Breathe In, Breathe Out, Dive On!

By Dan Orrdivesafety dorr 500x800px

Researchers from the world’s largest dive safety organization, Divers Alert Network (DAN), reviewed their accumulated fatality data and conducted a root cause analysis on nearly 1,000 diving fatalities occurring between 1992 and 2003 to determine what circumstances or events turned an otherwise enjoyable diving experience into a fatality. The DAN researchers identified four different phases in a fatality scenario: the triggering event followed by the disabling incident, the disabling injury and, ultimately, the cause of death. This research identified the factors involved in each phase of a diving accident in order to help the recreational diving community understand what transformed an enjoyable but relatively unremarkable dive into a fatality. Usually, if something unexpected occurs during a dive, divers simply deal with it using their accumulated knowledge and experience and continue the dive. Occasionally, however, something happens that triggers a cascade of events, ultimately and unfortunately, resulting in a diver’s death. 


Amazingly, the most significant triggering event, the earliest identifiable root cause that transformed a dive into an emergency, was “Insufficient Gas”. In analyzing these nearly 1,000 fatalities, approximately 41% of the divers who died ran out of breathing gas during the dive! Putting this in context, nearly 400 divers might be alive today had they correctly managed their breathing gas supply. With the technology that we have available to us today--submersible pressure gauges, air/gas integrated dive computers, etc--running out of breathing gas underwater should simply never happen. One sure way to reduce diving fatalities is through effective management of your breathing gas supply. In other words, be “Air (or Gas) Aware”. As part of your pre-dive preparation, divers should discuss monitoring their breathing gas, communicating gas supplies during the dive, and having a pre-established point when the dive is to be terminated because of gas supply limitations. Two divers in a buddy team should be able to communicate critical information during a dive so that they can effectively manage their collective breathing gas supply. Every diver should begin each dive with a full cylinder of breathing gas and end the dive (standing on the boat, dock or shoreline) with breathing gas remaining to deal with any unforeseen situations or an emergency. Having an uninterrupted breathing gas supply from the time you enter the water until both you and your diving partner are back onboard your boat, on the dock or on the shore is the only truly safe way to dive. During the dive, just as you periodically let your buddy know you’re OK, you should communicate the current status of your breathing gas supply and have a pre-determined point where you terminate your dive so that you will complete your dive plan with a pre-determined amount of breathing gas remaining. Anything short of effective management of your collective breathing gas supply puts you, your diving companion and every diver in the vicinity at risk!

Nothing we do is without risk. We can, however, manage risk with proper training, thorough preparation and the effective application of knowledge and skill*. We all agree that diving is like nothing else on earth.  To make the most of your diving opportunities, make every dive like it was preparing you for the next not like it was going to be your last!

*Scuba Diving Safety by Dan Orr and Eric Douglas

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Ocean Geographic Explorer (OGX) is a diving adventure resource with a special focus on marine photography and ocean conservation. Our content is divided up into six primary categories: Travel, Sea Science,  Equipment, Photography &Video, Conservation, and Lifestyle. We endeavor be a portal for people with all levels of interest in the marine environment  to learn about and become part of a community of like-minded ocean lovers who enjoy sharing their knowledge of and experiences in our fascinating ocean world.

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