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Dive to Survive: How much do you value your life?



In her first blog for Scubaverse, Underwater Photographer and RNLI Editor Anna ‘Nudi’ Burn reports on her experience of the RNLI Diver Sea Survival specialty course…

Just Another Specialty?

Divers who are a bit longer in the tooth often talk sceptically about collecting qualifications and cards but, after commercial fishermen, we are the second most at-risk group around our coasts (based on fatality rate). 68 divers lost their lives in UK waters between 2012 and 2016 (2016 Annual Diving Incident Report) and taking steps to improve our survivability, should the worst case scenarios arise, is essential.

I’ve been diving for 12 years and have always been pretty comfortable in the water but, because of the work I do for the RNLI, I’m all too aware of how easily things can go wrong – and also how often it seems to happen to people who are experienced.

The RNLI has worked with the British Diving Safety Group (BDSG) to develop a sea survival course for divers of all levels, now available through PADI, SSI, SDI and RAID. There’s also a club-based version, the diver sea survival workshop with BSAC, IUC and SAA. I booked on to the PADI course with Viewpoint Diving Centre in Pentewan, south Cornwall.

The course takes you through lifesaving safety skills and kit, as well as brushing-up on dive planning (tide states, entry and exit in tricky conditions, navigation and methods of maintaining contact in low vis). Diving safety guru Mark Powell helped develop its content and features on the training videos, alongside dive professionals from Mulberry Divers in Selsey, and RNLI crew members Mark says of the course: “It provides not only a reminder of key safety aspects, but also teaches you new safety skills.”

Mark Powell presents a module of the RNLI Diver Sea Survival course. Credit: Niki Holt

Instructor, Mike Morris, got us hands-on with varied safety kit, sharing his own stories of mishaps and close calls as we went through the modules. I found this really made a difference to the course and Dive Centre Owner Dave Skinner agrees: “If you’ve got someone who’s been teaching for a long time then you can get quite a lot from this; the instructor can put their own experience into it.”

Dave Skinner, Owner of Viewpoint Diving, Pentewen, Cornwall. Credit: RNLI – Anna Burn

In the water, I had the opportunity to practice survival skills, try out the safety devices and reflect on my own diving. With the kind of ‘safe’ and easy UK shore diving I tend to do, two areas stood out where my own safety considerations had been overlooked.

1. Rethinking Diveable Vis

We’re used to considering underwater visibility but give less thought to our own. What’s an acceptable level of visibility for you, based on the risk?

Consider being caught in a current and the light dropping before you’re found. Will the RNLI and coastguard crews be able to spot you as a speck in a vast body of water? Are you satisfied that one DSMB tucked in your pocket will be sufficient?

“It’s amazing to me how many divers go into the water without visible aids. The light has gone before we actually find them and it’s extended the search overnight and into the next day. If they’d had those aids, we may well have found them before we lost the light.”
Martin Rudwick, Coxswain at Selsey Lifeboat Station

Martin Rudwick – Coxswain, Selsey Lifeboat Station. Credit RNLI – Nathan Williams

Some simple changes you can make to increase surface visibility inexpensively are: carrying a strobe to draw attention and dye to leave a trail for rescuers, wearing kit that is brightly coloured, and hanging a weight just below your DSMB to keep it upright.

Us divers tend to like functional understated black gear. But if we’re serious about functionality, visibility is a key consideration. Our shore cover had no trouble spotting our bright orange hoods compared with the usual black pinprick of neoprene, so I now have some soul searching to do!

RNLI Diver Sea Survival, Viewpoint Diving, Cornwall – Diving visibility. Credit: Niki Holt

2. What’s Your Location?

I dive with a DSMB and whistle, but had no other means of drawing attention to myself should I be pulled away from a dive site by a current. There are two sites I dive where complacency or misjudgment of conditions could lead to that, so this is something I need to rectify.

Carrying a personal locator beacon (PLB) or Nautilus Lifeline marine rescue GPS means crews are more likely to find you. Martin strongly recommends the investment: “If you’re got a PLB, you will be found.”

As an underwater photographer, I already feel like I have quite enough gear dangling off of me! For divers who don’t want to end up looking like a Christmas tree or think they don’t have enough room to carry a PLB, instead of diving without the backup, look at your kit and decide if everything you’re wearing is required. Is that third torch, spool or crab bag really needed?

PLB shown by Dave Skinner, Viewpoint Diving, Cornwall during RNLI Diver Sea Survival course. Credit: Niki Holt

How Much Do You Value Your Life?

Many of us think little of dropping some serious money on a new wing, dive computer or trip, but experience a sharp intake of breath when looking at the cost of lifesaving equipment like PLBs and VHF radios. But, with some tragic deaths in our community in just the last 12 months, it’s time to stop and think about what steps we each need to take to prevent further loss.

Please ask your local dive centre about the course or your local club about the workshop. In the meantime, I challenge you to find just one change you can make to increase your chances – should anything ever go wrong.

Safe diving!

For more diver safety advice, visit


Anna 'Nudi' Burn is an editor with the RNLI, previously working as a photojournalist and marketing consultant. She gets her nickname from the endearing underwater critter and claims it's because the pace she moves at on dives is not dissimilar from that of a nudibranch! She also volunteers with the RNLI, British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and Bite-Back. For more, see

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