Yes, it is, provided...
[Note: This blog refers to recreational sport diving only. Recreational technical diving, scientific diving and military diving are not covered]
Overall, when we are asked if Scuba diving is safe our answer is yes, it is a very safe activity for you and your friends and family to enjoy.
It is a response that we do have to qualify, however, by saying that it is not a risk free activity - indeed we would argue it is a high risk activity.
So perhaps a more accurate answer would be:
“Scuba diving is a high risk activity that can be enjoyed very safely, provided that you dive within the limits of your training and experience.”
There is no denying that scuba diving has an enviable safety record. But there is also no denying that it is an inherently risky thing to do. Scuba diving can be as safe, or as dangerous, as you choose to make it.
The analogy we use when speaking about this subject is that of motor racing.
- Is hammering around a track at high speed inherently risky? Yes.
- Is motor sport inherently safe? Yes.
- Can an individual driver have a direct impact on how dangerous or safe any one race is? Absolutely.
If you choose to dive when conditions are bad, push limits, use unfamiliar equipment and dive deeper than you are trained to do so…then you can make scuba diving highly dangerous.
It is your choice as to whether you want to dive safely. Your attitude and approach is key in governing this, far more so than the logo that happens to be on your certification card.
But as we covered in our blog, Can I get Decompression sickness scuba diving? you cannot remove all risk.
Certainly here at Dive Bunnies we can say that we have enjoyed thousands of scuba dives safely over many, many years.
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics” - too many to list!
The challenge with scuba diving is that it is a global sport for which there is no central record for the number of scuba dives actually completed over any given period.
Scuba divers are formally certified and therefore registered with their respective training agencies, actual dives are not. So there may well be a billion divers out there, but if none of them ever bother to get wet, then dive related injuries would be nil.
To further complicate things, some divers may complete literally five or six dives in a year, others five or six hundred.
To garnish the above complexity still further, there are in excess of 50 separate organisations involved in the training and certification of recreational divers.
Naturally fatalities are a major measure of whether any activity can be deemed to be safe. Numbers vary wildly depending on which source you choose and whether that source is looking at divers, or dives.
We have decided to look at 2 leading authorities.
- The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that 1 in 200,000 dives results in a fatality.
- The Divers Alert Network (DAN) gives a figure of 1 in 211,000 dives.
Of these, 26% are from cardiac arrest and 40% of these had underlying cardiac issues (i.e. they were going to have a cardiac arrest at some point, they just happened to have it under the water).
If we break all these numbers back, what it means is that, broadly, the chance of a fatality on a dive is 0.000005% - of which 10% died of cardiac arrest due to underlying heart problems.
So the likelihood of you being involved as a fatality whilst scuba diving is, frankly, next to nothing. For you to complete 205,000 dives in, say, 85 years, you would need to undertake between 6 and 7 dives a day, every day, from the age of 10.
Looking instead at certified divers, DAN estimates that there are around 2 dive related fatalities per 100,000 participants. Compare this with an estimated 128 deaths per 100,000 participants for horse riding.
So you can get the broad picture - although scuba diving is high risk, its fatality rate is extremely low and you are highly unlikely to die whilst enjoying the sport.
Other scuba diving injuries
Naturally, fatalities are only one aspect of the whole safety picture and the vast majority of dive injuries do not result in death.
So how does recreational scuba diving stack up when it comes to injuries? Again, the lack of any centralised numbers makes analysis difficult so we have to rely on surveys.
The top 3 reported injuries in scuba diving are (typically):
- Barotrauma - pressure related injuries
- Decompression sickness - gas related injuries
- Marine envenomation - stinging/biting by venomous marine life
Source: Diver Alert Network
It does, again, depend on where you take your numbers from so we have done a little background crunching of various reports from a number of different sources. Our results indicate that in terms of dive related injuries that required some sort of first aid:
- 36% of all active divers report never having suffered an injury whilst diving;
- Of the 64% who did report suffering a dive injury, 35% required no treatment and 62% were treated by the dive leader without seeking additional medical treatment later (typically small cuts and abrasions and minor stings).
This means that around 2% of all active divers have ever suffered injuries that required professionally qualified medical intervention. Again, this doesn’t reflect actual dives, just certified divers that consider themselves as being ‘active’.
Which inevitably leads to the next question - what is an active diver?
There is no agreed definition as to what an 'active scuba diver' is. The only way to get any idea is simply to ask at what point divers consider themselves 'active' and then take a view.
Research by DEMA suggests that around 77% of divers consider themselves to be active, although of that number, 12% had not dived in the previous 12 months (COVID adjusted).
36% of respondents stated that between 21 and 50 dives each year would be considered as 'active'. What was really interesting was that 29% stated that they considered themselves as 'active' with between 5 and 10 dives per year.
So what does all this mean?
As you can now appreciate, getting meaningful numbers is a bit of a challenge.
Referring back to our initial comments, you are the most important factor in determining how safe, or otherwise your scuba diving is - and please remember, as we covered in our blog No - the dive guide is NOT responsible for your dive!, if you are a certified diver it is your judgement that counts.
You cannot abdicate responsibility for your own dive.
But overall, scuba diving is an extremely safe activity that very rarely results in any sort of serious injury. It is a high risk activity, but one that all concerned work towards making safe and enjoyable.
It is up to you if you are part of that effort.