Police urge recreational diving care this summer

Police urge recreational diving care this summer

National News

Make sure your dive gear is regularly serviced, you’re healthy and have the proper skills before entering the water - these are the key messages from police to recreational divers this summer.

Detective Bruce Adams, head of the Wellington based police national dive squad, says divers are risking their lives through breaching simple dive preparation and survival skills.

&#34Divers too often die because they don’t have the proper skills, equipment or physical fitness,&#34 he says. &#34Our waters provide a wonderful diving opportunity but the sport is very unforgiving if you don’t know what you’re doing.&#34

His warning is prompted by a recent coroner’s report into a Bay of Islands diving fatality which highlighted the importance of well maintained and serviced equipment.

A 55-year-old man drowned off Rawhiti and a dive squad examination of his equipment pointed to a fault in the buoyancy compensator which had a missing toggle in its rear dump valve. This could have caused the victim to surface too fast if he was attempting to slow his ascent by trying to operate the valve.

Good health, proper training including refresher courses and familiarity with safe diving practices were also recommended by coroner Catherine Ayrton.

Water Safety New Zealand statistics show that 82 people have drowned through diving accidents in the last ten years - and all but seven of the victims have been men. Scuba divers accounted for 52 of the fatalities with 30 snorkellers losing their lives.

The Northland region has the highest rate of underwater drownings followed by Wellington. Almost all the drownings have occurred at sea. So far this year eight divers have drowned.

The police dive squad examines equipment used in all recreational and commercial dive fatalities and reports to coroners on its findings - a total of 30 inquiries in the last eight years.

Bruce Adams says poor preparation, lack of physical fitness, pre existing medical conditions, poorly functioning equipment and breaches of dive rules and tables regularly show up in his reports.

&#34A small incident during a dive can escalate if you aren’t prepared and don’t know what you’re doing,&#34 he says. &#34Panic sets in even though the initial problem may be easily rectified.&#34

With the start of the 2003 summer, he hopes divers take the time to check their gear and themselves before taking the plunge.

The dive squad checklist centres on personal wellbeing, equipment, planning, buddy and boat support.

Personal wellbeing

* It’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). It’s also preferable your GP has specialist dive medicine training or an understanding of the dive environment. 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.

* If you’re on medication, ask your GP first to see if this precludes you from diving.

* Maintain good health and get some form of exercise.

* If feeling unwell do not dive.

* If you haven’t been diving for a while, start well within your confidence level. Do a refresher course or up-skill with a recognised training provider.

* If you are diving with someone who has not dived for some time, be aware of this and take their confidence level into account. Don’t be pushy or overbearing.

* Do not dive if you have recently drunk alcohol.

Diving Equipment

* Regularly maintain and service your gear - it is your lifeline.

* Cylinders require annual inspection. This not only helps prevent them from failing/exploding, but they can’t be filled unless &#34in date&#34.

* 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.

* 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.

* 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.

* Rinse all gear in fresh water after use.

&#34If you have any doubts about the state of your equipment, take it to your local dive store for inspection and advice,&#34 Detective Adams says. &#34The happier you are with your gear the more you will enjoy the dive.

&#34It’s safer to listen to the advice you’re given and spend the money on maintenance than risk losing your life.&#34

Plan Your Dive and Dive to Plan

* Plan well and stick to the plan.

* 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.

* Set timings and depth, and stick to them.

* Brief your boatman if you are using a boat.

* Diving with a partner is one of the most 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.

* Stay within you and your buddy’s confidence levels. Speak up if you are not comfortable or are unsure of the activity/location of the planned dive.

* Leave the seabed with sufficient air for the trip to the surface, decompression and some to spare.

* 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.

* If you become uncomfortable or unwell during the dive, stop-rest-relax then return to the surface.

Free Diving

* Have a &#34buddy&#34 standing by using the ‘one up one down’ system.

* Strenuous exercise will limit your bottom time.

* End the dive when you feel uncomfortable.

* Do not hyperventilate more than two or three times. Use slow shallow breaths.

* Rest between dives for several minutes.

* Use a well fitting 3mm wetsuit and weight yourself to be neutral at about 5m.

* Join a club and get professional training.


* Ensure you understand what the divers plan to do, and where and when they plan to surface.

* Ensure you are competent to drive/operate the vessel. Attend a course with Coastguard.

* Ensure the boat has communications with land and others - a radio and a cellular phone - and that you know how to use them.

* Ensure you have spare fuel, lifejackets, bailer, flares, oars or an auxiliary motor, anchor and line.

* Have the vessel and motor serviced.

* Check the weather.

* Let someone know where and when you intend to go and return.

* If you need to leave your anchor position to search for your missing diver, it’s critical to leave your anchor with a buoy attached. Do not lift it.

&#34Make diving a safe and enjoyable experience for you, your family and friends,&#34 Detective Adams says. &#34We don’t need the work that a diving tragedy brings.&#34

The diving organisation New Zealand Underwater and Water Safety New Zealand have excellent resources and safety advice.

To learn more, check these websites: