Exhaustion After a Long Day of Training


  • During an Open Water SCUBA class, at the surface, a diver seemed confused and wasn’t listening to instructions.  
  • The divemaster towed the diver to shore.  
  • Oxygen was administered, followed by an overnight stay in hospital.  

Reported Incident

The plan for the Open Water class was to complete three final check-out dives in the morning from shore and then two excursion dives in open water from a boat. The morning started off normal; the group gathered at 7:00am. The dive site was a short walk from the hotel. For the check-out dives, the students were to perform the following skills:  giant stride entry, controlled descent, neutral buoyancy, mask removal and replacement, air sharing ascent, and weight system removal and replacement (at the surface).  After all students assembled their dive kit, they entered the water, checked buoyancy, and descended to 6 msw (19 fsw), then finned approximately 36 meters (118 ft) to the area where they were to performing skills  

After surfacing from the first dive, the instructor noticed the diver was farther away from the group.  When asked to kick backwards towards the rest of the class, the diver did not respond. The instructor had the divemaster check on the diver, and overheard the diver say that they felt “panicked and can’t breathe.” The divemaster towed the diver into shore, where oxygen was administered, and EMS was activated.  

The diver was transported to the local hospital, where a medical history was taken, and diagnostic tests were conducted. Unbeknownst to the instructor before the class, the diver had a history of atrial fibrillation and got the medical release form signed through an urgent care physician, not her primary care physician. The diver spent a number of days in the hospital for treatment. 


Open Water SCUBA certification classes can be exhausting, both for the students and instructors. There are a lot of key skills that must be mastered and learning to SCUBA dive requires a certain level of fitness and comfort with being in-water. Managing students, even in small numbers, adds a level of stress, as well. This is why instructors complete high levels of training and testing before becoming certified to teach and why they work so closely with support staff to ensure a safe and fun teaching environment. Prior to completing any dive skills, both in confined and open water, prospective students are required to complete their e-learning or classroom work, and it is required that they have a doctor sign the medical release form. Ideally, this form would be signed by the prospective student’s primary care physician who knows and understands their past medical history. If the physician is not knowledgeable in diving physiology, they are most welcome to contact DAN for any open questions that may arise during completion of the medical release form. 


With the surge in new diver certifications, students often reserve their class with dive shop managers and storefront workers, or entirely online. It is important to go over requirements and any concerns they may have with students before beginning the course. It is also important for the student diver to honestly assess his or her health status and provide accurate answers on the form. Communication is essential in establishing a safe and fun diving experience. This way all parties are informed and can plan accordingly for any intervention or considerations they may need.