5 Reasons to Use Checklists in Scuba Diving

We’ve all had the experience of being halfway to the dive site and realising that you’ve forgotten something that you can’t dive without, be it your computer or even your fins. In any case, asking the boat captain to turn around so that you can retrieve your forgotten item can not only be embarrassing and inconvenient, but also stressful, especially if your fellow divers are less than impressed with your mistake.

Being a self-proclaimed perfectionist, checklists are something I like to utilise on a regular basis; I use them for shopping, organising my daily tasks and my work schedule. We use checklists in diving for the same reasons they are used elsewhere – they ensure we don’t forget things! It may seem pretty self-explanatory, but there are many different types and ways to use them to your advantage.

Types of Checklists

  1. Pre-dive checklist
    • Yes, technically the B.W.R.A.F. buddy check you learned in your open water course is a checklist! Instead of trying to memorise everything, having a physical list ensures nothing will be missed.
  2. Equipment checklist
    • Your dive boots and hood may not be included on the average buddy check, so having a full list of equipment that you need will turn out very useful when packing!
  3. Skills checklists
    • Practicing and improving skills such as SMB deployment or air sharing is essential to dive safety, and all instructors use these lists to remember what skills their students need to perform, so there’s no reason why you can’t do the same.
  4. Paperwork
    • Every dive trip must be commenced with the dreaded ten minutes of registration and paperwork. Making sure you bring your completed medical forms and insurance cards saves you the trouble of a last minute trip to the dive doctor and the hassle of searching through emails for insurance info.
  5. Dive mission
    • Something often forgotten until just before the dive, a mission or goal is common amongst most divers. You might want to find a very specific nudibranch for a photo or perhaps visit a certain viewpoint on a wreck – either way, having a mission means discussing it with your guide and dive buddies to make sure you’re all in it together.

Why use Checklists?

  1. Remembering each item
    • The most obvious reason for using a checklist, which tends to be overlooked perhaps because it’s so obvious. Even the most experienced of divers can forget things that they use on every dive. Having a checklist when you’re packing for your dive holiday can make sure you won’t need to borrow from a friend or rent from the dive centre.
  2. Sequencing
    • For skills and pre-dive buddy checks, sequencing is very important. If you find you can get distracted before a dive, sequencing your checklist in a way that makes sense and makes it easier to remember can shave off those precious moments where you’d rather be enjoying the view or setting up your camera.
  3. Standardisation
    • Sequencing is really a kind of standardisation, and having a set standard helps reduce the chance of mistakes, and helps make the whole process become second nature over time.
  4. Verification
    • Team work is something that isn’t always emphasised enough in many scuba diving courses, but it is a key part of risk management and safety. Completing your checklists with a dive guide or dive buddy means they can help prevent you from becoming complacent, and also makes sure that he/she doesn’t forget anything either. Since you both rely on each other for safe diving, it makes sense that you will both need to work together for all the pre-dive checks.
  5. Reduce stress
    • Stress increases the hormone cortisol in your blood, which will often have negative effects on your spatial memory, inevitably leading to mistakes. Having a routine with set checklists reduces the task-loading effects of having to remember everything in sequence, which in turn will lessen stress and leave you in a calmer and happier mood.

How to Make a Checklist

  1. Instructor/course manual
    • You might remember from your dive courses that your instructor had these handy lists that they referred to when doing their dive briefings or when teaching your skills. Refer back to your student manuals or get in touch with your instructor to ask for a copy of those checklists.
  2. Work as a team with your dive buddy
    • Since you should be planning and diving as a team, it makes sense to make your checklists with your dive buddy so that you can help each other, and also agree on what’s included beforehand.
  3. Ask for tips
    • Divers are a friendly bunch, and won’t hesitate to help you with giving advice or maybe even giving you a copy of their checklists, or tips on how to use them!
  4. Use previous mistakes
    • Perhaps the standard lists don’t include changing your nitrox blend on your dive computer, which is probably why so many divers forget to do so. Use your personal experience to make your checklist applicable to you.
  5. Update if necessary
    • It’s likely that you’ve bought new gear since you started diving, or that with experience you’ve discovered new mistakes to make – updating regularly keeps your trips running smoothly, and will likely make you the diving guru on the boat.

Pro Tips

  1. Digital vs. carbon copy
    • Almost everyone in the modern world has access to smartphones and tablets, and most of us haven’t written on paper in years, but decide whether you want to risk dead iPhone batteries or the inevitable water damage, or whether you want to make the extra effort of typing, printing and laminating your lists so that you don’t need to rely on a technology that often doesn’t mix with scuba diving.
  2. Use a slate/wetnotes
    • If you want access to your checklists on land and underwater, why not go the traditional route of an underwater notebook or slates? They are designed to be sturdy and to get wet – the bonus being that you can also use them to communicate with your buddies below the surface.
  3. Share in advance with fellow divers
    • The advantage of a digital copy, of course, is not only that it’s easy to update, but also so you can email it to your dive buddies pre-trip, and everyone can come well prepared and ready to dive.
  4. Review before your dive trip/the day before diving
    • Don’t make the amateur mistake of spending time to make your checklists but not actually using them! Mental preparation is just as important, and reviewing your checklists in advance is one of the crucial benefits of having them in the first place.
  5. Make your own acronym
    • If B.W.R.A.F. or S.T.A.R.T. doesn’t cover all the items you need to remember, then why not at least have a little fun and make up your own? The more creative you get, the more memorable they will be, and before you know it, other divers might be using your acronym for themselves.

Overall, checklists can only help your dive trip to run smoothly and safely, whilst ensuring you can spend the most time possible underwater, and the least time possible worrying that you may have forgotten something!

Perhaps you want to use checklists for every aspect of your trip, or just for the essential diving items, but if you found this article useful and you’d like to read more like this, let me know in the comments and please subscribe to my next blog!


Chi Felton is an advanced trimix and CCR instructor and co-founder of Oasis Explorers in Bunaken National Park, Indonesia. Originally from the UK, her family is spread over 7 different countries and 5 continents, which gave her the travel bug at a young age and inspired her to learn and appreciate different cultures. A born adventurer, she loves nothing more than discovering new places to hide from the outside world, which made a career in scuba diving the perfect choice.

Aside from teaching diving, she spends her working hours running a dive operation, servicing equipment and exploring new dive sites, and in her spare time she enjoys interacting with other divers via social networks and writing about her biggest passions – technical diving and environmental conservation.

Follow her story on social media, subscribe here or connect by email to learn more about upcoming trips and scuba diving courses.


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