Ensure your dive gear is regularly serviced, youâ€™re healthy and have the proper skills before entering the water â€“ these are the key messages from police to recreational divers this summer.
Senior Sergeant Bruce Adams, head of the Wellington based police national dive team, says divers are risking their lives through breaching simple dive preparation and survival skills.
"Too often divers die because they donâ€™t have the proper skills, equipment or physical fitness," he says. "Our waters provide a wonderful diving opportunity but the sport is very unforgiving if you donâ€™t know what youâ€™re doing."
Water Safety New Zealand statistics show that between 1994 and 2003, 80 people drowned through scuba diving or snorkelling â€“ 54 through scuba diving and 26 through snorkeling mishaps.
With summer holidays about to start, Senior Sergeant Adams hopes divers take the time to check their gear and themselves before taking the plunge.
The dive squad checklist centers on personal wellbeing, equipment, planning, buddy and boat support.
â€¢ Itâ€™s a good idea for recreational divers to visit your GP and have a medical check (annual medical clearances/examinations are required for commercial divers). Itâ€™s also preferable your GP has specialist dive medicine training and therefore an understanding of how the dive environment can effect medical conditions or medications. A list of appropriately trained doctors can be obtained from the website of the South Pacific Underwater Medicine (SPUMS) and are listed in every issue of Dive New Zealand. The website references are: www.spums.org.au and www.divenewzealand.com.
â€¢ If youâ€™re on medication, ask your GP first to see if this precludes you from diving.
â€¢ Maintain good health and get some form of exercise.
â€¢ If feeling unwell physically or mentally, do not dive. The sport can be physically demanding but also has the potential to put you under some stress. Little events such as clearing a flooded mask are normally easily overcome but when they combine with other events this puts some pressure on you to overcome, "STOP- REST- RELAX"
â€¢ If you havenâ€™t been diving for a while, start well within your confidence level. Do a refresher course or up-skill with a recognised training provider.
â€¢ If you are diving with someone who has not dived for some time, be aware of this and take his or her confidence level into account. Donâ€™t be pushy or overbearing. Pair inexperienced divers with seasoned and adept divers.
â€¢ Do not dive if you have recently drunk alcohol.
â€¢ Regularly maintain and service your gear - it is your lifeline.
â€¢ Ensure equipment functions correctly and you are familiar its operation, i.e. dive computers.
â€¢ Cylinders require annual inspection. This not only helps prevent them from failing/exploding, but they canâ€™t be filled unless "in date".
â€¢ Expect filling stations to remove valves and inspect them if empty to make sure no water or debris is inside. Do not breathe your cylinder empty at any stage.
â€¢ Regulators should be serviced yearly. If there is any debris or discoloration on the filter this indicates its performance is likely to be affected and it needs servicing by a qualified technician.
â€¢ Check your buoyancy compensator device thoroughly. Ensure there is no perishing; all fastenings, zip-ties, cords and toggles are in place, and that all valves are functioning.
â€¢ Check all items for perishing, flat batteries or damage. Replace the items or have them serviced/repaired.
â€¢ Do not carry an excessive amount of weight and ensure the quick release mechanism is working. If in doubt seek advice from your local dive store. You should be neutrally buoyant on the surface with your B.C.D fully deflated.
â€¢ Thoroughly rinse all gear in fresh water after use.
"If you have any doubts about the state of your equipment, take it to your local dive store for inspection and advice," Senior Sergeant Adams says. "The happier you are with your gear the more you will enjoy the dive.
"Itâ€™s safer to listen to the advice youâ€™re given by service technicians and spend the money on maintenance than risk losing your life."
Plan Your Dive and Dive to Plan
â€¢ Plan well and stick to the plan.
â€¢ Avoid rushing to start the dive. Give yourself time to plan, to get to your destination with time to spare, and to check your equipment and your dive partner before getting into the water.
â€¢ Set timings and depth, and stick to them.
â€¢ Stay well within the limits of your dive tables or dive computer and maintain a very slow and controlled ascent rate.
â€¢ Brief your boatman if you are using a boat.
â€¢ Diving with a partner is one of the safest practices you can carry out, but you must stay together. Be aware of each other all of the time, and not head off in separate directions to hunt crayfish or spear fish. Take turns following each other within arms reach.
â€¢ Stay within you and your buddyâ€™s confidence levels. Speak up if you are not comfortable or are unsure of the activity/location of the planned dive.
â€¢ Leave the seabed with sufficient air for the trip to the surface, decompression and some to spare. Donâ€™t breathe cylinders dry, even during safety stops. You should always have some reserve in the cylinder.
â€¢ Have a plan in place should something go wrong. Tell someone where and when you are going/returning. Plan for a diving emergency/illness, transport to hospital, first aid, communications with land or rescue agencies. Learn CPR.
â€¢ If you become uncomfortable or unwell during the dive, stop-rest-relax then return to the surface.
â€¢ If you have any diving situation that requires medical advice, telephone the 24-hour 0800 4 DES 111 Divers Emergency Number. Calls to this number are funded by Divers Alert Network SEAP and supported by NZUA. If a diver is missing or there is some other life threatening situation, call the police on 111.
In a case of a diver exhibiting symptoms of decompression illness (DCI), lie the diver down and administer 100 percent oxygen as soon as possible. Common symptoms include: headache, numbness or tingling, pain, muscle weakness and dizziness.
â€¢ Have a "buddy" standing by using the â€˜one up one downâ€™ system.
â€¢ Strenuous exercise will limit your bottom time.
â€¢ End the dive when you feel uncomfortable.
â€¢ Do not hyperventilate more than two or three times. Use slow shallow breaths.
â€¢ Rest between dives for several minutes.
â€¢ Use a well fitting 3mm wetsuit and weight yourself to be neutral at about 5m.
â€¢ Join a club and get professional training.
â€¢ Ensure you understand what the divers plan to do, and where and when they plan to surface.
â€¢ Ensure you are competent to drive/operate the vessel. Attend a course with Coastguard.
â€¢ Ensure the boat has communications with land and others â€“ a radio and a cellular phone â€“ and that you know how to use them.
â€¢ Ensure you have spare fuel, lifejackets, bailer, flares, oars or an auxiliary motor, anchor and line.
â€¢ Have the vessel and motor serviced.
â€¢ Check the weather.
â€¢ Let someone know where and when you intend to go and return.
â€¢ If you need to leave your anchor position to search for your missing diver, itâ€™s critical to leave your anchor with a buoy attached. Do not lift it.
"Make diving a safe and enjoyable experience for you, your family and friends," Senior Sergeant Adams says.
New Zealand Underwater and Water Safety New Zealand have excellent resources and safety advice, including several informative pamphlets.
To learn more, check these websites:
www.watersafety.org.nz or telephone (04) 801 9600.