Running out of air while diving
In a perfect world, there you should never be running out of air while diving, Obviously, underwater we are not in our natural element. And the time we can spend admiring the seabed will depend on our stock of gas. Although we can use good practices to reduce our consumption. We will have to go back up safely at some point. That’s why running out of air while diving is scary.
For a long time, I wondered how people could seriously have this type of incident while diving. Running out of air while diving seemed to me, a little “archaic”. Dating from a time when the estimation of its consumption and air stock was much more random.
Unmaintained equipment? Poor planning? Distraction?
Running out of air while diving still exist, even if it should no longer exist?
Running out of air while diving: three situations that should not have happened
The azure blue of the red sea contrasts with that of the sky or sparkles the sun of this month of May. Michelle and her buddies are getting ready for one last dive. Indeed, it is the end of their stay in Egypt.
Arriving at the dive shop, Michelle takes a tanks and puts her rig on it it. At the time of opening the dive tank, she does not succeed. She calls Ahmed, the person in charge of the equipment, who comes, turns the valve a quarter turn and says “yes”, “yes”, it was already open, but a little hard. There it is fully open.
Michelle puts her rig on her back and climbs on the rib. She inflates her BCD, breathes twice in her regulator and then with her octopus. She checks her pressure gauge: 190 bar.
Everything is perfect!
READ | How to choose a BCD
A few hundred meters further, she gets into the water with her team. But arriving at -15m, Michelle feels difficulty breathing. She checks that her regulator is in the maximum flow position . She continues to descend. At -20m, the air no longer comes. She sees her pressure gauge indicate 0 bar. She is running out of air while diving !
Michelle then ascent slightly and starts breathing again. She remembers the difficulty to open the valve an the obvious lack of maintenance of the equipment. Michelle keeps cool, warns her buddy to come very close to her, grabs his octopus and makes him understand that her tank is closed. Underwater, Patrick with a frank gesture opens the stuck valve. Finally, both make a very nice last dive.
A material that lacks maintenance and Michelle’s confidence in the one she identifies as the specialist.
Luc is very happy. Today, he will go and explore a small wreck. On the boat, the dive master warns that there may be current. Luc will dive with a dive guide. This is better because Luc has only about fifty dives. In addition, he started diving late. Also, he feels reassured to be guided.
He checks his equipment, listens carefully to the briefing and tells his guide how happy he is: “This is my first wreck!”
Underwater, very quickly, they clearly feel the current. Luc feels out of breath having to follow this young guide against the current. Yes, but the wreck is waiting for him there. So, he swims until he sees his pressure gauge showing 100 bars (half pressure). He informs the guide who makes him the OK sign and continues on his way. 80, 70, 60 bars.. and still no wreck.
Luc feels anguish winning him over. Clearly, he is afraid of running out of air while diving. Especially since they are 30 meters deep. The wreck is looming, but, he does not look at it, his pressure gauge indicates the reserve. He makes the regulatory sign to the guide who answers ok and begins to ascent in the open water. Luc is stressed. Shortness of breath coupled with anxiety cause him to empty his tank faster than expected.
The needle of his pressure gauge reaches zero when he begins the safety stop. Suddenly, breathing becomes difficult. In three breaths, he has no air and no confidence in his guide. Also, he decides to surface in apnea and finds himself on the surface with a computer that request him to go down. The guide surfaces and blames him.
But Luc is outraged and remains silent. He returns 3 minutes to -5m on the octopus of the guide and decides, to have a frank discussion with the dive shop manager.
A dive unsuitable for Luc’s physical condition, level and age. Too much confidence from the guide. Not enough communication. Poor stress management. Too little consideration of Luc’s actual consumption.
Somewhere in a rather cold sea, Richard and his buddy will perform a “photo test” dive from a boat. Richard has a brand new camera. Both divers are very experienced and have hundreds of dives, a dry suit and redundant equipment.
They are happy to be there. The weather forecast is fine.
After rigorous checks and a precise briefing, they get into the water and start the dive. 30 minutes later, they return to the -20 meters zone.
Suddenly, he is running out of air while diving. Richard has no air anymore. Very quickly, he feels sinking and is unable to inject air into his dry suit. As he is using a twin tank, he knows that it is useless to try its second source of air since the tanks are connected to each other. So, he panics and tries to reach Julien, his buddy. By the time he realizes the distress, Richard has already swallowed water. Julien puts the regulator in the mouth of his friend who loses consciousness and ascent as fast as he can. On the surface, Richard is in cardio-respiratory arrest. On the boat, safety people will not be able to resuscitate him.
When his equipment is checked, it will appear that the manifold was closed. And that the second tank was full. Richard, all busy with his new equipment, had probably forgotten the check of this valve despite the dive check carried out.
Bad check dive. New hardware. Distance from the buddy. Panic.
Stories of running out of air while diving are unfortunately more frequent than one might think. While it may not be feasible to eliminate them completely, it is possible to reduce and manage them as best as possible.
Causes of running out of air while diving
There are multiple causes of running out of air while diving.
- Risky planning: we do not dive what is decided. Or nothing is planned on the surface. One piece of advice: dive in what you’ve planned and nothing else!
- Distraction: caught up in the beauty of the underwater world, in the shots taken… we forget to monitor the air stock.
- Bad route: unsuitable itinerary, a guide who absolutely wants to find his way back…
- Boredom during the dive: helping someone who has a problem, attaching with difficulty a poorly strapped bottle,
- Panic or shortness of breath
- Lack of communication or ineffective communication
- Weather conditions: strong currents, cold currents
- Loss of the team or too great distance between buddies
- Unmaintained or defective equipment: all autonomous divers are responsible for the proper functioning of their equipment. Even if it’s rental equipment ! Do not agree to dive with a faulty pressure gauge. Warning: sometimes you think that your pressure gauge is working but the needle does not go below 80 bar for example. Be vigilant about the behavior of your pressure gauge.
- Unsuitable equipment: much too much weight, insufficient thermal protection…
- New material that we do not master
- Closed or poorly opened tank
Prevention coupled with planning is often a guarantee of the smooth running of an immersion and avoids running out of air while diving. There are different ways to do this.
- Check the pressure of your tank in good conditions (not just after filling or if the tank has remained in direct sunlight)
- Presence of an octopus or second source of air clearly identified during the briefing
- Pressure gauge in good condition, or, this is my preference, a functional pressure probe coupled to your computer
- Use of known and maintained equipment
- Ideally: two valves and two regulators for everyone. Or twin tank.
- Revision of the signs during the pre-dive check
- Regular glances at the pressure gauge.
- Testing the secondary air source at each dive
- During the immersion: stay close to your buddies, limit the depth, adapt to the buddy with the lowest gas reserve…
Reaction to a buddy running out of air while diving
If, despite all your precautions, you or your partner are running out of air while diving, react calmly. And perform the gestures you will have learned during your training.
- Grab your buddy (by the strap of the BCD for example)
- Present him an air source (first or second depending on what you have determined during the briefing). More and more divers are telling their buddy to come and grab their main air source. They have a second source around their neck.
- Allow your buddy to take a moment to be calm again.
- Reassure him and maintain eye contact if he is anxious
- Continue to hold him by his arm or through the strap of the BCD
- Ascend calmly, heading towards the surface (boat or beach) if possible.
- Perform the mandatory stops (no need to have an over accident)
Today, modern equipment is reliable and efficient if well maintained. Pressure probes coupled to a computer can give accurate information of how long it is still possible to stay at the reading depth and make sure we will have at the end of the dive the planned gas stock. The procedures are regularly reviewed and adapted.
As a result, we can say that running out of air while diving is now mainly due to human error: distraction, anxiety, loss of team, lack of habit… or negligence with regard to its equipment.
Running out of air while diving should no longer exist. But, we are human. And so, perfectly imperfect. So we still have to put in place good practices in terms of prevention and response. And also, to be vigilant towards ourselves and towards others. For dives with pleasure and safety.
Running out of air while diving, what are your experiences?
Tell me this in a comment below to benefit as many people as possible.
And above all… don’t forget to be happy 🤗