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Diver-Diver Rescue Techniques

Andrea Zaferes and Walt Hendrick

Unconscious Diver on the Bottom

Approach the diver and determine if there is movement. Gently tap the diver to check for responsiveness. If the diver's full-face mask is still on or if the regulator is in place in the diver's mouth keep it there. If not, do not replace the mask or regulator. The next step is to bring the diver to the surface. Unconscious divers cannot hold their breath and if the diver was following the recommended maximum depth and time limits (60 feet, 25 minutes) then decompression sickness is not a serious concern. If the diver is wearing weights then the simplest method to get the diver to the surface is to release the weight belt. To not hold to the diver if they begin to ascend faster than 30 feet per minute. Let the diver go to the surface where the 90% ready diver should be ready to retrieve them.

If the diver's weights are released and the diver only rises a short distance and then stops because of entanglement, make a thorough, organized head to toe search to find and cut any entanglement. Use shears instead of a knife in low or no visibility water to prevent further injury.

Unconscious Diver on the Surface

If the diver is face down reach out with your right hand and gently push the diver on the right shoulder as you shout to him to check for responsiveness. If the diver is conscious this will put a safe distance between the you and the diver. With an unconscious diver, as the body floats backwards a foot or so, the arms will most likely float upwards. Grab the right wrist with your right hand and bring the wrist downward in a big arc to the right to rotate the diver face up. There are other roll-over techniques, such as pulling the diver's tank down to one side.

Use your left hand and lock into the diver with the do-si-so position. The left hand position is the most effective because it puts the you on the diver's left side with the power inflator, and allows the you to use your right hand for a right hand release weight belt. If the diver's weight belt is not off, reach over the body with your right hand and release the belt while simultaneously pushing down on the diver's stomach to angle the torso downward to prevent the belt from landing on the tank. The belt is removed to establish positive buoyancy and to release pressure on the diaphragm. If the diver tightened the belt at depth because of suit compression, the belt will be too tight on the surface when the suit expands.

Next in one smooth motion like a knife, move upwards from the waist releasing the BC's cummerbund, chest strap, dry suit inflator, and any other strap or item crossing the torso. This step has three functions. First, the diver's breathing may have been restricted by too tight a chest strap. Second you need to ditch the diver's gear because it causes a tremendous amount of drag and the diver is more likely to be injured if brought ashore or on a boat still wearing gear.

If the diver is tethered, tenders should slowly pull both the rescuer and unconscious diver to shore or boat at a rate no faster than one foot per second. If the diver is pulled in faster, a larger water weir can be created flooding the diver's face with water.

During transport protect the needy diver's airway if the diver is not wearing a full-face mask. This is done with a technique called coddling. While still in a tight do-si-so position, place your right arm under the neck of the diver, bringing the hand up over the diver's mouth and nose to block water from entering the airway.

We do not recommend administering in-water ventilations. There is a chance the diver still has a heartbeat since the diver should have been brought to the surface in less than 1 to 3 minutes from the time the diver stopped breathing. Tests with mannequins showed that in-water ventilations blow a significant amount of water into the victim's lungs. If the water is contaminated you are put at risk. You are put more at risk as well by fatigue. Without a tether, the time to reach a stable platform is increased if in-water ventilations are given. Since CPR cannot be administered in-water, this increased time without compressions, if they are needed, could be a problem.

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Created by Dolphin Diving - copyright 990901