Scuba Diving in the Covid-19 era

Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus or SCUBA for short is one of the most fascinating outdoor (underwater) activities you can do and most rewarding afterwards, if you have not done this yet please stop reading and book your trip to try it out and I promise you will not regret this.

Now that our trip is booked, lets take a look at somethings you need to do before trying out Scuba diving or if your already a diver then below is a to do list before returning back into the water:

  • Make Sure You Are Certified to Dive
  • Make Sure You are Fit to Dive
  • Dive With a Certified Diving School
  • Listen to Your Instructor or Dive Guide
  • Double Check All Your Scuba Gear
  • Make Sure You Do Your Buddy Check
  • Have Scuba Diving and Travel Insurance

For this article we will focus on the 2nd point – Make sure you are fit to dive

Normally if you do not have any chronic disease or high blood pressure and can normally run a short distance without running out of breath then theoretically your fit to dive, but you should always get checked for a piece of mind. The first step would be to talk to your own physician about what tests and examinations he or she recommends based on the fact you want to dive.

Most healthy scuba divers would need a quick checkup with their family doctor or a physician will probably suffice. But if you want to go that extra mile, or in particular if you have a pre-existing condition (or you are diagnosed with one during a regular checkup), seeing a dive-medicine specialist is a good idea.

After the not so recent breakout of COVID-19 things has definitely changed. Divers who have no history of COVID-19 suspected illness should proceed with normal evaluations

We are all very excited to jump back in the water, but first we need to establish how we can safely return to diving post COVID-19 era especially if you recently recovered. The lasting effect of coronavirus will be felt in the way we carry out our diving activities, from planning the dive by having social distance to the point of returning back home safely

Let’s look at some facts:

  • Scuba diving is a critical activity for the commercial industry
  • Military activities
  • Research
  • Public safety
  • Search & Rescue
  • as well as a passion for many recreational divers

Physicians are expected to know how to provide return-to-diving recommendations after COVID-19 infection based upon the best available evidence, mainly drawn from experience with other, similar diseases like SARS or other respiratory diseases and illness.

Scuba diving presents a unique physiologic challenge to the body in increased pressure and increased work of breathing. The long-term effect of COVID-19 are still unknown, but if they are proven to be similar to other corona viruses such as Middle East respiratory syndrome or SARS-CoV-1 they may result in long-term impact to divers’ ability to safely return to scuba diving.

The guidelines are based upon best available evidence about COVID-19, as well as other past experience with determining the fitness of the diver. It is likely that all divers who have contracted COVID-19 will require a medical evaluation prior to return to diving with emphasis upon pulmonary and cardiac function as well as exercise capacity. The wellness of the respiratory system is the core of the assessment.

Early speculation in the pandemic that COVID-19 patients may never dive again sent shockwaves through the scuba community. Medical forecasts are less bleak now, thankfully, but there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for returning to diving. In my personal experience, 1 month before my planned diving trip I contracted the COVID-19 virus and I became ill. Thankfully I did not need to be admitted to hospital but nonetheless my lungs were inflamed.

Even though I was a month away, the thought of not being able to hit the water and dive had a both negative and positive impact on my recovery

I committed to daily breathing exercise and following up with my doctor who gave me the green light to dive (what I relief!) HOWEVER he asked me to be cautious as my lungs are still not at 100% but with diving this could help it heal as I will be focusing on my breathing and expanding my lungs

To be honest, the first dive I was scared. I felt healthy but I was taking it easy and checking my air consumption more often than usual. I took things slowly in those first few dives but at the end of the first day I felt way better than I have ever had

Despite experiencing a ‘mild’ COVID-19 symptoms and having a clear X-ray, these symptoms ruled out diving – for a while. Diving requires stamina, clear thinking and good breathing — basically everything long COVID takes away from you.

Getting Back in The Water

1. Make sure you are fully recovered

For long haulers, the first thing to do is wait for a full recovery. This is the point when you have returned to your baseline exercise capacity and no longer have follow-up care and do not have the ‘running out of breath’ feeling when exerting the slightest effor

2. Fitness-to-Dive Assessment

Your next step is to book the return to diving evaluation from a physician trained in dive medicine

3. Plan Ahead

‘Plan your dive and dive your plan’ has always been the moto for safe diving, now we need to add to it. First make sure your first dive is not something you would exert much effort in like snorkeling for a distance before descending, have a short dive and do not push your limits, watch your gas consumption. If all goes well and you feel like your back to normal then continue diving.

At any point of the dive you felt discomfort, please end the dive and see a doctor immediately.

Interested in hearing your experiences in the comments below