The injured diver was taken to hospital and eventually recovered, although he never dived again. To this day, he credits the liveaboard personnel with saving his life.

The Wrong Choice

Once the key first aid concerns of monitoring consciousness, airway and breathing have been taken care of, the recommended treatment for suspected decompression illness (DCI) is administration of 100% oxygen. This should be delivered as soon as possible and continuously until there is no more available or until a diving doctor instructs that it should be stopped.

Therefore every responsible dive operation, whether boat or land-based, should carry a sufficient supply to allow a diver with suspected DCI to continue breathing oxygen until they arrive at a medical facility with oxygen on tap. The diver in this incident had unfortunately chosen to dive with a dive centre that was not equipped with emergency oxygen and, sadly, this is all too common. Many operations are completely unprepared to deal with a diving emergency. They have no plan at all to deal with a DCI incident. Their rationale runs along the lines of, “it hardly ever happens so it is not worth thinking about until it does.”

A Key Question

Before you dive with any dive operation, no matter how apparently professional it seems, make sure they have an appropriate answer to the question, “Where’s the oxygen?”

Make sure the briefing you are given covers the key issues of where the oxygen is and who among the dive team is qualified to deliver it. Don’t be fobbed off with a vague gesture in the direction of a big green box with the word oxygen on it. This is a good sign that the dive operation has at least thought about the issue but it does not prove that they are prepared. Given that accidents that require immediate delivery of oxygen are thankfully quite rare, the equipment can sit for a long time without being deployed.

Stories abound in the dive industry of boat crews turning to the kit in an emergency and finding that the unforgiving marine environment has turned rubber hoses to powder and rusted up the cylinder valve. So, if the briefing leaves you in any doubt at all, make a point of asking someone to deploy the oxygen so you and your fellow divers can see that it works and that the reassuring green-tagged cylinder actually has gas in it.

You may risk an annoyed glance or two, but as divers, we all have a vested interest in ensuring that the people we pay to take us out take their responsibilities seriously, and the prospect of a few awkward questions might just encourage the idle or negligent among them to get their act together.

This blog post is adapted from a chapter in Scuba Professional - Insights into Sport Diver Training & Operations.