Coping With Dive Emergencies

Scuba Safety Measures

Scuba Diving, while fun, has it’s share of hazards like any outdoor sport. Knowing how to recognize and deal with potential problems before (or when) they occur can make the difference between life and death when you’re under water.

Here are a few safety precautions to take, as well as some of the things that can happen that you should look out for.

Plan Contingencies for Every Emergency – there’s that law good old Murphy made, that “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. While a seemingly pessimistic and cynical statement, it actually helps sometimes to take this approach, especially when planning for emergencies.

Take enough gear to handle all the potential problems that you’ll encounter, and have back up means of getting external help on hand in case something arises that you weren’t prepared for.

Decompression Injuries: DCS – know how to recognize the symptoms of these two maladies. They will require treatment in an emergency decompression chamber. They are: Decompression sickness, or DCS, and Cerebral arterial gas embolism, or CAGE.

DCS occurs because the body forms air pockets in it when utilizing compressed air, as well as becuase it is subject to increased external pressure from the water. DCS occurs because the nitrogen in a person’s air supply, unlike oxygen, is NOT used up and absorbed by the body, and the increased levels of nitrogen, unless controlled by a device on the breathing apparatus called a regulator, collects air pockets in the body.

These create a cramping sensation, nausea, and lightheadedness, and a physical sensation referred to by divers as The Bends. DCS usually occurs on an overly fast descent, as the body and the regulator can’t compensate fast enough for the increased water pressure.

Decompression Injuries: CAGE – Cerebral arterial gas embolism occurs more often as a result of an uncontrolled rapid ascent, as opposed to the bends that hit divers due to a fast descent. This manifests as sharp pains in the body, especially in the sinuses, head, and in the lung area. This is a very serious condition that can be potentially fatal.

CAGE is caused when the rapid ascent of the diver causes air bubbles similar to those formed during DCS, only this time the air pressure changes that trigger the bubbles in the body are due to a sudden lessening of the water pressure surrounding the body.

This causes the trapped air to have a higher pressure volume than the surrounding atmosphere. In effect, the diver is an unopened can of soda that got shaken real good underwater, and once he leaves the water, it’s the same effect as opening the can…


Injuries – the injuries that can occur from decompression range from the merely bothersome, like nausea, sharp pains, and cramps, to more serious matters. One of the most potentially damaging is trapped air bubbles reaching the heart or the cerebral system.

As some of you may have seen on television, there are episodes where a villain kills a sleeping victim in a hospital by injecting air into their dextrose. The air bubbles formed in the veins cause cardiac arrest when they hit the heart, or a stroke when they hit the brain.

This is a true fact, and the air bubbles causes by decompression may have this effect, if large enough. This is one of the major reasons why controlled ascents and descnet rates are so vital to safe diving.

Other Potential Maladies – aside from decompression sickness, which is the most common and severe type of injuy incurred by divers, other maladies are mostly atmospheric in cause. Hypothermia is caused by dives in extremely cold water, or by diving with a wetsuit that doesn’t provide enough heat insulation.

Dehydration also occurs on a dive, surprisingly. Be sure to drink lots of water before you go. Asphyxiation occurs, on the other hand, if the air supply used is flawed and doesn’t give the body adequate oxygen to function.

Scuba Lifesaving – Take up a first aid class that will allow you to recognize the signs of the conditions given above, and also teaches you emergency measures to be used in those events.

Don’t rely on text based or verbal descriptions, make sure that the first aid course gives you full, hands on training in dealing with these injuries. Also keep your first aid kit handy and well stocked on your dives, and always have a means to call for help from others, including a radio transmitter, cellular telephone, and even signal flares.

While seemingly bulky and unnecessary, these items can mean the difference between life and death.