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When I was a divemaster in training, I had my first reverse squeeze. It was painful, to say the least. We had a similar incident Memorial Day Weekend, and I want to share what happened so you can be more prepared if you ever have one. I also wanted to share some of the mistakes we made, in the hope that you can learn from them.

What is a Reverse Squeeze?

We are all familiar with having to equalize on descents to depth. Equalizing is one of the first things we master as divers because we have to start clearing our ears from the moment we hit the pool in our first course.

Sometimes though, the squeeze happens on the way to the surface. As air expands in our bodies, it can get blocked and become very painful.


On our fifth dive of the weekend, everything had been going close to perfectly. Our group consisted of two open water students, Junior, Rudy, and me.

The only downside had been Saturday when we were forced to listen to Al Hurricane Jr. at about one-hundred and thirty-seven decibels for the entire day. Junior will have to tell you if the reverse squeeze or the band was worse.

Our Equipment

The open water students and Junior were diving on single tanks. Rudy had independent doubles, but he'd already breathed them down to about 1600 PSI at the beginning of the dive. I was diving sidemount and started the dive with tanks that were close to full. All tanks were aluminum 80s.

What Happened

As dive 5 came to a close, we headed up to do a safety stop at about 35 feet. Junior's nose started bleeding a lot and he had an intense pain in his head unrelated to Al Hurricane Jr. The open water students, Rudy and I went up to the stop, and no one noticed immediately that Junior wasn't with us.

As our students cleared the stop and began their ascent, I looked down and saw Junior at about 30 feet. He pointed to his mask, which was partially flooded with blood. I signaled to Rudy that Junior had a problem and that Rudy should stay with Junior while I went with the students to the surface.

The students were up and out of the water within a couple of minutes, and I stood on the ledge, waiting for Junior and Rudy to surface. Another minute passed and I started to worry about them both. I had plenty of gas since I'd started the dive with full tanks, but the meter in my head said that Rudy and Junior were getting low. I was getting cold, but I was also the only person who had sufficient gas to share air, if it came to that.

I descended and quickly found Junior hovering and looking down. He was clearly in pain. Rudy was watching him and prepared to assist.

I signaled to Rudy, "How much gas do you have?" He answered that he had 300 PSI in each tank and that he was going to head for the surface. I asked Junior the same question and he said he had 800 PSI. I wanted to make sure I understood the problem, so I wrote, "Reverse Squeeze?" on my slate and Junior told me that was indeed the problem.

I signaled to Junior, "Come with me." and we swam over to the nearest buoy line. I signed, "You watch me." and I demonstrated using the line to make tiny buoyancy changes, up and down to help clear the squeeze. This worked, and within a couple of minutes, Junior was back at the surface, where Rudy took over again (I was really cold by then and needed to get out of the water).

Everything ended up as well as we could have hoped, but there are still a few learning points for me, and hopefully for you too.


  1. Team diving means everyone is on a team. If you aren't checking on your buddies, you aren't diving as a team. Our students did a great job on their dive. They dove as a team and communicated. Rudy and I were focused on the divers, as was Junior, but none of us paid attention to our team. We didn't check to make sure that our team was making the ascent and that led us to leave Junior at 35 feet, waving at us, trying to signal that he had a problem.
  2. Dealing with a reverse squeeze: When you have a line in the water, many times it is going to be your best reference for ascents. That could be a permanent line like we had or a line you shot from your DSMB. If you've got a problem, that line can help you make small adjustments to your depth.
  3. Debriefing a problem is always worth doing. We all met for lunch and came up with some new procedures so this doesn't occur again.

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