Dry Suit Diving in the Canada Basin - Photo Rolf Gradinger and Bodil Bluhm, University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF)What are cold water diving safety issues and how can they be addressed? Cold water diving in northern regions poses additional safety issues for the recreational diver. Alaska Sea Grant has explored some solutions to these problems.

Alaska Sea Grant (ASG) and Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) hosted a conference on workshop on diving safety a few years ago that can offer insights on issues related to the subject in other regions, especially those with cold water conditions. The diving industry continues to grow and more people experience locations that were previously unreachable without the advent of new technology.

What are the safety issues?

  • Cold Water – Most divers are unfamiliar with the physiological efforts of cold water immersion and use of specialty gear like ultra-thick wetsuits or drysuits
  • Extreme Tidal Ranges – Higher northern latitudes are subject to greater changes in overall tidal height range that can expose hidden hazards. Extreme tidal ranges produce powerful currents as well
  • Hazardous Locations – Dive tourism has gravitated to visiting sites that pose higher risk of injury like caves and shipwrecks
  • Limited Rescue Resources – The population in the northern climes is sparse and available dive rescue services are severely limited. Communications systems are limited in rural regions and distances traveled can be immense
  • Risk Caused by Other Users – Divers share the same waters used by commercial fishermen with gear in the water, floatplanes and recreational power boaters. Injury can result if the diver’s presence is unknown to these others
  • High Technology – Mixed gas use, rebreathing equipment, and technical diving gear is uncommon in the north. Parts, service and quality of equipment can be poor

How can safety be better addressed?

  • Use specialty equipment like rebreathers and drysuits as part of routine recreational dives
  • Utilize experienced local divemasters to lead diving groups
  • Consider limited divemaster to group ratios of 5:1
  • Encourage formation of local dive clubs in rural communities
  • Resource and public safety organizations can develop an inventory of known diving hazards, attractions, and bottom conditions
  • Diving advocates can create diving orientation brochures for their local areas
  • Tour operators should screen their clients for ability and aptitude
  • Divers can support development of dive rescue resources in their communities. Many volunteer fire departments have swift water and dive rescue teams
  • Dive operations can highlight their safety experience in advertising

Kate Madin and Jeff Godfrey, Diving Safety Officer for the University of Connecticut, have an interesting website devoted to cold water diving called Antarctic Water Wear: Cold-Water Diving and Drysuits that details equipment used at the southern continent. The site has multimedia presentations on using drysuits and the effects of hypothermia.

Alaska Sea Grant has its workshop proceedings Alaska Diving Safety available online as a PDF file. Much of the workshop focused on commercial diving, but information presented can benefit all divers.

This article was first seen at Suite101.com Copyright © 2013 by Alan Sorum

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