Every organization teaches you how to react if you are running out of air during a dive. Do you remember?


The story

I was asked for air during a recent dive and the person asking did not seem to remember what to do.

We did a long dive and I was just coming up to shallower water for my safety stop when another diver approached me. This diver signaled out of air and looked confused. I offered him my main regulator on the long hose.

After clearing the long hose and continuing breathing from my secondary air source I looked at him and asked if everything was ok. He did not answer and started to continue the dive. I stopped him to check his computer and saw that he stayed deep for too long (deco) and needed to do a prolonged stop. I also checked his gauge which displayed 2 bar.

out of air

I tried to show him how to use the long hose as it seemed to me that he did not know this system. He wasn’t too interested and was struggling with his buoyancy as well while trying to take pictures of a nudibranch.

After a bit over 5 minutes he handed me my regulator back although he had still 2 minutes of the safety stop to finish and shot up to the surface. Again without communicating with me.

This diver, with over 150 dives, was not my buddy but was diving in the same group.

What do you think about this situation?

I was very surprised to be honest. It has been a while since I last had to donate air except for training reasons. In training the different out of air scenarios are practiced and it is a crucial part of this training to communicate clearly with the air-donor.

This real life situation was completely different. So let’s recap what should have been the right reaction in such a situation.


Before the dive

Check the octopus of your buddy during the predive safety check. If your buddy or you are using a different system (like a longhose) make sure both of you are familiar with the system and the procedure.


During the dive

Try to avoid any out of air scenarios. Don’t dive into deco if you’re not familiar with your air consumption and make sure you have enough air left to finish all required stops, including the safety stop.

The general rules are to start ascending to the safety stop with 50 bar from a shallow depth and 70 bar from a deep depth. Make sure you are back at the surface with 30 bar. You might not stick to those rules if you’re a more experienced diver but then make sure you know what you’re doing.

Inform your guide or your buddy if you are low on air. Don’t wait until you are out of air.

Make yourself familiar with your air consumption. Before checking the gauge think about how much air you should have left and use the gauge as confirmation. You should be able to guess your air consumption to within 10 bars of the actual figure.


In case you’re running out of air

This might happen if you forget to check your gauge, you have used more air than expected due to difficult conditions or you have to do extended stops. Follow these steps:

  • swim to the next diver, preferably your buddy or the dive guide
  • get the diver‘s attention
  • signal out of air
  • grab the octopus or have the donor hand you the octopus/regulator
  • take some deep breaths and calm down
  • the donor can help to calm down the receiver
  • signal the donor that you are ok
  • signal with the donor what to do next (go up or finish stops) keeping in mind how much air is left in the donor‘s tank
  • make sure you finish all the stops if the air supply allows it
  • at the surface the donor can help you stay up while you orally inflate your BCD
  • buy the donor a beer or two when you finish diving for the day


Have you ever been in an out of air situation. How did you react?

It happened to me during my open water course. My instructor asked me to check my gauge on my own, which I didn’t, and when my buddy signalled low on air I realized that there were only a few bar left in my tank. After that I started to check my gauge regularly and still do.