All activities present some risk. There is risk involved in walking across the street or driving a car. To avoid injury while participating in an activity, people take precautions for their safety. Precautions must be taken for scuba diving just as for any other pursuit. The level of risk in diving is similar to that of flying in an airplane. Both are low-risk activities when done with well-maintained equipment according to established rules and in good environmental conditions. Unfortunately, both activities are unforgiving if you ignore the rules and recommendations designed to minimize the risks.
The following information (and the information throughout this book) will make you aware of injuries that scuba divers can incur. This information alerts you to potential hazards and, more important, helps you learn to avoid injury. If you do what you are taught to do as a diver, your risk will be minimal, and all of your diving experiences will likely be pleasant ones.
Pressure changes with depth. Changes in pressure can severely injure bodily air spaces if you are not in good health or if you fail to equalize the pressure in the bodily air spaces with the surrounding pressure. You will learn equalizing techniques as part of your training. Gases are normally dissolved in the fluids and tissues of your body. Increased pressure increases the amount of gas dissolved in your body. If you ascend too rapidly from a dive, the gases in your system can form bubbles and produce a serious illness known as decompression illness. By regulating your depth, the duration of your dive, and your rate of ascent, you can avoid decompression illness. Failure to heed depth and time schedules and ascent rates can result in serious, permanent injuries.
Diving can be strenuous at times. You need sufficient physical fitness and stamina to handle long swims, currents, and other situations that may arise. If you become winded from climbing a flight of stairs, you may need to improve your level of fitness before learning to scuba dive. Exhaustion in and under the water is hazardous. A good exercise to improve fitness for diving is swimming with fins while breathing through a snorkel.
Diving takes place in water, an alien environment. You use life-support equipment to dive, but you cannot depend entirely on the equipment for your well-being. Aquatic skills are essential in and around water. People with very weak aquatic ability can drown when minor equipment problems occur—problems that could be handled easily by a person with good water skills. To be a scuba diver, you must be comfortable in the water.
You should not be overly concerned with the potential risks of diving because the possible injuries are preventable. Learning how to dive as safely as possible is the purpose of your training. You will learn to minimize the risk of injury and maximize your enjoyment of the underwater world.
Here are some questions you should ask:
- Is this training sanctioned by a diver training agency?
- How long has the instructor been teaching scuba diving?
- Which levels of training is the instructor qualified to teach?
- May I speak with the graduates of a recent class?
- Why is this course better than others in the area?
- Are assisting and rescue techniques taught in the course?
- How many instructor-supervised open-water dives are included?
The tuition for diving instruction is usually between $200 and $300. The lowest-priced course may not necessarily be a bargain. Find out what is included with the course fee and, more important, what the total cost will be for you to become certified as a scuba diver. You do not have to purchase all the equipment needed to scuba dive, but you need to have a mask, snorkel, fins, and usually boots and gloves for your training. Use of the additional required equipment is typically part of the course tuition.
You should find out whether the price of the course includes the costs of educational materials and certification. There may be additional costs for travel, lodging, parking, boat fees, and equipment rental for open-water training. Determine the complete cost before enrolling in a course.
When you have selected the best program for you and have enrolled in a course, you should receive a reading assignment for your first session. If you are not given an assignment, speak with the instructor; your learning will be enhanced if you read in advance about the topics to be presented in class. Good diving instructors provide a handout with reading assignments.
When you qualify as a scuba diver, you assume many responsibilities. You are responsible for your safety, for the safety of those you dive with, for the image of scuba divers, and for the preservation of the diving environment. The diving community encourages divers to accept responsibility for their actions. To be part of the diving community, you need to be a responsible diver. Learn what you should do, then do what you learn.
This is an excerpt from Scuba Diving, Fourth Edition.