Safer Diving: Team Emergency Planning for Scuba Diving
How to be a safer diver and boost safety for your entire dive team!
This is the second in a three-part article series about emergency planning and being a safer diver. The first covered personal dive planning, this second one covers the dive team emergency plan, and the third and final will cover situational awareness.
Diving rarely happens solo. Usually, we dive in pairs or for some training organizations, in teams. Often, groups dive together organized in buddy pairs. In any case, it is worth treating emergency planning as a team thing and making the emergency plan part of the team briefing. Being a safer diver means being on the same page as your diving comrades.
Have a backup exit point
Sometimes, the conditions we dive in are hard to read. Other times, conditions change during a dive.
In any case, we can suddenly find ourselves unable to make it back to the originally planned exit point.
Should this happen, it is helpful to have a planned secondary exit point. For a beach dive, this can be as easy as spotting a place along the coastline where you can get ashore and where a car can subsequently pick you up.
For dives along more inaccessible coast, it is prudent to be able to locate one or more alternative exit points using underwater navigation, enabling you to make for one of them, should the current suddenly pick up.
Know your emergency communication options
Sometimes, this can be as easy as having a cell phone on hand. Other times, you need to think about satellite phones or VHF radios.
It all depends on where you’re at and what kind of diving you’re doing. No matter what, make sure you have a way of calling for help, and that everyone knows how to use it. If you’re on a boat, make sure everyone knows how to make a distress call on the VHF radio (or at least make sure that one person who is not diving knows).
If you’re doing a shore dive, make sure that there’s at least one fully charged phone in the car that everyone has access to, and that allows you to make calls to the emergency services without entering a code. And if you’re diving far away from home, make sure you know what the local emergency phone numbers and radio frequencies. Half the success of emergency planning is preparation.
Bring a first aid kit
Make sure there’s a first aid kit on hand, and make sure it is suited for dive accidents. Typical dive injuries include cuts and scrapes from rocks, reefs or wrecks, stings from venomous marine life, and of course decompression illness.
So a good dive first aid kit should contain bandages, compresses, band-aids, antiseptics, local anesthetic ointment, and any antidote relevant to local wildlife. For jellyfish, vinegar works well, along with some anesthetic ointment. And of course, for deep dives, where there’s a risk of decompression illness, an oxygen kit is a necessity.
Store all of this somewhere where all divers can get to it, and make sure everyone knows where to find it. Ideally, there should a non-diving team member trained in oxygen administration for all deep dives.
Have a plan for buddy separation
Whether you dive in strict buddy teams or more as a team, make consistent checks that everyone is still accounted for, and have a plan for what to do if someone goes missing.
The very basic version of this is taught in entry-level dive courses, and it is typically something along the lines of “search for each other for one minute, then surface”. The idea being that separated divers will then meet up at the surface after no more than a minute or two. And generally, simple is better.
However, you may have circumstances that make a different plan the better one, so adjust as you find best. Emergency planning also means being able to adjust to a situation as it develops.
Share the plan with your dive team
All of these plans won’t do any good if they only exist inside your head. So before the dive, take a few minutes to share your plan with the other divers on your team. It doesn’t have to be about leadership or not.
Just simply let them know that you have brought a cell phone and a first aid kit, that you’ve spotted a good backup exit point. Ask how people think you should all handle buddy separation.