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  • September 22, 2022 6:07 PM | Howard Ratsch (Administrator)

    Sustainable Tourism and Diving: Tips for Treading Lightly - Dive Training Magazine (

    This article represents the views of the authors.  The article has not been fact checked by myself, the Board of Directors or any member of the USA Dive Club.

    Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.

    Sustainable Tourism and Diving: Tips for Treading Lightly

    Story by Alex Brylske
    November 20, 2019

    If you’re a diver, here’s a little tidbit I’ll wager you’re completely unaware of: Did you know you’re an “adventure tourist?” Indeed, you are — at least according to the travel industry. In fact, scuba diving and snorkeling are specifically listed as adventure travel activities by what may be the top expert in the field — the Adventure Travel Trade Association. They define an adventure tourist as anyone engaged in a travel experience that involves at least two of three elements: 1) physical activity; 2) the natural environment and 3) cultural immersion.

    But before venturing further on the adventure tourism path, let’s look first at travel and tourism in general. In terms of both direct and indirect impacts, tourism is a major contributor to the global economy. The international tourism industry generates nearly one trillion dollars annually and comprises 30 percent of the world’s exports of commercial services (six percent of total exports). According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, it accounts for more than nine percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs one in every 10 people on earth. By comparison only three other industries rank higher in global export: fuels, chemicals and automotive products. And it’s growing.

    The scuba diving industry is an excellent example of how tourism has grown in recent years. In fact, it has changed fundamentally. Once driven by scuba equipment sales it’s now driven by travel. For example, at 19 billion dollars in revenue annually, dive travel now accounts for more than six times the revenue generated by dive equipment sales.

    But you’re not in the diving or tourism business. So, why should you care? The reason is simple. The dollars quoted in all those statistics are your dollars. Thus, you have a very big voice in how, where and on what that money is spent. In other words, you have enormous power to influence the future direction of the travel industry, generally, and the dive travel industry, directly. More importantly, your dollars don’t just contribute to the financial success of whatever travel provider you choose. If you choose wisely, your dollars can also have a positive impact on the quality of the destination you visit and on those who live there.

    RELATED READ: How Shark Tourism is Protecting Global Shark Populations

    So, what’s the problem? Well, it turns out that tourism can be a double-edged sword. In many ways it has the potential to be a victim of its own success.

    International tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) now exceed a billion per year — millions of which are scuba divers. That’s equivalent to the entire population of China and the numbers are expected to increase to nearly two billion by 2030. So, it’s hardly surprising that at destinations where their bread and butter is a natural resource (like coral reefs), the impact from tourism can range from harmful to devastating. Yet, tourism can be done responsibly and actually become a positive force for conservation, if — and that’s a big “if” — it’s done right. It’s up to you. As one travel expert has puts it, “Tourism is like fire — it can cook your meal, or it can burn your house down. The choice is yours.” Preventing the fire of tourism from getting out of control is the biggest challenge facing the travel industry today because some popular destinations around the world are being literally “loved to death.” This phenomenon even has a name — over tourism.

    When it comes to the environmental consequences of over tourism, marine tourism is perhaps the sector most affected of all nature-based travel activities. As a major share of marine tourism takes place in the tropics — and what draws folks there is the environment — it doesn’t take a genius to realize that much of marine tourism is wholly dependent upon healthy coral reefs and associated ecosystems (seagrass beds and mangrove forests). And surely there’s no segment of tourism more dependent on the continued existence of healthy coral reefs than scuba diving.

    Of course, tourism isn’t the primary reason for the demise of earth’s coral reefs. And though factors such as destructive fishing practices, pollution, coastal development and climate change are far bigger problems, tourism does play a role. However, the reason reefs at popular dive destinations are in trouble isn’t from what you might assume. When talk turns to how coral reefs are degraded at popular tourist sites, divers are often viewed as the culprits. After all, our high visibility and close association with coral reefs makes us easy targets. Without question, anchors as well as clumsy and careless divers do take their toll on our beloved reefs. And the overabundance of divers on any reef, regardless of their behavior, will have a negative impact. But this problem pales in comparison to other destructive factors.

    A colleague of mine once summed up the problem quite accurately. “A diver,” he contends, “probably does more damage to a coral reef by flushing the toilet in his hotel room than he’ll ever do by diving on one.” It was a glib but astute insight into the real problem. From a tourism perspective, the concern is less about direct damage from recreation activities like diving and boating, and more about the indirect threats from the infrastructure needed to support tourism. Every tourist needs a place to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom. They also prefer that these facilities be very near or, ideally, on the water. In addition, every tourist demands the facilities and services that make tourism possible, such as beaches, docks and marinas. These all add to the eutrophication, pollution, demand for seafood and sedimentation problems already threatening reefs from local population pressure (a population pressure that’s sometimes driven by tourism). And considering that on small islands, tourists can sometimes outnumber the local residents, it’s easy to understand the validity of my friend’s “flushing the toilet” assertion.

    While the environmental consequences of tourism are often obvious — at least for those willing to take a closer look — there are other not-so-obvious results that involve people. Clearly, the consequences of a rapidly expanding tourism industry have, at many destinations, been as detrimental to societies as it has to the physical environment. For instance, many developing countries’ job opportunities in tourism have encouraged the migration of people to tourism centers, often disrupting or outright destroying traditional ways of life. Already some communities and cultures have been completely displaced or destroyed by a booming tourism trade. This social upheaval can lead to problems with crime, pollution and a general erosion in the fabric of society. Ironically, this can lead to the decline in the appeal of a destination because it no longer feels “authentic” to travelers, thus killing the golden egg-bearing goose.

    RELATED READ: A Guide to Ocean Conservation Organizations and Efforts

    This phenomenon is, in fact, so common and well-studied that it even has a name — the Tourism Area Life Cycle (TALC). The TALC cycle views tourism as a dynamic process where destinations go through predictable successive stages. It starts when a relatively undeveloped location initially attracts a few adventurous tourists seeking pristine nature and indigenous cultures. Then, as tour operators and related businesses recognize the market potential of the location, the local tourism industry rapidly expands and develops. However, the changed nature of the now “discovered” destination causes the type of tourists who were initially attracted by the undeveloped nature of the location to move on to other destinations that remain undeveloped and pristine — and the cycle is repeated.

    But there’s nothing inevitable about this cycle. By recognizing the cycle of over tourism and unsustainable tourism practice soon enough, destinations can reverse the downward spiral. Corrective actions can be taken, such as limiting tourist numbers, establishing marine protected areas, improving infrastructure codes or restricting certain destructive practices. Ideally, the entire tourism paradigm can change, but this calls for a different kind of tourism: Sustainable tourism.

    Sustainable Tourism: A New Paradigm

    The problem is that undiscovered tourism destinations are not unlimited. As a popular protest poster tells us, “There is No Planet B.” Tourism has become so big that we have almost run out of truly pristine locations. So, without the option of creating more places on earth, the only reasonable alternative is conducting the business of tourism in a different way — and that’s exactly what’s beginning to happen all around the world. Tourism, and tourists, are changing for the better. So, let’s look at how.

    Traditionally, the reason for travel has been to rest and relax. In the marine sector, this emphasis on leisure is referred to as “sun, sea and sand” tourism. This describes the bulk of marine tourists and probably always will. But over the past few decades there have been some significant changes. Increasingly, tourists want more from their holiday than a suntan and souvenirs. These more intrepid travelers — I’ll no longer call them tourists — want a closer and more experiential encounter with the destination they visit than lying on the beach during the day and partying at night. For many, the primary motivation for selecting a destination is not the quality of its beaches, golf courses or of night life, but its healthy natural environment and undisturbed culture. In the words of one tourism expert, “An increasing number of travelers today want holiday experiences that are authentic, immersive and self-directed.” And what’s good news for us is that’s almost the perfect definition of scuba diving.

    The other good news is that, while the travel and tourism industry is sustaining a healthy grow of five to seven percent annually, the adventure and nature-based travel industries are growing in the 20 to 30 percent range. And even more significantly, these travelers most often understand, in fact prefer, to travel responsibly. Of course, this hasn’t gone unnoticed by many within the travel industry and has already led to massive changes in the travel products offered by many destinations and how they’re marketed.

    The evolution of adventure travel can be traced to early attempts to meet the demand of changing attitudes toward tourism, which led to the development of the ecotourism industry. From this evolved the idea that travel should not only serve the tourist but the destination and its inhabitants as well. As ecotourism became more mainstream, newer and more authentic directions were explored and the market segmented into many more specialized sectors and activities. Then, with the growing recognition of the declining state of earth’s environment, many in tourism began to realize that making tourism more accountable to both the local environment and residents could no longer be just a specialized endeavor targeted to “tree-huggers.” All forms of tourism should become part of the solution and not part of the problem. From this movement was born the idea of “responsible tourism,” or what’s become better known as “sustainable tourism” — an off-shoot of the growing concern for sustainable development.


    But what exactly does sustainable tourism really mean? While arguments rage among the experts in the field, one of the best functional definitions has been offered by those who have been involved in international tourism since its inception, Caribbean islanders. According to the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, sustainable tourism is defined as “the optimal use of natural and cultural resources for national development on an equitable and self-sustaining basis to provide a unique visitor experience and an improved quality of life through partnership among government, the private sector and communities.” Importantly, this definition recognizes that tourism isn’t just an economic activity. As it has both environment and cultural consequences, so too must it take into account, and be responsible for, its effects. This ethos is exemplified in the commonly used sustainable tourism mantra “people, planet, profit” or what some have termed the “triple bottom line.”

    In general, sustainable tourism has six underlying goals. These include: minimizing environmental impacts; improving local contribution to sustainable development; protecting the quality of the environment by maintaining biological diversity and ecosystem function; minimizing the use of non-renewable resources; ensuring cultural integrity, local ownership and social cohesion of the community; and last, but certainly not least, providing a high quality experience for tourists.

    Today, savvy tourism operators trying to cater to the new, more environmentally and socially conscious traveler have a daunting task. No longer can they be satisfied by having the nicest hotel and restaurant or best beach or even the most exciting tours. Study after study has shown that many travelers today — a majority of European and a fast-growing number from the U.S. — are just as or more concerned with the environmental and social footprint of their travel provider as they are with the actual product. So, travel providers and destinations today aren’t turning to sustainability because it’s a nice thing to do for the earth or future generations. They’re doing so because it makes business sense and realize that not to do so will at some point will mean they’ll no longer be in business.

    So, What Can You Do?

    My experience has been that divers are a special breed. The most serious among us are anything but tourists — we’re travelers. We take very seriously our responsibility to protect the environments we visit and are increasingly recognizing that our travel demands are sometimes placing undue stress on local ecosystems and cultures. So, what we can do to help ensure that operators and destinations hear our wishes loud and clear to make tourism more sustainable is simple. As I indicated at the beginning, we can vote with our wallets. When making your choice of what destination and operator to patronize, take a few minutes to consider not only what you might “get for your dollar,” but how that destination or operator does business and reward those who are doing it right. In that way, you can become part of the solution and help drive a process that will make tourism a positive force for change. Let’s use the fire that we helped ignite to create a warm glow — not burn our house down.

  • August 22, 2022 3:02 PM | Howard Ratsch (Administrator)

    Educational Blog

    More Than Darkness: Human Factors and the Night Diver - Scuba Diving News, Gear, Education | Dive Training Magazine (

    This article represents the views of the author.  The article has not been fact checked by myself, the Board of Directors or any member of the USA Dive Club.

    Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.

    More Than Darkness: Human Factors and the Night Diver

    By Robert N. Rossier

    It’s like taking a stroll downtown at night,” said our instructor, Don. “Everybody is out — a really wild time.” Waving his arms in animated motion, he proceeds to describe the reef-city after dark. “You’ve got corals and tubeworms dancing to the tune of the tides, tentacles swaying in the gentle current. A parrotfish is curled up on the corner in its translucent sack, trying to sleep it off, while gangs of crustaceans cruise the dark corners of the reef’s back streets. And the city lights are a thing of beauty — a soft glow of bioluminescent algae and comb jellies. But like taking a stroll through the city at night,” he warns, “you’ve got to be careful, take precautions. After all, it’s a different world down there at night.”

    When you first hear about night diving, that’s the focus — the difference in the marine life at night. But how about us, the divers? Are we different, too? At first blush, night diving might not seem like such a big deal. It’s dark, so we use dive lights. No problem, right? But nothing is that simple in diving.

    In reality, some very important differences distinguish day from night diving. Diving at night introduces an entirely new regime of human factors considerations that affect our physiological, psychological and biomechanical adaptation to the underwater environment. By understanding these human factors considerations, we can improve our aquatic decision-making and safety in the water after dark.

    Aquatic Decision Making

    At the core of our ability to dive safely is our judgment and decision-making ability. To exercise good judgment and make safe aquatic decisions requires a continuous assessment of three vital factors: the environment, our equipment, and our own abilities and limits. Training and experience are key elements in making these assessments, but our experience and training in daytime diving does not necessarily prepare us for a night excursion under the waves. Each of these factors takes on new dimensions as daylight fades and shadows grow longer. Water conditions and diving environments considered within our abilities for a day dive become much more difficult to negotiate at night. Our familiarity with our equipment becomes more critical when diving in darkness, and additional equipment is needed to ensure proper vision, communication and navigation, both underwater and on the surface. Finally, our own abilities and limits vary much like the daily cycles of day and night.

    The Rhythm of the Night

    One of the first implications in night diving is the effect of our circadian rhythms, our daily sleep-wake cycles that alter our states of consciousness. Body temperatures, blood pressure, stress hormones, digestive secretions and mental alertness all follow a daily pattern that resets itself according to daily cycles of sunlight and darkness. Of these, mental alertness may well be the most important to a diver, as it affects our decision-making ability.

    According to experts in the field of circadian science, a person rising at 7:30 a.m. with adequate sleep will experience peak alertness levels in the morning around 8 to 9, and again in the evening between 7 and 9. (See Figure 1.) Alertness drops to a lower level from about 12 noon to 3 p.m. and drops off rapidly after 9 p.m. Based on this data, divers can generally expect reduced mental alertness on a night dive. The excitement of a night dive might conspire to artificially elevate mental alertness, but other factors, including acute and chronic fatigue, may also come into play.

    The effects of fatigue on human performance have long been known and understood. Acute or short-term fatigue is the tiredness experienced after long periods of physical or mental strain. Work, study, travel, lack of sleep and physical exercise can induce episodes of acute fatigue. The symptoms include reduced coordination and impaired alertness, both of which can be problems for divers. If a diver works, plays or parties too hard over a period of several days, the effects of acute fatigue can significantly degrade his or her performance and safety on a dive.

    To illustrate the importance of mental alertness, consider the fact that 32 percent of marine accidents occur between the hours of 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. It’s also interesting to note that four of the worst industrial accidents in recent history involved impaired judgment caused by fatigue. The Chernobyl and Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accidents, the grounding of the Exxon Valdez off the coast of Alaska and the Bhopal, India, chemical plant leak all occurred between midnight and 5 a.m. — a period when mental alertness is at its lowest.

    One approach to minimizing the effects of reduced mental alertness is to carefully plan and prepare for night dives. By making night dives relatively simple and conducting them in low-risk environments, we can also reduce the potential for problems.

    Circadian rhythms and fatigue aren’t the only human factors challenges faced by night divers. Night diving also presents a number of physiological and biomechanical considerations, including nutrition, night vision adaptation, heat balance and increased task loading.

    Nutrition: A Diet for Night Diving

    Nutrition is an important consideration for divers regardless of when they dive, but nutritional strategy is particularly important at night, when we strive to overcome the effects of circadian rhythms and fatigue. Scientists and nutritionists have learned that good nutrition and eating habits play an important role in mental performance. The types of foods eaten and the sequence in which they are consumed have a marked impact on our state of mind, mental alertness and reflexes.

    Chemical neurotransmitters derived from the foods we eat help transmit messages to the brain, causing a response in terms of mental acuity and activity. Seratonin, a chemical neurotransmitter derived from carbohydrates, tends to have a calming, relaxing effect on mental activity. While this can help reduce stress, too much of a good thing can be bad. A high-carbohydrate meal consisting of pasta, crepes, potatoes, starchy vegetables and sweets can increase seratonin levels enough to induce not just a pleasant feeling, but lethargy and the need to sleep. Likewise, fats tend to prolong digestion and rob the brain of blood to aid in the digestion process. The result is fatigue, sleepiness and overall lack of alertness.

    Alternatively, a meal that begins with high-protein foods, such as steak, eggs and high-protein cereals and is relatively low in carbohydrates and fat, will help promote mental alertness. Dopamine and norepinephrine, derived from protein in our food, stimulate the brain to higher levels of alertness and activity.

    Most divers are savvy enough to avoid alcohol prior to a night dive. Alcohol affects both the central nervous system and the circulatory system in ways that can erode the margin of safety when diving. Even a small amount of alcohol can degrade mental acuity, increase heat loss and predispose a diver to decompression illness. (See sidebar.) When planning a dive after dark, it’s best to stay away from the bar.

    Night Vision Adaptation: Seeing Isn’t Always Believing

    As most divers would agree, the most obvious difference between a day dive and night dive is our inability to see as well at night. Ambient lighting in daylight allows us to see clearly, and our peripheral vision is limited only by the physical constraints of our mask. At night, our vision is limited by the beam of our dive light. This tends to focus our attention on a relatively small area of the submarine world, but it has other consequences as well.

    Surprisingly, we can often see significantly more than we might expect even without the aid of a dive light, although vision at night without artificial light may not be quite so clear. The retina of the human eye has two types of receptors, referred to as cones and rods. The cones are located in the central area of the retina and provide clear, focused vision in well-lighted conditions. The rods, located in the area surrounding the cones, see less clearly, but more readily adapt to dark lighting conditions. “For more information, see “Understanding and Equipping for Underwater Vision” in the June 2000 issue.”

    Our best night vision develops after a period of exposure to low lighting, a process called dark adaptation. This can take as long as 30 minutes for total adaptation to blackness, but 20 minutes in dim red lighting will provide a moderate degree of adaptation. Dark adaptation is impaired by the carbon monoxide present in cigarette smoke, or a dive boat or compressor exhaust.

    Even a brief exposure to white lights will require a lengthy adaptation process to restore night vision, so be careful not to shine a dive light in another diver’s eyes. Night vision may also be impaired for some time after submerging from a brightly lit environment.

    Reduced visual perception can manifest additional problems on a night dive. Pilots have long been taught that various visual illusions, disorientation and vertigo can occur in a darkened environment. The sense of balance and motion is derived from several sources, including visual references and the intricate mechanisms of the inner ear. Normally, the brain compares inputs from various senses to determine orientation and movement.

    Without all the necessary information, the brain can become confused, causing the individual to take inappropriate actions. For example, certain accelerations caused by rapid head movement, turbulence or changes in aircraft orientation combined with limited visual references can induce spatial disorientation or vertigo in pilots. If unaware of the problem, a pilot might put his aircraft in a dangerous position while attempting to rectify an incorrectly perceived problem. In these situations, pilots must rely on the aircraft instruments to determine the orientation and true motion of the aircraft. A failure to rely on or properly interpret flight instruments combined with the lack of visual references can cause a pilot to fly a perfectly good airplane into the ground.

    For divers, a lack of visual references combined with rapid head movements, currents or surge can also create false perceptions of motion and orientation. Head-first descents in dark or limited-visibility water, even with a dive light, can result in disorientation and vertigo. (See sidebar.) When the beam of our dive light is scattered or reflected during a rapid descent, the effect can be similar to driving at night in a blinding snowstorm, and disorientation and vertigo can result. To reduce the effect, make a slow, controlled, feet-first descent when diving from a boat or in open water. Following a descent line or anchor line and monitoring a depth gauge or computer during the descent virtually eliminates the vertigo and disorientation.

    Perhaps more importantly, a lack of visual references on the ascent can lead to disorientation and excessive ascent rates. Again, avoiding this problem on a night dive is relatively simple. On a shore dive, we can maintain contact with the bottom throughout a gradual, controlled ascent. When diving from a boat or surfacing in open water, a good option is to use an ascent line and closely monitor the depth gauge or dive computer to maintain a proper ascent rate.

    What’s Hot and Who’s Not

    While the water temperature might in fact be the same day or night, several factors tend to increase our heat loss on a night dive. The air temperature is likely to be lower at night than during the day, possibly leading to greater heat loss prior to and following a night dive. In addition, we have no sun to warm us before, between and after night dives.

    It’s not unusual to begin a night dive with a heat deficit from the day’s diving, particularly if we haven’t taken the time to get the proper rest, warmth and nutrition following the day’s diving. Experts warn us that it is quite possible to “feel” warm, even if our core temperature is reduced.

    In his book Deeper into Diving, author and lecturer John Lippmann states, “Divers often disregard cumulative effects of repetitive diving. After the initial dive, the diver might experience superficial skin warming and thus feel warmer. However, his core temperature may still be reduced. Feeling warm is no guarantee that your heat losses have been replaced. The best way to show that your heat losses have been replaced is to start sweating. This shows the body needs to lose heat.”

    Don’t make the mistake of considering heat loss merely a matter of comfort. As with nutrition and fatigue, body temperature has a direct effect on mental processes. If body temperature decreases significantly, judgment might be jeopardized. In addition, breathing rate may increase in response to cold, causing a diver to consume air reserves more quickly.

    “Cold-induced mental changes are probably the danger to the diver,” writes Lippmann, “because once the brain does not work properly, wrong decisions can easily be made. Some authorities believe that long, slow cooling of the body does not stimulate shivering and the subsequent heat regeneration. As a result, the diver might not notice the heat drain from his body until significant hypothermia has developed and shivering finally occurs. Some consider this ‘silent hypothermia’ to be the major hazard to the diver in cold water, as it will make the diver more accident-prone without him being aware of it.”

    The take-home message for night divers is to minimize heat loss. Precautions against heat loss may include wearing extra exposure protection on all dives prior to a night dive, even in warm waters. We can limit our cold exposure prior to night dives by limiting bottom time and depth. Limiting bottom time reduces the period during which the heat loss is high, and limiting depth minimizes the compression of the exposure suit, thus improving its performance. Changing into warm, dry clothing between dives can reduce evaporative cooling.

    Task Loading and the One-Handed Diver

    Beyond the physiological considerations of a night dive, we must also contend with a basic biomechanical handicap. The simple act of using a hand-held dive light means that we have only one free hand. Buoyancy control, ear clearing and communications must be accomplished “single-handed.” While not necessarily a problem, the difficulty can increase dramatically when towing a surface float or manipulating other accessory equipment.

    The single-hand limitation can become a significant handicap, even when contending with relatively minor equipment problems. As Dr. Glen Egstrom, Professor Emeritus UCLA Department of Physiological Sciences, explains, “We typically use one hand to hold the dive light, and this becomes a problem in an emergency situation. If we drop the light so we can deal with the problem two-handed, we can no longer see.”


    Choosing a dive light with the proper characteristics can help solve the problem. The proper buoyancy, size and handle design may make a dive light easier to use, and thus ease the task loading associated with a night dive. Some divers find that a wrist-mounted or head-mounted light reduces the workload and makes night diving easier. Another way to cope with the problem of increased task loading during a night dive is to closely coordinate tasks with your buddy.

    The Psychology of Night Diving

    Divers are drawn to night diving like moths to a porch light, and there’s really little surprise. Just the thought of venturing into the water at night can make your skin tingle with excitement. Entering a world illuminated only by a dive light, our attention is drawn to a sharp point of focus, and we find ourselves seeing the underwater world as if for the first time. “We have an entirely different psychological set at night,” notes Egstrom. “First, there’s a peripheral narrowing that occurs as we increase the psychological stress. It becomes a more introverted dive, and this is actually something that people enjoy. The dive takes up more of our cognitive energy.”

    Indeed, there are stresses associated with a night dive. Perhaps the most obvious is the psychological stress of facing the unknown, and this can last from the planning phase throughout the entire dive. If we’re unfamiliar with the area, night diving procedures or the nature of marine life that might be encountered, our stress levels are certain to be heightened. Add unfamiliar equipment, a new or different buddy, or any other factors, and our baseline stress for a night dive can be significant.

    While a low level of stress when diving can be helpful in focusing our attention on the situation at hand, too much stress can spell trouble. As stress increases further, our ability to maintain situational awareness decreases, degrading our ability to make the assessments necessary for safe, competent decision making. Increased stress may also translate to increased breathing rate, making air reserves a more critical consideration.

    A number of situations that bump up our stress level quite abruptly can arise on night dives, especially if we’re unprepared. One of the thrills of night diving is having unexpected sea creatures suddenly loom out of the darkness. But sometimes this surprise factor creates a momentary heightening of anxiety and stress. A minor equipment problem or disorientation can also spike the stress level until the situation is resolved.

    The flip side to the enjoyable, introverted dive is a reduced situational awareness that erodes our decision-making ability. As Egstrom explains, “Since the peripheral visual field contracts during periods of increased stress, we lose a lot of information we might otherwise have.” Sometimes divers become so engrossed with their surroundings at night that they fail to closely monitor their depth or air consumption.

    The real problem comes when a situation begins to run awry. “At night, we might not be as likely to see a problem developing,” suggests Egstrom. “So this narrowing of focus can be a problem when it comes to our buddy.” If a situation is left unchecked, a full-blown emergency can develop, throwing divers into a dangerous spiral that runs out of control. An emergency that arises during the course of a night dive can elevate stress beyond the levels expected for a similar scenario in daylight. For example, a low-air or out-of-air situation may be more stressful at night due to the difficulty of resolving the problem in darkness. The net result may be an inability to successfully complete the necessary task.

    For this reason, divers must focus on situational awareness and keep tabs on their buddy during a night dive. By staying in a fixed position relative to one another, divers are less apt to become separated and can communicate more readily. By following such a protocol, the stresses that might develop can be minimized, and the potential for problems is greatly diminished.

    Training and Fitness

    The real keys to safe and enjoyable night diving are training and fitness. Proper training in night diving skills and procedures, combined with a regular program of fitness, form perhaps the best strategy for mitigating any negative human factors considerations associated with night diving.

    Night diver training focuses sharply on the night environment, skills, and the planning and preparation needed to safely conduct a night dive. All these topics are covered in a night diving specialty course. The more we know about night diving and the environment in which we’re diving, the more confidence we have in our abilities to dive safely. This confidence helps shield us against the effects of psychological stress.

    Proper planning and preparation go a long way toward avoiding disorientation, vertigo and potential emergencies. Start by preparing a detailed emergency procedures plan and review the elements of this plan before entering the water. The emergency plan should consider such contingencies as low air, out of air, entanglement, missing buddy, disorientation, failed dive light(s) and other typical equipment problems.

    To compensate for reduced mental alertness and the obvious difficulties of working in darkness, our strategy should be to prepare as much of our gear as practical during daylight hours, when our mind is alert and it’s easier to spot problems. This leaves only the process of suiting up and completing the necessary checks and safety briefings to be done prior to entering the water.

    When an unplanned situation arises on a night dive, our response should be to stop, relax, breathe normally and follow the established procedures developed as part of the predive planning. If the situation lies beyond the established emergency plan, we must think rationally and communicate before launching into an action that might be unsafe.

    A critical aspect of night diver training is practicing the requisite emergency skills and drills in a darkened environment. The need and use of dive light, and the potential need to resolve a problem in near total darkness, often adds greater complexity to underwater emergency management and requires additional practice to master.

    Handling a night diving emergency on the surface can be nearly as difficult as in the water. Hillary Viders is an international expert in emergency dive accident management who teaches Emergency Oxygen Administration and Dive Accident Management programs for the scuba, rescue and law enforcement industries. “When I teach professional rescuers,” explains Viders, “I conduct a timed drill in which each team of four people has to assemble a complete oxygen kit from a pile of assorted components while administering CPR on an ‘unconscious’ victim. Usually a professional team (one that handles oxygen equipment and performs these tasks several times every day) can complete the drill in under 60 seconds. However, when I ask the same team to repeat the identical drill in a completely darkened room, it usually takes the best group at least five times longer, and some teams cannot do it correctly at all!”

    Viders’ experience underscores the need for thorough training and preparation in all aspects of night diving. Not only must in-water skills be practiced in the dark, but skills required to effectively manage a diving emergency must also be practiced under cover of darkness.

    Good physical conditioning reduces the effort required to complete a dive, thus reducing the psychological stress. A high degree of fitness also allows us to perform better and for sustained periods when problems arise and during an emergency.

    The Bottom Line

    There’s nothing like taking that stroll down through the reef-city at night. But just like taking an evening stroll through our land-based cities, we need to be wary and take the necessary precautions. With thorough training and preparation, we can overcome most of the human factors problems and safely enter a spectacular underwater world almost beyond imagination. “It’s magic,” says Don. “Just magic.”

    The Effects of Alcohol on Divers

    All divers should know that diving and alcohol simply don’t mix.  Consumption of alcohol has the following effects on divers.

    1.     Alcohol adversely affects the central nervous system. Studies have shown that as little as 1 ounce of liquor, one bottle of beer or 4 ounces of wine can degrade motor skills and impair judgment, and will be evident in the breath and blood for a period of at least three hours. There is evidence that alcohol also impairs sleep, leaving us less rested after a night’s sleep. Fatigue reduces mental alertness and decision-making ability long after the direct effects of alcohol subside.

    2.     Alcohol alters the diver’s circulation. Alcohol tends to increase circulation to the surface of the skin while reducing circulation to the tissues. The result is an increase in heat loss, as well as an increased predisposition to DCS.

    3.     Alcohol is a diuretic and tends to dehydrate a diver. Dehydration reduces the blood’s capacity to off-gas nitrogen, since blood flow is reduced throughout the tissues, thus increasing the risk of DCS.

    4.     Alcohol alters the blood chemistry, which may increase the growth of microbubbles, thus leading to DCS. Researchers also have found that drinking increases oxygen consumption in the heart and other muscles during periods of exercise, so drinking may actually increase air consumption.


    Avoiding Vertigo and Disorientation at Night

    Vertigo is a condition in which a diver perceives motion but is unable to determine the direction or speed of movement. Vertigo can cause disorientation, dizziness and even nausea. A number of factors can induce vertigo in a diver. Cold water entering the external ear canal can induce a condition of imbalance leading to vertigo. The condition may last until the diver’s body has warmed the water. Pressure imbalances between the left and right ear during descent can also cause vertigo. Disorientation and vertigo can occur at night, when a diver has no visual references to determine orientation or motion.

    Divers can often overcome the effects of disorientation and vertigo by following standard procedures at the onset of the condition. As with all problems and potential emergencies that arise underwater, divers must remember to stop, breathe, think, then act. When disorientation occurs, refer to your compass and depth gauge to reorient yourself. Holding onto one’s self or buddy until the vertigo passes can also be helpful. Remember, too, that bubbles go up. Shine your dive light to illuminate your bubbles as an additional reference. If you can’t see your bubbles, put your hand near your regulator exhaust and feel their direction of movement.

    Effects of Low Body Core Temperature/Hypothermia

    98.6˚F (37˚C)
    Normal temperature

    95 – 98.6˚F (35 – 37˚C)
    Sensation of cold, increased heart rate, shivering, vasoconstriction, slight incoordination in hand movements, urge to urinate.

    90 – 95˚F (32.2 – 35˚C)
    Increased muscular incoordination, slurred speech, decreased or loss of shivering, weakness, apathy, drowsiness, confusion, impairment of rational thought.

    85 – 90˚F (29.4 – 32.2˚C)
    Loss of shivering, confusion progressing to coma, inability to follow commands, inappropriate behavior, loss of vision, temporary amnesia may occur, cardiac irregularities may develop.

    Night Diving Planning and Precautions

    Night diving isn’t unduly complicated, but it does require a modicum of training beyond basic open-water diving. Before attempting a night dive, be certain to receive the proper training. The following planning tips and precautions can help make your night diving safer and more enjoyable.

    1.  Always evaluate a dive site in daylight before attempting a night dive. The evaluation should include, but not be limited to: safe entry and exit locations, potential hazards (including entanglements), currents, navigation features and forecast weather conditions. Familiarity with the dive site reduces the psychological stress of a night dive, allowing divers to better focus on other safety concerns throughout the dive. Consider planning a dusk-to-night dive; enter the water while there’s still some light out, and you can gradually adjust to increasing darkness underwater.

    2.  Avoid night diving in conditions of foul weather (including forecast fog or heavy rain), high seas, strong surf, strong currents or unreasonable entanglement hazards. Such conditions pose an unnecessary risk to diver safety. Also, avoid overhead environments, including kelp, at night until you accumulate the requisite experience to do so safely.

    3.  Enjoy a good meal prior to a night dive, but avoid consumption of alcohol.

    4.  Don’t dive unless you’re well-rested and warm. If necessary, limit your daytime diving in order to be better prepared for a night diving excursion. An afternoon nap, even if it’s only 15 to 20 minutes long, may leave you feeling more rested and improve your alertness for a night dive. Mild exercise can help restore the heat deficit from daytime diving.

    5.  Proper site preparation is key to all night dives. Surface navigation lights, working lights, emergency first aid equipment, communication equipment and rescue gear should all be properly set up prior to entering the water. Always have at least one person remaining at the surface or on the boat to deal with problems such as failed surface navigation lights and dragging anchors. This individual should also be prepared to deal with emergencies and call for assistance if necessary.

    6.  Always begin a night dive with at least two dive lights per diver. If a dive light fails, the dive can be safely completed and terminated with the extra light. For hands-free night diving, consider using a wrist-mounted or head-mounted dive light as a primary dive light.

    7.  While night diving emergencies are part of every night dive plan, few divers actually practice emergency procedures at night. To keep your skills sharp, confidence high and stress reduced, practice night diving emergency skills regularly. Many skills can be accomplished in a pool, and others can be practiced safely in open water. If you haven’t practiced night emergency skills in the open water lately, have an instructor guide you through the proper exercises.

  • July 22, 2022 5:52 PM | Howard Ratsch (Administrator)

    Educational Blog

    What is Decompression Diving?, Deco Diving Tips | Scuba Diving

    This article represents the views of the author.  The article has not been fact checked by myself, the Board of Directors or any member of the USA Dive Club.

    Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.

    What is Decompression Diving?

    Here's what you need to know about deco dives.

    By Karl Shreeves September 2, 2021

    Decompression diving is when a diver is required to make one or more stops during their ascent to give their body time to safely release the nitrogen (or other gas, such as helium) that dissolved into their tissues during the dive.

    The pressure you’re under as you descend through water causes nitrogen to dissolve into your body tissues. The deeper the dive, the more quickly gas dissolves into your tissues. When you ascend, nitrogen dissolves from your tissues into your lungs and leaves the body through normal breathing. This is known as offgassing. If the amount of dissolved gas is within certain limits, you can ascend to the surface without any required stops – though a safety stop is standard recommended practice. This is called "no stop" or "no decompression" diving. Standard recreational diving is always planned as no stop diving, but you make a safety stop — hanging out at 15 feet for 3 to 5 minutes — as a conservative practice to further reduce risk.

    Want to do decompression diving? Start your adventure today with PADI's Tec 40 or Tec 40 Closed Circuit Rebreather courses!

    If you exceed the no stop time limits given by your dive computer, you move into "decompression dive" territory. This means you can't swim directly to the surface without unreasonable risk of getting the bends. You now have to instead ascend in stages, making progressively shallower and longer stops to give dissolved gas time to leave your tissues.

    In recreational diving, a dive with a required decompression stop is considered an emergency situation caused by accidentally exceeding a no stop limit, or being forced to do so by circumstances (which should be very rare). In commercial, tec, scientific and military diving, however, dives with required decompression may be planned. This type of diving requires additional training and specialized gear.

    Decompression Diving FAQs:

    What is deco diving used for?
    Decompression diving is appropriate when there's no other way to reasonably accomplish the dive. This is most commonly due to depth because no stop time limits become very short below 100 feet. Shallow dives can require a decompression when they are long, however. A two-hour cave exploration dive may not exceed 60 to 100 feet, but the dive is well beyond the no stop limits. Commercial divers may also make a shallow decompression dive simply because logistically it is more time and cost effective to do a single deco dive to carry out a task than to make multiple no stop dives.

    How deep can you dive without decompression?
    Practically speaking, you can make no stop dives to 130 feet. While you can, in theory, go deeper than that and stay within no stop limits, the no stop times are so short that "well within" limits is essentially impossible.

    Are diving decompression tables the same as recreational dive tables?
    Decompression dive tables differ from recreational dive tables because they list times, depths, durations and required stops well beyond the exposures recreational divers experience. While commercial and military divers often use tables, tec divers primarily use dive computers for planning and executing decompression dives.

    How do you calculate decompression stops when planning a decompression dive?

    Depending upon the depth, duration and equipment used, planning a decompression dive may take only a bit longer than a recreational dive, or may take hours over several days as the team considers and investigates alternatives and options.

    In tec diving and much scientific diving, planning decompression dives is typically done using software and/or a dive computer. Decompression dives typically involve different mixes of breathing gases, which are selected based on the dive depth and duration. To best consider all these variables, today computers are used to determine and plan the best gases and the dive schedule, plus emergency alternatives to handle reasonably possible problem situations.

    Trimix (helium/nitrogen/oxygen) is used on deeper dives to reduce gas narcosis to acceptable levels. Enriched air nitrox and pure oxygen are used during decompression because they accelerate how fast dissolved gas leaves the body. The diver switches between these during ascent, or, when using a closed circuit rebreather, changes the gas ratios during ascent. Each gas mix has a limit on how deep and how shallow it can be breathed safely, and decompression time increases disproportionately with depth, so that for dives deeper than 200 feet, often decompression is longer than the time spent at depth. The dive plan must therefore include how much of each gas is needed, where and when it's used, backup gas and equipment for emergencies, and how much of all this the diver can reasonably manage.

    What happens if you don’t decompress when scuba diving?

    If you exceed a no stop limit and surface without making the required stop or stops, your risk of decompression sickness is considered unacceptably high. How high? It depends. Any dive has some risk of decompression sickness because people vary in their physiologies and susceptibility. No computer or table can guarantee decompression sickness will never occur, even within its limits.

    What’s a good deco dive computer?
    Choose a dive computer intended for technical decompression diving. It should be capable of using several different gas mixes on the same dive. Fortunately, these are not difficult to find – ask you PADI Instructor and
    PADI Dive Center or Resort for guidance.

    An important point is that you need not one, but two compatible dive computers for this type of diving. While dive computers are highly reliable, you would not want to be stuck without your decompression info if there were a malfunction, so standard practice is to dive with two, staying within the limits of the most conservative (even identical computers will vary slightly throughout a dive).

    What should I do if my dive computer says “deco,” but I didn’t mean to do a decompression dive? What should I do if I miss the stop?
    Assuming this happens by accident on a no stop recreational dive, ascend to 15 feet (or deeper if specified by your computer) and stay there until it "clears," meaning you have stayed the required stop time. Most computers show you the time as it counts down. For a recreational "oops" situation, the time would typically be short with only one stop required. However, you may be low on gas, so do not run out of gas underwater. Stay as long as you can, but if you don't have enough air to do the stop (or you miss it altogether), surface with enough air to ascend at a proper rate and exit the water. Then stay calm, alert the divemaster and your buddy, breathe oxygen if available and monitor yourself for
    DCS signs and symptoms. Do not dive for at least 24 hours or as specified by your computer. If you have or suspect DCS, contact the Divers Alert Network and emergency medical care.

    How can I learn decompression diving?
    You can start into tec diving with either PADI’s Tec 40 course (open-circuit tec diving) or the PADI Tec 40 Closed Circuit Rebreather Diver course. These courses begin the transition from recreational diving to technical diving, which includes planning and making tec dives. After completing these, you continue into the Tec 45Tec 50, and Tec 65 courses, in which train you to make deeper, multi-stop decompression dives.

  • June 23, 2022 9:12 AM | Howard Ratsch (Administrator)

    How You Can Prevent Diving Emergencies | Scuba Diving

    This article represents the views of the author.  The article has not been fact checked by myself, the Board of Directors or any member of the USA Dive Club.

    Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.

    How You Can Prevent Diving Emergencies

    Preparation can prevent problems large and small.

    By Annie Crawley November 19, 2020

    Don't take basic equipment like masks for granted – it can make or break a dive.

    Even with nearly 10,000 dives, I’ve only had my mask or regulator kicked off twice—both times by students—but I’ve had to clear my mask on every single dive. (If you see fins coming too close to your face, get your arms into action and push those fins away!)

    Twice I’ve had to deliver an alternate air source to a buddy, both during a safety stop. I prevent out-of-air emergencies by checking my own air supply—and my buddies’—multiple times on every dive. I’m vigilant about preventing incidents from occurring, and value continuing education for all divers. Nothing can ruin that trip of a lifetime like not being properly trained or prepared for the adventure you seek.

    Recently, I taught a weeklong Rescue Diver program. The skills students learn in this class—and what dive professionals gain teaching it—will change your diving life forever. I recommend all my students become rescue divers, and also recommend they invest in dependable dive gear from their local retail dive center.

    Breaking down important considerations and protocols will help you “dive like a pro” and recognize and prevent in-water emergencies.

    1. Consider the ABCs of diving: airway, breathing and clearing, on every dive. Even the most experienced divers can have an issue if their eyes, ears, nose or mouth unexpectedly come into contact with water. At the surface, make sure you inflate your BC and are positively buoyant. Have your snorkel or regulator in at all times, to keep your airway clear. When changing between them, dip your face in the water to avoid swallowing water from a passing swell. I know many divers skip the snorkel in pool-like conditions, but wind and weather can change during a dive, turning that “pool” into a washing machine with 3-foot waves. I’m always kitted with a snorkel, on every dive, in case of changing conditions.

    2. Never force your ears to equalize. If you are prone to congestion, check with your doctor. Find a decongestant that works for you. You can get snotty on any dive; knowing how to blow your nose into your mask is an art form. Sometimes when you have difficulty equalizing, you have one stubborn piece of snot in your ear canal. You are stronger than your ears and can hurt them if you push too hard—always relieve pressure by ascending to a shallower depth or to the surface to blow your nose.

    3. A comfortable, properly fitted mask is the No. 1 piece of personal equipment a diver carries. If you or your buddy struggles with mask issues on a dive, it can ruin the dive. There’s nothing worse than a foggy mask—except a night dive with a foggy mask. After you rinse the defog from your mask and seat it on your face, don’t break the seal; if you do, you will need to re-defog your mask.

    During your dive, if you smile, adjust your reg or your mask strap moves on the back of your head, your mask may leak. Clear your mask. If it fills with water again, usually your mask strap is too high or low on the back of your head, or too tight or too loose. The mask could be riding up, giving you a rabbit nose, or falling down over your lips—either way, it breaks the seal and causes a leak. It’s physics.

    Exhale through your nose and move your mask around on your face to seat your mask properly. Adjust your mask strap and check again. A leaky mask can lead to congestion and equalization issues. If you get water in your mask, you can inhale the water, leading to issues with airway control.

    4. Create a routine for every time you dive. Set up your equipment the same way every dive.

    Together with your buddy, do a precheck on your equipment. Remember BWRAF: Begin With Review And Friend, Big White Rabbits Are Fluffy, Beer Wine Rum And Fun—no matter the acronym you choose to use, be sure to check all points and talk about your dive plan before getting into the water.

    ·                            BCD: Make sure it is on properly and you know how to operate it.

    ·                            Weights: Do you have the correct amount, and do you know how to release yours or your buddy’s if needed?

    ·                            Releases: Check all releases including tank release.

    ·                            Air: Do you have a full tank? How do you communicate air issues?

    ·                            Final check: Discuss your dive. I teach this “pre-check” before getting into our exposure suits; our “buddy check” before we get in the water goes quickly because any issues were spotted in our pre-check.

    5. Inspect your mask straps, fins, compass, dive knife, gear collecting bag. Have you bitten through the mouthpiece on your regulator? If you are wearing a hood, have you adjusted your strap to compensate so it is not too tight on your face? Carry a dive slate and dive light with you on every dive. If you are renting gear, does the needle on your air gauge read zero when the air is off, or is it permanently stuck at 500? How did you learn to show air?

    I recommend showing how much air you use with your buddy every 500 psi/40 bar. That way, both buddies are aware of how to adjust their dive plan throughout the dive so they will never run out of air, while maximizing their dive plan and time underwater. Review hand signals.

    Remember to ask for help not because you are weak, but because you want to become a stronger diver.

  • May 23, 2022 9:18 AM | Howard Ratsch (Administrator)

    Educational Blog

    Returning To The Water After A Break | Scuba Diver Mag

    This article represents the views of the author.  The article has not been fact checked by myself, the Board of Directors or any member of the USA Dive Club.

    Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.

    When you are a scuba diver returning to the water after a break:

    by Adrain Stacey

    You’ve not been diving in what feels like years and  you’ve just realised that you’ve put the BCD onto the cylinder backwards!  You quickly turn it around and hope no one saw. Now, which way the regulators and gauges go again? This regulator looks different to the one you had last time – “am I doing this right?” – You feel stupid asking, but it is probably better to check after all.  You smile enthusiastically, nervously wondering if you can still remember how to dive.

    Okay! You’ve got your kit all set up and it’s time to walk out to the dive site.  You are excited but there is this wobbly feeling, everything just feels a bit weird.  As you get into the water you realise that you are fumbling to find the inflate button.  Finally, it’s time to descend, “where’s that regulator?” you remember to sweep behind you and eventually find it, but you worry that everyone is sick of waiting for you.  You hit the deflate … and you are still on the surface! Your buddy and the guide look up at you patiently as you gradually make your way down towards them.

    This used to be easy, but now it feels odd and strangely vulnerable. 

    But, as you start to swim along, things start to fall into place. Each time you reach for your inflator hose you find it faster.  The second time you clear your mask you remember to focus on breathing through your mouth (the first time resulting in some spluttering).  By the end of the dive you are really starting to enjoy yourself again and the nerves have melted away.  After a few more dives it’s all coming back again. 

    Does this sound familiar? Look at all the things we need to know and do when we dive, from putting our equipment together, carrying out checks, finding clips to fasten and buttons to press … These are motor skills that took time and effort to learn. The ability to perform these skills got laid down in pathways of nerves that run from your brain to your fingers and toes; and all the way back again.  When we have a break from diving, these pathways are unused. 

    Like tracks in a field the grass grows over them and it can be hard to find our way through when we return.  But the pathways are there!  By re-using the skills: we open them up again.  Repetition and practice sends signals down the nerves and the connections strengthen again, which is why we get better and faster at the skills the more we do them.

    There are many pathways you will need to revisit when you return for your first dive after a long break.  There will be connections that must be made just to get into the water, for example being able to locate and press the deflate button.  (You won’t go very far if you can’t do that!)  You should also practice some basic skills that you need for the dive, like clearing your mask in case it fogs.  Plus, getting the hang of buoyancy will be important.   

    But what about the hidden pathways?

    There are things you would need to do if something went wrong.  For example, practicing sharing air in case of loss of gas, or dropping your weight belt in case of failure to establish buoyancy on the surface.  When was the last time you went down those tracks? If you needed to, would there be a clear route through, or would you be struggling to hack your way through the overgrowth in an emergency?

    In the same way that tracks fade when they are not followed regularly, our skills atrophy when we do not practice.  Look back through your training, are there any skills that you have not used? Often the most important skills are the ones we may never need to do for real, so we forget about them … or tell ourselves we know how to do them.  But if those skills have not been practiced, they will not be accessible.  Why not take a wander down those overlooked pathways by refreshing skills and practicing scenarios with your instructor. Regularly re-discovering what you can do is all part of your diving journey.

    It’s a good idea for divers who haven’t been in the water for a significant period and are thinking about returning to enroll in a scuba refresher. There is also an offline, tablet-based program called ReActivate which covers all the knowledge you learned during your Open Water Diver course and allows you to refresh your knowledge after being out of the water for a while. The program should get you back to feeling comfortable in the underwater world in less than a day. Check it out and get ready to start diving again.


  • April 23, 2022 6:58 AM | Howard Ratsch (Administrator)

    Educational Blog

    Don't Force It | Lesson for Life | Scuba Diving

    This article represents the views of the author.  The article has not been fact checked by myself, the Board of Directors or any member of the USA Dive Club.

    Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.

    Blood in your mask after a dive is concerning, but not necessarily dangerous.

    Steven P. Hughes

    Tina was on day three of a four-day dive trip. Conditions were great throughout the trip, with bright sun and warm water. On the first two days, she made three dives each—two from a boat in the morning and then a third shore dive each afternoon. As she finished up her second dive on the third day, she thought about skipping the shore dive that afternoon and taking a shopping excursion to buy some presents for friends at home.

    When she got to the surface and pulled off her mask, she was shocked to see the nose pocket full of blood. She immediately grew concerned.

    The Diver

    Tina, 40, had been diving for five years. Every year she made two trips to the ocean, making between eight and 10 dives each trip. She had an Advanced Open Water Diver cert and was nearing 100 lifetime dives.

    The Accident

    As Tina descended for that dive, she noticed it was a little harder than usual to equalize her ears. She blew extra hard to equalize and had to pause twice to let her ears “catch up” with her descent.

    She was shocked at the amount of blood in her mask when she reached the surface. She immediately consulted a diving physician when she reached shore, worried that something was seriously wrong with her sinuses or ears.

    Tina told the doctor she had been feeling a little stuffy that morning when she woke up but had written it off to the air conditioning unit in her hotel room. She didn’t have any significant medical history with her sinuses.


    Blood in your dive mask at the end of a dive is most likely not a life-threatening situation, but it is something just about every diver will have to deal with at one time or another over their diving career.

    Every diver learns basic ear equalization techniques during their initial dive training. Some divers are lucky and have ears that equalize easily. Other divers have to work at it.

    The ears and the sinuses are sensitive to pressure changes and must be equalized to the water pressure every few feet of descent. Most divers learn to pinch their nose and blow gently until they feel their ears “pop.” Many divers learn to pre-equalize their ears, overinflating them before they begin to submerge to get ahead of the pressure.

    Problems begin when there is even the slightest blockage in the Eustachian tube, often described as a soda straw leading from your mouth to your middle ears. Any kink or restriction in that straw makes middle-ear equalization harder. To overcome that problem, divers sometimes pinch their nose tighter and blow harder, even though they are taught not to do this. And that’s where the problems begin. In Tina’s case, it caused a blood vessel in her sinuses to rupture. The technical term for this is epistaxis, but in other words, she gave herself a nosebleed.

    Nosebleeds are common for both freedivers and scuba divers. The linings of the sinuses are filled with capillaries and blood vessels. When one of them breaks, or leaks, it releases what appears to be a large amount of blood. This can look even more troubling when it collects in the nose pocket of your mask and mixes with a little water. A single short-term nosebleed generally isn’t something to be concerned about, as long as the bleeding stops on its own. Bleeding that does not immediate stop, or that occurs repeatedly, requires medical evaluation.

    Often divers have a full feeling in their ears after a diving nosebleed, but that is likely related to the underlying cause of difficulty equalizing the ears. When you don’t equalize your ears promptly, the mucosal tissue in your sinuses can actually leak blood into your middle ears to equalize the pressure itself. This blood stays in the middle ear though, and doesn’t drain from the mouth or nose. That can cause its own set of problems, including middle ear infections.


    If you have a temporary blockage from a cold, or a more serious issue like an obstruction of some sort, you should wait until the condition clears or discuss the situation with your doctor before returning to diving.

    But if you have what many divers refer to as “slow ears,” there are several techniques you can use to help your ears equalize faster. Simply pinching and blowing harder is not a solution, and can cause serious ear injuries. This is why you’re taught to equalize gently. As mentioned earlier, you can gently equalize your ears before you begin your descent, giving them a head start. Other techniques include jutting your jaw forward or moving it from side to side as you equalize. If one ear is slower than the other, stretch your neck while you equalize, pointing the slow ear upward and keeping your head above your feet on descent. This helps straighten your Eustachian tube.

    With some practice, these add-on techniques will become second nature. If they do not, and you still struggle with ear equalization or have repeated nosebleeds when you dive, you should consult a physician, preferably one with experience dealing with scuba and freediving.

    A side note on sinus medications: Some divers regularly take them when diving. This is risky. If you take a sinus medication for more than three or four days in a row, it can cause significant rebound effects once the decongestant wears off. Known as rebound rhinitis, your symptoms may actually become worse in a few hours when the medication wears off, which can be especially problematic if it wears off while you are underwater and still have to surface with a blockage. It’s best not to use medications to dive.

  • March 24, 2022 10:19 AM | Howard Ratsch (Administrator)

    Educational Blog

    Boat Diving Etiquette - SDI | TDI | ERDI | PFI (

    This article represents the views of the author.  The article has not been fact checked by myself, the Board of Directors or any member of the USA Dive Club.

    Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.


    By Jay King

    I learned to dive many years ago (before dirt I think). My instructor at the time, Scott, insisted on our final two checkout dives being off of a boat in the ocean – because this was Wrightsville Beach, NC. North Carolina wreck diving was my goal and he wanted me to be prepared for it, so I was lectured on boat diving etiquette before I ever set foot on a dive boat.

    Over the years, I’ve progressed in my diving (Hypoxic Trimix, CCR) and in my preferences of boats. Most of my diving now is on 6-packs (maximum of 6 divers) with other divers at or near my experience level. Recently, I’ve been on a few dives on some larger boats (12-18 divers) with a mixture of divers, some who are just beginning their adventures to others that are more advanced.  Many of these divers are only now trying out NC wreck diving. One thing that is obvious is that many of them did not get the introduction to boat diving etiquette that I did.  I thought I’d sit down today and share some of the knowledge that I’ve picked up over the years.

    Communicate with the dive center or charter company

    First and foremost is: call/message/email and ask questions. Whatever your question is, just reach out to the shop or charter company. Want to know if your rental gear will be on the boat or if you have to pick it up yourself? Call. You don’t want to be underway and find out your rental tanks aren’t on the boat and are still at the shop waiting for you to pick them up. Want to know if the boat will be providing a 3-course meal? Call. You don’t want to be out on the water for 8+ hours with nothing to eat between dives. You’ll see this mantra throughout. Why? Because boats operating in the Caribbean, for example, will be very different from a 6-pack running out of Hatteras, NC.


    Next, planning for a boat trip.  What gear should you bring? Diving from a boat isn’t like going to a local lake, river, spring, or quarry where you’re only limited by the amount of gear your vehicle can haul. Space on a boat is limited and you should only bring what you need for the dive you’re doing. Think hard about what you bring.  Do you really need that scooter if you’re diving a small in-shore tug?  Do you need that lionfish gear if you’re diving shallow spots that don’t normally have lionfish? Do you need to bring that briefcase sized hard case with your laptop for a half-day trip, or could you wait and edit your videos and pictures on shore? Do you need to bring a bag of spare regs, parts, and hoses along with your super-sized toolbox?  For a dive boat, most people normally have one dive bag worth of gear and a dry bag that will fit under the bench.  Some boats have specific space for cameras and specific storage spots for deco/bailout bottles.  Call ahead of time and find out.

    If you aren’t familiar with the wrecks or reefs you’re going to be diving, which might influence what gear you want to bring, just call and ask. All good charter operators will have emergency gear on board and most of them will have a well-stocked toolbox and spare gear. The bottom line is that there is no need to bring gear that the boat has or that you won’t use/need. You need to find out how much space there is on the boat as well as what equipment the boat has on board.

    Don’t forget to ask about food and water! If you’re used to diving boats in the Caribbean, then this may be a foreign concept. Most charters on the US East Coast will provide water and nothing more. You need to find out what they do provide and plan accordingly. Water, snacks, and something even more substantial if it’s a full-day charter.

    Lastly, make sure to know what time to be at the dock and if there are parking restrictions, then be there on time. Is 7:30 am the time to be at the dock, or is it when the boat plans on leaving? Don’t be the person that shows up late and holds up the boat and don’t be the person who gets back to the dock to discover their car has been towed.

    On the boat…

    Once you’re on the boat, get your gear set up. In many vacation destinations with “valet” diving, someone else may be carrying your gear to the boat and setting it up. From my experience, every dive operator I’ve ever used from West Palm Beach to Cape Hatterasexpects you to carry your own gear on board and set it up yourself.  Often these boats will be passing through rough inlets and into an ocean that is a bit “bouncy”. Trying to get a BC on a tank is no fun on a rolling boat – get it all done before you leave the dock and stow everything out of the way.

    How I like to unpack on a boat

    My personal preference is to unpack:

    • My wetsuit, fins, etc.
    • Put my gear bag under the bench
    • Stack gear on top of it in the opposite order that I will need it.
      • So, bottom to top we have:
        • Empty gear bag, fins (with boots in the foot pockets)
        • Pocket shorts
        • Wetsuit

    Something to note

    There is a key phrase here that some of you may have missed. That phrase was “under the bench”. I have recently seen several divers using large, semi-hard sided bags that are so big they would be checked luggage at the airport. If your gear bag or bin can’t fit under the bench where your gear is, then it shouldn’t be on the boat. Huge gear bags, or lots of bags that won’t fit under the bench, take up valuable space on an already crowded boat.  Other people won’t be as careful with your gear as you are, so leaving it in the way is asking for trouble.


    Next, where is the other stuff you’ve brought going to go? I often bring spare batteries (for lights, dive computers, and the CCR) that the boats don’t have. I also might bring a towel and maybe some dry clothes to change into. These items need to go somewhere dry and out of everyone’s way. Just ask the crew where the best spot is.

    Stow and secure

    Finally, before the boat gets underway, make sure that all of your gear is stowed and secure. Make sure that tanks are bungeed in so that they don’t fall, for example. Many of the dives I do are technical, so I bring decompression or bail out tanks – boats will normally have specific spots for these that will keep them safe. As the saying goes, if your tank falls and breaks someone else’s mask, they are still going diving, but you may not be.

    Underway and Diving

    I think the main thing to know at this point is to listen to crew instructions. Especially listen to the boat safety briefing – there may be rules about staying seated when going through an inlet or in rough seas, and I’m sure that there will be important information about the head and the best “fish feeding” spots.

    Once you’re at or very close to the dive spot, begin gearing up, but stay out of the way of the crew. The crew needs to get the boat tied in and prepped for your dive. Typically, once the boat is tied in and prepped, the captain or one of the crew will give a site briefing and discuss any specific procedures. For example, what to do if you can’t find the anchor at the end of your dive – listen to them!

    One procedure that I see ignored far too often off the NC coast is to not hang around at the surface. Often, we have current, and hanging around on the surface, especially not paying attention to the tag line trailing behind the boat, can get you into trouble quickly. Work with gear on the boat or under the water is what most captains will say.  You do not want to ruin a dive by jumping in and floating away because you were too busy fixing how a piece of gear is attached.

    Be aware of time

    Although no captain or crew is going to rush you into the water before you’re ready, be cognizant of time. Half-day charters in particular may be on a schedule. Even a full-day charter may be trying to get back before dark or before dead low tide at the inlet. Problems can certainly hold you up, but if everyone else is off the boat 5 minutes before you’re even thinking about standing up, then the crew is starting to wonder if you’re mentally ready for the dive (typically divers who gear up slowly are nervous about the dive). At a minimum, the captain is starting to think about the difference in surface intervals between you and the other divers.

    If you know that you are slow at gearing up, start gearing up sooner. When I switched from OC to CCR and had to do a pre-breathe, I adjusted when I started gearing up so that I could still get in the water quickly.

    Heading in

    Heading Home is the easy part. Personally, I try to get all of my gear packed up and stowed while the crew is getting the boat ready to leave the dive site, but as long as your gear is stowed and out of the way, most operators don’t mind if you wait to pack your gear bag back at the dock.

    Tip your mates

    Once you are back at the dock, get your gear off of the boat as quickly as possible. The crew has to clean the boat at a minimum and may need to prep it for another charter. And don’t forget to tip the mates! Every charter I’ve ever been on mentions this. I’ve heard some people say $10/tank but I personally opt for something closer to 20% of the charter cost. Tipping is a personal choice and may only be expected in the US and Caribbean. Just be prepared.

    A note on cancellations

    One final thought is that you should always read the charter policy on refunds. Reputable charters will refund your money if they cancel for some reason (e.g. weather or mechanical issues). Most charters will also have a policy about what happens if you cancel. That policy typically means that if you cancel within some time frame (1 week, 2 days, etc.) then you still have to pay for the spot if it can’t be filled. If an individual, or a dive shop, is responsible for the charter and you cancel on them at the last minute, then the individual or shop may have to pay for the spot even if it can’t be filled – don’t be the guy that doesn’t cover your spot after canceling because you may not be invited back.

  • February 22, 2022 9:56 AM | Howard Ratsch (Administrator)

    Educational Blog

    DIVER TEST: Nautilus LifeLine GPS Personal Locator Beacon - Divernet

    This article represents the views of the author.  The article has not been fact checked by myself, the Board of Directors or any member of the USA Dive Club.

    Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.

    TAKE EIGHT DIVERS AND SUBTRACT TWO. You’re left with six, right?

    And that’s the simple arithmetic that the crew of a luxury-resort speedboat couldn’t manage. They returned to shore with only six people.

    Across the table at a London pizza-house, I sat interviewing Olga and Robert, the pair abandoned off the coast of Cuba.

    That they had survived was down to luck. A fisherman had spotted them bobbing in the water three hours after they’d surfaced.

    In the packed restaurant, there were no raised voices complaining about wrong dishes from any of the busy tables surrounding us, because the waiters had logged the orders. Olga and Robert were not logged out of or into their boat, and were not missed.

    The first the dive-centre knew of their clients’ near-fatal ordeal was when the couple walked in and told them.

    My resulting feature, Missing, was published in 2003. It reviewed a handful of incidents in which divers and boats became separated. I’d worked on the story for two years. That the article was so delayed was partly down to a long-gone Florida dive-operator refusing to discuss how it also forgot two of its customers, who spent 24 hours on a light-tower before being spotted by a yacht.

    A lawsuit followed and sentencing required the operator to share advice on how to avoid a repeat with anyone interested. I thought diver readers would be very interested, but the company wasn’t sharing, so my report stalled.

    Exasperated, and with the imminent release of Open Water (the fictionalised film inspired by two divers left behind and never found off Australia in 1999) the Editor pushed me to finish the piece.

    He also pointed out the topicality of a dozen divers going missing from their liveaboard in the Red Sea just as the movie was hitting the cinemas. The truth is, however, that when it came to such incidents, I was spoilt for choice.

    And, all these years later, I still would be.

    Causes of Separation

    Divers get separated from boats for many reasons. They don’t always follow briefings, and surface in the wrong place, or get caught in unexpected current and swept away.

    A skipper makes a mistake, or the boat breaks down. If the boat has a proper accounting system, the crew know that they have divers missing and should get searching quickly, but this isn’t always the case.

    In some incidents, boat-crew had no radio to summon help. In others, they delayed reporting the incident for hours, hoping to find the divers themselves. In that time a diver can drift for miles, and night can fall. A diver’s head is a tiny target, even under ideal sea conditions (“you’re looking for a cabbage”, a sailing instructor told me).

    Flags, DSMBs and signal mirrors can help searchers; an air siren might be heard at short distances over quiet engines. But luck plays a scarily big part in being found. The worst scenario, as with Robert and Olga, is not to be missed at all and have no-one looking for you.

    The Product

    The Nautilus LifeLine is one of the most important safety aids ever made for divers. It’s a personal location beacon (PLB), a radio transmitter that can signal for help and reveal your exact position to a searching boat or aircraft. It empowers you to do something positive towards surviving a separation.

    PLBs are not new, and the LifeLine itself has been around for some years, but the version I tested is a new model although, as I’ll explain, it isn’t necessarily an upgrade.

    It was developed by Mike Lever, owner of well-known liveaboard Nautilus Explorer, following a scare. “The Nautilus LifeLine was the culmination of spending 20 years in dive skiffs in the chilly, current-swept waters of British Columbia and Alaska,” he explains. “Wondering. Hoping that all my divers were going to surface where I expected them to.

    “I always worried about losing a diver and then one day, off Wooden Island in the Gulf of Alaska, one of my divers didn’t surface when they should have. We started searching. The current was increasing as we got further from slack. I tracked out into the open gulf in a 6-8ft swell with no joy.

    “I called the US Coast Guard for help and they told me that it wasn’t an emergency yet (in other words, piss off and don’t bug us until it’s too late). It took us 50 minutes to find the diver drifting several miles from shore.

    “We were all in tears – except for the missing diver. He was calm and fine, because he had seen us searching for him and assumed that we would find him.”

    I have helmed small boats but have no formal boat-handling training. I see boats as either taxis or wrecks so, to help test the LifeLine, I turned to Nick Balban, a diver of some 25 years experience, BSAC instructor and former Gibraltar SAC Diving Officer. He is professionally qualified to skipper vessels of up to 24m.

    The Design

    The LifeLine’s electronics are integrated into a compact polycarbonate housing that’s watertight to 130m. A single catch, easily operated with a gloved hand, lets you open the O-ring-sealed lid on the surface.

    This exposes the aerial and three push-button controls. These parts are waterproof, but not pressure-resistant. Two Philips-head screws give you access to the battery chamber, which takes two CR123 cells.

    The LifeLine is not an electronic positioning indicating radio beacon. EPIRBs work over much longer distances, by relaying their signal via a satellite, alerting call-centres that can co-ordinate a rescue. Standard safety equipment for operating far from land, they are found on aircraft and yachts because they can summon help anywhere in the world, even though that help might take days to arrive.

    The LifeLine transmits a radio signal limited by both its power and antennae, and has a claimed range of 34 miles. In many diving locations, the closest and fastest responder is likely to be your own or another dive-boat, given the lack of search and rescue infrastructure and time needed to deploy the device in many destinations. So the range should suffice.

    Once you’ve flipped open the lid, removing a slip-off safety guard allows the aerial to automatically uncoil (watch that it doesn’t flick into your eyes) and reveals the red emergency push-button control. Hold this in for five seconds to send out a distress signal.

    It attempts to contact suitably equipped craft within range and, if it succeeds, your GPS co-ordinates will be displayed on their navigation instruments.

    There’s a 20-second window between pressing the call button and the unit transmitting its emergency signal, during which time you can turn the unit off in case of accidental operation.

    Along with the distress button, two other buttons control the LifeLine. These can be accessed without removing the cover, which is basically a safety lock and should, along with the five-second press, prevent misfires.

    One is the on/off button, the other a test button, used to check that the battery is functional. Waterproof user instructions are printed on the unit.

    The previous LifeLine allowed you to talk to rescuers via a built-in walkie-talkie. I can see how reassuring this could be, because the current model has no way of indicating that your distress signal has been received and is being acted upon.

    However, in some parts of the world a radio licence was required to use the LifeLine so, for practical reasons, it’s been dropped to remove that barrier to ownership. This is why the change in specification isn’t an upgrade, even though the electronics have been improved.

    What is a major improvement is that the LifeLine now has a function that broadcasts your position, not as an emergency alarm but as an advisory measure.

    The psychological benefit of this option is that it removes the conflict divers might feel if they’re concerned that they have not been seen, but are reluctant to set off a full-blown search until sure that they’ve been lost or abandoned!

    For me, that’s a huge selling-point.

    The LifeLine is now basically an AIS (Automatic Identification System), commonly used on ships to prevent collisions by making them visible to other sea traffic. Each AIS is specific to the vessel and you can check the ship’s name, tonnage and other details online.

    Set off the LifeLine’s AIS function and your position is indicated by a numbered icon on the screen of the boat’s chart-plotter, allowing each individual LifeLine to be identified.

    In theory, in advisory mode the AIS function can also be linked to your boat’s radio, so it automatically sets off an ear-splitting alarm that can be silenced only by acknowledging it.

    Otherwise, the on-screen display is passive – someone has to notice it.

    Again, to me, the unignorable audible alarm was a persuasive selling point, knowing how lax “cover” can be. However, for unclear reasons, legislation makes this safety feature inoperable in European and some other waters, and so it proved in Gib.

    Pairing the LifeLine with your boat requires use of a free app and is straightforward.

    It can be used to train on the unit or, as Nick and I did, to get a feel for how it works from the boat-crew’s perspective by checking the helm instrument read-outs.

    Because the LifeLine’s capabilities depend on local regulations, and these affect how it should be programmed, it’s essential to check the manual before use, especially as a dive-traveller.

    As a guest on a dive-boat, you’d need to ask the skipper to agree to pair your unit, but it’s difficult to see any reasonable objection to doing this. You should then follow the crew’s instructions regarding using the LifeLine.

    Depending on where you are in the world and whether you have paired your unit with your boat, the LifeLine might first try to alert only your vessel of your location before, 30 minutes later, sending out a distress signal to all ships within range and able to receive the transmission.

    This will set off an audible alarm, which should be treated as an emergency by these craft. They should immediately head for the GPS co-ordinates provided by the LifeLine.

    Within those 30 minutes you can cancel the transmission if your own boat has found you.

    To help rescuers locate you in the dark, a white LED flashing beacon automatically switches on as daylight fades.

    The LifeLine stores easily in a BC pocket, though a dedicated pouch is also available.

    This has a coiled lanyard to which to secure the LifeLine, so if you fumble and let go of the unit, you’ll still be attached to it when the cavalry rocks up.

    It also allows for mounting the LifeLine high on a shoulder-strap, so it’s clear of the water and you don’t need to hold it while you await rescue.


    Does owning a PLB guarantee your rescue? No, there are issues, not with the LifeLine itself but with use and misuse of PLBs in general, and these might affect how much attention gets paid to its alarms.

    Accidentally activated PLBs and EPIRBs are floating around that have been washed into the sea or are going off on seaworthy yachts unnoticed. Another concern is that smugglers deliberately set off PLBs to lure patrol-boats away from their trafficking routes, creating false alarms and making would-be rescuers sceptical.

    So, as with car alarms, a crew-member on a passing boat might glance out to see if he can see a sinking superyacht, but not start searching for a person in the water. Nick said that he would like to see a display that informs a vessel what the PLB is attached to – in our case a diver – so that look-outs know what to search for.

    Even so, the unit adds a huge line of defence. We came away highly impressed with the Nautilus LifeLine, a unit that a number of dive-boats now issue to guests.

    Is getting lost and found at sea a lottery?

    I DON’T KNOW any big-money lottery winners, but I do know a disturbing number of divers who’ve spent a few hours adrift.

    That can be all the time in the world to wish you’d bought a Nautilus Lifeline.

    As Dan Orr, former president of Divers Alert Network, told me: “Even the best divers make mistakes, but the most safety-conscious divers have a Nautilus LifeLine to help keep those mistakes from turning into a tragedy.”

  • January 22, 2022 1:22 PM | Howard Ratsch (Administrator)

    Scuba Diver Editor-in-Chief Mark Evans

    3 Ways To Beat Seasickness When Diving | Scuba Diver Mag

    This article represents the views of the authors.  The article has not been fact checked by myself, the Board of Directors or any member of the USA Dive Club.

    Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.


    If there is one thing guaranteed to ruin a day, a weekend or a week of diving, it is feeling seasick. There is no magic bullet or cure-all for seasickness, but I will offer up some hints and advice gleaned from 25 plus years of dive travel to help you deal with the demon of seasickness.

    There can be nothing worse than feeling seasick. I have seen far too many burly blokes reduced to dribbling wrecks on dive boats because of the effects of seasickness. I thank my lucky stars that I seem particularly resilient to seasickness, and however rough it gets, I seem to be fine. The same cannot be said for some of my boat mates over the years, and I thought collating all of the tips and tricks I had seen used in that time to combat seasickness would be very useful for anyone who is prone to this ghastly condition.

    Seasickness can mean the difference between an epic day of diving and wishing someone would put you out of your misery. I distinctly remember two young students who joined us on a boat for a great white shark cage dive out of Gansbaai in South Africa. They looked a little green about the gills when they got on board, and given we were in the calm of the harbour, I didn’t think this boded well for the rest of the day. Sure enough, as we left the confines of the harbour and headed out towards Dyer Island across huge rolling swells, they curled up in fetal balls on the deck and make quiet mewling sounds.

    Things only got worse for them when we reached our dive site and moored up side-on to the swell. Once the chum was being ladled into the water, and the scent of fish guts and other delights blended with the smell of thousands of cape fur seals sat on the nearby rocks, this heady aroma had them retching over the side of the boat for what seemed like hours on end. They felt so lousy they didn’t even attempt to suit up and do a cage dive, and instead alternated between barfing and wanting to die until we returned to the harbour. I swear one of them crawled on to the shore and kissed the ground. You really don’t want to be in that position.

    So, how can deal with seasickness?

    Firstly, don’t be afraid to turn to your friendly neighbourhood pharmacist to tackle seasickness head-on. Trying to prevent the onset of seasickness in the first place is by far the better plan of action than attempting to deal with it once you are well and truly in its throes. There are a multitude of seasickness pills available wherever you are in the world, but the most important thing you need to look at is whether it causes drowsiness. Many meds have this warning, and you do not want to be drifting off for a nap while you are on a dive, so it is vital you only use motion-sickness medicine that doesn’t cause drowsiness.

    Once you have found pills suitable for use while diving, it will be a case of trial-and-error. You will probably find that certain products will work better for you than others. I have the same issue with hayfever – most of the big-name brands do not work, but a cheap-and-cheerful one-a-day pill from a local discount store sorts me right out. So try different pills across a few dive trips and whichever one comes out on top for stopping any queasy feelings, make that your go-to medicine.

    Regardless of the brand of pill you opt for, make sure you give it time to work! It is no good taking it as you step on the boat, you need it to be in your system, so either take it early that morning, or if you are having a particularly early start, even pop one the night before.

    My wife Penney can suffer from seasickness and routinely takes pills as a precaution – the way she sees it, better to have the assistance of proven medicine and have a great time out on the water than risk her trip being ruined. She also utilises bands which go around her wrists. These have a little plastic fitment which presses on to pressure points on the wrists and is supposed to ease motion-sickness. She leaves these on right up until it is time to kit up and get in the water, and puts them back on as soon as she is out of her wetsuit after the dive. Pills and bands might seem overkill, but she says if she can stack the odds in her favour of not feeling any effects of seasickness, she is all for it.

    Where you sit on a boat makes a difference

    Right, let’s move on to actually being on the boat. Where you sit can also make a big difference to how queasy you will feel out on the water. If you are on a small boat, like a RIB, obviously your seating options are limited, but I would suggest aiming for being halfway down the tubes on either side. You don’t want to be near the bow, which will be going up and down the most, and you don’t want to be right at the stern as you will be near the outboard, and fuel fumes are not the most pleasant smell at the best of times, never mind when you are feeling rough anyway.

    If you are on a bigger day boat, then you have a bit more scope. I’d suggest avoiding the flybridge and the bow, and if there is a cabin of sorts, stay out of this in the fresh air. Being cooped upside where it can get hot and sticky, and there is no through-flow of air, is a sure-fire way to bring on seasickness. Stand or sit where you are in the breeze, and don’t sit with your head down or looking at the deck – try to look at the horizon.

    There are even more options on a liveaboard. Again, I’d suggest trying to avoid the higher deck levels – yes, you might get a nice breeze up on that top sundeck, but you will also be more susceptible to whatever swell you are motoring into. Aim for a lower deck where you can still feel that fresh air. I\ have seen people retire to their cabins when underway and they are feeling a little nauseous, and to me, this is the worst thing you can do – be closeted away in an enclosed space.

    What to do when you reach the Dive Site?

    Ok, so that’s travelling on the boat, but what do you do when you reach the dive site? My business partner Ross says that the best place to be is in the water, and he is like a lemming when we are diving off a boat – as soon as the boat is anchored up and the crew have said the pool is open, he is over the side and into the water. Even just floating on the surface he feels substantially better than being sat on the deck of the boat, even though he will still be moving with any surface swell.

    However, actually being underwater away from any surface conditions is the ideal place to be, so if you are prone to seasickness, don’t faff about getting ready. Make sure you are kitted up and ready to go so you can be among the first off the boat. That said, don’t be fully ready too early – sat down in full dive regalia and starting to overheat is a surefire way to start feeling ill even if you aren’t prone to seasickness!

    Once the dive is underway, you should be over any effects of seasickness, but if you do take a turn for the worse and the urge to chunder becomes too much – keep your regulator in your mouth! Yes, you can throw up through your second stage. No, it is not pleasant, but at least when you retch and then take involuntary gasps, you will get air, albeit not particularly tasty air. Once you have finished being sick, you can calm yourself down, swap over to your octopus while you give your primary a good purge and slosh about to clear away any final bits of barf debris, then go back on to your original second stage and continue the dive. Do not under any circumstances take the reg out of your mouth while you throw up.

    If you suffer terribly from seasickness and the thought of going on a boat fills you with dread, then you might be better off sticking with shore diving. As you will have seen from our top shore dive video, there are many places around the world where you can dive world-class sites without ever setting foot on a boat. But I’d urge you to try all of the above before you ditch boat diving forever – you are shutting yourself off from some amazing diving destinations.

  • December 23, 2021 9:29 AM | Howard Ratsch (Administrator)

    Educational Blog

    DAN would only allow this to be downloaded via PDF. Use the link at bottom.

    This article represents the views of the author.  The article has not been fact checked by myself, the Board of Directors or any member of the USA Dive Club.

    Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.

    DAN’s Smart Guide to Safe Diving

    • Learn safety guidelines
    • Become conscientious and responsible divers
    • Prepare smarter so we can enjoy our dives

    Here are the top seven mistakes to avoid:

    Download this guide (PDF)

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