Scuba Diving Deaths: 

How Many Annual Dive Fatalities Are There?

Scuba diving deaths - not one of those things we like to think about but, like any sport, scuba diving has its risks.

Scuba diving safety stop

A crowded safety stop.

Considering the number of scuba divers there are, the rate of annual scuba deaths is low. However, it must be stated that these are estimates (or guesstimates) only. No one knows how many scuba divers there are in the world (another question) or how many accidents and/or scuba deaths go unreported.

We will work with what we have though to give a rough indication.

Annual Scuba Deaths Reported

The American Academy of Family Physicians in a report (dated June 2001 so it's a bit out of date) stated that there are an average of 90 scuba deaths reported each year worldwide. It did not state where the information on the number of annual scuba deaths came from.

I did read in another report that Diver's Alert Network (DAN) reported an average of 90 scuba diving deaths per year since 1980.

This report was published a couple years ago but I couldn't find the original source of that information on DAN's website (DAN is a non-profit organization and provides scuba diving insurance among other things).

DAN does publish an annual report entitled Report on Decompression Illness, Diving Fatalities and Project Dive Exploration.

In the 2006 report released in June 2007 it stated that "the annual fatality rate for DAN Members between 1997 and 2004 varied between 11 and 18 deaths per 100,000 members per year. Note that these rates are for limited population samples (...DAN Members per year for fatalities) and cannot necessarily be extrapolated to the diving population as a whole."

In this same report DAN stated that the initial triggering event (which began the sequence of events that ultimately led to death) of scuba diving fatalitites for the year were as follows:

  • Insufficient Gas: 14%
  • Rough Seas/Strong Current: 10%
  • Natural Disease: 9%
  • Entrapment: 9%
  • Equipment Problems: 8%
  • Could Not be Determined: 20%

Note that many of these events could/should have been avoided - such as running out of gas. This fact holds true for many of the deaths reported each year.

So while scuba is fun and exciting, a diver must know what he is doing and not panic in case of a problem. Proper training is essential as is following scuba diving safety rules.    

Scuba Diving Deaths: Conclusion

Given the above, it is hard to give a definitive answer to how many scuba deaths there are per year. However, based on the information I have found, the number is very low in both absolute number and compared to the number of divers.

Most research I have read points to annual scuba deaths in the 100 people/year range.

Personally, I believe scuba diving is an acceptable risk given the relationship between the approximate number of scuba diving deaths, the number of divers and the number of dives made each year.

But it is up to each individual to make their own informed choice about diving and safety. Always get proper training and you are off to a good start. 

Here's to a SAFE DIVE!

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Photo by Dennis from Atlanta. Thanks!