Whether you are scuba diving in California, Hawaii, or Brazil, the safety precautions remain the same. Stay hydrated to avoid dehydration, make sure your health is great before you dive, and always inspect your gear before you jump.
Regardless of whether you are a beginner or expert, there is always something new to learn and safety precautions to take into account.
“Scuba is like anything else — the more you do it and the more you learn, the better you are at it,” says Karl Shreeves, technical development executive at PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors). “Stretching yourself with experiences and additional training under professional supervision accelerates your diving abilities and opens the doors to new adventures.”
“You save air and save yourself a lot of frustration by making a habit of navigating — not meandering aimlessly — when you're diving, even when you think you don't need to,” Shreeves says. If you’re not confident with your compass, “practice on land then use it a lot while diving. You'll be amazed at how well you can find your way after some practice,” he adds.
“Scuba diving has an incredible safety record, but like anything with potential risk, there are still incidents,” Shreeves says. “In the Western hemisphere, the #1 cause of death while scuba diving, though, is catastrophic medical events like heart attack.” He explains that “most of these probably would have occurred had the individual been doing anything with comparable physical demands.” It’s important to stay in shape, have regular physicals, and take care of your cardiovascular health in particular, he adds.
Although medical emergencies are the No. 1 cause of fatalities while diving, data suggests that most non-medical fatalities involve willful (not accidental) dive practice violations, Shreeves says. “These violations may seem reasonable at the time, but end up causing or contributing to the incident.” It is essential that all divers follow proper dive procedures on all dives, he adds.
Shreeves says “dehydration is thought to contribute to decompression sickness risk, but being overly hydrated may contribute to immersive pulmonary edema (in swimmers as well as divers, btw).” He explains, “It’s not that complicated — avoid the extremes. Drink enough to avoid thirst and have light color urine, but don't force yourself to drink more than that.”
“With experience you can estimate the weight you need within a pound or two but until then, or if you're not sure, take the time check your weight,” Shreeves says. “Diving with too much weight wastes air, increases the potential for buoyancy control problems and lowers your feet, risking damage to fragile marine environment.”
“Diving is more fun when you do it with someone, and data supports that it reduces risk,” Shreeves explains. “For optimal buddy teaming, stay within the limits of the less experienced diver and maintain a non-threatening atmosphere in which any diver can question or end any dive at any time for any reason.”
“There's a huge ‘duh’ factor here, but divers still run out of air sometimes, even though you know how much you have. Plan your air use and head for your exit with ample gas and a reserve,” Shreeves says. “If you're doing so properly and have no unforeseen issues, you should be back on the surface with your reserve intact.”
“Pre-dive checks reduce the risk of diving with something out-of-sorts and tighten your buddy team at start of the dive,” Shreeves says. It’s important to secure gauges or alternate air sources properly, he adds. “‘Danglies’ get damaged, can be hard to locate in an emergency, waste air by causing drag and may beat up the environment.”
“The Dunning-Kruger effect (and we're simplifying it here) says that beginners tend to overestimate their abilities; that includes in diving. Even though you may feel like you can take on more, stay within the limits of your training and experience,” Shreeves says. “This applies if you're a hang glider pilot, rock climber, surfer, brain surgeon, bottle washer . . . you get the point.”
“Every dive has the same primary objective: for everyone to come back safe and unhurt,” Shreeves says. “That should be obvious, but sometimes divers focus more on a secondary objective like taking pictures or exploring a wreck, and that's often the first link in a chain of events leading to an incident.” If you want to become an old diver, put conservative, accepted dive practices ahead of everything else, he adds.