Help DAN Track Dive Injuries


Gathering data on dive accidents and injuries can help DAN to create and revise its recommendations for divers.



Making every dive injury-free is the part of DAN's vision that I have heard the most about since my first day on the job in February 2019. As director of DAN's injury monitoring and prevention program, it is my job to enact that vision. Researchers have tracked scuba-related fatalities in the U.S. and Canada since the late 1970s, and DAN has been leading that effort since the late 1980s.

The dive community is critical to our success in tracking fatal and nonfatal injuries. In addition to the individual reports that we receive from the dive community, passive surveillance tools provide us with thousands of leads every year. Going forward, we have a gap in reporting that we need to address.

At the community level, we are missing too much data. We are already taking steps to fill the gaps and reduce the number of cases not reported to DAN as well as to get more complete data about the cases that are reported. The more information we receive, the better our analyses and the information we share back with the community. With DAN's reenergized commitment to a preventative approach to dive safety, it is critical that everyone report to us information they have about any dive injuries or incidents. There is a lot more to learn, and we are counting on every diver to do their part.

DAN works tirelessly to collect information about dive injuries from investigative organizations, including law enforcement, medical examiners, witnesses, family members and the divers themselves when possible. We have one of the largest databases of dive-related fatalities dating back to the late 1980s. We use a combination of passive disease surveillance, family member and witness interviews, and active monitoring of known dive-focused internet sources (e.g., ScubaBoard) to generate leads. From the thousands of leads that we receive, our dive medicine experts review and analyze about 100 fatalities that have occurred in the U.S. and Canada each year.

The most recent analysis of fatality data included spatial analysis for the first time. Of the fatalities we identified, a large number were in California and Florida. This finding doesn't mean there is something unique about Florida and California, other than more people dive there, but it gives us a physical area for increasing the focus of our safety and prevention work. We also found that the largest proportion of fatalities occur in the summer months. We need further investigation to understand the seasonal trends of scuba fatalities so we'll know if they are due to increased dive activity in those months or if there are other contributing factors. Knowing that there is an increase, however, we as a community can explore ways to improve and increase safety checks at popular dive sites and with cooperation from dive shops and operators during the summer months.

Men made up the majority of scuba fatalities, with the largest proportion being 50 to 59 years old, while among women the biggest proportion was 60 to 69 years old. We often hear people use the terms "experience" and "certification," but advanced certifications do not translate to reduced risk. While it was difficult to obtain much certification data about fatalities, those cases where we did know showed that higher certification levels did not result in an overall decreased risk compared with lower certification levels.

DAN's dive safety and medical experts have produced some essential recommendations as a result of their in-depth analyses. We randomly selected cases for a series analysis and found that cardiovascular disease was present in many of the fatalities. Make sure you talk to your doctor about your intention to dive, especially if you have a cardiovascular disorder or are more than 50 years old. If your primary doctor is unfamiliar with the rigors and risks associated with diving, they can contact DAN for more information. DAN medical information specialists can offer advice to all divers and physicians, not just to DAN members.

Environmental conditions such as visibility, current and water temperature may play a role, so familiarize yourself with your selected dive site and the conditions there. Remember that dive fatalities can happen at any depth — more than 25 percent of fatalities occurred at less than 30 feet.

Always take time to refresh your basic skills, no matter your certification and experience level, and recommit to the intended tenets of the buddy system. All too often buddies do not stay together and miss the signs that a problem is developing. In the water, especially at depth, the unexpected and seemingly small challenge can quickly turn dangerous. The "same dive, same ocean" philosophy is not buddy diving and can be perilous.

A lot remains unknown about scuba fatalities. DAN is working to identify additional independent sources of information that will lead to more data, allowing us to provide more information and improve recommendations. We are planning automation and machine learning algorithms that will more accurately, effectively and efficiently extract the information that we need for analysis. We are also developing a sophisticated process for validating the information that we obtain from fatality records in the hopes of getting complete information about the cases.

What is critical for better data is that if you know something, report it to DAN. Together we can collect more information so we can continue toward DAN's goal of making every dive accident- and injury-free. Report an incident at DAN.org/incidents.

© Alert Diver — Q2 2020