Epidemiology of morbidity and mortality in US and Canadian recreational scuba diving

P Buzzacott, D Schiller, J Crain, P J Denoble

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVES: This study investigates morbidity and mortality suffered by divers in the USA and Canada.

STUDY DESIGN: Prospectively recruited probability-weighted sample for estimating the national burden of injury and a weighted retrospective survey for estimating exposure.

METHODS: The National Electronic Surveillance System and Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRPP) were searched for scuba diving injuries. The Divers Alert Network diving fatality database was searched for deaths, and Sports and Fitness Industry Association estimates for diving were obtained from annual surveys.

RESULTS: In the USA, there were an estimated 1394 emergency department (ED) presentations annually for scuba-related injuries. The majority (80%) were treated and/or released. There were an estimated 306 million dives made by the US residents 2006-2015 and concurrently 563 recreational diving deaths, a fatality rate of 0.18 per 105 dives and 1.8 per 105 diver-years. There were 658 diving deaths in the US 2006-2015 and 13,943 ED presentations for scuba injuries, giving a ratio of 47 diving deaths in the USA for every 1000 ED presentations. There were 98 cases of scuba-related injuries identified in the CHIRPP data. The prevalence of scuba-related injuries for patients aged 3-17 years was 1.5 per 105 cases, and the prevalence of scuba-related injuries to patients 18-62 years was 16.5 per 105 cases.

DISCUSSION: In Canada and the USA, only one out of every 10,000 ED presentations is due to a scuba-related injury. That there are 47 deaths for every 1000 ED presentations for scuba injuries speaks to the relatively unforgiving environment in which scuba diving takes place. For 1.8 deaths per million recreational dives, mortality in scuba diving is nonetheless relatively low.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-68
Number of pages7
JournalPublic Health
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


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