The pre-dive checklist for many divers is just something for newbies. Yes, a pre-dive checklist is drilled into us during our initial training. But, do we really believe? It seems that on every dive boat, there are divers that skip any type of pre-dive check, some even sneer at those that do them. It can make you wonder, should you do them or are they marking you as someone not confident in their own skills.

I like you to think about something. You are sitting in the front row of an airplane that will be headed to a tropical paradise for your long awaited dive trip. The pilot and copilot come on board joking and having a good time, the flight attendant closes the door behind them, they sit down, and the pilot starts the engines. Or would you rather see the pilot and copilot in the flight cabin going down a checklist making sure the plane is ready to fly?

In an airborne unit, you put on your parachute and reserve then check it to make sure it is on properly. Then you do a buddy check with another jumper. Finally, a jumpmaster will do another check. When you hook your static line to prepare to jump another buddy check is done. Sounds a bit redundant, but once that light goes green and you step out the door there no room for error. Your life depends on it. While it might be a bit less dramatic if there is a failure while scuba diving, Your life still may be at stake, do you want to take the risk?

Why Use A Pre-dive Checklist

Let’s start with some old news. In 1995, theJournal of the South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society published a 1994 study where 55 divers attending a dive equipment exhibition were randomly selected and asked to perform a pre-dive safety check on an assembled scuba kit (buoyancy jacket, regulator, air cylinder, contents and depth gauges). Unknown to the divers each kit had 9 faults.

The Nine Faults:

  • The air was not turned on
  • The tank was empty
  • Masking tape had been left on the pillar valve
  • The regulator mouthpiece was partially bitten through
  • The tank was loose in the harness
  • The buoyancy jacket’s emergency dump valve was loose
  • The power inflator was not connected
  • The oral inflator was torn and loose
  • The maximum depth indicator was not zeroed

Of the 55 divers who were asked to do the pre-dive safety check only 2 found all nine of the faults, only 3 noted the all of the faults that could have potentially fatal consequences (the empty tank, the air supply switched off and the loose dump valve) and that only 14 noted the inadequacy of the air supply. Only 12 divers found the emergency dump valve was loose. The most commonly found fault, reported by 47 divers, was the power inflator. However, that means 7 did not find the fault.

I sure the first thought you had was that is years ago things are different now. Yes, there have been improvements in equipment and diving has become safer. Still, there is risk. International Journal of Epidemiology published a study concerning the use of printed checklist in 2016. Divers who agreed to do the study was given an envelope. Inside were instructions and questions. One set of envelopes instructed the diver to follow an included checklist, the other set of envelopes had a diver follow their normal routine. You can read all the scientific mumble jumbo but the overall summary of the study was that divers following the printed checklist had a 36% reduction of mishaps over divers that did not do a predive check. Among divers that did their own pre-dive checklist, which the study called self-checklist, there was only a 7% difference.

Your Pre-dive Checklist

Each training agency has their own view of a pre-dive checklist. What they include also varies. Some agencies start with the initial planning, while others focus on the activities as you prepare to start your dive and your buddy checks. The purpose of the buddy check is to verify that you have not missed anything in your own pre-dive check. PADI uses the acronym BWRAF and the mnemonic device “Begin With Review and Friend”. The letters stand for BCD, Weights, Releases, Air, and Final check. NAUI has a wider-ranging acronym, “SEABAG”. This acronym is for Site survey, Emergency, Activity, Buoyancy, Air, and Gear and go. BSAC uses the acronym BAR for Buoyancy, air, and Releases. As you can see they all cover the same basics.

I am basically one of those divers that do not like others touching my equipment. I always set up my equipment for my first dive and have a set procedure that I follow. Before attaching the tank, I look over my BCD and use the oral inflation to make sure everything works. I will test the valves and check all the straps. The contents of my BCD pockets are also checked to ensure they are working. Once I am satisfied, I will slide the BCD over the tank and tighten the band. I will then connect the regulator to the cylinder and connect the low-pressure hose to the BCD inflator. Turning the air on, I will check my pressure gauge then take a few deep breaths from my regulator and octopus watching the pressure gauge. It is time to inflate the BCD until the over inflation valve releases, I let it sit for a minute to make sure it seems to be holding the air, then check the dump valves. The air is turned off and the regulator purged. I will lay the tank down and add my integrated weights to the BCD. After the site briefing, I will do a dive plan review with my dive buddy. On the dive boat, as I put my gear on, I will use BWRAF to double check. Of course, will do a buddy check.

I generally change out my own tanks after a dive unless it is a small boat and the boat crew is moving tanks around and changing tanks. In that case, I will let them change out the tank but will verify everything.

Should you use a printed checklist?

Most recreational divers do not use a physical checklist. The pre-dive inspections are something they remember. However, there is a large percentage of divers who dive very infrequently. There is a good argument that perhaps they would be better off if they did have a physical checklist. The recreational pre-dive checklist is not difficult to recall, but a checklist that also has reminders about dive planning can be helpful. Too many divers just follow a dive plan given to them without thinking about it.

Many advance divers, such as those using a closed circuit system, rely on a physical checklist. So there is no reason to feel bad if you do as well.

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