Police say excellent training, well maintained gear and good health are the keys to safe underwater experiences for recreational divers in New Zealand.
Senior Sergeant Bruce Adams, head of the Wellington based Police National Dive Squad, says divers risk 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 five scuba divers and one snorkeler drowned last year in New Zealand waters. Between January 1996 and December last year, 47 people drowned in scuba diving accidents and 20 in snorkeling accidents. This year already three people have died while diving.
"Diving has become increasingly popular," Senior Sergeant Adams says. "The sport has become more accessible and affordable for many people, and the attraction of dive wrecks and marine reserves is fostering interest.
"We urge people to be responsible about their dives and to be safety conscious at all times," he says. "Things can go wrong very quickly and while recovering bodies is part of our business, we'd rather people came back to the surface alive and not in a police body bag."
The dive squad encourages divers to follow a checklist with personal wellbeing, equipment, planning, buddy and boat support as critical factors.
â€¢ Itâ€™s an industry accepted standard in New Zealand that all recreational divers get a health check from their GP before going on dive training courses. Itâ€™s also preferable your GP has specialist dive medicine training and an understanding of how the dive environment can affect 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 New Zealand Underwater Association (NZUA) website provides information on medical conditions in relation to diving and also links through to the SPUMS website. The website references are: www.spums.org.au, www.divenewzealand.com and www.nzu.org.nz.
Regular medical checks are encouraged, especially if you've experienced significant health changes - either through age, serious illness or injury. NZUA has produced a "Best Practice Guideline for Recreational Health Review" to provide guidance as to when a further diving medical is recommended.
NZUA has also produced a "Qualified Recreational Divers Health Status Screening Questionnaire" which has been designed as a screening tool to detect important medical risk factors in diving and therefore assists the diver in determining whether a medical review is advisable.
Originally designed for the tourist diver (who may not have undergone a full medical in New Zealand) it could be used by any diver. Both these documents will be available on the www.nzu.org.nz website from 31 March 2006.
â€¢ If youâ€™re on medication, or have an ongoing medical condition, ask your GP first to see if this precludes you from diving.
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 or taken any recreational drugs.
â€¢ Regularly check and maintain your gear and have it professionally serviced annually - it is your lifeline.
â€¢ Ensure equipment functions correctly and you are familiar its operation, i.e. dive computers. If you use hired or borrowed gear make sure you are familiar with its operation.
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 as moisture can enter and corrode the cylinder and weaken it.
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. If any breathing resistance is experienced underwater, have the regulator professionally inspected.
â€¢ Check your buoyancy compensator device thoroughly before each dive. Ensure there is no perishing; all fastenings, zip-ties, cords and toggles are in place, and that all valves are functioning. Have your BCD professionally inspected on an annual basis.
â€¢ Check all items for perishing, flat batteries or damage. Replace the items or have them serviced/repaired.
.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 (ie: floating at eye level without having to kick or fin) on the surface with your B.C.D fully deflated and holding a normal breath.
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 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/gas for the trip to the surface, decompression and some to spare. Always leave plenty of gas for your safety stop, surface swim and a reserve for an unexpected event. Never breathe your cylinder dry.
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 and basic life support skills.
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 toll free Diver Emergency Number of 09 445 8454. 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. A list of free diving clubs can be found via the www.nzu.org.nz website.
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. 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. It could be the divers only reference point.
"Make diving a safe and enjoyable experience for you, your family and friends," Senior Sergeant Adams says.
New Zealand Underwater Association and Water Safety New Zealand have excellent resources and safety advice, including several informative pamphlets.