Becoming a Rescue Diver: What to Expect

This post contains affiliate links. The Salt Sirens earns from qualifying purchases.

Scuba diving is not a sport without some risks. It is dangerous, physically and mentally challenging, and tragic accidents can and do occur. Every diver accepts these risks when they decide to drop below the surface of the sea.

Sadly, headlines like ‘Diver missing at sea’ followed days later by ‘Diver’s body recovered’ make media headlines on a somewhat regular basis.

But is there a way to minimize these risks? Or even manage the outcome better?

Yes, there is. It’s training to be and becoming a Rescue Diver. That’s not to say accidents won’t happen, they will. What it does mean though, is having the knowledge and hands-on training to understand how to carry out the process for search and rescue, backed up by training in how to respond appropriately to a diving emergency. This doesn’t mean that every injured or missing diver can or will be saved. But it does significantly increase the odds of a positive result.

We’ll cover why being a Rescue Diver (even if you don’t plan to dive professionally) is a smart choice and what you can expect during your course.

How much dive experience do you need to become a Rescue Diver?

Despite what your nerves might tell you, you don’t need to be an expert diver, have 100+ logged dives, or want a career in the dive industry to become a Rescue Diver. In fact, doing the Rescue Diver course – along with Emergency First Responder and O2 Administration – can actually improve both your current diving, but also your overall dive experiences. Not to mention being a Rescue Diver will help lower associated diving risks. You might even save your own or another diver’s life one day.

If you have mastered buoyancy and can dive in a multitude of conditions comfortably, you’re a prime candidate to take your Rescue Diver course.

What can I expect from a Rescue Diver course?

The exact format of the course will vary from one dive association to another. Some organizations will do self-guided study, then pool/closed water sessions, then open water scenarios. Other training providers could go for all training to be carried out in a classroom before water scenario training, while others offer eLearning with flexible delivery of the water sessions. Regardless of which organisation you decide to train with, all of them should cover the following skills:

What causes accidents, and how to prevent them, including;

  • Stress and psychological factors
  • Physical conditioning
  • Equipment
  • Surface drowning syndrome
  • Lifesaving skills
  • Self-rescue
  • Assisting divers
  • Rescues underwater and at the surface
  • Supplying air to a non-breathing diver in the water
  • Exit techniques for boats and shore
  • Search and recovery underwater – finding your missing diver
  • First aid
  • Oxygen administration
  • Managing and treating hyperbaric injuries
  • Information collection
  • Access to a hyperbaric chamber
  • Managing an emergency
  • Accessing emergency transport/assistance
  • Reporting an accident
  • Legal considerations, and liability

Identifying and assisting a diver exhibiting:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Tiredness
  • Leg cramp
  • Early signs of panic
  • Locating and surfacing an unconsciousness scuba diver from approximately 6 m /20 ft
  • Transporting the unconscious diver 50 m/150 ft to shore or boat, whilst supplying breaths to the unresponsive diver
  • Administering first aid once the diver is removed from the water

Does that sound intimidating or overwhelming? Well, don’t let that put you off.

All of these skills are broken down into manageable lessons and practical exercises. So, while you’re studying the course, you’re also honing these skills. Then, when you do the practical test, you’re ready to go, knowing that you’ve covered every one of these areas.

As part of the Rescue Diver course, or separately if you choose, you’ll also train in being an Emergency First Responder with primary and secondary care. The name of this qualification may vary from country to country or training organisation, but essentially, you’ll be studying and practicing first aid and basic life support. This training is a great addition to have regardless of how much you dive, as the skills are directly transferable to your everyday life. You’ll learn CPR, how to use an AED, along with bandaging, and wound assessment and treatment. In other words, for a day or two you get to wrap some new friends in bandages and lay around on the floor pretending to be injured. It’s actually a lot of fun!

Do you need to be physically fit to do Rescue Diver training?

How fit do you need to be? As fit as you can manage, is the answer. You don’t need to spend hours at the gym or ‘get in shape,’ but as a diver you should have a good level of physical health and be fit to dive. As always, having a fitness routine is definitely a benefit, but so long as you’re fit to dive, you’re fit to rescue others.

Is it challenging or dangerous to be a Rescue Diver?

The Rescue Diver course is challenging both mentally and physically. You’ll be learning techniques to recognize and help other divers who are in distress, adding medical terms to your vocabulary, and learning to observe diver’s behaviors differently.

Part of this training is teaching our brains to look for small details and recognize possible causes for divers to be stressed before diving, or in assessing a diver who’s become injured. There is a lot to remember. However, the training is not dangerous. From the day you receive your manuals and kit you’ll be working with dive industry professionals. These are divers who’ve seen it all and lived to tell the tale. You’ll be learning from some of the best trainers in the world.

Is the Rescue Dive course stressful?

Possibly. I won’t lie to you and say that the Rescue Dive course won’t be stressful. You are, after all, learning how to save someone’s life in the event of an emergency. But, it’s worth it. As a certified diver who’s come up through your organization’s ranks, the Rescue Diver course is probably the most exciting and nerve-wracking course you’ll study since taking Open Water training. It’s a whole new world, new terminology, new kit to get used to, mistakes to be learned from, and also new friends to be made.

Training to become a Rescue Diver is potentially one of the most rewarding courses you’ll ever do. It’s demanding both mentally and physically. It isn’t quick, it’ll take several hours of study and at least one day of dive scenarios. But, it’s a hell of a lot of fun! You’ll meet new divers who you can dive with, or you might meet up with old friends from other courses you’ve taken. No matter where you are on the diver training ladder, developing the skills and confidence to help others in an emergency will always be a rewarding experience. Who knows, the life you save might just be your own.

For more detailed information on various scuba diving training organisations and their Rescue Diver/or equivalent programs, see the links below:

Read: So You Want to Become a Divemaster?

Would you consider taking a Rescue Diver course?