How Dangerous Is Scuba Diving: Top 7 Risks You Should Know!
There is no doubt that scuba diving is one of the most exciting aquatic sports globally. It is accessible for both adults and children. By exploring the magnificent underwater world, divers can get incredible experiences that they will hardly forget for the rest of their life.
Nevertheless, like any other outdoor activity, scuba diving comes with various potential dangers, some of which even lead to fatal accidents. These hazards are mainly generated as a result of high water pressure, toxic sea life, and equipment failure.
My article is written with its key aim to give an overview of the inherent risks of scuba diving. The practical information here can help you maximize your safety when participating in this adventurous sport.
Besides, I have also attached numerous valuable tips that you should strictly follow to avoid unexpected incidents.
Table of Contents
The 7 Risks of Scuba Diving
Scuba diving is exciting but extremely risky as well. It forces you to enter a foreign environment where you must use some extra gear for breathing underwater. This results in a wide range of dangers that pose a common cause of diving-related deaths.
Below is a list of hazards you may confront during a dive. However, you do not need to worry because most of them can be eliminated thanks to proper training and thorough preparation.
Drowning occurs in the highest frequency for scuba diving, and most of that case leads to death. This fatal accident is mainly caused by a feeling of panic or a severe non-diving-related health problem that scuba divers can encounter regardless of their ages.
To be more specific, if your scuba tank suddenly runs out of air while you are still below the surface, you will be prone to overreact. Therefore, you may lose your temper quickly and make poor decisions, resulting in lower chances of survival.
In addition, you should not attend a dive if the physical condition of your body does not support it. A diver who has an illness relating to cardiac or respiratory must report in his or her medical checklist and receive special consultation from a professional instructor.
Divers of all levels should not ignore the importance of health conditions. They will not imagine how dangerous a mild heart attack can become while diving. It is likely that you lose your scuba regulator as a result of unconsciousness.
How to Avoid Drowning
- Never dive without a buddy to prevent drowning.
- Be appropriately trained to scuba dive as well as effectively deal with challenging situations.
- Frequently check your pressure gauge and remaining breathable air.
- Learn how to survive in an out-of-air case.
- Swimming is required for scuba divers. See the reasons here: Do You Need to Know How to Swim to Scuba Dive!
2. Decompression Sickness
Decompression Sickness is one of the most prevalent dangers for scuba diving. It happens when you ascend too quickly from a high-pressure environment to a lower-pressure one. The compressed air used to breathe during a dive has been absorbed exceedingly to your body tissues.
Hence, if you do not decompress properly, the nitrogen in that mixture will form bubbles that block your blood flow. In addition to this primary cause, Decompression Sickness is also the result of many factors, including dehydration, alcohol plus other drug use, lack of sleep, and stress.
Decompression Sickness is detrimental to divers’ health, and thereby, it must be cured as soon as possible. Some typical symptoms are joint pain, headache, dizziness, and nausea.
If you delay treatment, your body may suffer permanent injuries such as bladder dysfunction and muscular weakness. Nerve and spinal cord damage and even death are also involved.
How to Avoid Decompression Sickness
- Buy an affordable dive computer to track vital dive statistics. Learn How to Use a Dive Computer to calculate your bottom time here!
- Ascend slowly at no faster than 30 feet per minute, conduct standard safety stop, and perform surface intervals between dives.
- Always dive within your limit. To know How Deep Can You Scuba Dive, read this article!
- Have a good lifestyle to stay healthy.
- When you realize that your body has a few symptoms of Decompression Sickness, get treatment immediately.
- Ensure that you will not stay underwater too long by planning before any dive.
- Keep in mind that deep diving is always shorter than shallow diving.
3. Arterial Air Embolism
In addition to causing Decompression Sickness, that your body ascends to the surface too rapidly also leads to Arterial Air Embolism due to pulmonary barotrauma.
The main reason for this risk is differences in pressure between your lungs and the underwater environment. During an ascending process, the more the water pressure is reduced, the more air in the body expands, making your lungs swell and generating fatal damages.
Additionally, scuba diving requires compressed air to breathe underwater, which means that nitrogen bubbles are produced while ascending. This creates blockages that prevent your bloodstream from freely flowing.
How to Avoid Arterial Air Embolism
- Ascend to the surface at a slow rate.
- Never hold your breath while ascending.
- Make sure that you always breathe while diving, even through your nose or your mouth.
4. Nitrogen Narcosis
As I said above, nitrogen contributes to causing many fatal accidents for scuba divers, and Nitrogen Narcosis is no exception. This risk occurs when your body absorbs too much nitrogen, and its narcotic effect makes you feel like being drunk; thus, it is also known as Martini Effect.
Although Nitrogen Narcosis seems not to damage directly to your body, its potential consequences are unexpected. This danger impairs your judgment, leading to risky behaviors through creating a sense of overconfidence.
Nitrogen Narcosis often happens when you dive beyond 80 feet with some common symptoms such as dizziness, euphoria, and anxiety.
How to Avoid Nitrogen Narcosis
- Dive with a professional instructor if you want to take a deep dive. He or she is experienced enough to recognize in case you encounter Nitrogen Narcosis.
- Ascend slightly to mitigate the nitrogen’s narcotic effect.
- Do not dive deeper than 100 feet since Nitrogen Narcosis mostly appears at this depth.
- Use nitrox as your breathing air mixture because it helps reduce the percentage of nitrogen.
- Go deeper gradually. This facilitates your adaptability to increasing nitrogen in the body.
The amount of breathing gas you consume directly affects how much nitrogen your body absorbs. Let’s check the Youtube video below to learn some helpful tips about decreasing air consumption while scuba diving.
5. Malfunctioning Equipment
Most amateur people rent equipment at dive shops. However, this is extremely risky since the quality of these rental tools is not always guaranteed. For example, a poor-quality dive computer will offer wrong calculations, resulting in a higher risk of decompression sickness.
Another dangerous case, an inaccurate pressure gauge, may lead to sudden out-of-air situations, which makes you panic as well as increases drowning. In addition, your buoyancy control ability will be affected when a broken scuba BCD significantly alters the amount of air pumped into it.
How to Avoid Malfunctioning Equipment
- Carefully check rental dive gear.
- Ask for a new piece of scuba diving equipment if you suspect the quality of the current one.
- Have your equipment serviced at least once a year.
- Check and make necessary setup prior to any dive.
- Always dive with a buddy to get emergency support.
6. Oxygen Toxicity
Oxygen Toxicity is only a problem for deep diving. A standard scuba tank usually provides you with a mixture of breathing gas, including 21% oxygen. That percentage of oxygen is usual for recreational and shallow diving, but it will become poisonous beyond 135 feet.
Besides, oxygen can also become toxic if your body absorbs too much under a high water pressure environment. Consider some early symptoms like nausea and twitching to avoid falling into unconsciousness or tunnel vision.
How to Avoid Oxygen Toxicity
- Do not go beyond your diving limit.
- Only dive with nitrox or gas mixture if you want to dip deeper than 135 feet and you are an advanced diver.
- Never dive with 100% oxygen.
7. Marine Life Hazards
Most sea creatures are not aggressive unless you deliberately confront or provoke them. Although deaths associated with marine animals are rare, they can even occur when scuba divers are unaware of dangerous critters.
These life-threatening creatures include Barracuda, Scorpionfish, Fire Coral, Stonefish, Box Jellyfish, Blue-ringed Octopus, Pufferfish, and more. Sharks are one of the scariest predators in the blue ocean as well.
How to Avoid Marine Life Hazards
- Keep a safe distance.
- Never touch as well as provoke sea creatures, corals, and wrecks.
- When you attend a shark dive, remember to dive with experienced instructors, carefully listen to their guidelines, and follow the rules.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are you still confused about environmental dangers while scuba diving? You might want to check my answers to some of the frequently asked questions in the section below.
What Are the Odds of Dying While Scuba Diving?
The mortality rate for scuba divers is relatively low, with only 0.5 to 1.2 cases per 100,000 dives. This means that scuba diving is less dangerous than most outdoor activities such as base jumping, kite surfing, and skydiving.
Is Scuba Diving an Extreme Sport?
Scuba diving is regarded as an extreme sport for two fundamental reasons. The first one is that it requires you to use additional gear for breathing. And the second one is when your equipment fails to help you breathe underwater, you will need emergency support from your dive buddy.
Is Scuba Diving Dangerous at 30 Feet?
An arterial air embolism is the most outstanding risk you may encounter when diving at 30 feet. When you ascend to the surface from the depth of 30 feet, your lungs literally swell like a balloon if you hold your breath. This causes severe damage and creates blockages in the blood flow.
Besides, 30 feet below the surface is home to a few hazardous sea life such as scorpionfish or stonefish.
What Is the Most Common Injury in Scuba Diving?
Ear barotrauma is the most frequent injury for scuba divers to encounter. This danger happens when your middle ear space fails to equalize pressure changes during the descending process.
Does Diving Damage the Brain?
Scuba diving requires divers to use compressed air for breathing as well as the breath-hold ability for deep adventures. However, this increases the risk of decompression illness. If these divers delay immediate treatment, they can suffer from Acute decompression illness.
Cerebral decompression illness is a severe complication of Acute decompression illness since it can leave long-term damage to the brain of a diver.
The potential hazards of scuba diving are life-threatening and unforeseen. Thus, divers must be equipped with specialized knowledge as well as careful training before every dive. This helps them keep their scuba diving safe, whether they are inexperienced or seasoned.
To sum up, drowning has the highest fatality rate, while decompression sickness is the most common risk for scuba divers. Hence, you should take practical tips such as diving with a buddy and using a pressure gauge to avoid both dangers.
Is there any problem related to this subject that is not captured in the discussion? Do you have suggestions and comments? Kindly forward them to me via the comment box below. And do not forget to share this article with your friends and family members if you find it helpful.
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About Scott Maldonado
Hi, I am Scott Maldonado, the founder of diveaeris.com. You are welcome to this website. Diving is so much fun, and I’ve got a flair for it. With many diving sessions under my belt, I have transformed from just an experienced diver to a professional instructor.
I will love to contribute to your development as a diver. Therefore, I will be engaging my years of experience by discussing anything related to diving on this website.
Read more about me.
Is Scuba Diving Safe?
Breathing underwater. Navigating shipwrecks. Swimming with sharks. It’s no surprise that the ‘extreme sport’ of scuba diving provokes both curiosity and caution from beginners and the uninitiated. Here, we’re going to answer one of the most common questions: Is scuba diving safe?
Scuba diving is enjoyed by thousands of people around the world every day and it’s considered a low-risk activity compared to many other outdoor and sporting activities. Even such widespread activities as swimming, jogging, and all-terrain vehicle riding have higher reported fatality rates than diving. So, read on as we explore the stats on scuba diving risks, alleviate some common fears, and share a few tips on how to keep scuba diving safe.
How likely are you to be injured while diving?
The most common medical issues associated with scuba diving are sunburn, seasickness, and dehydration (all of which are preventable). There are actually few injuries requiring any sort of medical attention associated with diving. On average, there are only 1,569 scuba-related emergency room admissions in the US each year.
Compared to other popular sporting activities, the estimated average annual ER admissions in the US are:
|Sport||Estimated average annual ER admissions (US, 2016-2020)|
Source: US Consumer Product Safety Commission / NEISS (US Data, 2016-2020)
What are the risks of scuba diving?
The main scuba diving dangers include:
These can have a variety of causes, such as equipment failure, poor dive planning, or ascending too quickly. However, in most cases, divers can avoid these problems by following safe and correct diving practices (like those taught in courses such as PADI Open Water Diver).
What about sharks?
Every year, dogs, snakes, crocodiles, and even hippos kill more people than sharks. Just in Australia there’s an average of 10 horse-related deaths each year compared to 2 shark-related fatalities: Horse Week, anyone? Most divers love sharks and are ambassadors for this greatly misunderstood animal.
Will I run out of air?
Your dive gear includes a display that tells you how much air you have in your cylinder – think of it like the gas gauge on your car. You’ll learn to check this gauge regularly, so it’s unlikely you’ll run out of air while scuba diving. If you do run out for some reason, your buddy has an extra mouthpiece (regulator) so you can share your buddy’s air while you swim to the surface. Some divers also choose to dive with a small backup supply of air.
Is scuba diving safe during COVID-19?
In many parts of the world, scuba diving has restarted following the pandemic, but with additional precautions to ensure it can be done safely. This might include the use of face coverings, social distancing, and rules for sharing equipment.
Is scuba diving safe during pregnancy?
There is limited research into the effects of diving on pregnancy. However, the accepted advice (and that of the PADI Open Water Diver course) is that women who are (or trying to get) pregnant should not dive. Learn more about diving and pregnancy.
Do people die scuba diving?
Unfortunately, yes. Like any activity in the natural environment, there are inherent risks in diving that can never be fully eliminated. However, with proper training and when following sound diving practices, the likelihood of a fatal accident is low.
The diver fatality study, as published by Divers Alert Network (DAN), states that in the US there were only 71 diver fatalities reported in 2017 (the latest year for which data is available). With the US diver population estimated at 2.85 million, this equates to an approximate 2 per 100,000 participants fatality rate, which compares favorably with other common sports such as horseback riding (est. 128 deaths per 100,000 participants).
Considering diving fatalities further, DAN’s most recent Annual Diving Report shows that around 50 percent of scuba diving deaths are associated with an acute cardiac event. In addition, “two-thirds of the reported fatalities in 2017 were between 50 and 80 years of age”. Often, multiple pre-existing conditions are present: hypertensive heart disease, cardiomegaly, diabetes, obesity, in addition to advanced age and other risk factors like smoking.
* Divers Alert Network (DAN) publishes the DAN Annual Diving Report each year. It includes data and analysis on dive incidents, injuries, and fatalities for a given year, and discussion on how to keep scuba diving safe based on emerging trends.
Photo: Tod Warren
Proper training and following the rules are key
The majority of scuba diving injuries and deaths are the result of diver error. So, it’s important to get proper training and always follow the rules and procedures you learned in class.
In the PADI Open Water Diver course, you’ll learn important skills and safety concepts and practice them in a pool (or pool-like environment) before moving on to the ocean, lake, or other large body of water. If you’re not sure if an open water certification is for you, ask your local PADI Dive Center or Resort about a Discover Scuba Diving experience. You’ll get a chance to try on scuba gear, breathe off a scuba tank, and find out if scuba diving is for you while having fun with friends.
PADI Instructors uphold diving’s highest standards. All PADI programs fall under strict educational standards monitored for worldwide consistency and quality. PADI randomly surveys PADI Divers to confirm their courses meet PADI’s high standards as well as the divers’ expectations. No other diver training organization works to maintain this level of professional reliability and integrity.
Tips for keeping scuba diving safe
As well as completing (and following) the proper training and keeping your skills up to date, there are many things every diver can do to help dive safe and avoid scuba-related incidents. For example:
- Keep your equipment well-maintained and check it before every dive
- Listen to the brief so you know the plan – and any local hazards
- Always do your buddy check. It’s easier to fix issues while you’re on the surface!
- Don’t dive alone. A buddy isn’t just good company, but a partner in safety
- Be fit to dive. Both in general health, but also how you’re feeling on the day
- Don’t touch! Many creatures can be dangerous when provoked
- Travel safely, from sun protection to storing gear on boats
- Know your limits and stick to them!
These guidelines apply to every diver, from beginners right the way through to the most experienced instructors. In addition, all PADI Professionals and Rescue Divers have completed training to deal with diving-related emergencies, and the Emergency First Response course is open to any level of diver (and non-divers!).
We hope this article has helped put your mind at ease about our favorite underwater sport, and answered the question, ‘Is scuba diving safe?‘. But, if you have additional questions, contact your local PADI Dive Center or Resort or reach out to our community of divers on Facebook.
Is Scuba Diving Safe?
Natalie Gibb owns a dive shop in Mexico and is a PADI-certified open water scuba instructor and TDI-certified full cave diving instructor.
Is scuba diving dangerous? As with any adventure sport, some risk is involved. Humans are not built to breathe underwater, which means that a diver is completely dependent upon the proper equipment, skills, and emergency training to ensure a safe resurface for every dive. This truth, while it may sound frightening, should not discourage prospective divers. However, it should encourage divers to approach the sport with an appropriate amount of respect. Scuba diving is not dangerous as long as a diver seeks thorough training, follows safe diving guidelines, uses proper gear, and dives within his experience level.
How Likely Are You to Die Scuba Diving?
Let’s cut to the chase and answer the biggest, scariest question first: How likely are you to die scuba diving? According to the “Diver’s Alert Network (DAN) 2010 Diving Fatalities Workshop Report”, a diving fatality occurs in 1 out of every 211,864 dives. Whether this seems risky to you or not is a matter of personal opinion, but let’s put this number in perspective by looking at the fatality rates of some other activities.
The Risks of Scuba Diving in Comparison With Other Activities
1 out of every 211,864 dives ending in fatality doesn’t seem so great a number when compared with the fatality rates of other activities. For example:
• 1 out of every 5,555 of registered drivers in the US died in car accidents in 2008 (www.cenus.gov).
• 1 out of every 7692 pregnant women died from pregnancy complications in 2004 (National Center for Health Statistics).
• 1 out of every 116,666 skydives ended in a fatality in 2000 (United States Parachuting Association).
• 1 out of every 126,626 marathon runners died of sudden cardiac arrest while running a marathon between 1975-2003 (National Safety Council)
Statistically, diving is safer than driving, having a kid, skydiving, or running a marathon. Of course, this is a generalization. All the dates are from different years, and we’re talking about diving fatalities, not injuries. Our goal is simply to lend some perspective to the diving statistic. When we consider why divers die, we discover that for a responsible diver who seeks training and dives within his limits, the risks of diving are even lower.
Most Common Factors Contributing to Diver Fatalities
The top three root causes leading to diver fatalities (DAN Diving Fatalities Workshop Report) are:
1. Pre-existing disease or pathology in the diver
2. Poor buoyancy control
3. Rapid ascent/violent water movement
All three of these are completely avoidable. In fact, if a diver respects the safe diving practices taught during scuba diver training, none of these factors should be a problem. For example:
Before beginning dive training, prospective scuba divers are given a scuba diving medical questionnaire, which, if answered truthfully, should bring up any medical problems that could predispose a diver to injury or death, such as lung diseases or heart issues. Of course, some divers do lie on these medical release forms and ignore the warning not to dive with contraindicated conditions. Furthermore, a diver may develop a medical condition that is contraindicated for diving after certification. Review the scuba diving medical questionnaire periodically and take it seriously, even after becoming a certified diver.
Poor buoyancy control is an issue with many divers. Who to blame for this issue is debatable – the divers who have poor buoyancy control or the instructors who certified them. In either case plenty of certified divers no longer (or never did) understand how a buoyancy compensator (BC) works or how pressure changes on descent and ascent affect buoyancy. If this subject is unclear, or if a diver simply hasn’t developed the physical ability to control his buoyancy properly, he needs practice and a scuba diving refresher course before attempting to dive again.
Rapid ascents are frequently due to poor buoyancy control. In some cases, divers simply panic and rocket to the surface. This is simply unacceptable. If water in a diver’s mask makes him panic, he should practice flooding and clearing his mask in a pool until it becomes routine. If a buddy constantly strays so far that he is impossible to alert in an out-of-air emergency, get a new buddy. A diver who checks his pressure gauge and surfaces with a reasonable reserve of air in his tank is unlikely to run out of air. If the water is so rough that water movement is going to be an issue, don’t dive or end a dive the moment the difficult current/surge/chop is experienced.
DAN’s report goes on to explain that some of the leading contributing factors to diver fatalities are buddy separation and inadequate training for the dive being attempted. Both of these are violations of the standard safe diving guidelines.
Common Diving Illnesses
Some of the most common diving-related illnesses are ear barotrauma, decompression sickness, and pulmonary barotrauma, but these conditions can usually be avoided with proper training and preparation.
The Take-Home Message About Scuba Diving Risks
Is scuba diving dangerous? It all depends upon a diver’s attitude. Divers who treat their scuba training as a “do it once and be done” course and fail to review dive theory and practice basic scuba skills after periods of diving inactivity (and I mean after a short period of diving inactivity, such as 6 months) are more at risk of a diving injury that divers who keep their skills current. Similarly, divers who embark on dives that are beyond the parameters of their training level are also at a higher risk than divers who take their training limitations seriously. For example, most open water certifications qualify a diver to go down to 60 feet, no deeper. If a diver wants to go deeper, there are courses for that — he should take one! For divers who approach diving with an attitude of respect and conservatism, the risks of diving are minimal.