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January 2005 Vol. 31, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Is Diving Safer Than Skiing?

from the January, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Though DEMA’s published goals include “speaking on behalf of the sport,” I could take issue with some of its efforts to do so. Take, for instance, its latest effort to discredit the premise behind the movie “Open Water,” where divers are left at sea when their dive boat departs without them. DEMA’s public statement on the film was that these were circumstances not likely to occur in the real world of diving — when of course the events of “Open Water” were inspired by a reallife incident reported here in the pages of Undercurrent !

If we want to “get the facts” about diving’s risk, the National Sporting Goods Association has done a comparison of fatalities in several popular outdoor sports. Unfortunately, based on the statistics, diving doesn’t rank well when compared to swimming, skiing, or bicycling, and these statistics may even be deflated given the varied lengths of a typical sports day. For example, the typical scuba boat diver puts in about 1.5 hours during a day of participation (balancing one-tank days with multi-tank days), with shore divers putting in somewhat more time getting to and from dive sites. But skiers and cyclers probably put in more hours per day most of the time, which would lower their risk for time spent even further in comparison with divers.

Skiing and
Scuba Diving
Number of fatalities
(2000 or 2001)
(in millions)
Fatalities per million
Fatalities per day of
participation per million

All well and good, but to borrow Churchill’s line about “lies, damn lies, and statistics,” do statistics really tell the story here? Dive risk, like that in most outdoor sports, is on a sliding scale. Downhill skiers, for example, can take the "???" course through the trees, or they can stick to the “bunny slope.” Divers can putter around beautiful coral gardens in 30 feet of water in a protected bay, or they can fly in a 10-knot current through a deep-water pass on a night dive. We dive in some places with sharks, even with lots of sharks, and, while we are very seldom attacked, it can happen. Let’s call it what is. Hey, if we make diving sound dangerous enough, we might attract some players from the “extreme sports” junkies.

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