Top 15 Most Challenging Emergency Scenarios for Scuba Divers

Most divers are generally aware of the risks involved with scuba diving and take the proper steps to avoid them.

There are , however, times when for whatever reason things get out of whack and the unlikely may occur. You can never be too prepared and it is a great idea to at least think about potential problems and how to handle them if the “unlikely” should happen while diving .

The following article examines some of the most challenging scenarios a diver could possibly experience while diving. Each risk is examined and discussed as it relates to the possible cause, probability of occurrence as well as suggestions for avoiding them. Most importantly the piece also goes into what to actually do if you find yourself facing any one of these 15 perilous challenges while diving.

Read on for more about managing these risks below.


Pausing to make that minor adjustment to your buoyancy, you gently press the autoinflate button of your buoyancy compensator (BC). Instead of adding just a “puff” of air, the valve jams and begins to empty the contents of your cylinder into your BC. It’s think fast, or face an uncontrolled ascent.

Risk Factor: Rapid or uncontrolled ascent, with attendant risk of pressure-related injuries.

Likely Causes: Probably the most common cause of a stuck BC inflator valve is poor or neglected maintenance. Some divers just don’t give their BC the post-dive attention it deserves. If a BC is not rinsed or soaked after diving in salt water, salt crystals and mineral deposits can form that can later cause the valve to stick in the “on” position. Another potential cause of a stuck BC inflator valve is sand, silt or other sediment in the valve mechanism. This can occur if the device isn’t properly secured and drags on the bottom.

Avoidance: Proper care of your BC goes a long way toward preventing stuck inflator valves. After each dive, or each day of diving, thoroughly rinse and/or soak the BC in fresh water to dissolve any salt crystals and to remove sand, silt and other debris.

Dealing With It: The fastest way to solve the problem of a stuck inflator valve is to disconnect the low-pressure hose from the inflator. Failing that, grab the lanyard for the dump valve and hold it open. Should an unwanted ascent begin, continue venting the device, and flare your body to maximize drag and slow your ascent.

Grabbing hold of a stationary object such as an anchor line might allow you to sort the problem out and regain buoyancy control.


While making a descent you realize you’re a wee bit heavy, so you try adding air to your BC. Nothing happens, and instead you get that sinking feeling as you begin to accelerate toward the deep blue beyond.

Risk Factor: Loss of buoyancy control, uncontrolled descent, with attendant risk of exceeding depth limits.

Likely Causes: Several problems can result when an autoinflator fails to inflate a BC. The first and most obvious is that you forgot to attach the low-pressure hose to the inflator. The second is that you ran out of air, but we’ll discuss this later. A third possibility is a mechanical malfunction or failure of the inflator valve.

Avoidance: Carefully check your dive gear prior to entering the water to verify that the low-pressure hose is connected to the inflator, and then verify that the device actually works. Recheck it once you’re in the water to make certain the hose wasn’t disconnected by the force of entering the water. To avoid mechanical problems with the valve, thoroughly rinse your BC after diving, and take it to your local dive center for professional maintenance at least yearly.

Dealing With It:
If the low-pressure hose is disconnected, reconnect it and your problem should be resolved. Plan “B” is to use the oral inflator to add air to your BC. (This is a skill that should be practiced.) Finally, if you’ve got that sinking feeling and can’t correct the problem quickly enough, ditch enough weight to establish neutral buoyancy.


Everything is going fine when suddenly your regulator erupts, spewing out the contents of your cylinder.

Risk Factor: Difficulty breathing, rapid exhaustion of breathing air supply.

Likely Causes: Regulator problems such as freeflow generally stem from poor regulator maintenance and are made worse by moisture in the cylinder and cold-water temperatures. As compressed air expands in the regulator, the temperature drops, which can cause moisture in the air to freeze. This in turn can unseat a valve. As regulators get cold from air expansion, ice can form on exterior components as well. Incorrectly set interstage pressure can also make a regulator prone to freeflow.

Avoidance: Proper maintenance is critical to regulator reliability. Regulators should be properly rinsed/soaked, to prevent the buildup of salt and mineral deposits that can foul up the valves. Rinse or soak your regulator after each dive, and have it serviced by a professional technician annually Before diving in cold water, make certain that the regulator has been serviced for cold water, and that the cylinder has been properly serviced and filled.

Dealing With It: While it is often possible to continue breathing from a free-flowing regulator, some divers will experience difficulty due to the torrent of bubbles. If breathing from the free-flowing regulator is not possible, switch to a redundant air source or share air with a buddy. Shut off the cylinder valve to conserve air and stop the bubbling, and make a controlled, normal ascent to the surface. You may need to orally inflate your BC if the cylinder air has been turned off.


You look down to check your depth and dive time, and your computer’s screen is blank, frozen or otherwise unreadable.

Risk Factor: Computer failures come in a variety of forms, but the net effect is usually a loss of critical dive information. A diver who suffers a dive computer failure is at risk of exceeding depth and/or no-decompression limits, or running low or out of breathing gas (lacking or inaccurate cylinder pressure data).

Likely Causes: Computer failures are rare, but they can occur. Although regular servicing is important to reliable operation, it is no guarantee against failures. Loss of battery power during a dive is one of the more commonly reported problems with dive computers.

Avoidance: Step one is to have fresh or freshly charged batteries before each dive. Beyond that, divers can be ready to deal with computer malfunctions by carrying either a backup dive computer, or backup timer and depth gauge. For those with integrated air computers, a backup cylinder pressure gauge is also in order.

Dealing With It: When a dive computer problem occurs, the general rule is to terminate the dive, unless you have a personal backup that allows you to continue safely. Don’t rely on another diver’s dive computer except as a means of monitoring your ascent rate. Remember too that switching to a new or “fresh” computer doesn’t necessarily solve the problem unless the new computer can be programmed with any dive profiles you’ve completed in the past 24 hours.


You’re roaming the reef, minding your own business, when you become buoyant.

Risk Factor: Most people welcome unexpected weight loss, but not when diving. Whether it’s a loss of a weight belt, trim weight or individual weights from a pocket belt or integrated weight system, losing weight generally leads to an uncontrolled ascent, possibly of the rapid nature. This can lead to lung over-expansion injuries such as arterial gas embolism (AGE) and can contribute to decompression sickness.

Likely Causes: Loss of weights when diving can be the result of poor or neglected maintenance, mechanical failure or poor operating procedures.

Avoidance: A thorough inspection of your weight system prior to diving is the first step in avoiding accidental weight loss. Look for telltale signs such as worn Velcro fasteners and stitching, worn buckle teeth, and faulty release mechanisms. When using a conventional weight belt, make certain that the strap length is appropriate. There should be 4-6 inches of extra strap remaining when the buckle is secured. Less than that, and there may not be enough to grip to make underwater adjustments. Too much excess strap can lead to entanglements. During the dive, monitor your weight system, and adjust the belt tension as necessary.

Dealing With It: The first step in dealing with an accidental weight loss is to counter the effect by dumping air from your BC. If you’re at the bottom and can find something to hang onto, it may be possible to retrieve and replace the lost weight and continue the dive. If an uncontrolled ascent begins, flare your body to maximize drag and slow your ascent, vent air from your BC and remember to exhale during the ascent.

The full article covers an additional 10 of these types of scenarios listed below

Out of Air
Wet-Breathing Regulator
Separated Mouthpiece
Blown Deco Stop
Can’t Find the Dive Boat
Unfamiliar Buddy
Lost Buddy
Unfamiliar Equipment
Jammed Reel
Entanglement or Entrapment

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