Version – 20200529
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, to encourage a safe return to scuba diving, the ONTARIO UNDERWATER COUNCIL (OUC) recommends that the following protocols are practiced by divers, students, instructors, and all involved in any dive operations. These protocols are based on the principles put forward by Health Canada, which include physical distancing and minimizing the potential spread of the virus. The information was current when published and is subject to change as the situation evolves.1
Training agencies have issued recommendations in response to Covid-19 for necessary adjustments to training during this pandemic to respect basic hygiene, physical distancing, and disinfection of gear. The recommendations of general, local, and global health authorities should be followed and may supersede these recommendations where local conditions warrant.
The OUC expects all training carried out in Ontario to meet agency specific requirements and all health protocols to be in place. When deciding to commence training activities, instructors must follow local regulations (e.g. limit class size) and use all available means to secure student safety and the safety of all stakeholders. Instructors should raise their awareness and be watchful of student hygiene (i.e. washing hands/disinfecting, touching faces, transporting gear, and sneezing/coughing etiquette) and mentor them by modeling proper hygiene practices at all times and provide feedback as would be done normally for any safety practices.
RECREATIONAL SCUBA DIVING
In order to respect COVID-19 Health Canada rules and regulations and for the safe return to diving activities, the following are the protocols that the OUC recommends all divers adhere to at all times. We suggest divers ease back into diving gradually.2
As this is an activity mostly being practiced in teams of two or more, additional precautions must be taken. As it may be more difficult to be at least 2 meters or 7 feet (rounded up from 6.56 feet) apart from others, here is what is recommended:
1. All pieces of gear should be disinfected prior to any diving activities, with particular emphasis on items that may be shared such as a spool or SMB.
2. Arrive at the dive site in your own vehicle unless you live under the same roof as other occupants of the vehicle. If you do live under the same roof as your dive buddy / teammate, you should continue to follow these rules as they may protect others around you and your teammates.
3. Request that waivers and forms be filled out online before arriving at a dive centre or dive operator. If this is not possible, please make sure that correct personal hygiene protocols are employed during the process.
4. Regular and thorough handwashing; liberal use of disinfectant between washings; avoid close contact (maintain at least 2 m/7 ft distance); avoid sharing of personal items; avoid spitting, coughing or sneezing near others and do so into a tissue or tightly into the crease of the arm/elbow. It is advisable for all participants to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as a non-valve cloth or surgical facemask at all times outside of the water. Avoid touching the eyes, nose and/or mouth.
5. Avoid direct or indirect contact of alcohol-based disinfectants with filling equipment used for oxygen-enriched air. Whenever possible, it is preferable to use simple soap and water to clean hands.
6. Avoid congestion (ramps, docks, change rooms, pool deck, dive shop, fill station), and strive to maintain distance.
7. Even when distancing rules are respected, droplets may travel a longer distance due to the effect of the wind (e.g. moving boat). It is advisable that all passengers wear a face mask and not touch other people’s equipment.
8. Avoid using the purge button of a regulator above the surface of the water to prevent the creation of aerosols.
9. Removed PPE (face mask, single use gloves) should be treated with care to prevent cross-contamination, and should be stored or disposed of safely and without littering.
10. Do not use buckets to rinse masks: rinse them in open water instead. Discourage the use of saliva to defog masks: preferably use defogging products.
11. Do not share buckets to rinse equipment (dive computers, cameras, dive lights, strobes, video lights).
12. Any pre-dive checks and briefings should be performed while maintaining a proper safe distance between all team members or any bystanders.
13. The use of tag lines to a floating buoy with spacing indicated may assist in maintaining appropriate distances.
14. Limit surface communication as much as possible. Any speaking diver should maintain at least a 2 m/7 ft distance from others. Only one regulator in a team should be removed at any given time.3
15. Out-of-gas (OOG) is a very rare occurrence when dives have been planned and executed appropriately. Individuals should evaluate the risk and decide upon the options based on their training.
Diving with a safe second or “octopus”:
a. Execute dives while breathing from the primary regulator. The secondary regulator (octopus), after being disinfected properly, can be test breathed by the buddy if
applicable, and is secured in the “triangle”, ready to donate in case of an out-of-gas emergency. Consider testing the secondary regulator after disinfecting by purging
rather than test breathing by the buddy in the unlikely event of a failure of a primary regulator.
Diving with a long regulator hose configuration or with a stage bottle4 :
b. Execute dives while breathing from a stage cylinder, if appropriately trained and experienced. The long hose / primary regulator, disinfected properly, is clipped off, ready to donate in case of an out-of-gas emergency. The dive is limited by the gas contained in the stage cylinder, and the back gas is not to be used via the primary regulator.
c. Execute dives while breathing from the backup regulator. The long hose / primary regulator, disinfected properly, is clipped off, ready to donate in case of an out-of-gas
d. Use the standard Hogarthian configuration and OOG protocol only if all team members are in agreement to share gas underwater with the use of a primary regulator prior to the dive. Proceed with caution.
16. In the event of an emergency where lifesaving skills are required, Divers Alert Network (DAN), with the support of the Recreational Scuba Training Council (RSTC), recommends evaluating consciousness by shaking or stimulating the victim without approaching the face. Determine if the victim is breathing by simply observing chest movements. The rescuer’s face should not come close to the victim’s face.5
The Canadian Red Cross (CRC) leaves it to the individual’s discretion to perform or not perform mouth-to-mouth breaths based on personal risk assessment. It’s important to
activate Emergency Medical Services (call 911 or use VHF channel 16) right away and find an AED if possible. If the individual chooses to perform breaths, it is recommended that a barrier device, such as a pocket mask, be used to help protect themselves. If the individual chooses to do hands-only CPR, the CRC advises to lay a cloth, towel or clothing over the person’s mouth and nose to try to prevent any potential spread of the virus through contaminated air or saliva. Then proceed to push hard and fast in the centre of the person’s chest until EMS arrives.6
17. The Divers Alert Network should be contacted at 919-684-9111 (collect calls accepted) for all diving related accidents and incidents, and they will advise as necessary. CritiCall in Ontario can be called at 1-800-668-4357 by physicians or divers regarding SCUBA diving emergencies.
DISINFECTION OF EQUIPMENT7
Common bleach, marketed under different brands and with variable percentages (5-10%) of its active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, is among the products recommended by the Divers Alert Network for disinfection. It is important to read the product label carefully, check the percentage of active ingredient, dilute it in water in the right measure, and not mix it with anything else. Recent scientific studies (1) suggest a 1:50 dilution of bleach containing 5% of sodium hypochlorite (concentration of 0.1% or 1,000 ppm of
active ingredient), with complete immersion of the objects for at least 5 minutes.
Here’s a practical example of how to dilute the product in water, to obtain 5 litres of solution containing 0.1% of active ingredient:
5% sodium hypochlorite bleach | 100 ml of product in 4900 ml of water
10% sodium hypochlorite bleach | 50 ml of product in 4950 ml of water
- Perform preparation and disinfection operations wearing gloves, mask and eye protection. Mix
solutions in well ventilated areas.
- Prepare solutions using cold water, as hot water damages the active ingredient. Never mix bleach
with other products (ex. soap) or chemicals.
- Avoid splashing the bleach or solution.
- Rinse with fresh water and allow to dry before use.
1 FQAS Protocol
2 Dive Operations and COVID-19: Prepping for Return
3 It is unknown exactly how long SARS-CoV-2 can survive in water
4 GUE Diving Activity: Covid-19 Protocols
5 DAN Europe Recommendation
6 First aid protocols for an unresponsive person during COVID-19
7 Disinfection of Scuba Equipment and COVID-19