Diving and Snorkelling
Recreational diving and snorkelling are popular activities across Australia, in both independent and commercial settings. Safety requirements for both snorkelling and diving include adequate physical and medical fitness, swimming competence, and confidence in the water.

Diving typically involves breathing using underwater breathing apparatus that is usually self-contained (scuba) but can be from a source at the surface (eg, a hookah). Many tourist operators offer diving from a boat, or you can dive independently (although you should always dive with a buddy) if you have a diving certification.

Snorkelling is swimming with the aid of a mask and snorkel and, often, fins. You don’t need a certification for snorkelling, but some orientation and/or training is recommended.

Due to increases in diving and snorkelling-related deaths over the past decade, diving and snorkelling are a national focus for water safety.

Most diving-related drowning deaths occur in offshore waters while snorkelling-related deaths often occur at coastal beaches.

Risk Factors

  • Poor medical fitness, especially age-related cardiac issues, and obesity
  • Poor planning and failure to follow safety instructions
  • Poor skills and inexperience, or lack of recent experience
  • Lack of familiarity with equipment or use of inappropriate or faulty equipment
  • Anxiety and low levels of confidence – due to being unfamiliar with the location, equipment, disorientation resulting from poor conditions
  • Hypoxic blackout from extended breathholding in snorkellers
Drowning deaths while diving and snorkelling from 2009 to 2019
Drowning deaths
Of deaths occurred in ocean/harbour, beach or rock locations
Of people had a pre-existing medical condition
Of people were aged between 30 and 64 years

How to stay safe

Before diving or snorkelling

  • Consider getting a medical check prior to diving (preferably by specialist diving doctor). This is strongly advised for people aged 45 years and over and for anyone with a medical condition, such as high blood pressure, a heart or respiratory condition, a neurological condition (eg, epilepsy), or ear or sinus problems
  • Choose appropriate and functional equipment that fits correctly and get used to wearing it
  • Equipment should be regularly checked and maintained
  • Be familiar with any local diving guidelines or regulations

On the day

  • Ensure you are feeling well enough for diving (and free from the effects of alcohol or drugs)
  • Check the weather forecast, current weather, and water conditions before you go
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you will be back
  • Always go with others and stick to the buddy system
  • Ensure you are well but not over hydrated

When you get to the location

  • Look for and read any safety signs
  • Ask locals for advice about the conditions and potential hazards
  • Spend some time observing the water conditions before diving or snorkelling
  • Always take a form of communication (eg, a mobile phone) but be aware that some remote locations have no mobile phone reception
  • Always use a buddy system
  • In an emergency, dial Triple Zero or 112 to get help

Further information

See the Divers Alert Network of the Australasian Diving Safety Foundation for diving specific information including safety resources

Know before you go: dive planning fact sheet

How to stay safe underwater
Find Out More