Make scuba diving safe by following these top 10 tips for diving safety – This includes the top 3 rules of scuba diving

10 top safety tips for scuba diving

Scuba diving is classed as a dangerous sport. But you can minimise any risk by following these 10 top safety tips for scuba diving.


The top 10 safety tips for scuba diving include:

  1. Never hold your breath.
  2. Never dive alone.
  3. Ascend slowly from every dive.
  4. Perform a safety stop at 5-6 metres (16-20 feet) on every dive.
  5. Plan your dive and dive the plan.
  6. Know your limits and dive within your limitations.
  7. Check your air contents gauge regularly.
  8. Always dive with an alternative air source or octopus.
  9. Always perform the ABC buddy check before your dive.
  10. Only dive if you're fit to dive.

Is scuba diving dangerous?

Ironically, as I'm writing this article the presenter on BBC Radio 2 is talking about parachute jumping. Why is this important you might ask when you're reading an article about safety tips for scuba diving?

A good question. Well a short while back I wrote an article about is scuba diving more dangerous than skydiving. It actually turns out that scuba diving is more dangerous than skydiving. In fact the odds of dying whilst scuba diving are nearly three times that of skydiving.

Don't let this worry you if you're new to scuba diving. I'm not looking to put you off diving, but instead this article is to highlight the dangers and to keep you safe by giving you the safety rules to follow.

That's why I've chosen to write another article about safe diving practices. A while back I wrote a comprehensive article with 26 rules for safe scuba diving.

What I've done in this article is to focus on the most important 10 safety tips for scuba diving, beginning with the main 3 rules of scuba diving.

Plus I've created the above top ten safety tips image shown above, which you could download and laminate for a reminder. This is especially true for beginner scuba divers.

Safety tips for scuba diving

Safety tips for scuba diving begins with the top 3 rules of scuba diving. These include:

  1. Breathe continuously while scuba diving. Never hold your breath.
  2. Always dive using the buddy system. Never dive alone.
  3. Ascend slowly from every dive and always perform a safety stop at 5-6 metres (16-20 feet).

The 3 rules of scuba diving explained in more detail.

3 rules of scuba diving

Having given you in the first case 26 rules for safe scuba diving; then I've listed the top 10 safety tips for scuba diving in an image; I'm first going to run through the 3 rules of scuba diving.

Follow these 3 rules of scuba diving and you'll be safe:

Rule no. 1 - Breathe continuously while scuba diving. Never hold your breath

Diver Safety Rule number one - Breathe continuously while scuba diving and never hold your breath

The number one rule I always drummed into my students when I used to teach scuba diving was to breathe continuously. I used to repeat this rule over and again, which was to never hold your breath when scuba diving.

This is probably one of the most important rules of scuba diving, and for a very good reason. According to Boyle’s law, the air in a diver’s lungs expands during ascent and contracts during descent.

Holding your breath when you change depth can result in an over-expansion of your lungs. This can happen even with the smallest of depth change. Especially at shallower depths when the changes in pressure are greater as you ascend.

If you get an over-expansion of your lungs, this can result in extremely serious consequences, and even death. If this happens, the symptoms include pain, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, and can lead to going unconscious.

If this happens to a diver in your group, you should give oxygen and call the emergency services immediately.


The good news for you: As long as you breath continuously, this will not be a problem for you because excess air can escape.

Rule no. 2 - Always dive using the buddy system. Never dive alone

Diver Safety Rule number two - Always dive using the buddy system. Never dive alone

Another lesson I taught when I was a diving instructor was to teach the buddy system. In fact BSAC training is to teach beginner scuba divers in buddy pairs. The buddy system is ingrained at an early stage with BSAC training.

To help you understand why diving in buddy pairs is such an important rule is better explained by way of an example. Having dived hundreds of times, I've found myself in many situations.

One such situation was when my buddy's first stage burst underwater.

In case you're wondering what happens when a first stage bursts underwater; it's one huge mass of bubbles. In fact, I couldn't see my buddy through the mass of white bubbles that engulfed him when it happened.

More Reading: How do I get a dive buddy? (5 easy ways to find a dive buddy)

I instinctually rushed to his rescue. I offered him my alternative air supply or octopus, before turning his own air supply off to stop the bubbles. We then ascended safely to the surface together.

Had he been diving alone, the outcome may have been different.

Whether he could have got to the surface before his air ran out is questionable. He may have done if he'd rushed to the surface. But as you will learn or already know, scuba divers must ascend slowly to avoid decompression sickness.

Statistics from DAN, BSAC and DAN Australia showed that in 86 percent of scuba diving fatalities, the diver was alone when they died.


Now the good news: If you always dive in buddy pairs and should something go wrong with either your own or your buddy's diving equipment you are likely to return to the surface safely.

Rule no. 3 (which is actually rules 3 and 4) - Ascend slowly from every dive and make a safety stop at 5-6 metres (16-20 feet)

Diver Safety Rule number three - Ascend slowly from every dive and make a safety stop at 5-6 metres

The third rule of the 3 rules for scuba diving is a combination of two of the top 10 safety tips for scuba diving. These are to ascend slowly from every dive and to make a safety stop.

This rule is linked to rule number one. Ascending slowly will not only prevent decompression sickness, but it will also prevent you from over expanding your lungs.

The best way to achieve a slow ascent is to use a dive computer. Dive computers have a built-in ascent rate monitor to keep your ascent to the surface at a safe rate.

If you don't have a dive computer (or if it fails), you are best advised to follow behind your smallest regulator exhaust bubbles to the surface. These are the ones that are the size of champagne bubbles.

In addition to a slow ascent, it's always best to perform a safety stop at 5-6 metres (16-20 feet) at the end of every dive.

By doing a safety stop between 5 and 6 meters, you allow extra time for excess nitrogen to escape your body. By doing a safety stop, this forces you to slow down and reduces the risk of getting the bends or decompression sickness (DCS).

Combined research into diving fatalities from the Diver’s Alert Network (DAN) in the U.S. and Australia and BSAC in the U.K. showed that an uncontrolled ascent was the triggering factor in 26 percent of the diver fatalities analysed.


The good news part: If you leave the bottom with plenty of reserve air for your ascent and you ascend slowly with a three minute safety stop at 5-6 metres, you'll be safe from decompression sickness and lung over-expansion.

Further 6 rules or safety tips for scuba diving

The above three rules of scuba diving (which includes four of the top 10 safety tips for scuba diving) are the top rules for safe scuba diving.

The following six further rules are also important and should be followed each time you scuba dive.

Rule no. 5 - Plan the dive and dive the plan

For your own safety you should always plan your dives. It may well be that your dive is planned for you, especially if you're on an organised dive trip.

Which ever is the case, you should always follow the plan. It's when you start to deviate from the plan that things can go wrong and you may put you and your buddy at risk.

The most basic rules of planning your dive and dive the plan include agreeing on a maximum depth and dive-time before submerging. This is as much for you as it is for the skipper on the boat.

Also, agree on your emergency lost-diver procedures. This includes what to do in the situation where you get split from your buddy.

Always surface immediately after a quick search for your buddy. Never continue with your dive if you are separated from your dive buddy.

More Reading: What should you and your buddy do if separated during a dive?

Agree on hand signals before you dive, whilst you're able to communicate on the surface. An important example of where confusion could arise with diver hand signals is the signal used for a half-full tank of air in Asia and the Caribbean,which is the same signal used by divers in Africa to the end the dive.

Rule no. 6 - Know your limits and dive within your limitations

I always advise divers to take things slowly. This is particularly important for beginner scuba divers coming up through the ranks.

Take your time to build your experience. Don't rush to dive deep or to to drift dive without having built up your experience with the more straight forward shallow dives.

Build your experience (at least 20 dives) before you take further certifications to enable you to dive deeper and to take part in more adventurous situations.

Never be afraid to refuse a dive. Never be uncomfortable when you go down on a dive, as this may put you and your buddy in danger.

If you aren’t physically or mentally capable of your planned dive, don't do it. We can all be put under pressure to do something we don't want to do. But in the case of scuba diving, this may put you at risk, so don't succumb to peer pressure.

Rule no. 7 - Check your air contents gauge regularly

According to the diver fatality statistics provided by the Divers Alert Network (DAN), insufficient air supply was the leading cause of fatal emergency ascents for scuba diving deaths analysed.

Many, if not all of these incidents could easily have been avoided if the divers concerned had properly monitored their air contents gauges throughout their dive.


The good news for you: Making sure you check your air contents gauge on a regular basis will ensure you never run out of air. Plus making sure you return to the surface with sufficient reserve air will ensure your safety too. Apply the rule of thirds to air management. The rule of thirds means you designate a third of your air for the outward journey, a third for the return journey, and the final third as a safety reserve.

Rule no. 8 - Always dive with an alternative air source or octopus

A part of the buddy system described above is to have an alternative air source (or octopus) as a backup for your buddy, should their air supply fail.

As you will have seen in the example I explained where my buddy's first stage blew, I was able to rescue him with my alternative air source.

The same happened on a dive in Bonaire. This time my buddy was having problems with his second stage, which wasn't delivering air to his regulator. Once again, I came to his rescue and gave him my octopus or alternative air supply so we could return to the surface safely.

Rule no. 9 - Always perform a buddy check before you submerge

Use the ABC buddy checking system before you dive. This will familiarise you with your buddy's equipment and them with yours, plus it will check that everything is working properly before you dive.

If you find it difficult to remember the buddy check, I've written an article on the diving buddy check acronym. This acronym is as follows:

  • A is for air - This checks your air is switch on. It checks that your equipment is working properly and the air is good.
  • B is for buoyancy - This is to check that your buoyancy control device and air feeds are in working order. Plus it familiarises your buddy with where your air feeds and dump valves are.
  • C is for clips and releases - By running through your clips and releases, your buddy will know where things are in an emergency should this occur.

Rule no. 10 - Only dive if you're fit to dive

According to DAN, cardiovascular events cause 20 to 30 percent of all deaths that occur while scuba diving.

If you are not sure about your fitness to dive, always consult with your doctor. It's better to be safe than sorry. Scuba diving can put your body under additional pressures and stress, so this may highlight any fitness problems you have.

Staying fit and healthy will not only keep you safe when you're scuba diving, but it will also help you to enjoy the sport much more. The fitter you are the better you'll be at air conservation, which means you'll be able to dive for longer, as your air will last longer.

More Reading: What should you not do after scuba diving (11 must NOT do’s after diving)

I hope you enjoyed this article about safety tips for scuba diving

I’d love to hear from you. Tell us about your adventures of diving and snorkeling, in the comments below. Please also share your photos. Either from your underwater cameras or videos from your waterproof Gopro’s!

If this article hasn’t answered all of your questions. If you have more questions either about snorkeling or types of scuba diving (or specifically about safety tips for scuba diving), please comment below with your questions.

There will also be many more articles about scuba diving (and snorkeling) for you to read and learn about these fabulous sports.

Have fun and be safe!


    4 replies to "10 Top Safety Tips For Scuba Diving (Making Scuba Safe)"

    • Brooklyn Johnson

      I like how you mentioned that when scuba diving, you should breathe continuously while scuba diving, and never hold your breath. My husband and I are going on a cruise this summer, and we are signed up to go scuba diving, but I’ve never done it before and I don’t know what to expect. I will definitely keep all of your great tips and information in mind when scuba diving on my cruise this summer.

      • Russell

        Hello Brooklyn, thank you for your kind comment about my article. I hope you enjoy your trip and your first scuba diving experience. Please come back and tell me all about it.

    • Stefan Bradley

      It’s surprising that insufficient air supply is the leading cause of fatal accidents for scuba diving. I am planning on a diving trip with my friends and want to make sure that I am safe while I am underwater. When it is time for me to start diving I will make sure to check my air contents gauge frequently.

      • Russell

        Hi Stefan, thank you for your comment. Yes it is surprising, but it goes to show how important the training is for scuba divers. Enjoy your next diving trip and please come back to tell us all about it.

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