A Simplistic View Of Dive Fatality Risk

by

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D.

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A number of years ago, I decided to increase the amount of life insurance I carried. This necessitated filling out a risk form. To my dismay, scuba diving was listed in the same category as professional stock car racing and Brahma bull riding. After my form was processed, the insurance company that I had been with for more than 20 years wanted to add an additional $400 per year surcharge for my diving activities.  

Since I had never ridden a bull, either above or below the surface of the water, I objected to the high-risk label. I called my insurance broker with the following argument. 

There are at most (since fatality statistics have been kept) about 150 fatalities per year in scuba diving in the US. Assume a worst case of 160 deaths.

No one knows for sure how many people dive. I have heard the people in scuba marketing suggest that 1 % of the US population were divers, so assume the diving population is about 2,668,481 people.

No one knows for sure how many dives each diver makes per year. A number of years ago, Skin Diver magazine stated the average diver dives 12 times per year. 

Putting these together: 

 

This is approximately 5  Deaths per 1, 000, 000 dives. This corresponds to a risk of 1 death per 200,000 dives.

Thus, the approximate risk of dying while scuba diving is 1 in 200,000  every time I enter the water. This, to me, is an acceptable risk! It also suggests to me that I possibly might be safer underwater than driving to the dive site. But then again, almost anything is safer than driving on American highways. 

Obviously, these numbers are “soft.” No one really knows the denominator … how many divers there are and how often each dives. I would hope that there are both more divers and more dives/ diver. In this case, the risk is even smaller. But the precise risk will most likely never be known. 

The above numerical argument, coupled with a statement of lifestyle (many aerobic activities, no smoking, a list of diving certifications, etc.) convinced my insurance agent to reconsider. He not only revoked the “diving is dangerous” surcharge, but also ended up giving me a  “preferred customer” rate.

Some insurance agencies will not accept these numbers. However, some are willing to consider this argument and evaluate divers on a case-by-case basis.  So, if you are branded a Brahma bull riding, stock car driving, bungee cord jumping, ultra-light piloting, death defying diver by your insurance company, try convincing them that their Hollywood impressions of our sport are not consistent with reality. You might get a break. I did! 

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About The Author: 

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D. is a biochemist and Diving Safety Coordinator at the University of Michigan. He has authored more than 100 scuba related articles. His personal dive library (See Alert Diver, Mar/Apr, 1997, p. 54) is considered one of the best recreational sources of information In North America.

Acknowledgement

Thanks to Mike Sellmer of Long Beach, California for checking my math!