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Avoid Running Out of Air SCUBA Diving | Under Pressure Divecast | Episode 012

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Avoid Running Out of Air SCUBA Diving

One thing we can count on when we're on land is that we don't run out of air. When we're diving though, this becomes a possibility with serious consequences.

The good news is that an out of air emergency is very preventable before the dive and air issues in the water can be successfully managed by following basic recreational dive principles.

Let's dive into avoiding out-of-air emergencies when we're SCUBA diving!

Avoid Running Out of Air SCUBA Diving

The Data

As with all things SCUBA the data about running out of air SCUBA diving is hard to pin down. This is compounded by the fact that out of air incidents that do not result in accidents are rarely reported and don't factor into the data we can find.

I've added a number of reports in the references below and I won't bore you with statistics here.

The bottom line that is of practical use for divers is that most dive accidents can be either directly or indirectly associated with running out of air.

Why Divers Run Out of Air

There are articles and websites that will list a myriad of ways that divers run out of air. For recreational SCUBA divers, there are really only two. Why make things complicated when we might be narced anyway?

  • Not regularly monitoring your tank pressure.
  • Equipment failure.

That's it, simple right?

The issues that cause divers to run out of air when equipment is operating normally are all just situations where the divers aren't monitoring their air pressure regularly enough.

Equipment failure for good quality SCUBA gear that is well maintained is rare... and I mean rare. The principles, manufacturing techniques, materials, and processes have gotten to the point that the gear we use is highly reliable and rarely fails so catastrophically that it causes a bonafide out of air situation.

Preventing Out of Air Incidents

During our training, we are taught everything we need to know about preventing out of air incidents.

  • Use Good Gear
  • Know Your Gear
  • Maintain Your Gear
  • Pre-Dive Checks
  • Plan Your Own Dives
  • Understand Dive Parameters
  • Good Buddy Communication
  • Deep Dive Training (if you're going >60 Feet)

Handling Out of Air Incidents in the Water

Once you're in the water you still have the opportunity to prevent an out of air situation by regularly monitoring your tank pressure and communicating with your buddy about your own and their tank pressure. It's also important to understand the symptoms of stress and nitrogen narcosis in yourself and others as these can affect our air consumption and decision-making ability.

If you find yourself out of air, what you do in the next minute or so will determine whether you make a safe ascent to the surface or not.

Stop, Breathe, Think, Act.

"But SKuba Steve... I'm out of air... I can't breathe!"

Fair enough, but it's important to take even a few seconds to center your thoughts and think about the right action to take next.

We train for out of air situations in our course materials, pool sessions, and open water training dives. By keeping your buddy close enough to be of assistance if they need it or receive assistance if you need it we keep ourselves safe and keep our sport safe and comfortable.


Gear Junkie's Garage

This week I talked about a piece of gear that I have never owned. Even though I'm a self-confessed "Gear Junkie" the emergency air sources that you can purchase with a regulator integrated with a high-pressure cylinder have never seemed like something I wanted to carry underwater.

You've probably heard about or seen Spare Air, H2Oddyssey and Smaco in your local dive shop.

I want to say that while I don't own any of these products, I'm not discouraging their use.

Having said that, I have concerns.

Avoid Running Out of Air SCUBA Diving

First and foremost, running out of air on a recreational SCUBA dive is nearly 100% avoidable. No, seriously... it is. By simply paying attention to your gauges, following a well-thought-out dive plan, adhering to good dive practices, and using high-quality, well-maintained SCUBA gear you will eliminate the vast majority of the incidents that cause out of air accidents.

More Gear/Catch Hazard

As I've said before, I'm a gear junky. That said, I work on minimizing the equipment I take underwater by making sure I need each piece before I hit the water. Every extra piece of gear is something that can distract me from the primary dive objective, find a way to be a catch hazard, throw off my buoyancy/weighting or get disconnected from me and end up as trash on the reef.

Reinforce Poor SCUBA Habits

"I'm glad I had 'ENTER PRODUCT NAME HERE' because my buddy was nowhere to be found..."

This isn't an excuse to buy another piece of gear (save that money for other SCUBA gear... there's always something on THAT shopping list). This is a reason to discuss expectations with your buddy pre-dive.

Having an emergency air source doesn't make solo-diving a recreational SCUBA activity. Solo-diving is not a recreational SCUBA activity. It's an advanced technical diving situation that is not only about having an independent air source but also having specific training in self-rescue as well as the acceptance of the risks associated with diving on your own.

Always adhere to good standard recreational dive practices.

  • Never dive alone.
  • Stay close to your buddy. (One fin kick and an outstretched arm is a good reference or just the outstretched arm if you're more comfortable).
  • Buy/Rent high-quality SCUBA gear.
  • Ensure your gear is regularly maintained by an authorized dealer that you trust.
  • Check your tank pressure regularly.
  • Ask your buddy about their tank pressure regularly.
  • Plan your dive then dive your plan.
  • Use industry-accepted lost buddy procedures if you become separated.

I guess this makes up for the last few GJG segments that were much shorter :).

I will add one last thing here. If having an emergency air source makes you more comfortable in the water while you stick to good recreational dive practices then I'll be the first to tell you to dive comfortably.


Fin Tip of the Week

Label All Your Dive Gear

It might seem like you're back in pre-school as you sit on your living room floor with all your gear in a ring around you and a few paint pens but it's worth it!

Whether you're marking your gear with your name, initials, company logo, or a symbol and refer to yourself as 'the diver previously known as SKuba Steve', making sure your equipment can easily be identified is worth the time it takes and the cost of a few paint pens.

SCUBA gear pretty much looks the same and when you have a group of people all throwing their gear into the rinse tanks or in piles around the deck or pier, it's easy for it to get mixed up.

'nuff said... just label it all you'll thank me later.



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