How Common Are Scuba Diving Accidents and Deaths?

Scuba diving is a relatively safe sport that comes with high consequences if inexperienced or unprepared.

As with any sport, it comes with risks. The chance of injury or death will increase or decrease depending on the type of dive.

For example, solo diving, deep diving, or diving in areas with entrapment risks would be considered more dangerous. The safety zone for diving is between 20 and 33 feet, and those who misuse the ‘buddy system’ are 10 times more likely to die.

Divers with the lowest fatality risk are those who are physically fit, do not dive to great depths, and are highly experienced.

Scuba Diving Death Rate

The average death rate for divers is fairly low. Per 100,000 dives, the mortality is between 0.5 and 1.2%. On average, for every 1000 emergency department calls made in the US for scuba diving injuries, 47 would result in death. Of this statistic, almost half of these fatalities were inexperienced divers, meaning someone with less than 20 previous dives.

How Many Scuba Divers Have Died?

It is difficult to determine the total number of divers who have died, however, during the years 2006 and 2015 there were an estimated 306 million total recreational dives in US waters, made by US residents. From this population, there were 563 diving deaths.

The dive spot reputed to having the most fatalities in the world is the Blue Hole, located a few kilometers north of Dahab in Egypt. In recent years, the Blue Hole has racked up between 130 to 200 mortalities.

In 2018, DAN recorded a 33% annual increase in mortality rate from 2017 reaching a total of 169 deaths worldwide. Out of these fatalities, a staggering 78% were male and 12% were female.

Further statistics of these deaths are as follows:

  • 1% of the divers who died were attempting a rescue.
  • 5% were cave diving deaths.
  • 10% of the divers had received previous medical advice that they were unfit to dive.
  • 10% were inexperienced or undertrained.
  • 25% got into difficulties on the surface before even attempting the dive.
  • 50% of the divers had failed to inflate their buoyancy compensator.
  • 50% of the deaths were at the surface, rather than actually underwater.
  • 86% of these divers were alone, either by getting separated or diving solo.
  • 90% died whilst still wearing their weight diving belt, therefore they had failed to release it.

How Many Divers Die Each Year?

Per year there are between 80 – 100 deaths in the US and a further 100 in the rest of the world. This makes the US the area with the highest death rate by a long stretch. The USA calls itself the world’s largest association of recreational scuba diving, which explains these figures. Nonetheless, these numbers are purely based on the deaths that have actually been reported.

How Many Scuba Divers Die From Shark Attacks?

shark attacks on divers stats

Shark attacks are relatively rare, and of these attacks, a very small percentage are scuba diving related. In 2019, there were a total of 140 incidents of shark interactions, only 3% involving scuba divers. In 2021, there were 137 reported shark attacks. Again, the percentage of which involved scuba divers remained low, this time at 4%.

Out of the 137, 51% were attacks on surfers or other board sports of a similar nature, and 39% were on swimmers or waders. Over a 57 year period in Australia, between 1960 – 2017, there were a total of 187 attacks on divers. Only 28% resulted in mortality.

This shows that scuba divers are at low risk from shark attacks, with the same source suggesting that only 3% of diving deaths within this time frame were caused by sharks.

The reason behind this is that the majority of shark attacks are cases of mistaken identity. Human flesh is not a typical meal choice. For a shark, the surface visibility is impaired, making it easy to confuse people for seals. Divers spend most of their time underwater, where the shark can clearly see that they pose no threat, and are not a common food source.

How Common is Diving Related Drowning?

Over 80% of diving-related deaths are attributed to drowning. Nonetheless, there are often other factors combined to incapacitate the diver. Generally, scuba divers should not drown without the contribution of preceding problems.

The leading complication is a heart attack. Breathing oxygen under increased pressure has a direct effect on your circulatory system. These increased oxygen levels can cause vasoconstriction, which will increase a diver’s blood pressure and slow down their heart rate and heart output.

Behind this, other complications are due to entrapment, insufficient gas, equipment or buoyancy problems, rough water, and emergency ascents. The final ruling in many of these cases is that the cause of death was asphyxiation – drowning.

How Common are Diving Accidents?

The Divers Alert Network (DAN) reports that every year, on average, over 1000 scuba accidents happen. However, not everyone reports them, maybe because they are embarrassed, worried about the repercussions, or they are simply too lazy to do so. So in reality there are possibly a lot more accidents each year.

Read: How Many Scuba Divers Are There in the World?

And scuba diving accidents here are meant to be only things that happen underwater, so I’m not talking about the silly accidents on land or boats, such as dropping a tank on your toe (even though that really hurts).

Final Thoughts

All in all, diving is a relatively safe sport, and the injury and death rate is respectfully low. Typically, a sport is as safe as you make it.

There are several steps you can take to ensure a successful dive, such as checking equipment, training, knowledge of the area, currents, weather, and sticking to accompanied dives.