Safety in Expedition Diving
However you define your expedition it is important to recognize that once you begin planning it you have crossed out of the realm of normal recreational or technical and entered a world that requires serious oversight, preparation, and risk mitigation. Expedition diving does not have to be technical or extreme – a recreational diving trip to a destination like Truk Lagoon could put you hours or days away from the nearest medical help and require expedition level preparations for medical treatment and evacuation.
No matter what your adventure is, if the destination is remote or the diving is challenging, take the time to step back and examine how you’ll need to respond if a real emergency occurs – it will take more preparation than you think.
You plan every dive, but diving in a remote location requires planning far beyond what you need to safely dive in a tourist destination. Incident management and risk mitigation aside, how will you keep your equipment functioning if your nearest dive shop is a two-day sail or a twelve-hour flight away? A single burs hose, failed regulator, or lost fin can put a halt to your diving plans if appropriate spares are not sourced. Diving in remote locations means that you must anticipate equipment failures before they occur and bring both the supplies and the skills required to fix your equipment with you to the dive site.
If your trip involves more than one diver, this problem is multiplied and maintenance supplies and redundant equipment can begin to fill dive bags, hotel rooms, and vehicles. How you get the transportation over land, sea, and air you need to reach a site, the gas you need to dive, and shelter for you and your dive buddy will need to be arranged months or years ahead of time, and the logistics can be burdensome. Begin finding a safe source for diving gases, and safe and comfortable lodging for your expedition as early as possible – planning a trip two years in advance is not uncommon and makes it possible to verify the safety and effectiveness of your dive plan well in advance.
Supporting expedition divers and mitigating the risks of extreme exposures can take a team of individuals. As divers push into extreme depths the gas supplies required can extend well past what they can individually carry, and they are put at increased risk of hypothermia oxygen toxicity, and DCI. These risks and logistical hurdles can only be effectively managed with a well-trained and attentive support team.
While large expeditions may have support divers, dive tenders, and a medical support team on hand, a small charter boat may be all that you have access to. An attentive crew and a well thought out emergency plan, even with a small vessel, can effectively mitigate many risks. Regardless of crew size, the ability to drop emergency gas to divers finishing decompression, or launch a skiff to retrieve a diver caught in a current can effectively increase the safety of both expedition divers and support personnel.
Dealing with the risks of divers doing long or deep dives always requires significant emergency planning, and this planning can be the most difficult part of making a dive expedition happen. Whether it is treating a seriously injured patient and evacuating them to qualified medical care, or dealing with the bumps and bruises of dive travel, almost all medical and emergency related issues become logistically and financially more difficult in a remote location. Portable hyperbaric chambers are available, as are travelling medical teams, but both come with their own operational difficulties, and costs.
For those of us without access to the type of funding and equipment needed to bring a hyperbaric team to a dive site, expedition planning means preparing for every possible contingency before a dive begins, to the best of our ability. Bringing adequate supplies of emergency oxygen to reach medical care, preparing boat crews to deal with divers caught in current or running out of gas while finishing decompression, and practicing injured or unconscious diver rescue scenarios are important steps you can take towards minimizing your risks. By preparing for the worst possible scenarios you not only shed light on the realistic risks of an expedition, but you increase the likelihood of a good outcome in any emergency.
For more information on dive safety, visit DAN.org.
For more information on the relationship between patent foramen ovale and div- ing, visit: DAN.org/Health
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