.
Work your feet and calves
Divers can suffer from painful foot and lower leg cramps due to the position of their feet in fins while diving. Exercises that strengthen the muscles around the arch of the foot will help prevent foot cramps. Try picking up a piece of fabric like a sock with your bare feet while keeping your heel on the ground.
For calf muscles, do a set of seated calf raises every day to strengthen the muscles. Make sure you give the muscles a good stretch after the calf raises.
All professional trainers and coaches emphasise warming up before you start exercising, but how many of us actually do it?
Some simple warm up exercises will get your circulation flowing and loosen up your joints before you get into the water. A two minute warm up that includes all the big muscle groups will prepare you for the physical activity of the dive. Try some squats, press ups, torso twists and arm windmills to get that blood pumping. If you’ve got existing aches and pains, stretch the affected area before your dive to avoid further injury.
Make sure you drink plenty of water in the days before your dive. If you are dehydrated when you dive, you are more likely to be at risk of decompression sickness (DCS).
Do not drink alcohol in the lead up to a dive. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect on your body. Perhaps more importantly, drinking alcohol affects your decision-making abilities, which will be crucial in emergency situations under water.
Plan your nutrition
Diving for an hour burns about 500 calories, about the same as a ten mile bike ride. To stay on top of your calorie intake, eat foods that burn carbohydrates slowly, like whole-grain toast and bananas. If you are going to do several dives over the day, take appropriate food with you and fuel your body in between dives.
Training yourself to remain calm
When you are under water, high pressure situations can appear out of nowhere and can be life-threatening. Before you get in the water, sit for a while and visualise your dive. Think about how you would need to react if a problem arose during the course of the dive, whether it is on the way down, once you are at your final depth or coming back up. During your dive, take a break before you move through these key stages. Check your equipment, the environment around you and your buddy and just pause and relax.
Common problems and injuries
While life-threatening problems for divers usually involve the underwater environment and the pressure the water exerts on the body, there are other aspects of diving that can cause injury. Once you are aware of the possible problem situations, you can take action to avoid them.
Barotrauma involves the kind of injuries that happen due to the difference in pressure of the water and the air cavities in your body. The most serious of these barotrauma are arterial gas embolism (AGE) and decompression sickness (DCS).
AGE is one of the main causes of death in divers. It occurs mostly during ascent, when your body’s respiratory gases expand as you come up to the surface, causing small bubbles of gas to leak into your bloodstream and travel to the heart and brain. To avoid AGE, make sure you don’t hold your breath at any time during the dive, and particularly on ascent.
DCS is another form of barotrauma that can also happen on ascent, particularly if you come up to the surface quickly. While you are diving, nitrogen bubbles build up in your body and during a slow, planned ascent you will stop at intervals to decompress, allowing the gas to disperse in your bloodstream. Rapid ascent means the nitrogen bubbles build up and can block vessels and damage tissue. DCS is commonly known as ‘the bends’.
Other barotrauma can affect your ears, lungs and eyes, sometimes called a squeeze. When the pressure inside the air-filled parts of the body is less than that of the water you are diving in, you can experience pain. One of the most common is mask squeeze, which can be prevented by letting some air into your mask during equalisation.
Generally if you breathe out regularly on the way, take your time equalising properly and equalise often, you can prevent most barotrauma.
Scratches, bumps and bruises
Getting in and out of your dive boat can be tricky, especially in rough weather, resulting in scrapes and bruises.
If you are diving in coral, or around barnacles and rocky areas, it is easy to cut yourself without noticing it. Take care when diving on a wreck, as jagged and rusty metal can give you a nasty scratch. If you do cut yourself, make sure you clean the wound thoroughly after your dive and seek medical help if the wound becomes infected.
Beneath the waves there are plenty of marine animals that bite and sting. Some of these are even deadly. Do some research before you dive about what may be in your particular waters. Stay aware of the marine life around you and understand the risks that things such as jellyfish, stingray and fire coral can pose.
Respect the marine life when you dive, and remember that you are out there to enjoy the environment and see the teeming world under the seas. Give marine life space and don’t touch anything.
Know your limits
Diving need not be hazardous if you are well trained, have properly maintained gear and you dive with an equally well prepared buddy. Know your own abilities, as well as your buddy’s and don’t push yourself beyond your own limits and the limits of safety. The sea can be very unforgiving if you make mistakes.