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Safety at the Surface

Marshall Goldman   Jun 18, 2019

Mary had just finished her dive and was on the surface with her dive buddy, Matt. They wanted to talk about the dive, so they removed their masks and regulator just before a large wave washed over them.  Mary choked on the sea water, while Matt lost his mask, which was on his forehead. This common occurrence is easily avoided and in this Blog we help you to understand sensible surface procedures.


Many divers assume that once they reach the surface of the water their dive is over. However, this is not always the case. While on the surface before or after a dive there are some techniques that you, as a diver, should utilize to make sure that you remain safe.


As soon as you reach the surface of the water you want to make sure that you inflate your BCD (buoyancy control device). With your BCD inflated you expend less energy on the surface while you wait to board the boat.  On a drift dive or in other cases where you surface away from the boat, you will be comfortable while waiting for the boat to come to you.


When at the surface you should make sure to keep your mask on at all times and your regulator or snorkel in your mouth.  A diver who has their mask on their forehead may indicate that they are in distress. If you want to move your mask, you should turn it so that the lens is at the back of your head or drop it down so that it is around your neck. However, good diving practice is to never remove your mask.


It is important to keep your mask on and regulator, or snorkel, in your mouth for a number of key reasons. If you were hit by a wave, having your regulator or snorkel in your mouth and your mask on allows you to maintain your ability to breathe and see. Another key reason to keep your mask and regulator in the proper place is that you are better prepared in case you need to descend quickly for any reason without adjusting your mask or regulator as they are already in their proper home.  Your mask helps to protect your nose and eyes; water that gets into your nose can irritate mucus membranes. These membranes can cause your nose to clog, and a clogged nose means that you might be unable to clear your ears and might have to cancel repetitive  dives.


Another good practice is to make sure that you deploy a surface marker if you surface away from the boat. This practice is useful as it makes you visible to other boats that may be in the water around you and can help keep you safe. 


Once you are at the surface you want to signal to your boat that you are okay and not in distress. At great distances, the people on the boat might not be able to see the “OK” signal that we use while on a dive. In order to signal that you are okay while on the surface, you make a fist with either of your hands and tap it on top of your head, making sure to keep your movements large enough for the boat to see. If you surface and there is a problem, the universal panic sign on the surface is to wave your arms above your head. This lets the boat know that you are diver in distress, and you need help.


The best way to make sure that you are safe on a dive to practice good diving procedures at all times, including when you are on the surface. By following these procedures, you make sure that you and those you are diving with are able to have a safe and fun dive.




Photo courtesy of SSI

Blog written by: Elizabeth Thompson

Special Thanks to Henry Jones for the idea for this blog.