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Before You Take The Plunge: know these things

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Thousands of safe scuba dives are made in the United States each year. Divers Alert Network, the parent company of DAN Boater has been providing medical assistance and advice to this community for 35 years and offers medical guidance and information to boaters who also participate in scuba. Like boating, there are rules for safe participation in scuba and scuba does require a certification.

Scuba is a safe water activity for boaters who follow and practice established rules and guidelines. A training course will familiarize students with underwater and human physiology as well as learning basic physical skills. Students also learn how to use and maintain scuba equipment. Training is the first step to safe scuba.

Safe diving, like safe boating starts with a plan. The diving boater should know their intended dive site: i.e., where to avoid the strong currents, is the dive site a coral formation, a wall or a ledge, when is high and low tide, how much temperature protection (wet suit) should be used and how deep and how long is the intended dive? The dive plan is like a float plan. The occasional diver should always dive with another diver (buddy) and let onshore family or friends know where they will be and when to expect their return. Use a dive flag buoy to warn boaters of diver presence underwater, avoid lanes of high boating traffic and always have at least one person on the boat to be there when you surface. Plan the dive and diving the plan are essential safe scuba traits.

A key difference with scuba is the potential for injury. Gas bubbles (nitrogen) can form in body tissues when a diver ascends rapidly, goes too deep and stays too long causing Decompression Sickness. This is avoided by following established dive tables that greatly reduce the potential for scuba related health problems. Another potential problem is breath holding when close to the surface, but especially when ascending at the end of a dive. This can over pressurize the lungs and force air in to the arterial blood causing an Arterial Gas Embolism. So planning a dive, knowing the dive site and following the rules are logical steps in safe, successful and enjoyable scuba diving.

The most common injury is actually a pressure trauma to the linings of the sinuses and middle ear spaces. Never attempt dives when congested or getting over a head cold as the mucus membrane that lines these spaces often remains inflamed and swollen for several weeks after other cold symptoms have resolved. Middle ear pressure trauma is the number one scuba related injury.

There is no upper age limit for divers, but appropriate physical fitness is important for divers to avoid injury. Diving appears to be effortless as divers float along through the water. At some level this is true, but divers must have a healthy heart and lungs to cope with the increased work load of breathing a cold, dense gas and a healthy heart to manage shifts in blood volume. Divers also need the physical strength and fitness to swim against mild to moderate currents. Physical ability and fitness is a necessity part of safe diving. All participants must be physically capable of handling unexpected physical demands such as currents or assisting another diver. The upper limit of participation is based on fitness, not necessarily age.

Scuba is not just about cleaning the bottom of the boat, it can safely be undertaken by anyone who is fit, knowledgeable in scuba practice and has taken a certification course. Injuries associated with diving are almost 100% avoidable, if guidelines and dive related factors are taken into consideration. Finally, have an emergency contingency place in the event there is an injury or symptoms after the dive. DAN Boater and Divers Alert Network is there to help in an emergency.

For additional information about scuba and boating, send questions to

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Here are some more photos from Underwater World by Chuck Shipley from the September 2016 issue.