Dockwalk - Too Big to Dive? Untitled Page

Too Big to Dive?

Jun 22nd 10
By Erica Lay, PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer

Lots of people carry around a few extra kilos, but what do you do if the charter guest or the owner is obese and wants to dive...and they want you to take them?


Scuba diving does not have a maximum weight limit. However, it is a sport and most sports requires a certain level of fitness to participate. Every active diver should undergo a medical examination once a year to demonstrate physical compliance.

Being a bit chubby is not the issue here. Obesity, however, can pose danger as it often goes hand in hand with heart problems, high blood pressure and diabetes, all of which require a doctor’s approval to dive. When diving with a Scuba Centre, a medical form usually will be filled out as part of the guest registration process.

Diving on a yacht is a little bit different. If a charter vessel offers dive activities, a medical questionnaire should be an item that the charter team insists on as part of the pre-trip paperwork. The vessel instructor/divemaster should keep a copy of this for his/her records and dive logs.

It’s a bit trickier for crew on private vessels when asking the boss to fill out and sign a medical questionnaire. If the yacht has a manager, enlist him/her to help and if not, ask the captain. Keep in mind: insurance policies on vessels offering diving facilities may stipulate that all divers (certified or otherwise) must provide a medical certificate or the policy is null and void.

There are many heavy divers who’ve been diving for several years and know their limits and abilities. A good instructor helps them to enjoy the sport, whilst being aware of any risks. A diver responsible for taking other certified divers out will first speak with them to establish experience and comfort levels.

People with a larger body mass tend to use air quicker. This is not always true as a seasoned larger diver may be better at air consumption than a thinner, less-experienced diver; this changes person to person. The simple science is: obese divers have to move themselves through the water and the bigger the body, the more drag created therefore the more energy required thus more air consumed. It is best to take an obese diver shallow on the first dive to keep an eye on their gauges and see how they cope.

Hyperthermia (overheating) can be a problem for obese divers, especially when the weather´s warm but the water is cooler. Instruct divers not put their wetsuits on until the last moment and carry out briefings in the shade and ensure no one will overheat.

When saturated, body fat can store five times as much nitrogen as water, however, fat tends to have a poor blood supply, so obese divers are no more or less likely to experience Decompression Sickness (DCS). Keep in mind however: if the diver is doing several dives over a short period of time or diving at altitude then the risk factor greatly increases.

Be wary of surface swims and check the currents before diving using a weighted line. Even the fittest divers can struggle in strong currents, so err on the side of caution. Any diver could become stressed if their limits are pushed and that is when things go wrong.

An obese diver is more buoyant than the average diver and therefore, s/he needs a substantial amount of weight to sink and achieve neutral buoyancy. John, a dive instructor in The Bahamas says finding the right weight system is important, “I’ve had to put two long weight belts together to make one large enough to fit round someone; it’s not ideal and it’s very uncomfortable for the wearer! I recommend buoyancy compensators, BCDs, with integrated weight systems. We can load up the BCD and put on a weight belt.”

Weight belts can be obscured by bellies, but weight pockets are easier to ditch in an underwater emergency. Carrying all that lead around the middle will affect the diver´s trim (position in the water); spreading the weight out can help. Also try steel tanks instead of aluminium to help the weight distribution.

There are lots of tricks to ensure diver feel secure and relaxed, which will of course allow them to enjoy the dive. At the end of the day you can’t tell a guest s/he can’t dive because s/he’s fat – if his/her doctor approves, it is your jobs to ensure the dive is as stress-free as possible. Always keep in mind the risks, use common sense and have fun.


Related Topics:

Med Diving Hot Spots

Maintaining Your Dive Gear

Be Aware: The perils of scuba diving 


Rating  Average 3.5 out of 5

  • As an obese diver I can tell you from personal experience:
    First I have no heart or any other health issues. My weight is due solely to lack of exercise and poor diet. (I live in front of a computer.)
    The one other problem due to being sedentary is having very little physical strength.
    Problems I have encountered:
    In Maine where I have to wear a wetsuit I have to get into the water quickly or the heat will sap my strength I solve this by laying all my gear except my wetsuit at the waters edge (on a boat this poses no problem). The gear is already set so that I can don it quickly. Once in the water the heat is no longer a problem and my strength returns almost instantly.
    In Florida where I dive with out a suit the only problem I have ever had was when the waves kicked up and the ladder was flopping all over the place. When it struck the bottom of my foot it caused it to cramp.

    The other issue would be that if I have to swim on the surface for any distance say 100 yards or more I tire and heat up quickly.

    I also would have problems on a dive where I had to swim into a current. Not only does my increased size provide more surface area for the water to get a grip on but I simply don't have the strength and stamina to fight it for long.

    I HAVE run into equipment issues. Just today my custom wetsuit came in. The suit fit fine but the cummerbund on my BC will not reach around to connect. Also I have to wear a suspenders style weight belt as I have no waist to hold a standard weight belt in place.

    These are issues I have experienced in over 30 years of occasional diving.

    I have experienced them rarely and have always overcome them.

    I would hate to see people refused the chance to dive because of their weight. There is very little out there that can enjoy and diving with only a little extra help is one of the greatest. ANYTHING that can get people out and moving will help them be healthier and happier.
    Posted by Cerebral_Origami 04/07/2010 16:24:35

  • Kapt_mark, love your comment!! I was responsible for a group of wheel chair bound divers on one particular week in the Bahamas, and they were fantastic divers. I worked alongside their own instructors and it was an elightening and uplifting experience.
    Posted by Erica_1 30/06/2010 19:30:46

  • Hi Henning, a very valid point. Access and egress from the water is a very important point. If the owner of the vessel is a larger person then hopefully s/he will have had the tender or back platforms designed/adapted to enable them to get in and out of the water in the easiest fashion. If not, then you're right - the instructor has to try and help as much as possible, so perhaps suggest a seated entry, make it easier on the diver. Or putting gear on (and taking it off) in the water. There are lots of ways to help out here, if they can get in and out of the water to swim normally then they can pass their weights and gear up first and climb out ok unaided.
    Posted by Erica_1 30/06/2010 19:29:09

  • Stevenpete - if you're a PADI instructor then you should have full access to the PADI pros area on the website. You can contact your local course director for guidance and advice here too; being a US based company, PADI have great legal teams and do everything they can to mitigate risks associated with teaching/guiding divers, so they can provide you with the standard template for this questionnaire. I hope that helps!
    Posted by Erica_1 30/06/2010 19:25:31

  • And where can we find one of those "proper questionaires?"
    Posted by stevenpete 24/06/2010 17:24:28

  • Hello my name is John Nittolo I am a personal trainer I have trained and prep students for their scuba license. There are some potential problems which should be addressed before you enter a scuba diving program. Being overweight has more to do with equipment sizing than they do with body size. Large students have to use belt extenders to permit the largest size to fit the student. If you would like to know more about my fitness program and how it can help you can call me at 954-548-2578
    Posted by The Sports Edge 24/06/2010 04:13:15

  • Don't forget about getting them in and out of the water. They are much more likely to get injured on the boarding ladder than the dive. Make sure the equipment is made to take the stress of their weight. Nothing ruins a charter like a broken or gashed guest.
    Posted by Henning_1 23/06/2010 12:52:21

  • Follow your gut instincts! There is a suitable dive site somewhere to suit any ability. I have taken paralysed, amputees and morbidly obese people diving with out problem. I remember one morbidly obese woman I took on a try dive in St. Thomas, I had to link 2 extra large weight belts together and thread them through her BCD to secure it in place as the XXL waist band was too small. She did fine in pool like conditions, however her swim suit kept getting dislodged which was not pretty. I had no idea that bearded clams were to be found at that dive site! Fast current drift diving in Fiji is not where you would normally take two amputee divers in their mid seventies, both missing a leg, but they did just fine under our watchful eyes.
    Posted by a.y. achtie 23/06/2010 10:36:36

  • Stick to the rules and regs. Don´t be afraid of asking anyone owner or guest to fill out a proper questionaire. NEVER do dives with persons who don´t have the correct qualifications regardless of their experience or said abilities. At the end of the day, the insurance company will come for YOU if it was YOU who poohooed the rules and guidelines. I never go diving or even offer diving as an onboard facility, even though I am qualified to do so. The owner doesn´t dive. If I have a request for such, I offer a rendezvous diving service with fully qualified and equipped companies, most places we go, there are enough of them to choose from.Leave the decision to the dive company whether they want to take that person diving, after all, that is their business, not mine! At the end of the day, sometimes a decision is such that not everyone can do everything they want to and that may just preclude some obese people from diving or any other potentially dangerous sport. I do have 2 sets of equipment onboard for the removal of ropes etc around props, nothing more.
    For me, it is like Jet Skis, no license, no go.
    Capt Kaj
    Posted by Capt Kaj 23/06/2010 10:07:36

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