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Survive the Dive - Fit, Check & Signal

Survive the Dive

Survive the Dive - Fit, Check & Signal

The NZ Underwater Association’s signature safety message to all divers,even the best of the best, is to ask themselves a few simple but essential questions…



Do you ask yourself the question, ‘Am I fit?’ before diving. Being fit to dive requires more than the ability to swim a couple of lengths of the pool,it means physically and medically checked as fit.

Water Safety NZ data collated since 2011 clearly demonstrates 60% of all fatalities in divers, spearfishermen, and snorkelers occur in the over 40s age group. Poor heart health and inadequate fitness is he most consistent factor in these diver deaths.

Dr Chris Sames of the Slark Hyperbaric Unit in Devonport, covered the complexity of the issue in the NZUA’s 2018 online interview Diving over 40? Why a medical check-up might save your life.

Surviving the Dive

In summary, the question of dive fitness is covered by three primary considerations:

The Age Factor – A heart’s capacity to support the elevated blood output required by diving decreases with age. Maintaining a healthy heart is of the utmost importance to your safety while diving.

Prescription Medicines - Some common medications such as beta blockers or anti-arrhythmia treatments can increase cardiac risk while diving. Consult your doctor before diving and consider a prescription change if so advised.

Depth Compression – As a diver descends, the heart rate slows to conserve oxygen and the lungs compress. Older divers are well advised to be conservative with dive depths. Improving general fitness, particularly heart health with a committed cardiovascular workout programme, will enhance your ability to cope with the stresses of depth and water pressure. The same rule applies to spearfishermen.

In Dr Sames’ words, “If you’re fit, you’re less likely to get into trouble.”


The routine pre-trip check processes taught during dive courses and recreational boating qualifications, like Coastguard’s Boatmaster course, are crafted and refined to give you the best chance of averting an issue before it happens.

A simple checklist sequence is offered as follows:

Check the weather

  • Is the weather forecast, including swell height and wind speed, appropriate for the activity?
  • Is the weather forecast also suitable for the boat’s size?
  • Consider the tides and avoid locations with known tidal overfalls during peak flows and during king-tide periods

For information on understanding weather forecasts post Understanding-the-weather

Dive tank inspections

Check the boat – Is it sea-worthy?

  • Get the engine serviced,
  • Check the fuel levels (replace old fuel as it may be unreliable)
  • Check the batteries
  • Give the boat a good visual once-over looking for issues of wear-and-tear

Maritime NZ offers best-practice advice on this subject.

Check your safety gear

  • Are the life-jackets up to scratch? Old-school kapok jackets should go in the bin, replaced with new
  • Do you have two forms of working communication - VHF plus one other
  • Have you filed a trip-report with family/friends and with Coastguard?

Check your dive gear

  • Test and inspect every item to ensure it is functioning correctly
  • Check for any relevant inspection dates on equipment such as dive tanks (annually) and regulator stages
  • Ensure tanks are full and that the air is clean -never dive on old or stale air
  • Inspect BCDs and dive suits for rot
  • Test for perished silicone or rubber on masks, fins etc
  • Once kitted up, check all the equipment is functioning correctly

Read more about gear maintenance on post Gear-maintenance

Buddy check system

Check your dive buddy

  • Is he or she in a fit state to dive?
  • Is their gear in good condition and fully operational?
  • ·Do they know the dive plan?

Read more about the Buddy System on post Buddy-diving


Most of us are aware of the legal requirement to fly a dive flag but good dive trip signalling starts before you leave home.Here’s a few tips to help in the worst-case scenario:

Signal the trip

Trip reports may be the most overlooked safety step a diver can take.

  • Record them with family or friends
  • Record with the Coastguard or local VHF monitoring service


  • Destination
  • ETA home
  • Number of passengers on board
  • File passage/plan updates as necessary

Signal the dive

In most cases, including spearfishing and all forms of SCUBA, signalling your dive is a mandatory legal requirement. Fines can be issued on the spot with the potential of severe liabilities resulting from an accident investigation.

Signalling devices include:

  • Dive flags for vessels and/or land-based activities
  • Various inflatable and rigid surface floats
  • Tow-boats with flags for spearfishermen

Signalling your presence helps ensure the safety of all trip participants,although personal responsibility should still prevail. Vessel skippers observing dive activity signalling are required by law to reduce speed to less than 5-knots within 200m of the signalling device.

Refer to the NZ Underwater Diver Down campaign for more information.

Diver signalling device

Signal YOU

Numerous devices can be carried by divers to indicate their location on the surface or in distress circumstances

• Surface Marker Buoys: Various inflatable surface marker buoys can be deployed to inform boats of your ascending position,and as a clear and obvious marker of your location should tidal current or weather conditions inhibit returning to the vessel

• AIS: AIS-capable rescue devices recently entered the market, led by the McMurdo S10 Smartfind Personal AIS Beacon. Personal AIS works with any AIS-equipped vessel navigation system (increasingly common at the consumer level) to precisely locate the surfaced diver directly on the boat’s navigation screen. Viewthe McMurdo S10 on Safety at Sea’s website.

• Strobes: Strobes serve multiple purposes for divers -

  • As signalling devices underwater as well as being useful surface location devices
  • Divers in distress on the surface of the water, particularly at night time
Survive the Dive

NZ Underwater is the country’s recognised leading not-for-profit organisation promoting and advocating for all New Zealander’s safe and enjoyable underwater activities, in a protected marine environment.

It’s three key areas of activity are as follows:

  • Environment: NZUA is an advocate for clean sea programs, supporting environmental campaigns with volunteers and expertise.
  • Safety: NZUA flies the flag for diver safety in New Zealand, managing essential services like the Dive Emergency number (0800 4 337 111).
  • Underwater sports and participation: Many NZUA members are keen sports people engaged in scuba,spearfishing underwater hockey or snorkeling. Numerous affiliated club support these activities and welcome new members.

The NZ Underwater Association works hard to support all New Zealanders access to our precious underwater resource. The best way you can help is by joining. Take a look at the benefits of joining the NZUA here.

See Also

Weather & Tides
Survive the Dive

Weather & Tides

Always check the weather and tide conditions in advance of departing the dock.
Surface Safely
Survive the Dive

Surface Safely

Safe surfacing procedures, including safety stops, are an essential component in scuba diver's skill set.
Medical checks & Refresher courses
Survive the Dive

Medical checks & Refresher courses

Are you fit to dive? New Zealand Underwater offers consistent advice to divers returning from a hiatus.
Gear Maintenance
Survive the Dive

Gear Maintenance

Routine maintenance is an imperative component of the diver's schedule. Failure can have severe consequences
The Buddy System
Survive the Dive

The Buddy System

Always dive with a buddy. The Buddy system is developed to improve diver survival across a range of situations.
Diver Down Awareness
Survive the Dive

Diver Down Awareness

With divers, spearfishermen, snorkelers or swimmers in the water it is a legal requirement to display a dive flag.


Survive the Dive
Weather & Tides
Survive the Dive
Surface Safely
Survive the Dive
Medical checks & Refresher courses