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October 2005 Vol. 31, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Diving After Eating

from the October, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

During a British Royal Navy diving course, Lieutenant Paul McAulay, 27, choked on his own vomit 20 minutes after eating his evening meal. A British Royal Navy dive instructor has been charged with Lt. McAulay's death because he let McAulay free dive on a full stomach, in breach of safety rules.

The young officer, dressed in a dry suit, face mask and snorkel, was trying to retrieve a marker at a depth of 20 feet. Lt. McAulay twice attempted to reach the marker by holding his breath, before making the fatal third try. "The consequence of his exertions was that he vomited," claimed the prosecutor. "He inhaled the vomit into his windpipe and his upper airway and he struggled for breath." Lt. McAulay was unconscious in seconds, suffered a heart attack and sank to the bottom of the lake.

British Navy safety guidelines prohibit diving for two hours after a heavy meal. The trial was still in progress when Undercurrent went to press.

Joel Dovenbarger, Vice President of Medical Services for Divers Alert Network, told Undercurrent that the British navy fatality was unusual and that DAN is not aware of any U.S. recreational diving fatality caused by diving on a full stomach. Still, diving on a full stomach is common; plenty of resort dive boats leave right after lunch and many live-aboard divers, after feasting at a bountiful buffet, strap on their tanks and jump in.

Dovenbarger suggests that divers eat light before going in the water. "A full stomach increases resistance on the diaphragm," he points out, "and that can add to the effort of breathing." NAUI's Training Manager Randy Shaw agrees, noting that NAUI textbooks advise eating light or not at all before a dive. Shaw adds that keeping the stomach relatively empty reduces the propensity toward sea sickness, as well.

When you were a kid, you probably argued with your mama when she wouldn't let you swim for an hour after lunch. Don't argue now. Having a full stomach underwater is not in your best interest, as the case from the British Navy shows.

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