Staying Alive – Steve Lewis

Staying Alive - Steve Lewis

Staying Alive – Steve Lewis

I have written about Steve Lewis before. He recently published Staying Alive: risk management techniques for advanced scuba diving, and being a fan I rushed out an purchased it. Luckily it was available on the Kindle and that meant I could get my fix straight away. So on Sunday I settled down to read and this morning I finished it.

The book is approximately 200 pages long and is well written (except for the occasional typo here and there the requires the reader to reread just to make sure that they have grasped what was being said).  For some reason the transfer from paperback to ebook never goes smoothly and it means that the ebook lacks several of the features that the paperback will have. The most notable is that diagrams and tables are reduced to their textual content meaning that it requires the reader to reconstruct them, an annoyance that I am sure the paper book is without. Aside from those frustrations the book is a joy to read.

The book has eight chapters, each chapter is one of the eight guidelines of safety that was created and adapted from Sheck Exley’s original blueprint.

  1. Attitude
  2. Knowledge and Wisdom
  3. Training
  4. Gas Supply
  5. Gas Toxicity
  6. Exposure
  7. Equipment
  8. Operations

I’ll not go into too much detail about each one; just the general gist of it and I’ll maybe include some of my own experiences.


Having the correct attitude when diving is very important. One thing that I tell my students is that they can call a dive at any time and for any reason. There is nothing to be embarrassed about thumbing a dive. Too many divers have unsafe practices but because they are “lucky” and return from the dive safe and sound they think that what they did was correct and ok. However, this cavalier attitude, this attitude of complacency is what kills divers. Divers over estimating their own ability and not following proper procedures end up dead.

Knowledge and Wisdom

Lewis says that “Knowledge is understanding how something works, while Wisdom is understanding how that knowledge applies to the specifics of safe diving”, this is very true. Too many people have the knowledge to go out and do something but not the ability to do it correctly. To be a safe diver we must have both.


When I completed my OW and AOW course I thought I was the bee’s knees, how wrong was I. I thought that the certification card was the end result. Now that I had it I was an amazing diving diver who had accomplished something difficult. I didn’t understand that once ! had gotten myfirst c-card it wasn’t really saying that I was the most amazing diver in the world, what it was saying was that I now had a licence to go out and learn more. The c-card isn’t the final step, it is the first step on the journey to becoming a better diver.

Gas Supply

Always have something to breathe. This is important. Lewis discusses strategies for making sure that you return with the right amount of gas in your cylinders so that you are able to help out your buddy in an out of air situation. Specifically calculating your SAC rates (more about that in another post). He also states that in the thousands of technical dives that he has made he has only ever had two OOAs. Now technical divers always carry extra gas so there shouldn’t be an OOA unless there is some catastrophic failure. Recreational divers on the other hand should be more careful as they only have one cylinder (unless on sidemount), but having a good idea about how much you consume and a good dive plan go a long way to avoiding this particular scenario.

Gas Toxicity

Gases become toxic at depth. Oxygen is toxic below 6 metres. In regular air partial pressures cause it to become toxic once you go below 66m. Knowing what you are breathing is as important as having enough to breathe. Certain mixes of gas will kill you if breathed at the wrong depth. Narcosis is another factor to consider. Nitrogen narcosis is the most common for recreational divers and it can turn a small problem into an even bigger one.


This is about being protected from the elements. I remember a dive that I did back in Italy, I started this blog with a post about them and what makes a good dive shop. I was given a 5mm wetsuit for water temperatures of 14C. By the end of each dive I was freezing. I should have requested another wetsuit to put on top but as I said in the post I wasn’t that enamoured with the dive shop and how it was run. Fast forward to a week ago. I was diving here in the Bahamas in my 2.5mm shorty, the water temp was 24C a temperature that I have dived in a shorty in Malta, but instead of being warm I was frozen and almost thumbed the second dive because I was shivering so much. Make sure you have the right protection for the dive and the surface interval that you are doing. It isn’t worth being too cold or too hot as they can both lead to problems. Lewis prefers to dive in a drysuit.


Choosing the right equipment is a difficult task. Most of my equipment choices have come from discussions with my LDS and my different instructors. I have made what I would think are shrewd purchases when it comes to my regulators. I chose regulators that are of a technical diving standard, while their first stages can be used for sidemount diving as they have the turret with the 5th port addon.  Lewis sums up the section on equipment selection as follows: “The take home message is this: I can fry you an egg on the back of a plasterer’s trowel but an omelet pan works better.” Choose the right equipment for the job and don’t just make do.


This is how things should be done. Lewis is not advocating a military level of procedures but that you should have procedures in place to make sure that everything is done and that all equipment is fully functional. Remember the buddy check that you are asked to perform before entering the water. Technical divers have a much longer one and CCR divers have an even longer one to go through. These checks are important as they can prevent problems.

I enjoyed reading this book it has answered a lot of questions about the crossover from recreational to technical diving. As I quickly read through the book I will definitely be reading it again, but I have to admit that I found it hard to put it down. Who would I recommend this book to? I would say that it is a little too advanced for the beginner diver but it is definitely something that all divers should read once they have a few dives under their belt. 

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