Sunday 20 November 2016

Staying Safe When Snorkelling And Diving

Snorkelling And Diving

The deaths of three tourists on the Great Barrier Reef this week serve as a reminder that snorkelling and diving can be dangerous.

However, it’s also important to remember that the vast majority of diving excursions to the Great Barrier Reef - and indeed to shipwrecks and reefs around the world - pass off without incident.

Here we look at how to stay safe in the water.

What do we know about the latest incidents?

There have been three deaths at the Great Barrier Reef in two days. A 60-year-old British man was the latest person to lose his life: he died on Friday while diving at Agincourt Reef, Queensland.

The deceased was found on the ocean floor with his regulator out of his mouth. He has yet to be named.

His death occurred some 100 miles north of Michaelmas Cay, where French tourists Jacques Goron, 76, and Danielle Franck, 74, died while snorkelling on Wednesday. Both had pre-existing medical conditions.

There is speculation the tourists could have been killed by Irukandji jellyfish, a tiny transparent creature whose sting can trigger heart attacks. However, this has not been confirmed and the cause of death for all three tourists remains a mystery.

Is diving dangerous?

There are certainly risks associated with diving and to a lesser extent snorkelling.

“Underwater you are surrounded by a hostile element and the dividing line between a near miss and a serious accident is a thin one,” said Tim Ecott, Telegraph Travel’s diving expert.

“A minor heart attack soon becomes a death by drowning. A panic attack brought on by inexperience and challenging conditions can swiftly lead to the same result. The diver who rushes to the surface too quickly risks fatal lung injuries, paralysis or brain damage.”

However, statistically scuba diving is safer than skiing.

The British Sub Aquatic Club (BSAC) recorded nine deaths in UK waters in 2015, the lowest number for more than 20 years. To put that in perspective consider this: in the same year up to two million dives took place throughout the UK.

What precautions should I take?

According to Brian Cummings, of the BSAC, the most common factor in diving accidents is poor preparation and planning.

“We see it every year,” he said. “Divers get back into the water after the winter break and assume their equipment is in good condition without getting it serviced and checked.

“They also assume they are fit to dive and push themselves too deep or into challenging conditions instead of doing a few easy warm-up dives to get back into practice.”

The lesson? Make sure your gear is working and ease yourself in gently.

How can I learn to dive?

If you want to learn it is essential to sign up for a recognised course of instruction. The main agencies in the UK that organise diver training are the BSAC and the Professional Association of Underwater Instructors (PADI).

If you go abroad you may find suitable courses offered by other organisations such as the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI)Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (CMAS) or Scuba Schools International (SSI). Any of these systems will teach you to dive safely and issue you with a certification card allowing you to dive and hire diving equipment.

While learning to dive, you will be taught the basics of safety, and how to avoid decompression sickness (the bends), how to control your buoyancy and how to minimise the risk of an accident. Accidents do happen, but most can be avoided if divers stick to the rules.

A basic diving course takes only a few days. Experience should turn you into a better diver, but it is often the qualified divers who make mistakes, assuming they can handle more than they can. All diving courses are graduated - you start with the basics and gradually move on to more advanced training as you build up your experience.

Can anyone learn to dive?

Diving is an accessible sport that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities.

“I know several people in their late seventies and eighties who have continued to scuba dive, claiming it keeps them going when most of their contemporaries have long given up on anything more strenuous than a stroll to the post office to collect their pensions,” said Mr Ecott.

“I have dived with a man paralysed from the waist down after a motorbike accident and with a man who had lost both legs. And I know of at least one blind person who dives while his buddy describes the underwater scenery through a specially adapted headset,” he added.

However, diving isn’t suitable - or indeed safe - for everyone.

“Any condition that affects the ears, sinuses, respiratory or heart function, or may alter consciousness is a concern,” reads a statement on the PADI website.

“Only a doctor can assess a person’s individual risk.” Is it worth the risks?

Absolutely. Exploring colourful coral reefs, surveying shipwrecks and coming face to face with the likes of turtles, rays and sharks is exhilarating. Once you’ve plunged beneath the surface of the ocean, you'll never look at it in the same way again.

*** Basded ON Telegraph Travel



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