Covid and Diving

Divers completing the dive log
Divers filing in the dive log, wearing masks (July 2020).

We don’t know all of the answers, but here is the information that we have collated for you:

(Last updated 15th August 2021)

Covid-19 is caused by a virus transmitted in droplets from the mouth, throat, and airways. Some people don’t get any symptoms but if you have had a fever, shortness of breath, lost your sense of smell or taste, and had a cough or a flu-like illness in the past 12 months, there is a good chance you have had the infection.

Since its emergence in November 2019, Covid has spread around the world, impacting people’s health and mental wellbeing, global economies, and periodically closing your local dive shop. Our understanding of the disease is still very rudimentary but is gradually advancing. Covid-19: what divers need to understand gave a very thorough overview of the virus and its implications for divers. Scuba have produced an interesting article about COVID-19 and diving. To access it click HERE.

Please note that BSAC have now updated their diver medical form with a question about your exposure to COVID-19. You can fill in the form online or as a PDF by clicking the button below.

If you have had covid…

The few studies thus far show people who need to go to the hospital and have oxygen are more likely to have serious inflammation and residual scarring in their lungs. There have been previous studies in viruses similar to Covid showing that most recover quickly, but some people have shortness of breath, fatigue, and decreased lung function up to two years after infection.

It is this damage to the lungs that diving medical practitioners are most worried about when thinking about your safety when diving, as lung damage can lead to trapped gas and risk of pneumothorax or decrease your ability to get gas in and out of your blood while exercising.

There could also be other lasting effects of the virus, such as damage to the heart or fatigue that can be very disabling and is increasingly being called ‘Long Covid’ — a quick internet search will give you some people’s Long Covid stories that may resonate with you. These problems are all much more likely if you needed some time in intensive care.

Diving after covid….

The UK Diving Medical Committee, a team of experienced diving doctors, has come up with some guidance for you and your local dive doctor to follow. If you have had Covid and didn’t need to go to the hospital, it’s still a good idea to take some time out of the water while your lungs and body recover — at least one month off diving and if you still don’t feel back to 100%, to give it longer. If you were admitted to the hospital, we currently advise up to a year out of the water.

If you answer yes to the question on covid-19 on the BSAC updated diver medical form, then you must fill in pages 2 and 3 of the form too (download button above). For information, a COVID-19 score card has also been produced, it can be used determine if you need to take further actions (medical consultation/tests) prior to diving. The score card can be found HERE.

Generally speaking though, once you feel good to go, it’s important to see a diving doctor before getting back to diving, especially if you were symptomatic or admitted to the hospital. If there is any residual scarring in your lungs it could lead to an injury to your lungs during pressure changes underwater. The last thing anyone wants is another trip to A&E instead of the pub after their long-awaited return to the ocean. The dive doctor will likely want to do some exercise tests while checking the oxygen levels in your blood, and spirometry, a test where you blow into a tube that measures how much gas your lungs can hold and how quickly it can be released.

These tests are designed to check if there is any lasting damage to the lungs and to keep you safe underwater. Do remember after a period out of the water it’s worth easing your way back into diving. The other safety aspects of the sport still apply, so try to get back to your baseline fitness after all these months of lockdown before any demanding dives — head to BSAC’s preparation for a return to diving section for more information.