Scuba Diving Insurance

The time has come. I've been toying with the idea for a while, but I've finally taken the plunge and signed up or scuba diving insurance.

Why insurance?

I dive more than three times a year, and plan to dive frequently in the future. It's said that the only way to prevent decompression illness (DCI) is to not dive, so it makes sense that the more you dive, the more risk you incur. You can follow every table or computer to the letter and still get sick.

I know I sound like an insurance salesman, but when you purchase insurance, you are purchasing peace of mind. DCI is expensive, especially if they have to helicopter you off a boat. To make matters worse, most insurance policies don't cover scuba diving accidents, so you can easily accrue tens of thousands of dollars in debt from a single incident!

Check your policy. Find out if you're covered. You'll probably find that you're not as protected as you thought. For me, the small cost per year is well worth the peace of mind.


I'm sure many companies will be happy to underwrite you for additional coverage. For most people, however, the easiest way to get coverage is through the Divers Alert Network (DAN). DAN is a non-profit medical and research organization that supplies resources for recreational divers.

I signed up for insurance through DAN and it was easy. There are only two steps:

  1. Become a DAN member

    Only DAN members are eligible for insurance. This comes with some perks like a subscription to their magazine, but nothing I was terribly interested in. Individuals pay \$35 a year for membership or you can subscribe your household (people with the same mailing address) for \$55 a year (these prices are current as of 2010 and in US dollars).

  2. Sign up for DAN insurance

    Once you have membership, you can immediately sign up for insurance. DAN offers three insurance programs: the standard plan, the master plan, and the preferred plan.

    The standard plan is rather skimpy, which is reflected in the \$25 a year cost. There is a \$45,000 lifetime maximum payout for the plan.

    The master plan is a little better, offering a \$125,000 lifetime maximum payout. It includes a few additional items, such as payment for lost diving equipment, dismemberment (yikes!), and disability. For these additional benefits the price goes up to \$35 a year.

    The preferred plan offers \$250,000 coverage per incident. It includes slightly higher payouts for each item compared to the master plan, but the cost doubles to \$70 a year.

I went with the Goldilocks plan, right in the middle. It balanced decent payout with a cheap yearly cost. For individual membership in the master plan, you're facing \$35 + \$35 = \$70 a year: a perfectly reasonable cost for active divers.

The entire process took less than 15 minutes, including signing up for DAN membership. DAN will want to know who your primary insurance provider is since some parts of a diving incident may be covered by your primary plan, so you may want to have that information at hand.

DAN is a US organization, so this only applies to American divers. I'm curious about divers from other countries, particularly those with public health care: does your healthcare cover diving accidents, along with hyperbaric treatment, or do you take out private insurance?

Fish Identification: Leopard Shark

For the first time in our fish identification series, we're going to look at a sea creature that's not actually a fish. I think leopard sharks are awesome, and hope to come across one in a dive someday.

Physical description

[Leopard shark][]
I assume most people can tell a shark when they see one, so I'll focus on the features that make leopard sharks unique. Clearly the first distinguishing feature is the source of their name. Leopard sharks have long, slender bodies covered in dark ink stain-looking spots. Their underbelly is all white.

They have two dorsal fins. The first is about …

BCD Overpressure Relief Valves

Overpressure relief valves are pretty much standard on today's BCDs. You can identify them as the vent-like areas, either on the shoulder and / or bottom rear of the jacket. Often they have a ball-and-string assembly attached called a "dump valve." Pulling on this will release air from the BCD through the valve. This allows the diver to vent air easily from almost any orientation underwater, without awkwardly holding their inflator hose toward the surface.

[BCD overpressure relief valve][]
As their name implies, the primary purpose of overpressure relief valves is to prevent the accidental over-inflation of BCDs. BCDs contain what are called bladders, or …

Underwater Photography Links

Here's a random set of underwater photo / video links across the web.

The beautiful nature blog featured a few underwater photographs.

Amsterdam couple Cor Bosman and Julie Edwards have their photo albums online. Their photography has been featured in articles and magazine covers.

And here's a video of a clever little penguin.

Nitrox Compatible Gear

An extremely common question I see is whether or not certain gear (mainly regulators) can operate with enriched air / Nitrox. Many manufacturers even claim in their manual that Nitrox is not supported.

It is commonly accepted amongst scuba diving professionals that mixes with less than 40% oxygen are treated as air (with respect to equipment). Enriched air specialties only qualify you to use up to 40%. This means your "air-only" regulator is perfectly fine with any recreational Nitrox mix. No special assemblies or upgrades required, and your tank will not explode on your back underwater.

Interestingly, the flip side of …

Weighting Guide

Last week we looked at how to choose a wetsuit. Today we'll cover guidelines for choosing weights. These numbers aren't set in stone, but should act as a general guide to start your proper buoyancy check. This is the first step towards perfect buoyancy control.

Naturally, if you are leaner or, um, less leaner you should adjust accordingly.

Women should add 4-5 lbs (about 2 kg) if diving in salt water, or subtract 4-5 lbs (about 2 kg) if diving in fresh water. Men should add 6-7 lbs (about 3 kg) if diving in salt water, or subtract 6-7 lbs …

Fish Identification: Sand Diver

[Sand Diver][]
Sand divers are an interesting fish. While they can be thought of as a reef fish, you are more likely to see them beside the reef than actually on it.

Physical description

Sand divers are in the lizardfish family and share most of the same characteristics. They have longer, cylindrical shaped bodies. They range in size from 4 - 14 in (10 - 35 cm), although you may occasionally see a larger one.

Their heads resemble that of a lizard, with a wide mouth and prominent eyes. They have a fanned dorsal fin on the middle of their back, and two pectoral …

What Wetsuit Suit Do I Wear?

It's hard to decide what exposure suit to wear. Here's a guide to help in the process, which I'll walk you through using.

To begin, find out the temperature range for the water you'll be diving in. Let's pretend I'll be diving in water that is 72-75 degrees fahrenheit. Next, we'll modify this range based on several factors:

  • Depth - Deeper water tends to be colder, so if this is a deep dive (around 30m / 100 ft), consider subtracting about 5 degrees from your temperature range. In my example, I'll be diving normal depths around 20m / 60ft, so the range remains …

Visibility for Scuba Diving

Visibility is one of the most subjective aspects of diving. Ask 10 people after a dive what they think the visibility was, and you'll get 9 different answers. The last person will spend a half hour trying to guess.


People generally suck at estimating visibility ("viz"). Why is that? I think it comes down to a lack of common definition. I will attempt to define visibility in concrete terms.

The best place to start for this sort of thing is the dictionary. Webster's defines visibility as

The distance at which something can be seen.

We're getting closer, but what …

Bonaire Shore Diving Made Easy

Bonaire Shore Diving Made Easy
I'm going back to Bonaire in a few weeks to complete my PADI divemaster training. Along with all my gear, one thing I'll be taking is the book Bonaire Shore Diving Made Easy (BSDME).

BSDME is a small book describing 75 dive sites in Bonaire. Officially, there are 63 dive sites in Bonaire (not counting Klein), so the book more than adequately covers most diving spots. In particular, it shares the easiest entry and exit points. This can be a huge time saver for shore dives, where rocks and waves make entry and exit challenging.

BSDME also gives a brief …