How safe is scuba diving?
August 30, 2006 8:00 AM   Subscribe

How save is recreational scuba diving? Need statistics to convince my girlfriend to dive with me.

I love diving, I've been to divesites in four countries and want it to be a continuing hobby of mine.

Bad news; my very serious girlfriend, likely to soon be my fiance, thinks it's dangerous and doesn't want to go with me. She is afraid of sharks, I think. Maybe sea monsters, I don't know.

Having been diving, and not being an 'extreme' type of person, it seems only slightly more dangerous than swimming in really deep water during the daytime while sober.

Anyway, I can find some vague statistics that 'millions of dives' happen year and annual deaths are about 100. That actually sounds higher than I thought it'd be, but I'm hoping that I can find something to show her that if done by the books it isn't all that dangerousl.

I need help, I can't give up diving or my girlfriend. Thanks!
posted by bluejayk to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In my opinion, as a diver, it's as safe as you make it.

But try this, it has some things you might find useful.
posted by knapah at 8:06 AM on August 30, 2006

You can never eliminate risk, you get trained well and use appropriate equipment and procedures to minimise the risk.

Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK estimate the risk of SCUBA diving (and other activities). They put the risk of death at 1 in 200,000 dives. Thus, it is less dangerous than hang-gliding (1 in 116,000 flights), but more dangerous than rock climbing (1 in 320,000 climbs).
posted by jonesor at 8:21 AM on August 30, 2006

it's as safe as you make it

As another diver, I concur. If you go on hundreds of 30 ft dives over your lifetime during which you monitor your air and are careful, diving isn't very risky. It only takes one reckless dive (not watching your depth, nitrogen narcosis, draining your tank, surfacing too fast, etc.) to up the risk significantly.

I can't give up diving or my girlfriend.

By the way, it's not an either/or situation. My husband is never going to get certified, so I go diving without him. It would be great to have him with me, but I don't mind having my own hobbies (and neither does he.)
posted by nekton at 8:35 AM on August 30, 2006

yeah I agree about not necessarily being an either/or. My wife has some ear canal issues which prevent her from diving, so I go solo whenever we're in a tropical location.
That said, I usually only go once per trip. If I was more into diving, where I wanted to go everyday or something, that would be a problem. For me its just something cool i do now and then.
posted by alkupe at 8:38 AM on August 30, 2006

I would think that the most dangerous thing you could do would be to try to convince someone who is uncomfortable with the idea to go diving. Many diving deaths involve some sort of panic situation leading to incorrect actions. Instead you could combine a snorkeling and diving trip.
posted by JackFlash at 8:39 AM on August 30, 2006

I don't think her fear of diving will be overcome by statistics, particularly since diving is an inherently dangerous sport. Not as dangerous as hang-gliding or mountaineering, but still with high risks relative to most recreational activities.

Instead I'd try to increase her comfort level with related activities. Snorkeling is a good introduction. If you can get her to enjoy that with you, she may see SCUBA diving differently.
posted by justkevin at 8:42 AM on August 30, 2006

Thanks for the sites. Yeah, it's not really an either/or, I was being glib. I'm just hoping she'll try it, if she isn't reassured by all the safety precautions and training she'd learn about during a course, or she just doesn't enjoy it (are there people who actually don't enjoy diving???), well, she can read on the beach or something.
posted by bluejayk at 8:47 AM on August 30, 2006

Another diver here. Safety depends a lot on what kind of diving you do; cave and wreck diving, for instance, are much riskier than open water diving. I would suggest first talking to your girlfriend about her fears. Is it part of a more generalized fear of the ocean or water? Is it specifically related to sea life? Is it specifically related to the diving aspect of it (perhaps she saw Open Water)? Does she have a problem going swimming at the beach? Based on the answer to these questions there are a couple of ways you could try to ease her into it, while reassuring her she can stop/back out at any time. If she already enjoys swimming at the beach, then snorkling is a good way to get interested in taking the next step. She could enroll in a class to get certified where she will be in a pool the whole time; you could even take the class with her as an update; just make it clear that she can back out whenever she wants if she decides it isn't for her. The knowledge from the class might go a long way toward easing her fears. You don't say where you are, but certainly in many areas there are freshwater diving opportunities that don't involve sharks or sea monsters. Make sure if you talk her into going freshwater diving that you do so where there is good visibility; diving in murky rivers can be fun but also very unnerving for some people. If all else fails, have her ride on the boat while you dive. She might see all the fun and hear the stories and decide she wants to join in after all; if not, then you have an extra set of hands to lug your gear to and from the boat.
posted by TedW at 8:49 AM on August 30, 2006

I don't think her fear of diving will be overcome by statistics

Me either. Fear is a very important emotion, in many ways essential for human survival. I don't think a gut-level reaction of this kind will succumb to numbers.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:53 AM on August 30, 2006

There is some evidence that even minor decompression sickness causes brain damage.
posted by malp at 9:00 AM on August 30, 2006

Before I went diving, I heard two scary stories: one from a girl who went through the training, dove down with a guide and then had a panic attack and had to come up (but of course not as quickly as she would have liked, which felt unbearable to her), and one from a girl who had gotten seasick on the way out, and had to come up in order to puke in the water in front of her and then go back down.

With these two tales I was able to prepare better for my first dive, which helped a lot in the face of all the sport-o people who've dived a million times going, "Psh, it'll be fine, nothing will happen!" The fact is, it IS a weird feeling to be dependent on a tube for breathing, and have so many dials to check, and to not be able to rise to the surface when you want to. So I was prepared to deal with a panic attack (looking under the water while floating before going down helped, because fish are soothing), and I had taken seasickness meds.

Still, gotta say, I found the experience to be nervewracking, cold, and enough like watching a fish show on TV that I'm not sure I need to do it again. But I'd go snorkeling.
posted by xo at 9:13 AM on August 30, 2006

My boyfriend is a dedicated diver and tried to convince me to go with him. I went to a class and got certified, and I'll do it from time to time, but I really dislike it.

My advice: be careful what certification class your girlfriend takes, assuming she takes one. Mine was a nightmare, which is probably a big part of why I dislike diving now. If the teacher or teaching method isn't right for her, drop out and start again elsewhere!

And, as I'm sure you already know, diving really isn't for everyone. Most places you're likely to travel to dive (Australia, Thailand, places in the States) also have lots of other fun things to do while she's waiting for you on the surface.
posted by piers at 9:24 AM on August 30, 2006

Whatever you do, don't rent Open Water.
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:54 AM on August 30, 2006

I wish you said where you are. I agree with others upstream who say it's as safe as you make it, but part of that is also where you choose to dive. Convincing your girlfriend, however, may or may not be something that's overcome with statistics or knowledge.

While "She is afraid of sharks, I think. Maybe sea monsters, I don't know." made me smile, you'll go a long way towards assuring her if she thinks you take her concerns seriously, even if they turn out to be baseless. You'll go a long way towards never overcoming it if she thinks you're patronizing or belittling her worry, particularly if she gets the impression you're being cavalier.

I learned to dive in the middle 80s and I think back then the dangers were treated pretty glibly and waved off. On the other hand, I learned in Miami and did most of my diving in John Pennekamp coral reef, where much of the diving is at or above the 30 foot depth, making decompression issues pretty minimal.

The big question is, I think, are statistics really what's going to convince her? Maybe learning and gaining comfort is what's going to convince her and you'd be better off sitting down and spending a few minutes going over the real dangers with her and outlining what a good dive class teaches.

If she's comfortable snorkeling then you might concentrate on what's similar and what's different. Any beasties that might eat her are really more likely to go after a snorkeler who moves and thrashes more and who is less aware of what is around him/her. Or maybe that would just make her less comfortable snorkeling.

good luck.
posted by phearlez at 10:15 AM on August 30, 2006

I was diving in the Irish sea a few years ago (drysuit ahoy!) and my weightbelt was on too tight.

Air got trapped in my legs and when I vented from my shoulder vent my legs were still very buoyant. Up I went, feet first.

I was very very worried. My buddy grabbed me, dumped enough of his buoyancy to stop me and we surfaced VERY slowly as I was a bit shook up.

Accidents happen, just make sure you're careful and stick close to your buddy (and you need a buddy) and you "should" be fine.
posted by knapah at 10:36 AM on August 30, 2006

Maybe she'd try a Discover Scuba program, where you learn basic stuff in the pool in the morning, then go out (to 40 ft) with a guide in the afternoon? That's how my gf & I got into it. And she's pretty much the most risk-averse person ever born.

Some people complain that the mask gives them a headache; really, though, you don't need it to be all that tight at all. Just throwing things out, here, as we don't know why your galpal isn't into diving.

I tried to get certified yesterday, but my ears wouldn't let me. Alas. Hope it works out tomorrow.
posted by ibmcginty at 10:36 AM on August 30, 2006

Open water diving is a low risk activity when practiced by people who are highly trained, very careful, extremely consistent in following proper safety procedures, and able to override instinctive reactions when things go wrong (regulator starts to free flow at 40 feet? holding your breath and stroking for that tantalizingly close surface will likely result in a very serious injury, and possibly death). Comparisons with the risks of everyday activities like driving to work are not really valid. If everyone drove an automobile with the same degree of responsibility and aptitude as scuba divers, the injury rate from car accidents would be much better than it is.

So, if statistics isn't a trustworthy guide, what is? I think you need to consider whether your girlfriend is the type of person who, with training, will be safe, responsible and calm on a dive. Including stressful situations such as encounters with largish, carnivorous wildlife or equipment malfunction and out of air emergencies at 66 feet under.

I pressured my wife into learning to dive with me. Like your girlfriend, she was afraid of the depth, afraid of sharks, and quite possibly believed in sea monsters too. In a couple weeks in Belize, she went from panic attacks when she tried to clear her mask to jumping into the water for a better view when calls of "shark" rang out.

But when we returned home, it was those panic attacks and not the beautiful corals and frolicking with sting rays she remembered. She decided to never dive again, and I decided that I wouldn't ask her. She is not someone who finds it easy to stay calm in an emergency. And that is a very dangerous trait in a scuba diver, in my opinion.

All that said, my wife was easily able to overcome her fears of sharks, sea monsters and moray eels. If you think that's all there is to it with your girlfriend, I also highly recommend starting with snorkeling and then a Discover Scuba class. It's safe, and the beauty of it ought to hook anybody.
posted by centerweight at 1:05 PM on August 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

If she's afraid, that may be a real impediment to diving. I know of more than one person who tried to get certified and simply could not trust the equipment enough to breathe underwater.

It is very hard to stay calm and clear-headed when you are afraid, and so it may be that diving could very well be more dangerous for her than it is for you.

Back when I was getting certified, rough chop during the boat ride had left me a little queasy, and sixty feet down it hit me that I had to puke. At sixty feet. I motioned to the instructor that I was ill, and he motioned back to verify that I was going to throw up, and when I nodded, he was very calm, signaled for me to stay calm and just hold the regulator in my mouth and puke through it. After the nausea had passed and my breath was back under control, I was able to take the reg out and purge it clean. And then I felt much better and we continued on with the dive. When we got back ashore and I met up with my (already-certified) husband and told him about it, I realized that if I had panicked about having to puke 60 feet down, things might have gone very badly indeed.
posted by ambrosia at 1:05 PM on August 30, 2006

I tried to teach my wife to dive and to boogie board. She became seasick on the boat. She became seasick from floating on the surface and looking down at kelp swaying in the light surge. She's blind as a bat and had trouble with prescription lenses and mask fittings. She gets pounded by waves because she has zero experience in open water. And, no kidding, she broke her arm with a boogie board leash in the surf.

We decided that the ocean just isn't her thing.

I think you need to consider this for your girlfriend. Some people just suck when it comes to water that moves on its own, just through a combination of past experience or (lack of) personal skill. You'd need to spend an inordinate amount of time just acclimating someone like this to being comfortable in the water. Taking the next step and strapping on a B.C. and weight-belt is much, much farther out of their scope than your average person.

So, I'm wondering whether your girlfriend's non-specific complaints ("Maybe sea monsters, I don't know.") is really a signal that she is of this hyper-uncomfortable type.
posted by frogan at 1:14 PM on August 30, 2006

Have you tried taking her snorkling, somewhere where there are lots of pretty, harmless small fish in easy view? Bonaire springs to mind, and Turks and Caicos. I had no interest in diving and was scared of it, until I tried snorkling and saw just how beautiful it can be. And snorkling is very safe and not frightening, only frustrating because you can't get down far enough... which would make you wish you could scuba...
posted by Rubber Soul at 2:07 PM on August 30, 2006

Oh, great point, Rubber Soul, snorkeling in the Caribbean is what sparked our interest in scuba. St. Croix and St. John both have good snorkeling; that's all I can help you with, first-hand-wise
posted by ibmcginty at 2:32 PM on August 30, 2006

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