What Are Some Challenges of Scuba Diving?

What Are Some Challenges of Scuba Diving?

Scuba divers will face challenges from time to time, these may include diving-related injuries, underwater techniques such as buoyancy and equalizing, or something as simple as general fear. 

OK, so you are ready to take the plunge, but you are worried about what challenges you may face scuba diving….

While scuba diving is not considered an extreme sport, there are a few challenges you may face as a diver, even if you are a diver pro. It is important to familiarise yourself with those challenges, so you are prepared, in the unlikely event you or your dive buddy experiences them.

To look at possible challenges when Scuba Diving, we will cover the following points in this article:

  • Diving Injuries
  • Running Out Of Air
  • Equalizing 
  • Mask Clearing 
  • Buoyancy 
  • Dangerous Marine Life
  • Equipment Malfunctions
  • Entrapment & Entanglement 
  • Getting Separated/Lost During A Dive
  • Diving In Currents 
  • Fear & Anxiety 

Diving Injuries

There are diving injuries that you need to be familiar with, especially if you have any medical conditions. If you have a history of medical conditions, diving injuries could be the biggest challenge you will face underwater.

You should always practice safe diving to prevent any diving injuries. 

Sometimes diving conditions can quickly change underwater, and divers can experience the following:

  • Hypothermia
  • Decompression Sickness
  • Nitrogen Narcosis
  • Barotrauma
  • Oxygen Toxicity
  • Air-gas Embolism

Check out our article on Scuba Diving related accidents to find out more on the above!

Running Out of Air

Running out of air while scuba diving is a common risk for beginner divers and divers that lack training. It may also happen if you experience an equipment failure and unexpected exertion. 

There is no worse feeling than breathing in that last drag of air through your regulator… 

The most important thing to remember in this situation is to not panic!

You never want to be that person, scrambling around to grab your dive buddies’ octopus to take in a big, deep breath of relief.

You need to be aware of how much air you breathe on a dive, how to calculate limits, how to monitor your air supply and know when it is the right time to ascend with enough air in your scuba tank

To prevent running out of air, frequently check your SPG throughout your dive and communicate with your buddy or dive guide via a hand signal when you get to ¼ of your tank left – this is when you should start to think about your safety stop. 


Equalizing can be natural for some divers, or it can be a challenge when Scuba Diving. Understanding the reasons why you must equalise and the best technique for you is critical to avoiding scuba diving injuries.

Equalizing is one of the first skills you learn when Scuba Diving. It is a vital skill to master to prevent injuries such as barotrauma or a reverse squeeze, however, even I remember the struggles of equalizing for the first time! 

But have no fear, equalising just takes practice, and in no time, you will be able to overcome this challenge. 

Here are some top tips for easy equalisation!

  1. Take your time to master the skill.
  2. Always ascend and descend slowly.
  3. If you are having issues with your ears, do not continue your descent. 

Mask Clearing 

Another challenge scuba divers face is mask clearing, and while the skill may look simple, many beginners underestimate how difficult it can be the first time.

Mask clearing is another basic skill you learn during the Open Water Course. It can be a challenge at first because let’s face it, no one likes to get water in their eyes, especially saltwater!

Remember, if you wear contact lenses, close your eyes when clearing your mask to prevent any water from dislodging your lenses.

Mastering how to clear your scuba mask may be frightening at first, but once you repeat the skill, it becomes second nature in scuba diving. 

Feeling confident when needing to clear your mask is important to prevent panic, plus it is super handy when a small trickle of water enters your mask, or you need to clear it because you forgot to defog or spit in your scuba mask before you jumped into the water. 


Buoyancy is challenging at the beginning, but when you get the ‘knack’ of it and know how many weights you need during the dive, you will move effortlessly underwater!

Buoyancy relates to how you manoeuvre your body efficiently underwater. This is not only critical to avoid overexertion injuries and damaging marine life, but it also makes your scuba diving experience more enjoyable. 

Many scuba divers take time to master buoyancy because it is a challenge, but once you understand the concept and build your confidence underwater, buoyancy will start to become more natural. 

To maintain your buoyancy underwater, you also need the right amount of weight. 

Over time, you will be more aware of how many weights you require to stay neutrally buoyant underwater, depending on what exposure suit/wetsuit you are wearing.

Dangerous Marine Life

Some marine life can be dangerous, and if you get too close or block their path, you can be faced with challenges such as injuring yourself, the marine life, or the surroundings. 

The reason you learnt to scuba dive was to see all the amazing marine life, right? If so, you’ll agree that it needs protecting!

Most marine life is not harmful or dangerous, but some can be unpredictable when they feel threatened. Let’s take the titan triggerfish as an example.

I remember diving in Bali and seeing these beautiful fish. Little did I know I was swimming over its mating nest, and no one had explained it was mating season… Well, I soon found out that these fish are fairly protective parents and out of nowhere this titan triggerfish just launched itself at me. 

Remember that you are diving in their home, so some marine life can be unpredictable. Always pay attention to your surroundings at all times, not only to protect yourself from potential dangers, but also to protect the coral reef ecosystem. 

Please remember…NEVER touch anything underwater and never get too close to marine life – this part of diver etiquette.

Equipment Malfunctions

Specialised equipment allows us to go scuba diving, and defective scuba gear is another risk that may challenge you one day. 

To scuba dive, you need scuba equipment and scuba equipment that is safe. Common issues with diving gear failures involve O-ring ruptures, regulator malfunctions, and jamming of your tank cylinder valve. 

To prevent any equipment malfunctions, always inspect your equipment before heading out and if you have your own dive gear, look after it properly and remember to get it serviced. 

If you ever suspect there is an issue with your dive gear, ask the diving shop to borrow rental equipment – you will thank me later!

Entrapment & Entanglement 

Depending on where you are Scuba Diving, entrapment and entanglement may be a challenge you will get caught up in (pun intended!). Never dive alone, and carry a dive knife.

The Divers Alert Network (DAN) reported that 20% of fatal scuba diving accidents are from entrapment and entanglement. 

When diving in caves, wrecks, or areas with lots of vegetation, you should never dive alone and carry a scuba knife on you, just in case you face an entanglement issue. 

Getting Separated/Lost 

Getting lost or separated from your buddy or group can be a very scary feeling. It may have happened because you wandered off to look at something epic, or because of a sudden change in currents. 

Always be prepared for this particular challenge by getting yourself a compass, whistle, and surface marker buoy (SMB).

Do you remember that boat briefing where your dive guide said “If you ever get lost, search around for one minute, and if you see no bubbles or other divers, start ascending and signal the boat on the surface”. 

Getting lost or separated from the group when scuba diving can be scary, especially if you do not know the dive site. 

If your dive guide skipped the getting lost ‘pep talk’ then ask them or the captain what the procedure is if you get separated.

Remember to always remain close to your group or dive buddy, and have a plan of action drawn in your head, should getting separated/lost happen.

If you are unsure, do not worry, I have you sorted, because this was a challenge my friend faced last year!

My good friend, who is a diving instructor, tagged along for a dive with some friends. She experienced some current but managed to keep up until the current changed directions between her and the dive group, and she got separated. 

She looked around in the hope of some bubbles or the tip of a scuba fin and used her tank banger to make a noise signal. She wasn’t in luck, and so she started to shallow up very slowly, following her dive computer as a reference. 

Luckily my friend had her SMB and whistle handy, so when she reached the surface, she was able to signal the boat to pick her up. 

She always tells me that even though she is an instructor, being separated from the group is a challenge and that if it were to happen to another diver, they must remain calm and focus on their safety.

Diving in Currents 

The ocean can be unpredictable at times, and currents can make your dive more challenging than normal. Unfortunately, Ocean currents are one challenge we have no power over.

Overpowering currents can be some of the most physically demanding challenges when scuba diving. Strong currents can cause air depletion, increased gas loading, overexertion, and other diving injuries. 

When diving in strong currents or joining an epic drift dive site, you need to have a good understanding of how currents work, and what equipment you should take. Let me just say, a reef hook will be your best friend!

Fear & Anxiety 

Sometimes challenges do not have to be physical, but rather psychological, one you are probably already familiar with – fear. 

Fear while scuba diving is normal, and once you understand why these mental barriers appear, it will help you overcome the challenges that come with them. 

We have all been there, and while it may not have been underwater, at some point in your life you will or would have experienced fear and/or anxiety. 

The first time you go scuba diving, it can be overwhelming, and that sense of fear is normal. Sometimes the challenges come from mental barriers that are triggered by phobias that you were not aware of before you went scuba diving. 

There are two main phobias when scuba diving: claustrophobia and agoraphobia. 

Claustrophobia is the fear of small spaces, which can make scuba diving in wrecks, caves, carvers, and diving under ice a challenge. 

Agoraphobia is the opposite, it is the fear of wide-open spaces, such as the ocean, which can be triggered if you are diving in a secluded area or out in the blue. 

These phobias can cause fear, anxiety, and panic, which can be dangerous underwater. If you know you suffer from these phobias, let your dive buddy or guide know before going diving. 

Don’t Forget Your Dive Insurance!

Before you go out on any dive trip or holiday, it is essential to make sure you have insurance that covers you if something goes wrong. Check out our dive insurance article for more information.

Or go straight to these dive insurance company websites:


Diver Alert Network (DAN)

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Final Thoughts

Scuba diving is an exciting sport, but as with most sports, you will be faced with some challenges. 

Being aware of some challenges of scuba diving will make you a better diver, and more prepared should something happen.

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Darby Bonner

Darby is a marine biologist and PADI scuba diving instructor from the UK. With over ten years of diving experience, she has visited some of the best dive destinations in the world. Currently, Darby is living in Bali, Indonesia and regularly dives at some of the most beautiful dive sites in the Indian Ocean. Her passion for the ocean led her to study seals, publish a paper, and become a marine mammal medic. In the future, she hopes to complete her master’s in marine science, and of course, continue her love for teaching and diving!

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