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Aloha diving enthusiasts! My name is Andrew, and I am a Divemaster Intern at Hawaii Eco Divers. I recently completed the PADI Rescue Diver course, a prerequisite of becoming a PADI Divemaster, and I want to share my experience with you all. We completed the course at Electric Beach, a beautiful shore diving site in West Oahu with relatively calm conditions and good visibility.

What the PADI Rescue Diver Course is All About

The PADI Rescue Diver course, as the name implies, focuses on SCUBA safety and the skills necessary to rescue yourself and others if the need arises. The course begins by enumerating the most common reasons for dive emergencies; as you might expect, the most common cause of a dive emergency is poor judgment. Deciding to dive against local recommendations, with less air than desired, in strong currents, or with poorly maintained equipment all increase the risks of diving. PADI also emphasizes the importance of considering the rescuer’s (i.e. your own) safety when attempting a rescue – if you get hurt, you can’t help anyone else. 

Foundational Knowledge

Before we could complete the in-water training, each diver in the course completed the PADI E-Learning or PADI Rescue Diver book. Reading the book and completing the exercises gives you a solid foundation of knowledge which you build upon when practicing the rescue skills in the water. The book was comprehensive, with written instructions for every type of rescue you practice in the course and detailed diagrams for how to safely remove unresponsive divers from the water. It even includes a section on how SCUBA equipment functions, ensuring that Rescue Divers prioritize proper equipment maintenance and can handle any equipment-based issues that arise.

In-Water Training

Day One

The Rescue Diver course was split into two days. On the first day, we reviewed self-rescue skills, throwing and wading with flotation devices, out-of-air scenarios, tired diver tows, responding to a panicked diver, and underwater search & recovery navigation. After the first day, I certainly felt more prepared to assist divers who may have become exhausted or be experiencing panic in the water. We learned how panic (which in and of itself is not a medical emergency) can quickly cause medical emergencies for both the panicked diver and those around them.

Though panic is a mental state, it can easily have physical consequences when not taken seriously and approached cautiously. For example, in addition to physical phenomena such a panic-induced cardiac arrest, a panicked diver may grab onto a rescuer in a frantic effort to stay afloat, pushing them under and potentially drowning them. That is why it is important to assess if a diver is experiencing panic and whether they may overpower a rescuer before attempting a rescue. After the first day, I was looking forward to gaining more practice with other medical emergencies, responding to unresponsive divers, and reinforcing the skills I learned in my PADI Emergency First Responder course.

Day Two

On the second day of the course, we began by reviewing the Primary and Secondary first aid skills in the Emergency First Response course.

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Practicing CPR compressions (left), bandaging (middle), and rescue breathing (right)

Primary Care includes basic life support (or BLS, which is the process for correctly administering CPR), shock management, spinal injury care, and serious bleeding management; Secondary Care includes treating conditions that need attention but are not immediately life-threatening (may include fractures, less serious cuts, heat exhaustion, etc.). The course also includes how to manage heat stroke, hypothermia, choking, and other illnesses that require medical attention.

Reviewing these skills put me in a good position for the second in-water portion, which mainly focused on responding to unresponsive (i.e. unconscious) divers in the water.

a group of people swimming in a body of water

Practicing gear removal on an unconscious diver (left) and ascending with an unconscious diver (right)

We learned/reviewed how to ascend slowly using either your own or the victim’s BCD, how to check for breathing in the water, and gear removal while towing the diver to shore while maintaining the correct frequency of rescue breaths (for a non-breathing diver). These skills were more challenging than I originally anticipated, and I was grateful for the opportunity to practice them several times.

The day culminated with a practice scenario involving finding an unresponsive diver underwater, ascending, checking for breathing, towing the diver to shore while removing all gear and giving rescue breaths, lifting the diver onto shore, and beginning CPR. While there are many things to think about in these situations, the pace of the course and expertise of our instructor helped me feel well prepared to handle not only the practice scenario but also diver emergencies that may occur in the future.

The Emotional Aspect of Rescue Training

When I tell my friends and family that I am training to be a Divemaster, many of them react with “Isn’t SCUBA dangerous?” Though diving has an excellent safety record, the truth is, it can be dangerous (particularly when poor judgement is involved). Though it is certainly easiest to ignore the risks of diving, becoming a Rescue Diver forces you to face the reality of what can happen underwater. Learning about what can go wrong may seem like it would produce anxiety surrounding diving, but for me, the opposite is true: by learning about the issues divers may face, I become better prepared to handle them and feel safer while diving.

In diving and in life, there are always things that are out of our control — this could be other divers acting recklessly in the water or someone driving recklessly on the freeway. What we can control is how we, as individuals, are prepared to handle these situations. While becoming a rescue diver does make you confront the risks of diving, it also makes you a more competent and confident diver able to handle a variety of stressful situations. In fact, I recommend anyone and everyone take an Emergency Response course; accidents happen, so you might as well be prepared to handle them.

Overall Takeaways from the PADI Rescue Course

The PADI Rescue Course with Hawaii Eco Divers was definitely one of my favorite classes – it was engaging, challenging, and ultimately very rewarding. As I begin my Divemaster training, I am grateful for the opportunity to become a Rescue Diver, equipping myself with the skills necessary to handle medical emergencies while diving. Though I hope to never have to use the skills I learned, I am a more confident diver knowing that I possess the skills necessary if an emergency situation arises. 

To view a reel of the Rescue Course CLICK HERE