What you need to know about COVID-19 and Diving.

There’s no social distancing underwater

01 June 2020

By Danel Wentzel

If there has been one thing that has defined 2020 for those that populate planet Earth, is the COVID-19 pandemic. It has completely changed the way we live and socialise but you may be wondering will it change the way we dive?

The Virus and the Disease

SARS-COV-2 is the name of the respiratory virus that is responsible for the infectious disease COVID-19. The virus itself is enveloped (protected by an oily lipid layer) when outside of its host which enables it to survive.

The virus belongs to a family of viruses called Coronaviruses and is a new strain of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-COV-1) that resulted in the 2003 epidemic in Asia. [1]

SARS-COV-2 Virus | CDC | COVID-19 and Diving

The enveloped virus is detectable in aerosols (like in the air after a sneeze) for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel (van Doremalen et al., 2020).

Ongoing Studies

There is very little data on COVID-19 and much of it is preliminary. Scientists tend to provide data reports on related viruses that are harder to kill as an act of extra-level of precaution while the virus-specific studies are still ongoing.

This extra level of precaution or conservatism should be a familiar approach to divers. We practice precaution while diving to stay within the no decompression limits but remain aware that these limits are defined only by theoretical models and therefore adding an extra level of conservatism is needed when planning our dives.

Safety Precautions

Countries all over the world have implemented protocols into their societies in order to lower the level of risk of infection. These protocols include things like social distancing, lockdown procedures, travel restrictions, mandatory disinfection by businesses and closing of public spaces. These protocols enforced on a government and municipality level will apply to your local dive centres, shops and clubs.

PADI has hosted a Webinar on the topic of COVID-19 and its impact on the diving industry. The concerns they talked about where in most cases an obvious precaution that should by now be a habit for most people. PADI has made an infographic available that lists 8 simple COVID-19 risk reduction steps for divers. These steps include:

8 Simple COVID-19 Risk Reduction Steps for Divers

  • Social distancing within the dive centre, on the boat and at the surface. Due to the minimum space on boats and classrooms, reduced ratios may have to be considered.

  • Sanitise hands before and after touching any dive gear.

  • Due to the high levels of alcohol in hand sanitisers, operation of compressors and cylinders should be done with dried hands (high risk of fire).

  • Keeping your diving mask on and your regulator in your mouth greatly reduces the risk of transmission.

  • Alternate air sources and their mouth pieces should be test purged only during pre-dive checks.

  • Use defog and be mindful of others around you when clearing out your mask.

  • Wash and Sanitise your hands after touching high-contact surfaces such as railings, cylinders and rental gear.

Image found on PADI Pros.com

New Health Declaration Form

Divers Alert Network (DAN) has created a COVID-19 health declaration form that dive centres and instructors can use to compliment the required RSTC Medical. After any severe respiratory illness, an individual evaluation by a medical professional, ideally one that specialises in diving medicine, is required.

SARS-COV-2 targets the walls of the alveoli of your lungs, disrupting gas exchange and causing hypoxemia (lack of oxygen in the body). The common symptoms of the virus are coughing, difficulty breathing, fever and headaches. A person that is declared fit to dive must show zero problems related to breathing especially under stressful conditions, like those that can occur while diving.

Breathing from a regulator underwater already requires a slight increase in effort as does breathing normally at the surface. Breathing is the most important factor of diving (since humans have yet to evolve a pair of gills) and the more difficult breathing becomes the higher risk of a diving accident.

In a Seashell

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we interact with our environment and with the people around us. Protocols have been implemented in order to reduce the risk of disease transmission with added levels of precaution as there is only preliminary data relating to this new strain of coronavirus.

As divers, we have been using conservative practices in diving already and this conservatism must now be implemented not only in the water but on the surface and within our dive centres. Everyone needs to undergo a medical evaluation before starting a diving course, the responsibility is yours to ensure that you are fit and healthy to dive before jumping back in the water.

But once we have followed the local protocols, and all the safety precautions, once we have applied the hand sanitisers and the defog spray, we can roll back and enjoy the underwater world just as before. And this time we are going to be closer to our buddies than ever before.

Trusted Sources


  • [1] National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 2020. Coronaviruses. [online] Available at: <https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/coronaviruses> [Accessed 4 June 2020].

  • van Doremalen, N., Bushmaker, T., Morris, D., Holbrook, M., Gamble, A., Williamson, B., Tamin, A., Harcourt, J., Thornburg, N., Gerber, S., Lloyd-Smith, J., de Wit, E. and Munster, V., 2020. Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. New England Journal of Medicine, 382(16), pp.1564-1567.