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How Deep Can You Dive Without Decompression?

   January 3rd, 2023   Posted In: Articles   Tags:

How Deep Can You Dive Without Decompression?

The ocean, deep and mysterious, is a place many wish to explore and expand the boundaries of science. SCUBA diving is a great way for the average person to be able to do so. But just how deep can you dive without decompression?

What is Decompression?

how far can you dive without decompression

When you go under water, the pressure increases and your body undergoes compression. When you ascend from the depths of the ocean, your body will decompress. During the compression phase of diving, your body absorbs both the oxygen and nitrogen you breathe from your SCUBA tank. Your body can use the absorbed oxygen for metabolism, but the absorbed nitrogen just sits in your tissues. The deeper you dive and the longer you stay, the more your body will absorb nitrogen.

During the ascent, your body will “off-gas” as the nitrogen releases from your body as the surrounding water pressure decreases. This is why it is important to ascend slowly so that your body has time to release this nitrogen. Fast ascents can cause nitrogen to escape too quickly and form nitrogen bubbles that increase your risk of decompression sickness

How Far Can You Dive Without Decompression?

For recreational SCUBA diving, 130 feet is the absolute maximum depth to dive without decompression stops. Of course, things are not as simple as that. 

The recreational dive tables are based off of the old Navy dive tables. These dive tables dictate how long you can dive safely to each depth given your current nitrogen load. On your first dive of the day, you can only stay at 130 feet for 10 minutes. The clock starts as soon you descend in the water so once you get to 130 feet your time there is even less.

If you spend more than the allotted time at 130 feet, you can then enter decompression mode and will be required to make decompression stops along the way up. The depths and times required for each stop will depend on how long you overstayed your time at 130 feet.

Bottom Time

It is not only how deep can you dive without decompression but how long you stay at each depth that will dictate whether you need to do a decompression stop. Every depth has a no decompression limit based on the recreational dive tables that if exceeded will then require extra decompression stops during the ascent. 

The best way to avoid having to do decompression stops is dive conservatively. Never stay to the limits of how long you are allowed at each depth. This conservativeness leaves room for error in case extra time is needed at a certain depth to watch an animal or free a fin from fishing line.

Decompression Diving

How deep can a diver go without decompression? Luckily, there is a whole field dedicated to decompression diving. Technical divers are able to go beyond 130 feet and implement decompression stops on the way up to dive safely. If technical divers only go to 140 feet, they can stay for 9 minutes before decompression stops are required.

Decompression Stops

Although how deep you can dive without decompression is dependent on more than just absolute depth, some people will need to do them for whatever reason. Decompression stops are mandatory stops during the ascent that allow for extra time for nitrogen bubbles to escape before continuing an ascent. Your dive computer will tell you what depths to stop at and for how long. Air consumption must play a factor into these stops as well. You should never run out of air underwater trying to complete a decompression stop. 

These decompression stops are in comparison to safety stops which are more of a precautionary stop that are usually done at the end of each dive just to be extra safe. The biggest difference is that a missed safety stop is usually not going to cause any harm whereas a missed decompression stop can lead to decompression sickness which can be potentially fatal. This is the importance of SCUBA diving certification training that teaches you the dive tables and how to dive safely without decompression stops or training for technical diving that allows you to do decompression diving safely. 

Therefore, 140 feet (130 feet for recreational diving) is technically how deep you can dive without decompression. As always, proper training and remaining well within your limits help promote safe diving practices and decrease your risk of decompression sickness.

Candace is an avid scuba diver and freelance writer with a PhD in Biomedicine. She has been diving since 2002 and is currently a PADI IDC Staff Instructor. When she is not instructing, she enjoys writing about scuba and volunteering at the local aquarium where she dives with the sharks!

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