Diving Myths Debunked
Diving, with all its adventure and excitement, is full of myths and misconceptions. In the following, we’ll take a look at a few of these, and see if they hold water. At DIVEIN.com, we don’t just tell the myths, we put them to the test!
As an instructor and lifelong diver, I hear many myths about diving, from students, from dive buddies, and from non-divers. I’ve collected the five myths I hear the most and a bit of fact about each.
Myth #1: Divers use oxygen tanks when diving
Often, when non-divers (and even trained divers) refer to the cylinders we all strap to our backs, the term “oxygen tanks” are used. However, most cylinders contain ordinary surface air, which is only 21 percent oxygen and a whopping 78 percent nitrogen.
Pure oxygen becomes toxic at around 8-10 meters, so diving on oxygen would mean really shallow dives or really dangerous ones. Some divers use Nitrox, an enriched air type, where additional oxygen is added to the mix, but even these rarely go beyond 40 percent oxygen.
Myth #2: Divers get eaten by sharks
Sharks are many people’s worst fear underwater. But truth be told, sharks aren’t all that dangerous.
Less than 100 attacks occur every year, compared to hundreds of millions of sharks killed by humans. And very rarely are divers among those attacked by sharks.
Most sharks are completely benign, with only a few posing any risk to humans (see our shark series for info on sharks, including threat level to humans).
If you see a shark on a dive, you should consider yourself lucky, having experienced one of nature’s most astonishing creatures in real life. Just exercise a bit of good judgment, and you’ll be fine.
Myth #3: If you ascend too fast, you’ll explode like a meat balloon
Ascending too fast is dangerous, but not because you’ll explode. The real risk is bubbles forming in your blood due to stored nitrogen being released faster than your body can expel it. This is a condition known as decompression illness.
While there have been examples of tissue damage in old-fashioned helmet divers who have experienced a catastrophic drop in pressure from the air hose supplied from the surface ship (due to the hose being accidentally disconnected).
These incidents are very rare and include only helmet divers with old-fashioned (pre-1960s) gear, and only at depths exceeding 90 meters.
Myth #4: You can only dive in the tropics
This myth keeps a lot of people out of the water. Thinking that in anything but the tropical waters of Thailand, Egypt, or the Bahamas, there’s no point in diving in. And this is a real shame because there’s lots of great diving outside of tropics.
Any body of water that has seen substantial ocean travel is bound to have its fair share of wrecks, and while the marine life may not be quite as bountiful and colorful, it is no less interesting.
Diving with seals off of the European Atlantic coast? Sure. Dolphins in the Med? Gotcha. Penguins in Australia – Sounds good? Killer whales in Norway – Bring it on!
Of course, the water isn’t as warm so adjustments to exposure suits need to be made, but trust me, it’s worth it. My best dive ever was done within spitting distance of the Arctic Circle.
Myth #5: Diving is dangerous
Ah, the ultimate dive myth, kept alive to no small degree by Navy SEAL wannabe’s who like to boast their toughness by showcasing how dangerous their activity of choice is. And yes, diving can be dangerous, and from time to time, lives are unfortunately lost.
But in most cases, these incidents include edge-of-the-envelope diving, such as an extreme cave or wreck exploration, or dives to extreme depths. And in many cases, bad judgment calls make the main cause.
Millions of people are certified divers and dive many times every year, and yet, the total accident rate, as documented by DAN and the BSAC who both publish annual incident reports, is very low.
It is even rarer that these incidents are fatal. Solid training and good judgment go a long way, as does diving with more experienced divers while you’re starting out.
Don’t let the myth keep you from diving
Don’t let myths hold you or anyone else back from the amazing world of SCUBA diving. Let’s all do what we can to expel these myths whenever we get the chance, so people can make an informed choice about exploring the underwater world.