How common is diving-related drowning?

Updated: Jun 19, 2019
  • Author: G Patricia Cantwell, MD, FCCM; Chief Editor: Joe Alcock, MD, MS  more...
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The Divers Alert Network (DAN) Annual Diving Report 2016 Edition reported 188 diving fatalities worldwide in 2014. [36] However, an older report estimated scuba diving accounts for an estimated 700-800 deaths per year; etiologies include inadequate experience/training, exhaustion, panic, carelessness, and barotrauma. [37] Denoble et al studied 947 recreational diving accidents from 1992-2003, during which 70% of the victims drowned. Drowning was usually secondary to a disabling injury, equipment problems, problems with air supply, and cardiac events in these individuals. [38]

A 2009 Western Australian study reviewed 24 diving fatalities and found that the lack of formal certification (30%) was associated with the breach of safety practices. [39] The authors noted that shore dives or dives from private crafts were fatal 3 times as often as dives from commercial boats. These researchers also found that dive depth, ignoring a preexisting medical condition, nonadherence to the buddy system, poorly planned dives, and the lack of establishment of positive buoyancy when in distress contributed to diving fatalities. Only twice was faulty equipment the cause, once during scuba and once during a "hookah" dive (ie, with surface-supplied air). Seventy percent occurred during the day. Twenty-five percent involved tourists. [39]

A study of 19 reported fatalities in Australia in 2008 concluded that the causes of death included apnoeic hypoxia, trauma, and cardiac related issues. The study concluded that trauma from a marine creature, snorkeling or diving alone, apnoeic hypoxia, and preexisting medical conditions were factors in several deaths. [40]

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