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Calling A Dive: 9 Reasons to Stay Safe and Dive Another Day

Pop quiz! You’re descending down the line with a new dive buddy.

As soon as you reach the bottom you begin second guessing whether or not you even want to do this dive.

Maybe it’s the fact that something about this guy, his gear, or his attitude about the dive just doesn’t seem right. Maybe it’s the fact that current is bit stronger than you expected or that the visibility isn’t all that great.

Is it ok to end the dive? Should you call the dive?

This is a great question and the answer can vary from person to person. Knowing when you absolutely must end a dive versus when it is okay to just deal with a situation underwater is something you must consider BEFORE it happens.

If you’ve never thoroughly thought this through, make sure to keep reading.

First things first, in case you haven’t heard the term before, “Calling a dive” is simply diver jargon for ending a dive. Typically, the hand signal used between divers to let each other know it’s time to end the dive is the “thumbs up” hand signal.

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No doubt that your introductory SCUBA diver course you were taught that your dive is over when you are getting close to your pre-determined reserve gas pressure, your no-decompression time limit, or the pre-determined time that the captain or dive master gives before entering the water. There are many other reasons why you may and in many cases absolutely should end the dive.

Reasons # 1-3: You’re Too Cold, Working Too Hard, or are Otherwise Uncomfortable

When learning about decompression sickness, you were taught to adjust the dive tables by adding a letter group when you are too cold or working too hard. By adding a letter group, you reduce your total bottom time underwater.

If you are diving with a computer you should be extra conservative with your bottom times when you are working harder than usual or cold.

In both the above scenarios, by shortening the bottom time you are reducing your chances of getting decompression sickness.

So, what exactly is overexertion?

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The most common cause of overexertion in diving is probably swimming into a current that is too strong.

If you are having to kick nonstop just to hold your ground underwater, then you’re most likely going to end up breathing harder than usual and overexerting yourself.

Other causes of overexertion can be swimming too fast, swimming with too much ballast, inefficient trim, bad buoyancy control, or an inefficient kicking technique.

Overexertion happens because you are working too hard. What a lot of people do not realize is that it can also happen because you are cold.

When you are cold your body will work to keep your body temperature up. Eventually we all know that if you stay cold long enough you’ll begin to shiver. All of this bad because it causes ingassing of nitrogen. 

However, there are times when we are working so hard or are so cold that our dives are no longer enjoyable.

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Think about it, for the majority of us, SCUBA diving is a hobby we do to de-stress or to enjoy some R&R. I don’t know about you, but for me there is nothing relaxing or stress relieving about feeling overly cold or overly exerting myself. I mean, I love a good workout as much as the next guy, but not while I am underwater breathing compressed gas.

Bottom line, if you are in a situation where you are no longer comfortable underwater due to heavy surge, current or because the water is just too cold, it is a good idea to stop your dive and begin a nice, slow ascent performing a safety stop before exiting the water.

Reason #4: Your Regulator is Leaking or Performing Strangely

Your regulator is essential to SCUBA diving. Many people do not think about it however, it is life support equipment!

When all is said and done, we cannot spend very much time underwater without it. We count on it to keep us alive and to breathe easily while we enjoy the underwater world.

The problem is that often we do not “listen” to what our gear is telling us.

Bubbles streaming from the SPG or second stage, a leaky alternate air source that you need to keep covering up constantly during the dive, or even having more gas delivered to you from your second stage as you are exhaling are all signs of a regulator that needs servicing.

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The problem is that all of these warning signs can suddenly get worse. A significant change in your regulator’s performance or a stream of bubbles indicating a leak is a sure sign that you should cancel your dive immediately and slowly ascend to the surface while you still can. There is no reason to risk having an equipment malfunction while underwater.

Reason # 5: Your Dive Computer Fails or is Behaving Strangely

As stated earlier, as divers we rely on equipment to keep us alive and safe under water. Dive computers have become a staple for most avid divers. However, because they are electronic devices they certainly can fail underwater.

A funky reading (telling you you are at 100 feet (33 meters) when you know you are way shallower, a fading screen that looks like the computer is about to die, or of course if the computer just stops working for whatever reason.

These are all reasons to call the dive!

Because we depend on dive computers to keep us safely within the no-decompression limits it is extremely important for us to recognize that if this vital piece of equipment fails it’s time to call the dive.

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NOTE: You should never use 1 dive computer for 2 buddies. A dive computer tracks the nitrogen in-gassed by each dive based on their unique dive profile. Because every diver will usually have a different dive profile (there is no way to be at exactly the same depth as your buddy on most dives), you should never share a dive computer. This is why if this instrument fails, it’ time to call the dive.

Reason # 6: Your timing Device Fails

If you are not diving a computer and your watch fails you must stop your dive and perform a controlled ascent with a safety stop. Not doing so can be very dangerous since you have no way of determining the time that you have spent underwater.

Reason # 7: Your Dive Buddy Makes You Feel Uncomfortable

This one certainly can be one of the most difficult situations to deal with, especially if your dive buddy is someone you know well or have been diving with for years.

At someone point in our lives, we have all felt peer pressure. Something is happening and you do not necessarily feel comfortable with it but you go along because you want to “fit in.”

It can be challenging to say “no thanks” but when you’re SCUBA diving, it is imperative that you always do things that you’re comfortable with. Diving with anxiety can be the precursor to a potentially serious diving accident.

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When you are diving with a buddy, it is important that you communicate what your limits are before you get in the water so that expectations can be set. If those limits are pushed or something happens where they are broken, you should be ready to call the dive confident in the fact that you have done the right thing for yourself and your safety as a diver.

It is always better to have an uncomfortable conversation than to have to be taken to the hospital.

Reason # 8: You Don’t Feel Safe

If you are on a dive and you start to feel the “heebie jeebies,” it is a good idea to end your dive. The reasons for this is simple, feeling unsafe can certainly lead to anxiety about the dive you are on.

Being anxious is not the state you should be in if a situation arises that you need to deal with underwater. Dealing with a diving emergency, or even a diving nuisance when you are calm, cool and collected is not the same as dealing with it when you are already mentally stressed.

Being anxious can lead to all kinds of mistakes that otherwise would never happen.

It is always better to dive another day than to end up wishing you had just followed your instincts “that one time.”

Reason #9: Any Other Reason at All

“Any diver can call a dive at any time for any reason!”

This is something we teach all of our students in their entry level SCUBA diver course. It is something that I have instilled in all my students and reiterate to them throughout their classes at all levels.

Because SCUBA diving is a recreational sport, there is no reason to be on a dive if you are not comfortable while doing so.

Also, because you may depend on your buddy in case of an emergency it’s important for them to be comfortable and able to perform when needed. This means they need to be in a state where they are calm, cool and collected.

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This is why any diver can call a dive at any time for any reason.

What other reasons do you think should be included in this list? Let us know in the comments below:

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About the author 

Carlos Sagaro

Carlos is a NAUI SCUBA Instructor. He has been teaching recreational SCUBA sing 2001 and diving since 1999. He has certifications in technical decompression diving as well as cave diving. When he's not teaching or diving, Carlos enjoys watching American football and spending time with his wife and two kids.

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