Diver Rescues

Most problems occur towards the end of a dive when tank pressure may be too low to cope with someone. When situations arise the diver must, STOP AND THINK. When approaching a diving victim, above or below, do not rush in and drop weights, or remove equipment, stop and think. There are advantages and disadvantages to removing any piece of gear. Removing gear is based on need. If anyone is near, hand them any gear removed except weights.

Weights are one of the first things dropped by divers. Doing so has many advantages. Buoyancy is increased, towing is easier, removing the victim from the water is easier. However, there are disadvantages to dropping weights. Once weights are dropped you cannot get them back. Some divers over weight and dropping a belt at depth could cause an uncontrolled ascent. Dropping weights under a canopy (wreck, kelp, cave, ice) might pen a diver to the ceiling. Below 50 feet, dropping weights might not even make a victim float, due to water pressure.

Beside the situation of a diver being under a canopy, dropping weights should be done in almost every case. Each situation is different, but as a rule, when in doubt, drop the weight belt. Sometimes it is better to wait until reaching the surface so a normal ascent can be maintained from deep dives that require a decompression, or safety stop. The stop may be done depending on the stress of the victim. This is best done with weight belts on. Rescuers should keep their weight belts on until they are sure they do not have to dive down again after surfacing.

Buoyancy compensators provide excellent positive buoyancy. Most float the victim face up. Inflating the BC is a reversible action, so that if you are bring a victim up by using his BC, air can be vented to control the rate of ascent. The BCD makes a victim and rescuer visible to boats, beach, or aircraft.

There are few disadvantages of BCD inflation. Fully inflated, the BC may be tight or binding, if the victim cannot communicate feel inside the jacket to see if your hand easily fits in. If not, deflate the BCD to reduce compression. On the other side if the BCD is too large the victim may slip out when fully inflated. It could slow surface swimming by creating too much drag, but speed to the shore is not as important to the breathing victim as it is to the non-breathing one. At depth the BCD could cause an uncontrolled ascent so when rescuing a victim control both BCDs

A back mounted BCD can hamper rescue work. On the surface giving artificial respirations requires altering the technique to accommodate the BC. These type of BCs must be deflated enough to allow the rescuer close contact without having to climb over the air bag.

When surface swimming the mask and snorkel makes it easier. The mask protects from waves and spray. It can be used to seal the victims nose in mouth-to-snorkel, or mouth to mouth respirations. It may be easier to do artificial respiration. The mask is desirable for underwater vision and may be needed, but they sometimes fog easily and restrict vision. Removing a mask allows the rescuer to see the victim's face. With the trauma victim this is needed to note head and facial injuries. Removing a divers mask can be an irreversible action and should not be done underwater, with one exception. A non-breathing diver who is sent up by positive buoyancy should have his mask removed before sending him up. The reason for this is because if he starts breathing on the surface, and is unconscious wearing a mask, he may not be able to inhale.

A panicky victim on the surface, may calm down by removing the mask because it relives the claustrophobic effect. Prescription mask may make it impossible for the person to see once removed. Seeing eases the victim. Always try to maintain the victim's gear, especially prescription mask. There is no need to jettison gear to Davy Jones' Locker when other rescuers can be used as equipment handlers.

A panicky diver underwater is very dangerous, not only to himself but to anyone trying to assist him. Whenever you struggle with an irrational diver underwater, the stress may seriously reduce your effectiveness. This stress can cause the rescuer to increase his rate of breathing, and put him at a high risk of over breathing the regulator. In cold water the rescuer needs to remember that a regulator may freeze up around 42oF.

One of the most common causes of underwater panic is a feeling of being out of air, whether real or imagined (J-valve). Many divers do not dive with J-valves or know how they operate. They function by restricting the flow of air as tank pressure decreases; thus forcing the diver to breathe harder until he operates the valve mechanism. When a diver is unfamiliar with this feeling, he may panic due to the fact he does not understand the valve's operation. Underwater near the end of a dive, the diver may show the classic saucer eyes. He has not reached a panicked state, but is comprehending that air is getting harder to obtain. Go around and activate has reserve for him.

When Divemaster at a site, check the J-valve, remind users of how the valve assembly works. Never assume the person knows. He may be using a rented tank. Many divers leave their J-valve in the reserve position, thus making it a K-valve, and use only their SPG. By asking you wont wrongly adjust a diver's gear. At the beginning of a dive the valve may be in wrong, and at the end of a dive it may not be on.

Panic that is caused by water in the airway will cause a diver to bolt for the surface. Water gets in the airway by several means. Most often the diver forgot to clear his regulator before inhaling. The water hitting the back of the throat causes the diver to cough in an attempt to remove the water. In severe instances it may trigger laryngospasm.

In fear induced panic the victim may not reason you are trying to help. This may be seen in the diver who sees a shark and envisions he is about to be lunch. All he perceives is that you are trying to keep him in the water, which means certain death. Act calm, your mannerism may calm him. Signal up and slowly surface holding his BC. If he bolts up it may be necessary to release him.

Trying to stop a diver bolting for the surface may be too dangerous. However, one way is to make yourself an anchor, forcing him to drag you up. Try grabbing the victims weight belt and flare your fins, when possible dump your and his BC. Be prepared to get kicked and punched all the way to the surface. Grabbing for the fins usually results in the rescuer getting kicked off, but if a fin, or both is retained by the rescuer, the victim's ascent rate may be reduced. Remember do not jeopardize yourself; if you are going up to fast, release the victim. It is better to have one victim instead of two. Follow the victim up at a normal rate, and treat him as the situation dictates. If possible disconnect the low pressure hose, or try to dump his BC. Do not try to turn off the victim's tank. Not only is this dangerous and difficult, his breathing may be preventing lung over expansion.

Unconscious victims need to be brought to the surface rapidly. If you sense a diver may be unconscious, try to approach from the rear, and above. Check him for signs of breathing, underwater it is sometimes hard to detect. Check his mask to see if it is clear. If breathing, bring him up at a normal ascent rate. A non-breathing victim needs to surface rapidly. He should be grabbed and brought up quickly. Check his mask to see if it is clear. If it has water in it, remove it. Even partially flooded, it can cause water to go up the nose causing laryngospasm. If clear leave it on. Drop his weights and inflate your BC to start ascent, you also may have to inflate his BC. Do not worry about his regulator or how you grab him. The easiest method is grab the tank valve.

Sometimes the victim is made fully buoyant and sent up. When this is done, the victim will come out of the water, and fall back. This sudden change in pressure may cause passive inhalation, which may restore normal breathing. The rescuer should follow up at a normal rate of ascent. Do not worry about the victim getting arterial gas embolism, it is not caused by going up to fast, but by breath holding that is active. The victim will out gas all the way to the surface. Never use this method on a breathing diver, or a diver wearing a back mounted BCD, which will float him face down. Before sending up any diver in this manner, be sure that there is no overhead obstruction. Check the BCD to insure that it is of the type that will float the victim face up, and has an over inflation valve, otherwise bring him up with you. Remove his mask before sending him up.

Removing the tank makes it easier to lift victims out of the water, and easier to tow if performing mouth to mouth. If the tank is hindering your rescue attempts or safety, and can be removed without jeopardizing anyone, do so. The tank is an air supply that may be needed, and dropping it is an irreversible action. Once you decide to drop the tank, be sure to disconnect the BCD and clear all hoses first. As with any other piece of gear try to retain it by giving it to another rescuer or mark the spot.

The status of the victim's gear may point to the cause of the accident. This is one of the main reasons we try to keep gear, for examination. We need to know if it was an equipment malfunction or an out of air situation. Was the tank turned on all the way? Note everything about the gear. Try to get a photographic record. Have the person who removed the gear state exactly how it was before removal. Did the victim have his mask on or off. If on, was it flooded? Get an air sample from the tank and have it analyzed. Record everything about the gear in any dive accident.

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