According to DEMA (Diving Equipment and Marketing Association), there are approximately 6 million scuba divers worldwide. If you are looking to join their ranks one of the most common questions is how deep can I dive?
Read on to learn about the depth limits for a recreational scuba dive.
With scuba diving, as with most sports, there are certifications that set the details surrounding your dive. All new divers start with an Open Water Certification (OWC) through Advanced (AOW) on to Master Diver. There is also technical diving which has its own depth limits.
For the new open water diver, the maximal depth is 60 feet (18 m). This depth is common for most divers as most marine species live between 30 -60 feet (9-19 meters). This is where you see the pretty colorful fish and bright marine coral.
For recreational divers with advanced certifications and training the depth limit is 130 feet (39 m). A deep dive is considered a dive over 60 feet or 18 meters.
Often times shipwrecks are located deeper than 60 feet. Bigger marine species, like Goioth Groopers, can also be found at depths between 110-130 feet.
Depths below 130 require even more training. The Guinness Book of World Records lists Ahmed Abdel Gabr as accomplishing the deepest scuba dive. His dive in 2005 reached a depth of 332.35 meters/1,090.45 feet.
When you begin to talk about how deep you can go while diving it is important to understand the “why” behind the depth limitations.
The air you breathe above sea level and below the water line contains approximately oxygen (21%), nitrogen (79%), along with small percentages of other inert gasses. Your body uses oxygen to function, nitrogen above sea level has no effect on the human body.
As you move below the water the pressure increases, this causes your body to begin absorbing nitrogen in scuba, this is called on-gassing. As you ascent after your dive, you off-gas the excess nitrogen. For example, at 100 feet a diver absorbs nitrogen 4 times faster than he/she does at the surface.
The deeper you go the more nitrogen you on-gas and the slower you need to ascent to off-gas nitrogen to prevent dangerous conditions like the bends (see below on Cautions in Scuba Diving.)
Note: The deeper you dive the faster you consume air. This is due to the higher pressure at depth. Deep dives are thus shorter in duration than shallower dives. Deeper dives also require a decompression stop. Deep dives are also colder and require addition clothing like wetsuits, read more about scuba diving here.
During a decompression stop, you hold steady in the water column for up to 5 minutes to allow your body to off-gas the nitrogen it absorbed. Decompression stops increase the safety of diving and should be practiced during all dives.
Deep diving is relatively safe as long as you follow all the rules and procedures. Below are some of the risks involved in scuba diving.
Decompression Sickness (DCS) is one of the most common dive related injuries, the good news is that in most cases it can be prevented. It tends to happen when you do not take the time to off-gas the nitrogen that has been pushed into your tissues. You off-gas nitrogen as you ascend.
If you ascend to fast, the bubbles that are created in the tissues are then pushed into the joins which cause severe pain. Treatment requires hyperbaric oxygen therapy inside a recompression chamber.
Nitrogen Narcosis is another risk in diving, especially at deeper depths although it can happen to any diver. The symptoms of nitrogen narcosis are similar to the feelings of getting drunk. The deeper you go the higher the risk of developing nitrogen narcosis.
To minimize the risk of getting nitrogen narcosis or getting “narced” many divers do additional training and dive Enriched Air Nitrox (or Nitrox for short).
In Nitrox diving, your air tank contains a higher percentage of oxygen and a lower percentage of nitrogen. Treatment for getting narced is to ascend until symptoms disappear and then safely end your dive.
If done properly, scuba diving is a safe and fun sport. Keep the following Do’s and Don’ts in mind when you dive.
Diving is a safe and enjoyable sport as long as you remain within the limits of your training and individual fitness level.
If you are interested in exploring the sport of scuba diving, contact your local dive shop. Many dive shops offer an Experience Scuba Dive session. This session allows you to experience the feeling of being underwater in a pool with an instructor before you begin your scuba certification process.
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