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 18th April 2022)

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 since April 2020, 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 gradually advancing. Back in 2020 the article Covid-19: what divers need to understand gave a very thorough overview of what was known about the virus, at the time, and its implications for divers. Scuba Magazine also produced an interesting article about COVID-19 and diving. To access it click HERE.

Please note that in February 2022, BSAC have updated their diver medical form, with a question about your exposure to COVID-19 as well as a tabulated score card to determine how quickly you can return to diving, and if you need a medical referee sign off too. You can download the form 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 answer yes to the question on covid-19 on the BSAC updated diver medical form, then you must read through the Guidance on Return to Recreational Diving After COVID-19 – Revision 1, which is found as page 4 of the PDF linked to the download button above. This page provides two tables. Personally it makes more sense to complete Table 2 first, to work out your “score”. Then based on the score from Table 2, you can then align this with how severe your COVID-19 infection was, and work out which category you fit in to. The category denoted in Table 1 will define if you can just return to diving after 1 month with no need for a medical, or if you need an assessment by a UKDMC medical referee before safely resuming diving.

If you do need to see a medical referee, they may run tests designed to check if there is any lasting damage to the lungs and to keep you safe underwater. But for everyone, 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.