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Emergency plans for recreational diving and snorkelling

Issued: 9 December 2008
Last Updated: 26 August 2013


Workplace Health and Safety Queensland is issuing a safety alert following  instances where recreational diving and snorkelling businesses have failed to  respond effectively, efficiently and in a timely manner to an emergency  situation.

Persons conducting a recreational diving and  snorkelling business or undertaking must ensure that they are prepared to  respond to an emergency situation. This must include supervising personnel,  equipment and systems in place to:

  • recognise relevant hazards
  • recognise divers and snorkellers in  difficulty
  • undertake a rescue
  • provide first aid, including CPR and  oxygen resuscitation.

Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) should have written emergency plans that are readily available to all  workers. Workers should be trained so that that they are familiar with these  plans. Plans should be developed for the following emergency situations:

  • first aid
  • rescue
  • evacuation
  • missing persons.


PCBUs should develop emergency plans relevant to their business. Existing  emergency plans should be reviewed to ensure they are effective and efficient. Sample  emergency plans are attached in Appendix A.

Below is advice to assist in reviewing control measures.

A. Emergency plan review

All plans

  • Plans should take into account the  range of operational variables associated with a particular business. These may  include:
    • activity type
    • customer types
    • employee numbers and competence
    • equipment available
    • environmental variables.
  • Plans should give specific directions  to follow whilst allowing flexibility to address operational variables.
  • Plans should be developed through  consultation with relevant employees and external service providers, including  emergency service providers.
  • Plans and other procedural documents  should detail specific duties, employee competencies, equipment required and  procedures to be followed.
  • Practical testing of plans will  assist in determining whether plans are efficient and effective.
  • Emergency plans should be reviewed  periodically to ensure they continue to be effective and efficient. Internal  and external consultation will assist in this process.

Missing persons plan

  • The plan should specify the triggers  used to identify a missing person situation (Note: accurate information  recorded on a dive safety log, which is monitored by a dive supervisor during  diving, will assist in identifying missing diver situations).
  • The plan should list initial actions  undertaken when a missing person situation is suspected and subsequent actions  if it is confirmed.
  • Prompt recall and headcount  procedures may assist in clarifying the situation and will allow persons at the  site to be questioned regarding any sightings of the missing person/s.
  • The plan should include fixing a  datum point for searches at the last known location of the missing person/s.
  • The plan should include a timeframe  for notifying the emergency services. This timeframe should reflect the  isolation of the site, response times, and the time of day.
  • A record should be made of all  actions undertaken.
  • Many missing person situations are  associated with currents. The timely deployment of a clearly visible marker  buoy, configured to drift with any current and deployed at the datum point, may  assist with subsequent searches.

Rescue plan

  • To develop a rescue plan, the  following factors should be considered:
    • size, type and location of the site
    • appropriateness of the procedures to  the site
    • adequacy of communications systems  including between workers and with emergency services
    • location, skills and fitness of  workers
    • availability, location and  appropriateness of rescue equipment such as boards, tenders, flotation devices,  lifting equipment and ropes. All equipment should be ready for use with a  minimum delay. For example powered rescue tenders should be in the water and  ready for immediate use.
  • Rescues should not be undertaken by  one person unless they are physically able to undertake the rescue.
  • The plan should specify how the  transfer of an injured person will occur, from water to vessel, vessel to  vessel, or onboard vessel.
  • The rescue procedures should not  cause excessive delay in the provision of first aid.

Note: Remember, lack of oxygen for as little as three minutes can lead to  permanent brain damage.

Evacuation plan

  • The evacuation plan should specify  how communication is to be maintained with any emergency services.
  • The plan should ensure the effective  and timely transfer of an injured person from the activity site to emergency or  other medical services, and the maintenance of first aid.
  • First aid during transfer.
  • Consideration should be given to the  safety of any persons, vessels and aircraft used in an evacuation.

First aid plan

  • First aid kits should be sufficient  to cater for the types of incidents that may occur and the numbers of  participants. Consideration should be given to the equipment required for near  drowning, lacerations, cardiac events, unconsciousness, sea sickness stings and  sunburn.
  • Workers should be available at the  surface on the site and have current training to use the available equipment
  • Oxygen equipment should be suitable  for both breathing and non-breathing persons.
  • Oxygen equipment should be checked  daily and sufficient oxygen should be available taking into account the  isolation of the site.
  • An assessment should be undertaken to  determine whether an automatic electronic defibrillator (AED) and trained  operator should be available. Factors to consider include:
    • the safe use of the AED
    • the age profile of divers and  snorkellers
    • access to emergency services
    • available personnel
  • The  configuration of the workplace, including vessel and tenders, should ensure  adequate first aid can be provided.

Note: Remember, lack of oxygen for as little as three minutes can lead to  permanent brain damage.

B. Training

To assist in making sure workers are familiar with emergency plans, a  system of training should be developed and implemented.

The training should include:

  • induction training for new employees  on all emergency procedures
  • ongoing training, such as periodic  emergency drills held on a monthly rotational basis.

The nature of diving and snorkelling emergencies lend themselves to  practical as well as theoretical drills.

Appropriate  records should be made of training that includes the date, the training  undertaken, the trainer and trainee's names.

Appendix A

Example missing diver or snorkeller plan


In the event of any type of accident or emergency:

  • do not risk further injury to any  other person under any circumstances
  • contact Emergency Services as soon as  possible for assistance
  • do not panic, work as a team, communicate.


Dive/snorkel supervisor

  • Dive/snorkel supervisor notified of  missing person (e.g. advised from customer, lookout report, dive safety log,  head count).
  • Advise vessel master and lookout of  missing person.
  • Assess degree of urgency. Consider  time overdue, remaining daylight, dive plan and objectives, possible  decompression and air status.
  • Recall other divers and/or  snorkellers.
  • Record:
    • where and when last seen (ask  dive/snorkel buddy)
    • dive details
    • what diver was doing, direction  swimming
    • any obvious problems
    • maximum depth reached
    • last known gas pressure and likely  gas consumption rate
    • diver's likely action in the event of  a buddy separation, and
    • where you surfaced relative to the  position you last saw the other diver.
  • Mark last known location (GPS and  shot line).
  • Deploy current/drift marker.
  • Organise as appropriate:
    • other persons to assist lookout
    • in water surface search using snorkel  pairs
    • underwater search using buddy pairs
    • complete incident records
    • assume appropriate duties of the  vessel master when shore diving (see below).

Note:  An underwater search should only be undertaken where there is both a reasonable  chance of being able to rescue a diver and where there is no additional risk to  the rescuing divers. Examples of unacceptable risks include insufficient gas  supply, hypothermia, wreck penetration, solo diving, and exceeding  decompression limits.


  • Continue searching surface for  bubbles, along the shoreline, floats, signalling devices or divers.
  • Use binoculars, polarised sunglasses  and customers who have returned to assist searching.
  • Observe current/drift marker and  record bearing and speed of drift.
  • Scan 360 degrees, including checking  areas previously searched.
  • Consider local current movement and  possible changes.
  • Once the diver is spotted, do not  lose sight of them.
  • Report to dive/snorkel supervisor.

Vessel master (or dive/snorkel supervisor if no vessel master)

  • Immediately notify emergency services  and local vessels for assistance once missing diver/snorkeller emergency  established:
    • VHF ch 16 Pan Pan
    • 000 Rescue Coordination Service and  Water Police (refer to emergency contacts list).
  • Check that the missing person has not  left the area or boarded nearby boats.
  • Assist with, or undertake search, as  directed.
  • Maintain a running log of events and  times in the ship's log.
  • Liaise with dive/snorkelling  supervisor.
  • Advise emergency services and  assisting vessels at conclusion.

Example rescue plan


In the event of any type of accident or emergency:

  • do not risk further injury to any  other person under any circumstances
  • contact Emergency Services as soon as  possible for assistance
  • do not  panic, work as a team, communicate.


Dive/snorkel supervisor

  • Assist rescuer.
  • Recall divers/snorkellers if required  (e.g. evacuation required or no lookout available).
  • Undertake headcount.
  • Set up oxygen and get first aid kit.
  • Assist egress and commence/assist  first aid as necessary.
  • Complete incident records.
  • Assume appropriate duties of the  vessel master when shore diving (see below).


Assess rescue options - Safe, quick, effective.

  • Tender:
    • rescuer and one other crew in tender
    • take radio and resuscitation mask
    • proceed to person
    • remove weight belt and scuba unit if  necessary
    • egress into dive tender -  lift or  roll technique, horizontal if possible
    • assess and return-airway maintenance  and commence CPR if required.
  • Main vessel:
    • assist master of vessel to do rescue  from main vessel as from tender.
  • Throw/swim:
    • rescuer throws float line to assist  in pulling person to main vessel, OR
    • rescuer enters water and assists  person to main vessel
    • rescuer assess injuries and advise  vessel
    • return to main vessel giving first  aid if required
    • maintain airway and provide rescue  breaths as necessary, and
    • rescuer and other persons lift person  onto main vessel - horizontal if possible.
  • Move to assessment and first aid  position - use stretcher and team lifting techniques. (If practical, retrieve  scuba unit for any investigations).


  • Advise dive/snorkel supervisor and  others that a rescue is required.
  • Attempt to determine if conscious or  unconscious.
  • Keep the person in sight at all  times.
  • If the boat has to manoeuvre, advise  the master of any snorkellers/divers and warn them to keep clear of the boat.
  • Look out for divers and snorkellers  surfacing.
  • Assist as directed.
  • Commence running log.
  • Reassure and direct other passengers.

Master of vessel

Main vessel used for rescue:

  • attach a float to the mooring line to  act as a datum and for others in the water, or deploy a shot line if anchored
  • when approaching the person, remember  the following:
    • sound air horn to alert people to  move clear of the boat and motors
    • approach at a safe speed; be careful  not to run into anyone
    • approach from downwind if possible,  so the boat is not blown over victim
    • be careful boat is not blown or swept  by current into a dangerous area, and
    • place the motor into neutral when you  are close to and are recovering the person (or any other divers/snorkellers).
  • assist rescuer
  • contact emergency services (refer to  Emergency Contacts list)
  • prepare vessel for evacuation/transfer.

Example first aid plan


In the event of any type of accident or emergency:

  • do not risk further injury to any  other person under any circumstances
  • contact Emergency Services as soon as  possible for assistance
  • do not panic, work as a team, communicate.

Note: Most first aid training organisations and diver training  organisations publish first aid plans and flow charts. These should follow the  current resuscitation guidelines from the Australian Resuscitation Council.  These plans should be adapted for use with diving and snorkelling first aid by  including procedures for first aid the following matters. Advice for diving  injuries can be obtained through the Divers Emergency Service hotline on 1800 088  200.

  • Conscious persons suffering from  diving injuries or illness should be kept horizontal wherever possible,  including during rescue and evacuation. An appropriate stretcher may assist in  this. Unconscious persons should be kept in the recovery position.
  • Oxygen should be administered for all  diving and snorkelling related injuries or illnesses using an appropriate  delivery device.
  • Cases of possible decompression  illness should be referred to the nearest recompression chamber as soon as  possible.
  • Signs and symptoms of decompression  illness may not be obvious and may appear some time after diving ceases.
  • They may include:
    • pain in joints and muscles
    • unusual fatigue
    • pins and needles (pricking and  itching)
    • numbness
    • headache
    • weakness or paralysis
    • dizziness and nausea
    • difficulty breathing, and
    • unconsciousness.
  • A neurological exam may be performed  to assist in determining signs and symptoms of decompression illness.
  • If hypothermia is suspected, avoid  any further cooling by removing wet clothing (with the possible exception of  wet suits) and insulating the diver with warm, wind-proof material(s). The head  should be covered. Oral fluids should be warmed, but should only be given to  fully conscious persons. A cold diver who has stopped shivering or who is  unconscious represents a medical emergency and requires careful handling and  urgent evacuation to the nearest appropriate treatment facility.
  • The first aid kit and training should  include responses for any local marine envenomation risks.


Dive/snorkelling supervisor

  • Liaise with first aid provider.
  • Ensure emergency services are  notified if required. Seek general or specialised medical advice. (Refer to  Emergency Contacts list).
  • Prepare incident information (e.g. dive  profile, symptoms) to accompany victim.
  • Complete incident records and secure  equipment.

First aid provider(s)

  • Give first aid as required.
  • Monitor and reassure person.
  • Request assistance if required.
  • Liaise with supervisor.

Example evacuation plan


In the event of any type of accident or emergency:

  • do not risk further injury to any  other person under any circumstances
  • contact Emergency Services as soon as  possible for assistance
  • do not  painc, work as a team, communicate.


Dive/ snorkel supervisor

  • Liaise with vessel master.
  • Lead transfer party.
  • Recall all persons to the vessel or  shore.
  • Conduct a headcount and ensure no  persons are left behind.
  • Prepare incident information (e.g. dive  profile, symptoms) to accompany victim.
  • Complete incident records and secure  equipment.
  • Assume appropriate duties of the  vessel master when shore diving.

First aid provider

  • Give first aid as required.
  • Monitor and reassure injured person.
  • Prepare injured person for transfer  without compromising first aid (e.g. secure to stretcher).

Master of vessel (or dive/snorkel supervisor if shore diving)

  • Liaise with dive/snorkel supervisor.
  • Contact emergency services:
    • VHF Ch 16 Pan Pan
    • 000 Rescue Coordination Service and  Water Police, and
    • refer to Emergency Contacts list.
  • Contact Divers Emergency Services hotline  for advice if required on 1800 088 200.
  • Advise the following:
    • your location
    • number of casualties
    • nature of injuries (e.g. life  threatening, DCI, cuts)
    • first aid currently being conducted (e.g.  CPR , bleeding control)
    • assistance required.
  • Follow advice of emergency services.  Maintain communications with both EMS and any  transfer party.
  • Proceed to nearest rendezvous with  ship or shore EMS.
  • Prepare for helicopter transfer:
    • manoeuvre as directed
    • secure loose items
    • drop aerials if possible
    • do not attach winch cable from  helicopter to any object
    • allow the helicopter winch cable to  earth before touching.