Emergency Ascents

The old saying "what goes up, must come down", is modified for diving to be "what goes down, must come up". For every descent there must be an ascent. A normal ascent is swimming slowly to the surface with your buddy, breathing regularly, maintaining neutral buoyancy, and looking up. "Look Up, Reach Up, Come Up, Controlled." When a situation arises that forces the diver to ascend at anytime other than when planned, it is an EMERGENCY ASCENT. Emergency ascents are any unplanned ascent, where a diver aborts a dive due to equipment problems, out-of-air situation, marine life, or injury to self, or another diver.

There are two basic types of emergency ascents, unassisted and assisted. An unassisted ascent is one in which the diver swims to the surface as near to normal as possible. He may be out of air, or injured (cramp) but, for whatever the reason, he decided to abort the dive and come up, independent of his buddy's help. This may be because his buddy is to far away to help. Assisted ascents are those the diver makes with the aid of another diver, or performs a buoyant ascent. On a buoyant ascent the diver is brought to the surface by using the lift of the BC. On every ascent, maintain control of your BCD. The inflator/deflator should be held throughout the ascent. Always keep looking up and around as you ascend. Extend one hand upward higher than your head, so that in case there is an obstruction overhead, you can push off of it. This is especially true when night diving, or in any other type of limited visibility.

When the need arises that you feel you must make an unassisted emergency ascent, it is not difficult. In several situations it is preferred to the assisted ascent. If an unplanned ascent is made, try to give your buddy the hand signal up before surfacing. When out of air and an emergency ascent is performed, exhale continually to prevent the air in the lungs from overexpanding. The lung volume needs to be maintained at about mid-volume. You do this by controlling your exhalation. Do not exhale forcefully. Keep your second stage in your mouth, and exhale through it all the way up. Reason being the air in your tank is expanding, and a few breaths may become available if out of air. Refrain from swallowing, this action seals the glottis and allows pressure to build in the lungs. Always exhale before trying to inhale. Maintain a normal ascent rate of 60 feet per minute. Remember the air in the BCD will be expanding, control it.

Assisted ascents are ones in which another diver assist his buddy to the surface, or a diver is assisted to the surface by his BCD. A diver may need assistance to surface most commonly due to out of air, or injury. In an out of air situation the preferred method of surfacing is by using a pony bottle system. This is the safest, and easiest method of sharing air, but most divers do not use them. The next safest method is the use of the safe second provided by another diver. The last method is the buddy breathing ascent, two diver sharing the same second stage.

All emergency procedures require practice in advance of the dive. Buddies need to know where safe seconds are, and how to get them. The divers need to be aware that at low tank pressures the regulator may not deliver air to two divers as readily as one. Air will be used up twice as fast. If the temperature is low, the chance of regulator freeze up increases.

Proper buddy breathing techniques should be rehearsed before every dive. Rescue divers should be on guard when attempting to buddy breath with a diver. Most have not practiced the technique since their open water class. Do not expect a diver to know how to perform the task correctly. For this reason every professional diver, Rescuer, or Divemaster, should have a safe second, or pony bottle system. When the need arises and buddy breathing is being performed, remember not to hold your breath, and try to insure the other diver does not either. When the receiver is not continually exhaling, do not punch, or push on his midsection. Stop your ascent. Gain his attention, and point to your lips as you exhale. Never try to force someone to exhale under any circumstances.

Buoyant ascents are the most dangerous type of ascent, but can be performed safely as long the Rescuer or diver remembers to stop and think. They can be controlled, as when a rescuer brings up a victim, or a diver with a leg cramp brings himself up. They may be uncontrolled, caused by a panicked diver rapidly inflating his BC, a pulled carbon dioxide inflator, and faulty equipment.

A controlled buoyant ascent is operating the buoyancy compensator like an elevator, to lift someone from the bottom. When the diver who needs assistance is conscious and alert, but cannot swim to the surface, such as with a leg cramp, you need to help him. When a leg cramp develops the pain can be great. The legs may be unable to be moved due to the pain. Once the diver signals the cramp wont subside, and needs help to the surface, assume a position to him similar for buddy breathing. Have him take hold of his BC control and hold it up. You then place his free hand on your BC, and grab hold of his. Inflate your BC enough to provide a slight lift, and start swimming up. If need be, add a little air to the victim's BC. Once ascending go slow. In some situations you may have to control both BC's. As you near the surface, watch for acceleration due to air expansion. This type of ascent should be very slow and controlled. Try not to put too much air in the victim's BC in case you lose your hold. It is best when starting out to remove the victim's weight belt to establish buoyancy, before adding air to his BC. Once you reach the surface fully inflate his BC before letting go of him. This type of ascent is adaptable to several situations where a diver needs assistance to the surface, but requires practice on the rescuer's behalf in both pool, and open water.

When bringing yourself to the surface, by your BC, it should be as controlled as the two man buoyant ascent. Try to signal your buddy your intention before starting up. Add as small amount of air to your BC until you start to rise. Control your ascent by adding or releasing air all the way to the surface. When performing a self rescue in this manor do not drop your weight belt unless necessary, or when you reach the surface. The reason is that, when doing a controlled buoyant ascent the key word is control. When the weight belt is dropped it is hard to maintain a slow ascent to the surface as depth decreases. In every situation keep in mind the weight belt rule: When in doubt, drop it. From depth greater than 50 feet the amount of air needed to be put in the BC to provide lift may be great, remember to watch for acceleration and control it as you near the surface, especially as you reach 20 to 15 feet.

When the victim is unconscious and/or not breathing a controlled buoyant ascent is slightly different. You need to get to the surface quickly. For these victims remove their weight belt and grab hold of them, or their tank valve. Inflate your BC and start up. Watch your ascent rate. You may need to add some air to the victim's BC. It does not matter how you grab these victims, as they do need eye to eye contact for reassurance, they just need to get to the surface. Take care not to surface to fast, maintain your proper ascent rate. Once you reach the surface fully inflate their BC, and treat them appropriately.

Uncontrolled buoyant ascents occur from equipment problems, or are intentional, as in impending blackout or a panic stricken diver. Unlike the buoyant ascents above where the diver, or rescuer controls the rate of ascent by maintaining complete control on the BC, uncontrolled ascents are normally almost totally inflated BCs at depth. The wearer rockets to the surface at great speed and will pop out of the water. If the diver is conscious, and does not exhale properly, he can develop over expansion injuries.

Equipment problems such as a stuck, or corroded inflator button leads to buoyant rapid ascents. When it happens, the diver should first try to disconnect the BC inflator hose. On BCs where the inflator connects behind the dives head this may not be possible. If this occurs, hold up your BC hose, and open the dump valve. Flaring the fins can slow the rate of ascent. If still coming up uncontrolled, try to arch your back. If using a back mounted BC, or you are coming up face down, raise one elbow higher than the shoulder. This will produce an unequal buoyancy which will cause the BCD to roll you face up. This is called the Raised Elbow Technique.

If you develop any symptoms of impending blackout, dizziness, confusion, euphoria, weakness, visual disturbances, during a dive, or you think you wont make it to the surface on your own power, make yourself buoyant. Breath holding is a conscious effort. After making an uncontrolled ascent, rest on the surface and check for injury.

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