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Scuba Diving Risks

Updated on November 23, 2014

Is Scuba Diving a Dangerous Sport?

As in any kind of adventure sport, there are risks associated along with scuba diving, including death. However, there are always safety rules, that if followed help to reduce the risk until it's very low. In scuba diving, there are 3 main types of diving: recreational, technical and commercial. Commercial divers use very specialized equipment to do things like repair deep sea oil rigs or engage in salvage operations. Technical diving is diving for pleasure, but beyond the limits of recreational diving, in terms of depth, time, or not being able to ascend directly to the surface.

Recreational diving, done within very strict limits is a very safe sport when done by people who are mentally and physically prepared for it. Scuba diving places stresses upon your body so it's very important to be in good physical condition. Also, certain depth and time limits must be followed in order to reduce risks. Training to deal with emergency situations is vital. If these things are done, you should be able to enjoy a safe, long diving career!


The #1 Risk in Scuba Diving: Drowning

Any time that you're around the water, drowning is a risk. In scuba diving, when you have a problem and you're under the water, it can sometimes lead to drowning, whereas on land, it would only be a minor problem because you could get to the hospital quickly or get the medication you need.

For example, if you have an asthma attack (although you really shouldn't dive with asthma) underwater, it can often lead to unconsciousness because you are unable to breathe freely and use an inhaler. Or, if you have a heart attack on land and get to the hospital quickly, your chances of survival can be quite high. But, if you're underwater, you will often panic, spit out the regulator, inhale water and lose consciousness, which leads to drowning. Therefore, it's very important to be in excellent physical shape if you scuba dive to reduce your risks of unforeseen medical problems arising when you're underwater.

General panic for whatever reason while underwater can occasionally lead to drowning as well. In incident reports where a diver drowns underwater, there is often air left in the scuba tank but for whatever reason the diver took the regulator out of their mouth and inhaled water.

Another way that people drown when scuba diving in on the surface. Perhaps there are big waves and the diver doesn't have the regulator in their mouth. They inhale a lot of water, panic and inhale even more water which leads to drowning. Or perhaps the diver is not thinking clearly and takes off their BCD before their weight belt when getting into a small boat. They will quickly sink to the bottom if they're wearing a lot of weight and don't think to remove their weight belt. These problems are avoided by always having the regulator in your mouth on the surface if conditions are even a little bit rough. And of course, take off your weight belt first!

Is it safe for me to scuba dive with this medical condition?

Oxygen Toxicity

Oxygen toxicity is a condition in which oxygen overwhelms the nervous system, causing seizures. On land, this is really no problem as the seizure itself is not harmful and the source of high oxygen is removed and the seizure stops. However, when you're underwater and have a seizure, the diver usually spits out the regular, inhales water and drowns.

Under normal recreational conditions using regular air, oxygen toxicity will never be a problem. The problems occur when using enriched air (Nitrox) and going deeper than the maximum depth. The way to avoid this is quite easy: get trained before you use Nitrox and ALWAYS stay above the maximum depth for the blend.

Diver Down

Diver Down: Real-World SCUBA Accidents and How to Avoid Them
Diver Down: Real-World SCUBA Accidents and How to Avoid Them

Scuba Diving accidents from real-life and how to avoid them.


Marine Life

Things like shark or stingray attacks on divers are so infrequent that they really cannot be considered a risk. Animals really only attack when they feel threatened so just be careful to maintain your distance, avoid getting young and their mothers, and always give the animal an "escape route."

With jellyfish, scorpion fish, lion fish, and other "stingers," avoidance is the best policy. Wear full body wetsuits to protect your skin and simply don't touch anything.

Do you think scuba diving is a relatively safe sport?

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Diving in Wrecks and Caves

Many divers end up dying by scuba diving in overhead environments, that is where the surface is not able to be reached directly at any point. If you are a very experienced diver, with near perfect bouyancy and are trained in this type of diving, it can be relatively safe. If you're not trained in it, it's a recipe for disaster and tales abound of inexperienced people dying during these types of dives.

Do you dive in overhead environments such as caves or wrecks?

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Decompression Sickness (aka The Bends)

When you breathe compressed air underwater, and ascend to the surface you are at risk for decompression sickness, which can sometimes be fatal. Air is composed of 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen. Your body metabolizes the oxygen it takes in, but nitrogen is an inert substance within our bodies. At depth, our bodies take in excess nitrogen which needs to escape as we return to the surface, or on land after the dive.

The problems occur when we take in too much nitrogen, either through an excessively long, deep dive, ascending to the surface too quickly or a combination of the two and not enough of the nitrogen is released by the time we are on the surface. This causes the nitrogen to form large bubbles in our bloodstream, which can end up anywhere in the body, but the most serious form ends up in our brains, causing strokes which are often fatal.

However, decompression sickness is very easily avoided by following dive computers or dive tables, ascending within safe limits and always doing a safety stop before exciting the water. Other factors like dehydration, fitness, body fat, and alcohol contribute as well so it's important to be fit for each dive. Additionally, if you do have any signs of decompression sickness, it's very important to get treatment (in a decompression chamber) quickly to avoid further problems.


Arterial Gas Embolism

This Scuba Diving Risk is one of the most easily avoided. Think of your lungs like a balloon. If you bring a balloon from the surface to 10m of water, the balloon will be under greater pressure and will be smaller. When you bring this same balloon back to the surface the gas inside expands back to the original size. If you take a full breathe of air at 10m of water, and go to the surface without releasing some of that air, your lungs will expand to the point of bursting. This causes air bubbles to enter your bloodstream, often ending up in your brain where they can cause strokes and death

Fortunately, this can be avoided by following the #1 rule of scuba diving: never hold your breath! Also, by ascending slowly and with proper buoyancy control, arterial gas embolism should never be a problem.

Diving Science

Diving Science
Diving Science

A comprehensive, yet easy to understand guide to the science behind scuba diving.


Nitrogen Narcosis (aka Rapture of the Deep)

This is a condition in which excess nitrogen in the bloodstream causes a feeling of giddiness/drunkenness, which leads to poor decision making and sometimes death. It happens at depths of at least 30m, although it varies from person to person and you can build up a tolerance to this effect.

It can easily be avoided by avoiding excessively deep dives. It's wise to stay at 30m or above, and certainly above the maximum limit for recreational diving which is 40m.

Padi's Standard Safe Diving Practices

To minimize risks when scuba diving

1. Maintain good mental and physical fitness for diving.

2. Be familiar with my dive sites. If not, obtain a formal diving orientation from a knowledgeable, local source.

3. Use complete, well-maintained, reliable equipment with which I am familiar; and inspect it for correct fit and function prior to each dive.

4. Listen carefully to dive briefings and directions and respect the advice of those supervising my diving activities.

5. Adhere to the buddy system throughout every dive. Plan dives – including communications, procedures for reuniting in case of separation and emergency procedures – with my buddy.

6. Be proficient in dive table usage. Make all dives no decompression dives and allow a margin of safety.

7. Maintain Proper Buoyancy.

8. Breathe properly for diving. Never breath-hold or skip-breathe when breathing compressed air, and avoid excessive hyperventilation when breath-hold diving. Avoid overexertion while in and underwater and dive within my limitations.

9. Use a boat, float or other surface support station, whenever feasible.

10. Know and obey local dive laws and regulations, including fish and game and dive flag laws.

What are your thoughts on the Risks of Scuba Diving?

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    • wetskirt profile image

      wetskirt 3 years ago from Austria

      Being certified diver I find this good reading, thanks for this informative hub, wetskirt

    • LisaDH profile image

      LisaDH 6 years ago

      Scuba diving has its risks, but if you're following the rules and have the proper training, it's well worth it!

    • AQuintinSmith profile image

      AQuintinSmith 6 years ago from Paradise on Earth

      I would love to do this someday. Good information. Thanks

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 6 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      This is a really good overview of diving risks and how to minimize or avoid them. I've never scuba dived before, just snorkeled. I'm actually too chicken to dive, even though I'm fascinated with the ocean. *Blessed*