Panic causes most of the accidents in Scuba Diving, but you can avoid it.

Stress and anxiety can easily build up during scuba diving, small problems, become bigger problems, bigger problems become a panic situation which turns into an avoidable dive injury or worse.
As an Instructor I have seen many “stressed out” divers, I have caught many cases of anxiety before these became full blown panic.

Stress leads to panic but what causes stress?

Stress and panic in scuba diving is often caused by small things, missing gear, depth, sea conditions and a myriad of other factors.
Any of these on their own are not usually a problem.
If these build up however then problems are inevitable, the secret is to “break the circle” and lose the anxiety. Even better if the circle never starts at all.

How do we avoid stress when diving?

Before the Dive:

Yes, we start avoiding stress way before we actually dive.

  • Pack your dive bag the night before, use a checklist so you don’t forget anything. Put your drinks/snacks/seasickness remedies in an obvious place so these don’t get left behind.
  • Leave early, ARRIVE EARLY, this will give you more time to get your gear sorted, check everything is working and a chance to ask questions of the dive leaders when they are not busy with other guests.
  • Stay off the alcohol the night before and if Caffeine affects you, forego the morning coffee.

Take into account your personal dive training:

  • Stick to dives within your actual abilities and experience. You have a “skill level”, you extend this skill level gradually while gaining experience.
    If your comfort level does not match the planned dive then why are you doing the dive at all?
  • Gaining experience while doing progressively more difficult dives with experienced dive buddies is a great idea, but DON’T become a casualty due to peer pressure.
    If you have never been deeper than 50 ft / 15 M then why are you even considering a dive to 110 ft / 33M. That depth is way beyond your training and experience level and is going to stress you.
  • Keep your skills sharp, practice these at every opportunity. If your weighting is correct, your trim good and your buoyancy under control then any and every dive you do is going to be “easy”.
  • Many divers have anxiety about clearing their masks. This is something you can overcome by practice.
    Practice in a shallow pool, practice in the bath, practice when you are holding a line during a safety stop. You should be able to clear a flooded mask easily and without losing buoyancy.
    Look at it this way, if you lose buoyancy, break the surface and a boat is heading straight for you, you could be seriously injured. Won’t happen to you?, well it has happened to other divers more than once.
  • If you have the opportunity, take a “Rescue Diver Course“. Some agencies call this “Stress and Rescue”, in terms of Safety you will probably find this will be money well spent.

On the dive boat:

  • Once you have your gear sorted, relax and start thinking about the dive. Visualize exiting the boat, descending, gliding along weightlessly and enjoying yourself.
  • Listen to the dive briefing. You now know how to exit the boat, descent procedures, dive signals, how the dive leader will conduct the dive, ascent procedures and how to get back on the boat.
  • Incorporate the dive briefing into your dive plan. Also agree with your buddy your air plan, signals and lost buddy procedure.
  • Communicate with the boat staff. Ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Relay your anxieties to them, they will help you. If you need assistance getting off the boat, putting gear on, descending, or with anything else then ASK. We are not mind readers (although the experienced ones among us are very good at spotting stress).
  • Never be afraid to “call the dive” it will be there another day, better a missed dive day than becoming a statistic

Handling stress underwater:

Work out why you are anxious

  • Gear issue?
  • Leaky mask?
  • Scary marine life?
  • Buddy too far away?
  • Too deep?
  • Air getting low?

Be positive with yourself:

  • If you can work out what is causing the stress you are already halfway to solving the problem.
  • Talk to yourself, (Its OK nobody can hear you). Remind yourself that you are OK! Remind yourself you have been diving on similar dives before. Tell yourself that you can do this.
  • Positive thinking leads to positive actions, it does really work.

Stop. Think. Act.

  • Slow down, unclench your teeth from your regulator, check your air supply, you now have some “positives” to think about.
  • Slow your breathing, focus on every breath you take, breath slowly, breath deliberately. This is a great way of breaking that circle of Stress.
  • Shift your mindset back to solution thinking and away from emotional thinking. Now is the time for common sense, reason and maintaining your situational awareness.
  • Signal your buddy, get them close, a well trained buddy will probably already be right at the side of you, you have probably just not noticed.
  • Finally, once you are calm, decide whether to call the dive and ascend, or shorten the dive, or whatever else you think is appropriate according to how you now feel.

Spotting Stress in your buddy – Know your buddy:

  • What is your buddy’s “normal” breathing rate?
  • What does your buddy’s trim look like in the water?
  • How often does your buddy look at you and give you an OK sign?
  • How often do they check their air?
  • Do they seem fixated on something?

Understanding when things are not right gives you an opportunity to move closer, reassure and assist if necessary.

After the dive

Analize, Analize, Analize.

  • Be honest with yourself, what really went wrong?
  • Where and why did the anxiety start?
  • What was the first stress factor? what was the second? what happened next?
  • Discuss what happened with your buddy.
  • Think about what your could have done better, what you did well, what alternative solutions were available if only you had thought about then at the time.

Lets analyze a gear failure as an example:

  • Did you check the gear before diving?
  • Did you complete a buddy check? On your descent is a great time for you and your buddy to check each other for leaks.
  • Has the gear been serviced properly?
  • Do you have sufficient experience and training to handle such a gear failure?
  • Were you outside of your “comfort zone” before the failure happened?

Make Notes:

Use your logbook to record these events, when you read back on them this serves as a reminder of “what to do” and what not to do to ensure your diving is always a safe stress free experience.

Stress, anxiety and panic are the cause of most Scuba Diving accidents. Remember the mantra “if you have air, everything else is controllable“.

Stay safe and enjoy your diving.

In the meantime chill out with our Sea Turtle

Turtle joined me on my safety stop while scuba diving in St Kitts
Lets read underwater
Leave your email and get notified about new articles

Error: Contact form not found.

Author Picture

Author Bio

Originally from the UK, I retired and moved to St Kitts in 2007.
After teaching Scuba in the UK I continued in the somewhat warmer and clearer water of the Caribbean.
As a Padi Master Instructor, Padi has credited me with over 2,000 diving students and I have received the Padi Elite Instructor award every year since the scheme started in 2013.
For fun I dive Sidemount and I am a TDI Technical Diver.

Pass on your knowledge: