How Do I Handle A Panic Situation Underwater?

by Tamara
(Dallas, TX US)

On dive #2 of my checkout dives, I had trouble equalizing my right ear on descent. I remembered that I should stop, ascend a little, try to equalize and continue my descent if successful.

As I was trying to do that, the instructor grabbed my bcd and pulled me down to the platform quickly. My ear still wasn't equalized and more pressure made it more painful. It finally did pop after several tries and I felt okay.

My breathing was labored and rapid because my ear was in such pain, and I didn't expect to be pulled down, but I continued and tried to calm myself down.

My next task was the full flood mask clearing. I felt a bit uneasy as I was still breathing a bit heavy but I tried anyway and failed. I signaled to my instructor that something was wrong and I needed to go up. I grabbed my deflator and started to ascend.

At this point I was calm but he grabbed me (forcefully) and pulled me back down, shook his head no and motioned for me to try the task again.

That's when the panic set in.

I forced myself to try to stay rational but my breathing was out of control. He finally gave in and we both went up to the surface.

After a few minutes of my choking and spitting out the water I had inhaled, he said we should try again. I really wanted to do it.

I got back underwater and was able to control my breathing enough to get my mask cleared of half the water but couldn't manage to get the rest out no matter how hard I tried.

Again I told my instructor something was wrong and I needed to go up and again he pulled me and told me no and would not let me go.

I was literally begging him underwater to let me go and he wouldn't. He finally relented and I just bolted to the surface.

As a new diver, I know that bolting to the surface was wrong. I totally understand that. I was initially calm when I tried to tell my instructor, but when he pulled me down and said no, all kinds of things went through my head and I started having trouble breathing. I didn't quite understand why he was holding me there.

I'm going out again in about a month to do the rest of my check out dives.

I practiced a lot and I know I can do all the tasks. What did I do wrong?

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You did nothing wrong!
by: Dianne

Hi Tamara,

First of all, I commend you for going down again and getting ready for your next check out dives.

That was a very unfortunate start to your open water dives. When your ear wouldn't clear, you absolutely did the right thing in stopping, ascending a little and tried clearing again. You should not continue descending when you have pain in your ear - and if you can't clear, you can always call the dive.

From the situation you describe, there is no reason for your instructor to pull you down - especially since you were having ear troubles. He could have done some major damage.

The only thing I can think of is if the instructor did not know you were having problems and there was a current that might pull you away (which I highly doubt since that would not be a place to do certification exercises).

The next time you dive, talk to the instructor beforehand (and I hope it is a new one) and let him know you may have trouble descending. It is not unusual at all so don't feel embarrassed or pressured to descend before you are ready.

The first incident just set the scenario for the rest of the dive. I am impressed that you were able to be calm at all after the first incident.

The way the incident is described, the instructor did a horrible job of dealing with a new diver and one that was obviously under some distress. It is no wonder you panicked.

If something happens, the usual rule is to:

1. Stop
2. Breathe
3. Think
4. Act

I have a report on Dealing With Panic And Anxiety underwater. If you email me on my contact page, I will send you a copy of the report (usually only available with a paid report but I think it will help you and I want your next check out dives to be successful). You are almost there and from your description, I know you can do it!

Send me an email here and I will send you the report:

Looking forward to hearing from you.


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