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Diving with Confidence: How to Prevent Panic Underwater


Scuba Diver underwater© Stephen Frink
Scuba Diver underwater© Stephen Frink

With a desire to explore the unknown, divers put their heads underwater in some very unnatural environments. While relying on a single unit of life-support equipment, it is no surprise that divers occasionally lose their cool. Divers who become startled or face difficult problems underwater can become overwhelmed by fear or anxiety and behave wildly — and without thinking, they panic.

Sometimes panic is completely obvious: Divers may thrash at the surface, stare at you with wide eyes, spit out their regulators or fail to communicate. Whether divers are panicking at the surface or deep underwater, an intervention can prevent them from injuring themselves or others. Rescue divers and dive professionals are trained to recognise panic and intervene, but all divers can take measures to prevent panic before entering the water.

Most people do not openly admit their fears before diving: Egos and unwillingness to stop someone else’s dive lead many uncomfortable divers to enter the water despite their uneasy feelings. Talk with your buddy before diving, and make sure both of you are comfortable with the dive plan. Discussing any concerns may allay a person’s fears and make their dive better and safer. If you notice your buddy is being unusually talkative or quiet, avoiding certain subjects, compulsively checking gear, repeating questions or acting strange before a dive, continue your communication. Stay positive and reassuring, but don’t dismiss fears or pressure a hesitant person to dive.

After entering the water, if you see your buddy struggling with equipment, giving improper signals, suddenly losing buoyancy control or breathing rapidly, assist them as soon as you are able. Easy assists such as reseating a low-pressure inflator hose on a buoyancy compensator or securing an octopus regulator can help reassure your buddy. Stopping to think and breathe can make a big difference for a diver who is uncomfortable: It creates a window of time to solve the problem and gives the diver time to relax, preventing their discomfort from escalating to panic.

If you frequently become nervous underwater, think about what causes your anxiety, and plan how to resolve it. If clearing your mask is the bane of your existence, practice in a pool until it no longer scares you; if you worry about entanglement, get an easy-access knife holster.

You can’t plan for everything, so if you or a buddy experiences discomfort underwater, remember to stop, think and act in accordance with your training to prevent panic. If the dive becomes overwhelming, ascend to a shallower, more controlled environment or end your dive as safely as possible. Keep your cool, prevent panic, and make all your dives injury- and accident-free.

World DAN

For an extensive range of diving health and safety information and downloadable resources, research studies, incident summaries, and free e-Learning courses, take the time to explore DAN World’s new website.

This article was originally published in Scuba Diver ANZ #56

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