National Association of Rescue Divers


Every good operation needs a good game plan, and rescue work is no different. The organization and implication of a search and rescue must be considered. One of the basic rules of search and rescue diving is to use preplanning and research first, then the actual work will be easy. Upon arriving at a location the dive team must make a swift assessment of the total situation. The success of every operation hinges on establishing all appropriate information from the initial scene appraisal. The team needs to establish their command post, so that all other arriving companies can locate them. The command post has to be near the water to allow quick access. If the Rescue Team does not transport victims, and are in a rescue mode, then an ambulance must stand by. The Team Leader should be assembling all the information possible from witnesses, while the first pair of divers are suiting up. A detailed assessment is needed prior to any diver entering the water. These are a few of the reasons to preplan.

The success of any operation is directly related to the plan. The scope of the operation is determined by its nature, however certain considerations will apply to all operations. Bottom time is always at a premium and any plan will conserve it. Training also increase results due to increased effectiveness that also decreases bottom time

In planning, analyze the area for different missions. Plan the use of available time. Learn which methods work the best and swiftest for the area. Analyze bottom and surface, terrain from maps, make sketches and take photographs, walk the area. The more familiar the Team is with an area the better it can function. Make a map of area and mark all obstacles, and avenues of approach. Develop, analyze and compare courses of action, test them out. Plan for a support area. Planning is going out to the waters edge and deciding what type of entry and exit works best at that location. It is mapping the bottom of all areas of responsibly. It is the countless hours of bottom time the divers will put in learning the underwater landmarks and bottom conditions. It is the hours of pool training. It is the countless compass courses and night dives. Preplanning is the most important thing the Dive Team can do.

Before a response team can respond to a scene, they must have their equipment ready to go. All dive gear should be in individual gear bags, and all tanks must be full of air. Following every dive, no matter the duration, the tanks should be filled. Responding to a scene with half full, or empty tanks, not only institutes delays, but also embarrassment. As part of planning decide who will be responsible for equipment pre and post dive and it will be packed.

Part of preplanning and safety, is learning about your buddy. Knowing how he swims and acts underwater increases the safety factor for everyone. By training regularly, fellow team members will be able to recognize each other by gear, and know how each other acts underwater. Spend as much time diving as possible.

The Team must drill to the point of their actions becoming automatic, or instinctive. This repetitive type training insures that in an emergency or under high stress, the divers will act from instinct.

Signals must be determined before hand and reviewed often, and before every dive. Some dive teams even take classes in the language of the deaf called sign. Understanding each other underwater removes stress and delays.

An operation that is delayed for reasons that were not anticipated may well become a failure. Changing weather, changes in bottom or surface conditions, no boat, all should be anticipated and planned for. Careful planning is the best insurance to a success and maybe saving a life, without it the Team is doomed to unnecessary failure.

The preplan outline is used to ensure that you have covered all the basic points. The outline can be modified to best suit the individual Dive Team. Ideas can be deleted or added as best meets the Team's need. Basic points must be addressed in the preplan. Additionally this outline can be used post dive for records and postmortems.

Preplan Outline
  • Name of Body of Water Primary Staging Area

  • Name of Location Secondary Staging Area

  • Routes in and out Entry And Exit Points

  • Survey Dry Nearest Landing Zone

  • Survey Wet Best Boat Launch

  • Water Conditions Hazards

  • Bottom Conditions Surrounding Terrain

  • Depth Range Best Search For Area

  • Primary Use of Area Night Operations

Purpose of the Operation
  • The team should decide exactly what they want to accomplish in any given operation. Is it a rescue or recovery operation? The purpose also could be examination of the area for future operations or training. Decide whether the entire team has a say in the objective or if only the Team Leader and Divemaster. Whoever decides the purpose all divers should know and agree on it. In preplanning the purpose of the operation is to determine the type of victim recovery, the best search for the area and what type of accidents may occur at the location.

Name of Body of Water
  • This becomes important when the Dive Team's area has more than one body of water. Additionally never assume everyone knows what you are talking about.

Primary Staging Area
  • This is where the team will meet to set up. It must have good access to the water and road. Never let your primary staging area got blocked in by incoming vehicles. This is where you will set up your command post.

  • It is good that all divers have exact knowledge about the location. Make photo copies of maps and charts for each member. On each map indicate the routes that lead to the site and list any information that will guide all personnel to the site. At every site have a meeting to insure all members of the Team are familiar with the area. Symbols and reference points used on maps should be agreed upon by all divers, boat operators, and other incoming groups.

Secondary Staging Area
  • This the area the Team will meet if the primary area is unobtainable. Reasons could be flooding and crowds. Always have an alternate location to meet.

Routes In and Out
  • Without good access to the area the whole operation can be washed up before it starts. Without a means of getting to the water, the Team ends up looking bad and maybe costing lives. In confirming access find out if divers have to trek down some trail, or is there a road. If boat ramp fees are required work it out. Most important, determine whether permission to use private property is needed, and get it.

Entry And Exit Points
  • Determine the best place to enter and exit the water. An exit point should be able to remove a victim from the water safely, as well as the divers.

Dry Survey
  • This goes with location. The research team should check all details that may affect the outcome of any operation at the location. All conditions on the area should be known before anyone enters the water. Find out all the details about the area. You can never have too much information. Notes should center on geography and history. Access by some private road or down a rocky slope will have to be planned in advance. If a boat is crucial to the area then getting it there must be explained.

Nearest Landing Zone(LZ)
  • If a helicopter evacuation is to be done, where will it land, and who will set up the LZ? For this you can get help from the evacuation team.

Wet Survey
  • The preplanning team must conduct a general underwater survey of the area before any training takes place. It is a good idea to know what to expect in advance. Notes should be made concerning the lay of the terrain and maps made. Potential problem sites and all hazards should be marked. Compass settings can be done at this time to know hazards.

Best Boat Launch
  • The closest boat launch may not be the best boat launch so be sure to evaluate all terrain first. Also have a secondary boat launch marked, you never know when it may be needed.

Water Conditions
  • This topic covers the visibility and temperature of the water. This will vary from month to month so updates must be made. Consideration should be given to the visibility for communication reasons, and in order to plan the best search. Guide ropes may be needed. Water temperature should be checked and recorded after every dive.

  • Note all trees, wrecks, cars, caves and anything underwater that may hinder a search, or trap a diver. Topside note the same hazards, especially power lines as these may hinder helicopter operations. Remember that a cave on surface is a good place to go make love away from friends. Many a search has been made for a lost swimmer or diver who was just hiding in the woods making love. Also note all piers and piling and any shoals, these all contribute to boating and skiing accidents.

Bottom Conditions
  • A study of the bottom is of prime importance. You must be able to anticipate the following: silt, sand, rock, heavy plants, or reefs. Plans should be worked out as to how to handel these situations. Consult the U.S. Navy Sea bottom chart. Working in silt requires cooperation, one wrong flip of a fin can turn bad visibility to zero visibility.

Surrounding Terrain
  • Prominent land marks, buoys, and land features can be valuable aids. Quick reference to a water tower, rock or point can keep the search on line. When surfacing a diver can maintain his bearings. Boat mooring in exact locations become easier with the use of surrounding terrain.

Depth Range
  • A knowledge of the depths to be encountered is essential. Time working must be estimated based on depth and SAC rates. Margins of safety are ensured if the depth is known. Extra tanks can be positioned as needed. Depth recorders work best. More sophisticated models maintain a sensitivity for bottom contours and some make a print out. This print shows a side view of the bottom and definite silhouettes are marked. A good unit will indicate rocks, trees , weeds and fish as well as wrecks and lost cars.

Best Type of Search For Area
  • Drawing maps and plotting grids can show what areas have to be covered. Sketches also will indicate what type of search will fit into the terrain. This also eliminates wasting time. Your search patterns can be drawn directly on the map in a contrast color or overlay. Grid maps are very important for exact size of the location, if you have any of the area, then more exact preplanning can be done.

Primary Use of Area
  • Is the location used for waterskiing, SCUBA diving, swimming, rafting, always know the primary use. The primary use indicates what to watch for as far as accidents are concerned.

Night Operations
  • Consider all of the above and preplan for night diving and searching. As part of training do night operations at every site.

  • This section should list all hazards and best search for the area. Notes by the Divers should be kept here. Also how many times the Team has trained in the area and if the goals were accomplished. Any newly developed techniques used in the area. Did any problems arise during training or an operation? If so what went wrong? How can it be fixed.

Preplanning is being prepared. Knowing what to do when the need arrives. Knowing your buddies and how all your equipment works. Preplanning goes on everyday and never stops. Remember when you have planned and think everything is ready, double check, you have forgotten something. It is being ready for the unexpected. The motto of every dive team should be: ALWAYS EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED!



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