Diving procedures

Diving procedures are standardised methods of doing things that are commonly useful while diving that are known to work effectively and acceptably safely.

Due to the inherent risks of the environment and the necessity to operate the equipment correctly, both under normal conditions and during incidents where failure to respond appropriately and quickly can have fatal consequences, a set of standard procedures are used in preparation of the equipment, preparation to dive, during the dive if all goes according to plan, after the dive, and in the event of a reasonably foreseeable contingency. Standard procedures are not necessarily the only courses of action that produce a satisfactory outcome, but they are generally those procedures that experiment and experience show to work well and reliably in response to given circumstances.[1] All formal diver training is based on the learning of standard skills and procedures, and in many cases the over-learning of the skills until the procedures can be performed without hesitation even when distracting circumstances exist. Where reasonably practicable, checklists may be used to ensure that preparatory procedures are carried out in the correct sequence and that no steps are inadvertently omitted.[2][3][4]

Some procedures are common to all manned modes of diving, but most are specific to the mode of diving and many are specific to the equipment in use.[5][6][4] Diving procedures are those directly relevant to diving safety and efficiency, but do not include task specific skills. Standard procedures are particularly helpful where communication is by hand or rope signal – the hand and line signals are examples of standard procedures themselves – as the communicating parties have a better idea of what the other is likely to do in response. Where voice communication is available, standardised communications protocol reduces the time needed to convey necessary information and the error rate in transmission.[7]

Diving procedures generally involve the correct application of the appropriate diving skills in response to the current circumstances, and range from selecting and testing equipment to suit the diver and the dive plan, to the rescue of oneself or another diver in a life-threatening emergency. In many cases, what might be a life threatening emergency to an untrained or inadequately skilled diver, is a mere annoyance and minor distraction to a skilled diver who applies the correct procedure without hesitation. Professional diving operations tend to adhere more rigidly to standard operating procedures than recreational divers, who are not legally or contractually obliged to follow them, but the prevalence of diving accidents is known to be strongly correlated to human error, which is more common in divers with less training and experience.[2] The Doing It Right philosophy of technical diving is strongly supportive of common standard procedures for all members of a dive team, and prescribe the procedures and equipment configuration that may affect procedures to the members of their organisations.[8]

The terms diving skills and diving procedures are largely interchangeable, but a procedure may require the ordered application of several skills, and is a broader term. A procedure may also conditionally branch or require repeated applications of a skill, depending on circumstances. Diver training is structured around the learning and practice of standard procedures until the diver is assessed as competent to apply them reliably in reasonably foreseeable circumstances, and the certification issued limits the diver to environments and equipment that are compatible with their training and assessed skill levels. The teaching and assessment of diving skills and procedures is often restricted to registered instructors, who have been assessed as competent to teach and assess those skills by the certification or registration agency, who take the responsibility of declaring the diver competent against their assessment criteria. The teaching and assessment of other task oriented skills does not generally require a diving instructor.[4]

There is considerable difference in the diving procedures of professional divers, where a diving team with formally appointed members in specific roles and with recognised competence is required by law, and recreational diving, where in most jurisdictions the diver is not constrained by specific laws, and in many cases is not required by law to provide any evidence of competence.

Routine diving procedures

These are the procedures that the diver uses during the course of a planned dive, where everything goes to plan, and there are no contingencies. Consequently experienced divers tend to become expert in these procedures due to adequate practice. Some procedures may seldom be needed, or only be relevant to specific equipment, which is not often used, so refresher exercises are frequently required before dives using unfamiliar equipment, unusual tasks or unfamiliar conditions are expected.

Dive planning, the pre-dive briefing. and selection, inspection, preparation and pre-dive checking of diving equipment, may be considered diving procedures, as they are essential parts of the normal diving operation, though they are done before entering the water.[5][6]

In-water procedures in this grouping include entry to the water, surface swimming, descent, buoyancy and trim control, equalisation of pressure in air spaces, maneuvering in midwater and at the bottom, monitoring the dive profile, gas supply and decompression obligations, normal ascent and exit from the water. For some divers, gas switching, deployment of a decompression buoy and staged decompression may be added, or navigation under an overhead. Communications procedures depend on equipment and mode of diving, but are also in this group.[5][6]

After-dive maintenance and storage of equipment, debriefing and logging the dive are also procedural parts of the normal diving operation.[5][6]

Routine scuba diving procedures (order may vary slightly, and some are also relevant to surface supplied diving, though details may vary):

  • Dive planning  The process of planning an underwater diving operation
  • Selection of equipment – A diver is expected to be able select appropriate equipment and check it for fit and function.
  • Preparation of equipment – Assembly and function checks of personal diving equipment
  • Site inspection and setup
  • Pre-dive briefing  Meeting of the dive team to discuss details before the diving operation
  • Kit-up/dressing in the diver - Dressing into the diving suit, breathing apparatus, harness and accessories
    • Pre-dive checks - Check that all necessary equipment is correctly fitted and functioning
  • Entering the water - Use of an appropriate water entry technique
  • Surface checks - Final function checks and reports before descent.
  • Breathing from the demand valve
  • Descent – A generally consistent increase in depth until the operational depth is reached.
    • Equalisation – Balancing pressures in air spaces with the ambient pressure.
    • Buoyancy control – Adjustment of the gas content in buoyancy compensator and dry suit to achieve appropriate buoyancy
    • Trim control – Control of attitude in the water to suit the circumstances.
    • Depth monitoring and control – Observation of current depth and ensuring it is appropriate
  • Standard dive activities
  • Rebreather diving  Underwater diving using self contained breathing gas recycling apparatus
  • Use of auxiliary equipment – Useful equipment, not needed on all dives.
    • Towing a surface marker buoy  A buoy towed by a scuba diver to indicate the diver's position
    • Deployment of a decompression buoy  Inflatable surface marker buoy deployed from underwater
  • Planned diving activities - These are mostly considered underwater work, with a few exceptions and borderline cases.
  • Ascent – A generally consistent decrease in depth until the surface is reached.
    • Decompression – The reduction in ambient pressure experienced during ascent from depth, and the process of elimination of dissolved inert gases from the diver's body tissues.
    • No-stop diving – Diving which limits tissue inert gas concentrations to those which allow acceptably safe surfacing without decompression stops
    • Repetitive diving – Diving again while some tissues have not reached equilibrium with surface saturation.
    • Staged decompression - Decompression at fixed depth intervals, a practise which allows use of decompression tables.
      • Gas switching - Changing between breathing gases during a dive to a gas suited to the current depth, to limit oxygen toxicity or nitrogen narcosis, or to accelerate decompression
      • Management of multiple cylinders – Managing additional cylinders with different gas mixtures.
      • Accelerated decompression – Use of oxygen enriched gas mixtures to accelerate inert gas elimination.
      • Oxygen decompression – Use of pure oxygen to accelerate inert gas elimination.
      • Monitoring decompression using a planned schedule, depth measurement and elapsed time.
      • Monitoring decompression using a dive computer  Instrument to record dive profile and calculate decompression obligations in real time
    • Surfacing – The final stage of ascent
  • Return to exit point – Getting from the position of surfacing to a place where the diver can safely exit the water, usually by finning at the surface
  • Exit from water
  • Un-kit (dressing out) – Removal of diving equipment worn and carried by the diver
  • Debriefing  Report back and review on a project or mission after completion
  • Log dive – Recording specific details about the dive in a diver's logbook (paper or electronic database)
  • Clean, inspect and store equipment - Basic daily user maintenance.
  • Pack up site (demobilise)  The dismantling, packing and transport back to storage of the dive spread

Routine Surface-supplied diving procedures:

Routine wet bell procedures (some of these procedures also apply to closed bell operations, though details will differ)

  • Preparation of the bell – Preparation of the bell for the dive and testing the bell systems.
  • Descent and ascent - Lowering the bell to working depth and raising it at the end of the dive, with appropriate in-water decompression stops.
  • Lock-out – Deployment of the diver(s) from the bell at working depth.
  • Bell integrity check at the bottom – Brief inspection of the exterior of the bell before the diver leaves the immediate vicinity.
  • Monitoring at the bell - Monitoring of the bell and environs and of the working diver's umbilical by the bellman.
  • Umbilical management – Management of the diver's umbilical by the bellman.
  • In-water tending - Additional management of the diver's umbilical by an in-water tender where necessary
  • Securing the bell for ascent – Stowing of umbilicals on the bell, checks that the bell is clear to be lifted, and report back to surface that the bell and divers are ready to start the ascent.

Routine closed bell procedures:

Emergency procedures

These are the procedures that the diver is expected to be able to follow in the event of a reasonably foreseeable contingency. Some occur quite often such as the loss of grip on the mouthpiece in scuba diving, and are therefore usually well practiced. Others, like bailing out to emergency gas supply, should never happen if the equipment does not fail and the dive is carried out according to a good plan, and must be practiced as an exercise to maintain the skill or as part of pre-dive checks to ensure that the equipment is functioning correctly, as failure to perform correctly could be fatal.[9][6]

Emergency procedures are procedures to recover from a contingency that could be life-threatening if not responded to promptly and correctly. Some are trivially easy for a skilled diver. They include regulator recovery, clearing a flooded mask or helmet, bailout to emergency gas supply, emergency swimming ascent (for scuba), bell abandonment, shedding of weights (scuba), breathing off the pneumofathometer hose (SSDE), and switching over to onboard gas (bell diving).[5][9][6] In cave or wreck diving, finding a lost guideline and finding the other end of a broken line are also emergency procedures.

Scuba emergency procedures:

Surface supplied diving emergency procedures:

Wet bell emergency procedures:

Closed bell emergency procedures:

Rescue procedures

These are procedures that the professional standby diver must execute when deployed to go to the assistance of the working diver in an emergency, or the buddy or dive-team member in a recreational or technical dive should use if another member of the team is unable to manage an emergency themselves. They are also emergency procedures, but for another person's benefit. It is fairly common for a diver never to need to apply one of these procedures for real, and they too should be practiced to maintain skill levels. Professional diving organisations typically require periodical emergency exercises as specified in their operations manual to maintain these skills.[5][9][6]

Rescue procedures include following the umbilical or lifeline to the distressed diver, providing emergency breathing gas, recovering the casualty to the bell or surface, releasing a snagged umbilical, umbilical changeout at depth, providing the supervisor with continuous updates.[5][9][6] Rescues are generally done in unexpected circumstances, and seldom follow the text-book example, so the rescue diver often has to modify the learned response to suit reality.

Scuba diving rescue procedures:

Surface-supplied diver rescue procedures:


  1. Larn, Richard; Whistler, Rex (1993). "8: Scuba Diving Procedures". Commercial Diving Manual (3rd ed.). Newton Abbott, UK: David and Charles. ISBN 0-7153-0100-4.
  2. Ranapurwala, Shabbar I; Denoble, Petar J; Poole, Charles; Kucera, Kristen L; Marshall, Stephen W; Wing, Steve (2016). "The effect of using a pre-dive checklist on the incidence of diving mishaps in recreational scuba diving: a cluster-randomized trial". International Journal of Epidemiology. Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Epidemiological Association. 45 (1): 223–231. doi:10.1093/ije/dyv292.
  3. Ranapurwala, Shabbar I. (Winter 2013). "Checklists". Divers Alert Network. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  4. International consensus standards for commercial diving and underwater operations (Sixth (R6.2) ed.). Houston, Texas: Association of Diving Contractors International, Inc. 2016.
  5. Class IV Training Standard (Revision 5 ed.). South African Department of Labour. October 2007.
  6. Class II Training Standard (Revision 5 ed.). South African Department of Labour. October 2007.
  7. Bevan, John, ed. (2005). "Section 6.2 Diver Voice Communications". The Professional Divers's Handbook (second ed.). Gosport, Hampshire: Submex Ltd. pp. 250–251. ISBN 978-0-9508242-6-0.
  8. Jablonski, Jarrod (2006). "4: DIR Philosophy". Doing It Right: The Fundamentals of Better Diving. High Springs, Florida: Global Underwater Explorers. pp. 53–54. ISBN 0-9713267-0-3.
  9. Class III Training Standard (Revision 5 ed.). South African Department of Labour. October 2007.
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