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Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Hand Protection for Scuba Divers

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A scuba diver by a shipwreck.I was contacted for advice recently by a scuba diver who had sustained a sting on her fingers after being required to hold onto a rope underwater. She and her fellow divers were caught in rough waters, and needed to hang on to a rope suspended into the water by the dive boat crew. Worse yet, they needed to hold the rope for approximately fice minutes to allow adequate decompression time while ascending from the dive. Hanging onto a rope underwater is not particularly unusual or unexpected, because this technique is often used to provide a “safety stop” for divers so that they can complete their dives without incident.

However, the problematic part was that, as is common practice for many dive masters and resort instructors these days, the trip leaders directed the divers to not wear gloves while diving. These orders were given presumably because of the belief that if divers do not wear gloves, they will be less likely to touch anything underwater, and thereby preserve the marine life. Protecting underwater habitats is a worthy endeavor, and every attempt should be made to conserve this precious environment. However, from a safety standpoint, not wearing gloves underwater makes no sense, and can be a dangerous recommendation.

The fact is that there are numerous circumstances where hand contact with sharp-edged barnacle-encrusted rope or anchor line cannot be avoided. If a rope is covered with stinging creatures, which may take up residence upon the fibers of the rope, they will fire their stinging apparatus into the skin of the person who touches them. A diver caught in a surge or current may need to grab onto something, even momentarily, to prevent being swept away or to maintain a safe position in the water. In a rare circumstance, a diver underwater may need to move stinging jellyfishes or plant-like living creatures out of the way to create a safe path.

With no exception, I highly recommend that all divers wear gloves while diving underwater. Wearing gloves does not give someone license to abuse the reef. The logic is not there. Advising a diver to not wear gloves in order to encourage him or her to keep their hands off the marine life is like telling a person driving a car to not wear a seatbelt to encourage safe driving. It doesn’t work. Moreover, it exposes the person to unnecessary risk. Stinger suits help to prevent stings on the head, neck, and torso. If you don’t wish to be stung on your hands and feet, then cover them up.

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Tags: In the Water

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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