To Underwrite Scuba Diving, Understand the Perils of the Deep

August 07, 2016| By Dr. Åsa Weber | Life | English

Recreational scuba diving is a popular sport. With millions of people diving around the world, it has become a common disclosure on life insurance applications. However, diving presents a challenge for risk assessment because diving activities can be quite diverse and some put participants at significant risk of harm.

While it is hard to eliminate all risk, diving organizations, such as the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), provide training to members regarding the dangers of scuba diving. Many dangers are predictable and divers are taught from the start how to mitigate or avoid emergency situations. A diver can run out of air, become disorientated or separated from diving companions, or ascend too fast, so diving is recommended to be performed in pairs, i.e. with a “dive buddy.”

Unfortunately, research into diving-related mortality is limited mainly due to a lack of a systematic collection of accident data. Current resources include annual incident reports from the PADI and the Diver’s Alert Network (DAN) that describe the circumstances of every accident and fatality reported to them.

The voluntary nature of the reporting system means that some deaths remain unrecorded. In nearly one-third of diving fatalities, the causal factors are unknown.1 Drowning doesn’t necessarily provide a link to the underlying trigger(s) of the accident.2

Divers who explore flooded caves, or go under ice, risk becoming trapped and these activities present significant hazards. Divers who dive alone have a 10 times higher fatality rate than those who dive with a dive buddy. An additional risk is the depth; diving below 40 metres more than triples the risk of a fatal accident. The equipment may also be a contributing factor; diving with closed-circuit rebreather devices increases the risk significantly.3 All these adverse risks merit special acceptance terms for life insurance.

Interestingly, most diving-related mortalities have a medical cause. Poor fitness, obesity, diabetes, hypertension and smoking, combined with environmental stressors experienced underwater – demanding exercise, pressure, extreme cold and emotional stress – may explain why heart disease is the main cause of diving-related death.4

However, despite scuba diving potentially presenting a headache for underwriters, the average mortality risk for regular scuba activity is low – ranging between 0.5 and 1.2 deaths per 100,000 dives.5 This means most healthy applicants for life cover who participate in ordinary recreational diving are accepted on normal terms, while individuals with higher risk profiles can be offered cover with appropriate adjustments.

  1. Denoble, P. J. et al. (2008). Common causes of open circuit recreational diving fatalities. Undersea Hyperbaric Medical Journal (UHM), 35(6), 393-406.
  2. Richardson, D. (2010). Training scuba divers: A fatality and risk analysis. DAN Diving Fatality Workshop 8-10 April, 2010.
  3. Cumming, B., Peddie, C., Watson, J. (2009). A review of the nature of diving in the UK and of diving fatalities in the period 1998-2009. British Sub-Aqua Club ( BSAC).
  4. Eichhorn, L. & Leyk, D. (2015). Diving Medicine in Clinical Practice. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, 112, 147–58. archive/article?id=168301 
    Smith, N. (1995). Scuba Diving: how high is the risk? Journal of Insurance Medicine, 27 (1).
  5. Ibid at Note 2 and 3.


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