I’ve completed many successful dives, I’m a pretty good diver. I’ve only had one out of air situation and didn’t panic…
Whoa! backup a second.. Let’s get this straight.. As a diver running out of air is the stupidest, most careless and easily preventable thing you can do. No excuses!
OOA situations generally do not involve equipment failure, rather OOA results from a diver not paying attention. This is diver error in its purest form, and something that can easily kill you. It is entirely preventable, and looking at DAN statistics it may reduce your chance of becoming another fatality.
Looking at a recent DAN study of 947 fatalities over a 10-year period. In almost half of those cases, well 41% to be exact, the initial trigger or problem preceding the event was identified as an OOA, not an equipment failure.
This would seem to show that OOA is one of the most dangerous things you can experience as a diver. So why do divers still run out of air?
Partly training. While is it advised and obviously understood not to run out of air, divers are taught buddy breathing, and CESA as solutions to an OOA event. This possibly indicates to a new diver, it’s not that big of a deal as you have options.. and it is relatively easy to make a ascent after an OOA event.
Whilst the training is an important part of safety, and teaching how to deal with the situation, this sends the wrong message, and maybe should be better put to them quite frankly as “you run out of air you have a good chance of dying”. A new diver needs to be aware how serious this OOA event really is.
Partly experience. Frequent checking of your SPG is vital, especially in the initial part of the dive to see if your air consumption is above normal, or potentially indicating you have a problem. Your SPG is a critical part of your equipment, try to place it in a location easily visible with little effort. Don’t tuck it away in a pocket.. it is useless there..
This is important when diving at new sites, new conditions which may exert your body in different ways (think current, cold, tired), and deeper depth than you may have experienced in the past. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can breath a tank empty at 30M.
It is also critical to communicate with your buddy, and the DM if present. Don’t sit back as you run low on Air assuming the other divers are in a situation like yourself. If you get to 1/2 tank (or whatever point you decided to notify each other in your pre-dive briefing), let others know quickly.
Peoples rate of air consumption varies wildly, though it is quite common for a new diver to use air faster due to anxiety or stress. Myself when diving with a new buddy I like to ask them their air level a couple times in the initial part of the dive to be able to gauge them against my own consumption where they are likely to be at.
As you progress in diving, you should become more aware of your SCR (Surface Consumption Rate) or SAC (Surface Air Consumption), and what effects various conditions have on it. You will then be able to understand if your consumption on any particular dive is above normal, and be aware in advance that you will be cutting the dive short or shallow.
Looking at it another way if we could eliminate running out of air, we would reduce the number of fatalities from say 100 to 59 immediately. This involves nothing more than getting divers to pay better attention to their gauges, and changing the mindset of the diving community that OOA is not acceptable.