A powerful word with many interpretations when you relate this with scuba diving. To keep it simple, on this page I would like to put it in a frame "anything that contributes you being able to fly back home healthy". Being a safe diver is a huge part of your own responsibility but also, the dive centre should take responsibility to provide a safe diving experience.
I will point out what you as guests can do, and what the dive center can and should do to minimize the risk in diving accidents. Diving is very safe as long as we understand the risks and follow basic diving rules. You also need to be aware of and be prepared for any hazards the local diving environment can bring us.
Are you physically and mentally fit for diving? This is a question you should ask yourself every time before you jump in the water. Most of us know that it's recommended to check once in a year if you are fit for scuba diving with a medical doctor. Some dive centres in the Maldives require a signed medical statement from a medical doctor before you can participate in diving activities. As you can understand, the medical statement is only reliable at the moment it was signed. From this moment to when you sign up at a dive centre, your health conditions can change – in this instance, you need to inform the dive centre about it.
The most dive centres will use a standard medical questionnaire during the registration that you have to answer with yes or no. When a yes is answered, the dive centre will send you to a medical doctor for a check-up. In this case, you will need approval from a medical doctor that you are fit for scuba diving.
Many dive centers in the Maldives call your first dive a check dive and in my opinion, it is the most important dive during your trip. Some divers do not like to be checked. They are certified they are divers so why do they have to make a check dive? Most divers believe a check dive is a boring dive and they would prefer to go straight to Manta Point or Shark Point and not waste their time at a shallow place to be checked.
Why is the check dive so important? Basically, for two reasons. The first reason is that the dive guide needs to ascertain the real-level of the diver before the dive guide can plan the next dives.
What does "real level" mean? As a certified diver, you do have a scuba diving level as your certification, but this doesn't say anything about your skills at this moment in time. It doesn’t say anything about your air consumption, your buoyancy control and the buddy system. It doesn't say anything about how much weight you need and if you are relaxed or stressed underwater. Some divers dive frequently, some are diving once a year during a holiday, some haven’t dived for several years, maybe skills were never practised after completing a course and some are renting unknown dive equipment.
There are enough reasons to take the first dive slowly and spend time refreshing skills, finding out if you are weighted properly and get comfortable again being underwater. You are on holiday and you want to feel safe, comfortable and in control during your dives. A check dive can help you to build up this confidence.
Of course, you have divers who can demonstrate all skills, who is aware of how much weight they need, they know how to be a safe diver and how to behave underwater and that's great. Showing your skills and behaviour underwater is the only way to convince a guide.
The basic "skills" that should be explained and checked are:
pre-dive safety check
pre-dive weight check
regulator recovery and clearing (option if need)
breathing from an alternative air source
mask clearing (option if need)
mask removal and replacement
3 minutes safety stop at 5 meter
Some advice: try to practice at the end of every dive (during safety stop) some basic skills such as mask removal and replacement, out of air situation with your buddy, where you use the alternate air source. Some divers are uncomfortable with mask clearing or removing skills and never practice this after completing the Open Water Diver Course
When you dive in a new environment, a new country or even a new dive site, you need to be aware of the specific diving conditions and hazards of the dive site. The Maldives is known for its strong currents which can cause divers to feel stressed and stress can result in accidents. Make sure you receive a briefing from a dive guide, the kind of things you can expect during the dive and understand how to handle it. A good dive briefing can avoid problems and accidents.
You may be an experienced diver with 500+ dives in a lake in the Netherlands, but when you dive in an unknown location, with strong currents, you have to be aware of the new conditions. Coldwater with bad visibly in The Netherlands will not help you in a strong current in the Maldives. It sounds cruel and maybe disrespectful, but those are the facts.
DIVE BRIEFINGS Listen carefully to briefings and make sure you understand the water entry and decent procedures, visibility, currents, water temperature, and understand the accent and exit procedures. Plan your maximum depth and dive time, and what you should do if you are separated from the group and/or dive buddy.
For example, you will dive in a channel with a strong current. The dive guide informs everyone that the group has to enter the water fast and descend immediately. The current will bring you to the reef-edge at 30 metres. If you wait on the boat too long or linger on the surface, it will be impossible to reach the reef-edge on time and you miss the dive site.
This is a clear part of the briefing but when you don't listen or you have your own plan, then you will miss the dive site, your buddy has reached the site alone, potentially causing a stressful situation which could result in an accident.
BUDDY SYSTEM As long you are not a certified "self-reliant diver" and/or don't have the right gear set up for being a self-reliant diver, your only air back up and help is from another diver. I have seen many cases where small problems have become a bigger problem simply because there was no immediate help from another diver. When you dive with your regular dive buddy you don't have to explain too much to each other before the dive, but with an unknown dive buddy(s) you have to spend some time, before the dive, discussing the dive plan.
THE DIVE GUIDE What do you expect from a dive guide? What will be the responsibility of the guide? First of all, you are an autonomous diver and you are certified to dive with a buddy in the limits of your certification and experience. That can be:
18/20 metres as an Open Water Diver
30 metres as an Advanced Diver
40 metres with a deep dive speciality
The dive guide is primarily there to brief you about the local diving conditions, potential hazards and guide you underwater from point A to point B. that's the main job of the guide.
The dive guide should be a dive professional with training in emergency first response and knowledge about how to deal with diving accidents. The dive guide is responsible for choosing the dive site and should choose a dive site that is suitable for the whole group of divers. When the levels between divers in the group are different, then the group should be split in two and a second guide should guide the second group.
When you believe that the guide is responsible for you and the dive, request a private guide who can take personal care of you. This is impossible in a big group. As you are certified, you have to plan and manage the dive with your buddy(s) in the limits of your certification. The dive guide can be there to help with problems but it is not the main job of a guide. Of course, most guides will help you when problems occur but the guide needs to see that you have a problem. When you are the last diver in a big group, this will be almost impossible.
Every dive centre has a legal obligation to provide safe scuba diving. All scuba diving related activities have to follow international diving standards, regulations and the local law.
Anyone can start a dive centre and can ask money for services provided by the dive centre. No requirements are asked until the moment the dive centre is registered with a Scuba Trainings Agency, like PADI, SSI, etc. At that moment, the dive centre has to fulfil the requested requirements from the agency to get registered as a scuba dive centre. There are different levels for dive centres and each level has different requirements.
The scuba diving industry is regulated. That means, there are internationally accepted standards for diving courses and dive centres. You can find these standards in the ISO and EN.
Is a registered dive centre a guarantee that they are providing safe diving and safe diving courses? The answer is NO, but at least those registered dive centres are monitored by the scuba training agencies and the non registered dive centres are not. They can do what they want without dealing with the consequences of losing a recognised status.
DIVING PROFESSIONALS All scuba diving professionals (dive guides and instructors) have to be registered with a scuba training agency and be placed in active status, this also includes having liability insurance.
DIVING GAS Clean compressed air and or enriched air Nitrox have to be provided to divers and students. Compressors and filling systems have to be checked and be serviced regularly, compressor filters have to be replaced on time according to factory guidelines.
DIVING BOATS The captain, including crew, has to be certified in boat handling and emergency first response. The dive boat has to be equipped with radio, life jackets, fire extinguisher, dive flag, boat ladder, medical first aid kit and pure oxygen delivery system.
In the Maldives, there is a law to have one captain and a minimum of two boat crews on a diving Dhoni. There always has to be one person on the boat who is certified to provide Oxygen resuscitation and therapy or is certified as PADI/DAN Oxygen Provider.
RENTAL EQUIPMENT The dive centre has to provide safe diving equipment for the dives provided by the dive centre. All Equipment should be serviced a minimum of every year or after 100 dives (depending on brand recommendation). Scuba tanks have to get hydro tested every two years and a visual inspection once a year.
PROVIDE SAFE DIVING Dive centre professionals should primarily take care of the safety of the students and certified divers. This includes the scuba training agency safety standards which have to be followed by the instructor during scuba diving courses and programs. The dive professional who guides certified divers has to give clear briefings and inform the certified diver about the local diving conditions, including potential hazards. The dive professional is responsible for choosing the dive site, organise the groups and buddy systems to maintain maximum safety for all guests.
Scuba diving is enjoyed by thousands of people around the world every day and is considered a low-risk activity compared to many other outdoor and sporting activities – even such widespread activities as swimming, jogging and all-terrain vehicle riding have higher reported fatality rates than diving.
Even if the diver is well trained and follows the safety rules, a diving accident such as Decompression illness can happen. The first medical care is at the dive site and from there the next steps will be planned. This can be to transport to a nearby hospital or an evacuation to the nearest available hyperbaric chamber.
Chambers in Maldives Bandos Island Resort in Kaafu Atoll Kuramathi Island Resort in Ari Atoll Kuredu Resort Lhaviyani Atol
When a diver needs hyperbaric treatment because of a diving accident then it good to have dive insurance. A single chamber treatment cost between the 10.000 and 15.000 USD and in most cases you do need more than one treatment.
What kind of insurance do you need? Some travel insurances do cover scuba dive accidents but be careful. There can be exceptions that the diver is not covered. For example, the insurance does cover to the maximum depth of your scuba certification, as an open water diver you are certified to dive till max 18 metres when you get an accident at 20 metres the insurance doesn't have to cover your treatment and extra costs as transport and basic medical care. My advice to get diving insurance from a company that is specialised in dive accidents, there are several well know companies with a good reputation and with clear policies.
Personally, I have a Scuba Diving Insurance by DAN, Divers Alert Network. They offer different packages for sport members, pro members, family plans.
Note: as a DAN member you also support the research department and we all know how important that is. For more info: DAN Website