Dive Operations and COVID-19: Prepping for Return

Frequently Asked Questions

While most dive businesses have ceased operations due to national and local lockdown orders, divers and dive business owners are eagerly anticipating a return to diving. It’s not too early to prepare for the resumption of diving when restrictions are eventually lifted. The following Q&As have been compiled from questions sent in by divers, dive professionals and dive business owners and are intended to help everyone get ready for a safe return to the water.

A few basic rules apply to everyone, including staff and customers, regardless of activity.

  • Wash hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser (unless working with oxygen-enriched gases).
  • Maintain a social distance of at least 1.5m, and avoid direct contact with other people.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Make sure you and the people around you follow good respiratory hygiene. Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, and dispose of the tissue right away.
  • The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Defer to local orders with regard to masks/face coverings to ensure compliance.

PROTECTING STAFF AND CUSTOMERS

How can I protect my staff from COVID-19?

For employees, the general COVID-19 safety recommendations, as published by the WHO and CDC, apply. The use of protective face masks and gloves should be considered when staff members are in direct contact with clients. Reducing the number of people in certain areas or designating areas for staff members only may also be useful. Compressors, equipment maintenance areas, rental equipment areas, offices and classrooms could be temporarily off limits to clients to limit virus transmission. Encourage clients to practice social distancing and make sure they disinfect their equipment after every dive.

How can I ensure that my customers will not get COVID-19 from my facility?

While you cannot fully guarantee this, you can certainly reduce the risk by enacting preventive measures, which include but are not limited to creating and enforcing strict disinfection procedures, preventing clients from gathering or sitting too close to each other, reducing the amount of airflow in the building to a minimum (to prevent any airborne virus droplets from being circulated), and most importantly, interrogating clients before allowing them to attend a training session or dive. Clients with signs or symptoms should not be allowed to participate in any diving or related activities. Be sure to clearly post all disinfection policies to ensure that clients are aware before entering your business.

Should I request something from my customers prior to their arrival?

It takes only one infected person to spread the virus. Clients may not know they are infected, deny contact with an infected person, or assume that minor symptoms are not related to COVID-19. It is therefore important to ask if they have any indication of being unwell and encourage them to stay home or speak to a physician. You may want to consider refunding or rescheduling. You may also consider limiting visitors to only those who will be participating in diving or related activities.

Will maintaining social distance between customers in my dive centre prevent the spread of the virus?

Social distancing should be enforced but is insufficient on its own to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing should reduce the spread of the virus between people, and the use of masks would reduce it risk further. Because clients might touch equipment or products, having gloves available and encouraging their correct use may be warranted, as could providing hand sanitiser or hand-washing facilities. You may also consider reducing the amount of stock in your shop area, as this would reduce the amount of disinfection necessary.

Can I safely conduct classroom activities?

If your business is able to offer distance learning or e-learning, this is a good option for decreasing the risk of transmitting COVID-19 among customers and staff. If this is not an option, consider setting up the classroom to comply with social distancing requirements.  Ask students to wear protective facemasks and wash their hands before and after classes. If equipment is used during class time, ensure it is always disinfected between students. Ensure that desks and chairs are disinfected each day or between classes of different students. Be sure to question potential visitors to your shop, including students, to ensure they do not have symptoms and have not come into contact with an infected person.

Are there any areas of my dive shop which should be temporary closed or made unavailable to customers?

Changing rooms carry a heightened risk of contamination. Personal belongings of customers (including clothes) should be stored in such a way as to avoid contact with common surfaces. If stored in lockers, these must be sanitised after each use. To minimise the risk of contact, consider asking customers to store personal items in plastic bags. Bathrooms also warrant special attention and should be disinfected regularly. Showers could be temporarily closed and replaced with a hose outside to rinse gear, and clients should be encouraged to shower and rinse their gear at home.

DISINFECTION

How should I manage disinfection operations at my dive shop?

Disinfection operations should be added to existing standard operating procedures. These procedures should follow local, state and federal guidelines on disinfection, and staff should be trained thoroughly in disinfection protocols. Identify high-touch surfaces in your operation, and ensure these are disinfected regularly. These include but are not limited to bathrooms, countertops, door handles and other surfaces staff and guests may touch often.

When using any disinfectant, be sure to follow the the manufacturer’s instructions for use. Follow this with a thorough rinse in fresh water, and allow the equipment to dry completely before use. For more information about choosing a disinfectant, go to Disinfection of Scuba Equipment and COVID-19.

Note that alcohol-based hand sanitisers are incompatible with oxygen-enriched gases.

If alcohol-based hand sanitisers are used before filling cylinders, ensure hands are completely dry and all alcohol has evaporated.

Equipment should be disinfected, especially when it comes into contact with the face, eyes or mouth. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Second stage regulator mouthpiece and internal surfaces
  • Snorkel
  • BCD oral inflator
  • Mask

Which surfaces should I disinfect in the dive center?

The CDC recommends disinfection of all frequently touched surfaces. In a dive shop these may include but are not limited to door handles, bathrooms, countertops, card-reading machines, fill stations, equipment workbenches, communal tools and computer keyboards and mice. When using any disinfectant, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use.

Which disinfectant should we use, and how should it be used?

The choice of disinfectant is up to you; however, you should use a product that has been proven to work against the virus that causes COVID-19. The EPA’s “List N” is made up of disinfectants that will kill the virus. Any disinfectant should be used according to manufacturer’s directions, as both concentration and contact time differ from product to product. You can find more information here.

How long should I soak equipment in disinfectant to effectively kill the new coronavirus?

This is entirely dependent upon which disinfectant solution you choose For more information about selecting a disinfectant, see Disinfection of Scuba Equipment and COVID-19.

Is 70% alcohol an effective disinfectant for scuba equipment?

According to the World Health Organization, a solution of 70% alcohol with a contact time of 1 minute would inactivate the new coronavirus, meaning that the surface must stay wet for this amount of time. However, isopropyl alcohol can degrade some types of rubber and plastic with repeated use, so to ensure you do not compromise the integrity of your equipment we recommend contacting the manufacturer for guidance. In addition, please be aware when using alcohol near any source of heat, flame, sparks or enriched gas, that it is highly volatile and flammable, presenting a significant risk of fire and explosion.

Can I use heat or hot water to disinfect equipment?

Theoretically, heat is an efficient way to kill the new coronavirus. However, we are unaware of any studies the have been conducted on the survivability of the virus on scuba equipment. Using heat may not be the best method of disinfecting in terms of time-effectiveness. Some studies have shown that a temperature of between 60-68 degrees Celsius will inactivate the virus after 30-60 minutes. It does not seem feasible to keep scuba equipment at this high temperature for this amount of time for a few reasons — one being that it could damage or distort some parts and another being that you would have to use a specifically designed hot water bath or constantly monitor and adjust your heating mechanism to maintain a constant water temperature for that duration.

It should be noted that quite a few studies have been conducted to determine temperatures that will kill the new coronavirus. The temperatures specified previously were selected as they are on the lower end of the spectrum tested, and they closely match with the generally accepted disinfection method in the scientific community: 60 degrees Celsius for almost one hour.