Fear when scuba diving

Fear is useful

In the same way that pain helps us to avoid injury, fear warns us to avoid danger.  There are risks in scuba diving and some ability to identify these is useful.  Fear is like an alarm that alerts us to pay attention, question what we are doing and assess the risks.  Experiencing some fear when scuba diving is normal.

For most new scuba divers, there will be something that raises fear.  That could be the deep-water entry, or the mask removal or swimming over a drop-off.  It would be odd not to feel some trepidation when taking on such unfamiliar experiences.  However, sometimes fears are extreme and can be a problem if not managed.


A phobia is a persistent and excessive fear of a specific object or situation.  Phobias are often irrational.  On encountering the feared object/situation the person will react with fear.  This can lead to a panic state and attempts to escape.  Due to the risks that come with panicking underwater, consider addressing the phobia.  Phobias are one of the most easily treated issues and cognitive-behaviour therapy is highly effective.

Fear of …                                                     

Some common phobias mean feeling fear when scuba diving …

depth = bathophobia ; closed/small spaces = claustrophobia sharks = galeophobia ; fish = ichthyophobia ; submerged, manmade objects (e.g. shipwrecks) = submechanophobia ; the sea = thalassophobia

Avoiding fear when scuba diving

We all have our own ways of dealing with difficult emotions and we tend to use what we know works.  Common ways that people react to fear are to avoid the source by leaving the situation, use distractions to take the mind away and sometimes disconnect from the emotion.  These are moves that take us away from the source of stress, but do come with their own problems, particularly underwater when we need to concentrate on diving.  All divers know that surfacing too quickly is dangerous so we have to get used to the idea that we cannot immediately escape our fears. 

Facing fear when scuba diving

The more we avoid something, the more we convince our minds this is a something to be afraid of.  To reduce the reaction we have to expose ourselves to the source of fear.  Overcoming fear means facing it. This does not mean recklessly going into environments for which we are not yet prepared. Fear when scuba diving can sometimes indicate a situation that is risky for us. If there is a real risk to be addressed, then it is important to learn the appropriate skills and build experience.

If you are a UK diver, you may want to check out our Diving Psychology services to help overcome fears and phobias that affect your diving.

Afraid to learn

If we want to learn, then we always risk making mistakes and failing.  This is uncomfortable. But avoiding discomfort is no way to tackle fear.  We can allow ourselves to be open to the discomfort that comes with learning in order to gain the skills we need to dive in this extreme environment.  We can also learn skills to manage emotions and thoughts so that they do not interfere with safe diving.  

Fear or fascination

There is a very fine line between fear and fascination.  Both are fixations.  When you are frightened by something or excited by it, it will draw your attention.  In both cases the person has an obsessive preoccupation with the source.  As divers we frequently find that the objects of fear are more fascinating than frightening on closer inspection. 

Depths of fear

Entering the sea as a diver means being vulnerable and facing fears.  Learning to dive is an unfamiliar challenge that pushes people into uncomfortable places The sea is hugely powerful and makes us feel small; the marine life can be as intimidating as it is beautiful.  Fear when scuba diving is understandable, and part of the experience. People plunge into the depths and, not only face fear, but also find peace under the waves and return to land more confident than before.