Divemaster Procedures Slide Show

Printable quick reference documents:
Establishing a PLS
  -  Establishing a Grid Pattern
  -  Evidence Handling

  -  Diver Entrapment Protocol

The success of any search and rescue (SAR) operation is directly related to efficient organization and thorough planning. Organization begins with the first responding SAR member to arrive on the scene. That Member must act as the operations leader or "Divemaster" unless or until he or she is relieved of that responsibility. Normally there will be a law enforcement, fire, or other official on the scene who can provide information to the SAR Divemaster. However at times the Divemaster may have to sort order from chaos and begin organizing the SAR operation with nothing more than the initial call out information that he or she received.

The Divemaster must manage the search and recovery effort according to the scope of the operation which is determined by four factors:

1. The search objective(s)

    - Recovery of drowning victim(s)

    - Recover weapon(s)/evidence/contraband

    - Locate/salvage wreckage

    - Locate/remove hazardous objects

    - Inspect equipment/structures

    - Recover personal property 

2. The magnitude of the search area:

    - Broad area/vague location (e.g.,: surfer disappeared in surf zone, etc.)

    - Confined area/localized (e.g.,: object fell off end of pier, fisherman missing from anchored boat, etc.)

3. Site environment

    - Search locale (ocean, lake, stream, etc.)

    - Dive site base (beach, boat, pier, etc.)

    - Time of day (night/day, remaining daylight)

    - Water conditions (tide, current, surge, depth, visibility)

    - Surface conditions (wind, waves, visibility, temperature, presence of watercraft etc.)             

4. Available resources

    - SAR divers responding (number, qualifications)

    - Equipment available

    - Transport vehicles (boat, barge, helicopter)

    - Assisting agencies (Coast Guard, Harbor Patrol, Fire Dept., etc.)

Although the Divemaster must assume control and leadership of the operation, he or she will normally be assisted or even directed by an official from the Sheriff's Department who will assume the role of Incident Commander. The Incident Commander may be the SAR liaison or other Sheriff's official. As operations manager, the Divemaster's basic functions are:

    ASSESSMENT of the situation

    ORGANIZATION of resources

    PLANNING of the operation specifics

    IMPLEMENTATION of the plan

    TERMINATION of the SAR operation

These basic functions are always performed within the scope of the operation as defined by the previously mentioned factors of search objective, magnitude of the search area, site environment, and available resources.


The first SAR diver arriving at the scene must report to the law enforcement official or other person in control (fireman, lifeguard, etc.). As Divemaster, this diver must interview the official and any other appropriate persons (witnesses, etc.) to determine exactly what the objective of the SAR operation is. Notes should be made regarding the statements of all parties. It is critical that the following concept be adhered to:

The first SAR team member on the scene must not enter the water or otherwise leave the scene. He must fulfill the responsibilities of Divemaster until relieved of that function.

In cases where there is a reasonable feasibility of effecting a rescue, the Divemaster may "suit up" but must await the arrival and "suiting" of a second diver prior to entering the water.

When the objective is clearly understood the Divemaster then seeks out the best person(s) on site to obtain information and data that will lead to the determination of the "most probable location" of the search object. Especially in the case of an accident, eye-witnesses are infinitely better than those who talked to the witness, or those who talked to those who talked to the witness.

Using the directions of a present eye-witness to identify the "point last seen" (PLS), will significantly reduce the area of uncertainty. The Divemaster should consider immediately deploying a marker buoy if such a maneuver is possible and practical.

If the situation calls for knowing what the water conditions are, such as depth, visibility, current, etc., the Divemaster will deploy a diver or dive pair (with or without SCUBA, depending on the depth and other apparent conditions) to make this assessment.

The Divemaster need also assess the local terrain features such as: water entry/exit locations, amount of beach at high tide, ease of access to site for equipment required, etc.

Communicating with the Deputy Sheriff, or other official, enables the Divemaster to assess the availability of resources (SAR personnel responding, SAR equipment and assisting agencies) that are, or will be, at his disposal.

The Divemaster must then conduct a risk/benefit assessment, in other words: an evaluation of the benefit to be gained from the operation vs. the risk involved to personnel.


The Divemaster selects the most practical base site from which he and the SAR team will conduct the operation. The Divemaster then needs to organize his or her resources based on the scope of the operation and availability and/or limitations of personnel and equipment.

Depending on the scope of the operation, the Divemaster will appoint SAR personnel as required, to assist at the base site. Normally, these assistants will be team members who cannot dive because of health problems or who are not qualified for the type of dive required. However, if such persons are not immediately available and the Divemaster needs assistance, he/she should not hesitate to appoint healthy and qualified divers to assist, at least on an interim basis, until others arrive.

It is the responsibility of the Divemaster to ensure that necessary equipment and supplies are present. If the base site is accessible to the public, the Divemaster will need to assign the responsibility of securing the area. On most occasions the Divemaster will need help in sorting-out and bringing certain equipment to the base site, then in the preparation and placement of the equipment, and finally, with implementing the operation.

On a small-scope operation, the Divemaster may not require anyone out of the water to help. On a large-scope or complex operation he/she may require any number of assistants.

The Divemaster can organize his/her assistants as "Squad Leaders," depending on the scope of the operation and organizational concept. Squad leaders don't dive. They are responsible for the various tasks that the Divemaster may assign, but, additionally, they are each responsible for supervising a dive team consisting of any number of divers.


If the assistants and/or Squad Leaders are fit to dive they should have on wet suits and be available to exchange roles with divers who have made a dive or with later arriving team members who are not fit to dive.

In summary, the purpose of organization is to establish order and eliminate chaos. The resources available to the Divemaster are the personnel and accessible equipment at his or her disposal. It is the Divemaster's duty to organize these resources while assuring that:

    - all SAR personnel have an appropriate assignment

    - the proper equipment is prepared and ready for use

Some form of organization should be in place prior to planning and implementing the operation, otherwise the chances of the operation having a successful outcome are greatly reduced.


After the Divemaster has assessed the situation and organized the available resources, he or she then directs his/her efforts in planning the specific actions to be taken. PLAN THE WORK.

First, the Divemaster formulates his/her best-effort concept of how the operation should be conducted. He/she may, or may not, solicit ideas from others at this initial stage. It is important that a concept has "birth" and the Divemaster must take the initiative.

Next, the Divemaster presents his/her conceptual plan to participating personnel inviting comments, questions and criticism. The Divemaster should be a good listener during this briefing. Some good ideas may be presented that should be incorporated into his plan. Or, quite possibly, a different and better approach to the problem might be introduced, which could result in the Divemaster adopting a new plan. It is imperative during this briefing, that personnel express any pertinent concerns.

The Divemaster must then make a final decision regarding the plan to be implemented and inform all participating SAR personnel of the plan and various assignments. If appropriate, the Divemaster should formulate a contingency plan in the event that implementation of the original plan proves to be ineffective.


In implementing the operational plan the Divemaster should:

- First and foremost always be alert to the safety and well being of the divers. Be on the lookout for potential dangers to the divers. Assure that the divers' entry, exit and the bottom times are being logged.

- Act decisively according to the plan. Make decisions and give direction, otherwise coordinated team actions will deteriorate into uncoordinated individual actions.

- Keep on top of what is happening. Supervise. Assure that assignments are being properly carried out in a timely manner. Mistakes will probably occur. Correct them quickly to minimize their effect.

- Be alert to changes in conditions which may affect the plan. Examples: one hour of daylight remaining, current is picking up or changing direction, etc.

- Be flexible toward changing or modifying the operation. Information obtained during the ongoing search may indicate that a change in plans and/or implementation is called for. If a change is required, make it and inform team leaders and/or assistants.

- When the object is recovered notify the responsible official on scene. Make sure that a coordinated effort is made to inform team members, both in and out of the water, of the find. (The Divemaster should not get careless by neglecting divers in the water. Those divers are still at risk and must be attended to by signaling them to the surface and watching over them until they are out of the water. The Divemaster must make sure that the Squad Leaders and/or assistants attend to the divers after the find).

- Maintain an accurate log of the area searched. In the event of multi-day operations, this information will assist in avoiding deployment in areas already searched.

- Be responsible for having the object inventoried and tagged. If practical, have this done at the waterline.

- Be responsible for delivering the object to the appropriate official - Coroner, Deputy, or other official on the scene. Be sure to obtain a receipt from the official after delivery.


In terminating the operation, the Divemaster should:

- Assure that the Sheriff's dispatcher is informed that the operation is terminated. The officer-in-charge at the scene should be able to call this in at the request of the Divemaster.

- Retrieve, clean, and store equipment.

- Poll all SAR personnel to determine if any injuries and/or equipment losses have occurred. If so, report them to the SAR liaison officer.

- Critique the operation before SAR personnel disperse. Information about conditions at the site may prove to be beneficial for future operations in that area.

For a printable version of the Divemaster Checklist click here. If you don't have the Adobe Acrobat Reader, download it now.


Main Events History Members Training Procedures Links

Send mail to with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright 2000 Ventura County SAR Dive Team The Ventura County Sheriff's Star Logo is copyrighted by the Ventura County Sheriff's
Department. Any reproduction or use of this image without prior consent of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department is strictly prohibited.