Be Prepared

Preparation for scuba diving begins long before you arrive at the dive site. In addition to the skills required to enjoy the dive, it is important to be in good health and prepared to meet the physical demands of the sport.

In reviewing the data DAN Research has compiled on dive accidents, almost one-third of the diving fatalities were attributed to cardiac incidents; approximately half of these incidents occurred in divers 40-59 years old. What is really disturbing is that 60 percent of those fatalities had signs and symptoms they or others around them recognized as cardiac-related before or during the dive, but they continued to dive anyway.

DAN medics recommend all divers get an annual physical from a physician familiar with diving medicine beginning at age 35 or whenever there is any significant change in health status. An annual physical can help identify heart-related issues and corrective actions to take to reduce the likelihood of experiencing a cardiac-related issue while scuba diving. If you suspect someone is exhibiting signs or symptoms that could indicate a cardiac problem, call the dive or notify the divemaster, trip leader or other authority.
Maintain your gear
Thorough preparation also involves making sure your equipment is maintained properly and has been inspected annually by a qualified maintenance technician. In addition, when travelling to a dive site it is good to pack a "Save-A-Dive" kit that includes critical replacement parts. The basic "Save-A-Dive" kit typically includes rubber goods likely to break or wear out such as mask and fin straps, "O" rings and a regulator mouthpiece with tie wraps. If any of your equipment requires batteries, replacements are a good addition. Depending upon the type of diving you do, the equipment you use and how remote your travel is, your "Save-A-Dive" kit may need to be more extensive. If you are a technical or rebreather diver, it would be wise to incorporate redundant replacement parts for any critical or essential equipment.
Preventative precautions
In order to make sure you don't forget to pack everything you need, it is wise to make a comprehensive checklist. This same checklist will also be helpful when repacking at the end of your trip to ensure nothing is left behind.

Once you arrive at the dive site, it is important for you and your diving partners to follow a regular predive ritual in preparation of each dive. Predive rituals and the use of checklists are essential and underutilized components in proper dive preparation; they reduce the likelihood of equipment errors that could transform an otherwise enjoyable dive into an emergency situation.

If you are planning a boat dive, it is advisable to configure, assemble and check your equipment before the boat ever leaves the dock. You don't want to be preparing your equipment when the boat is rocking at the dive site and other divers are rushing to enter the water.

Part of your predive checklist should include ensuring your dive location has all the necessary emergency and first aid equipment such as emergency communications (cellphone, marine radio, satellite phone, etc.), first aid and emergency oxygen equipment. If you are not bringing first aid equipment to the dive site yourself, you should ask about the availability of this equipment when you travel. When I board a dive boat, part of my predive ritual is to take a look at the first aid supplies and emergency oxygen equipment before we depart.

Predive rituals include configuring, assembling and checking your equipment, review of the dive plan and contingencies, review of hand signals (especially communicating breathing gas management signals), and a review of common emergency procedures such as the removal of weights, managing out-of-air emergencies and buddy separation. Unfortunately, lives have been lost because divers were unfamiliar with critical emergency processes such as how to jettison weights.

Your predive ritual should also include a check of your partner's equipment to make sure everything is in place and working. This means a thorough inspection to ensure breathing gas is on and the regulator is working, the regulator and octopus are configured and functioning properly, the power inflator is attached and working, and emergency signaling equipment (safety sausage, whistle, etc.) is working and in place. Once you've done all of this, you're ready to dive.

Although preparation may not prevent an accident from happening, an effective predive ritual and comprehensive checklist can reduce the likelihood that an otherwise enjoyable dive will turn into a tragedy. As they say in The Royal Air Force, "Learn from your mistakes, better still, learn from others."

Dive safely.