What Is Decompression Diving?
Have you ever wondered what lies beneath the ocean’s surface, beyond the reach of conventional SCUBA diving? If you are an adventurous diver who wants to explore deeper and longer, you might be interested in decompression diving. Decompression diving is a type of diving that allows you to go beyond the limits of recreational SCUBA and enter depths that require scheduled decompression stops.
Furthermore, decompression diving offers various benefits and presents unique challenges. Also, decompression diving requires additional planning, equipment, and safety measures. In this article, we will explore what decompression diving is, why people do it, the equipment required, and the associated benefits and risks.
What is Decompression Diving?
Decompression diving can be described as a form of diving that involves using mixed breathing gasses to safely descend deeper and exceed the limits of recreational scuba diving – usually 40 meters (130 feet). By breathing pressurized oxygen, nitrogen, and helium blends, technical divers can safely navigate and plunge hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean while following strict rules.
Why Do People Do Decompression Diving?
There are many reasons why people choose to do decompression diving. These include:
- To explore deeper and more remote sites, such as wrecks, caves, or reefs, that are inaccessible to recreational divers.
- To conduct scientific research, such as marine biology, archaeology, or geology, that requires longer bottom time and more data collection.
- To challenge themselves and improve their skills, knowledge, and experience as divers.
- To capture stunning images of marine life and scenes never viewed before.
- To enjoy the thrill and adventure of diving in extreme environments and conditions.
- For commercial diving tasks, such as underwater welding, rig maintenance, engineering inspections, and search and rescue or recovery operations.
Equipment Used for Decompression Diving
Furthermore, some specialized gear and equipment are often required to help you safely dive to extreme depths inside the ocean. These include:
- Redundant regulators, dive computers, masks, fins, and buoyancy controls.
- Multiple tanks with “travel” breathing gas for descent and “bottom” gas mix for a time at depth.
- High-powered underwater lights and videography equipment.
- Scooters and propulsion devices for quicker access and exit.
- Lift bags, surface markers, and safety reels to manage emergency ascent.
- Complex gas analyzers, regulators, and compressors to blend helium or nitrogen mixes.
- Depth gauge, timer, drysuit or SCUBA diving wetsuit, and slate.
The Decompression Diving Process
As mentioned earlier, decompression diving requires specific procedures and safety measures that must be strictly followed to avoid decompression sickness and other risks. Choose a convenient depth, time, and gas for the dive based on your objectives, training, and level of expertise. In addition, you need to choose a dive computer, algorithm, procedure, and SCUBA diving buddy.
Upon reaching the maximum depth (130 ft.), you must ascend gradually with scheduled stops. Stops are typically made every 10 feet for one (1) to five (5) minutes. Ensure that you follow the dive plan and computer instructions. Throughout the decompression dive, you should monitor your depth, gas, time, and formation. Also, prioritize your safety and avoid possible risks and hazards.
Generally, the pattern of the scheduled stop will be customized for each unique diver. The stop is necessary for dissolved gasses to safely exit. Omitting required stops or shortening decompression stop times may result in bubble formation, organ damage, and even death. Once again, you must follow a standard or customized procedure that ensures the smooth and safe operation of your decompression dive.
Dangers and Risks
What’s more, there are different hazards and risks involved in decompression diving, such as:
- Decompression Sickness: Omitted or short stops can cause extremely painful and potentially paralyzing bubble formation in the body.
- Lung Overexpansion Injuries: Fast ascents at extreme depths may cause injuries to the lung due to overexpansion.
- Nitrogen Narcosis: Pressurized nitrogen in the gas may lead to euphoria, hallucinations, reduced coordination, or impaired judgment.
- Oxygen Toxicity: Prolonged oxygen exposure under pressure may result in seizures, blackouts, hearing loss, convulsions, vision loss, or respiratory failure.
- Equipment Failure: Equipment failures, such as loss of breathing gas, buoyancy, or loss of communications, may occur while hundreds of feet underwater.
- Entanglement: The diver or the equipment may be caught or trapped by an object or a structure, such as a line, net, wreck, or cave.
Safety Protocols and Training for Decompression Diving
Here are some safety protocols and training for decompression diving:
- Perform a comprehensive pre-dive check or inspection before every decompression dive.
- Undergo professional certification programs and courses for decompression diving to learn vital skills such as gas planning, gear configuration, and decompression theory.
- Follow a buddy system to stay close and in contact with another diver who can offer assistance, support, or rescue in case of trouble.
- Keep an accurate dive log to document the depth, time, gas, observations, and decompression information.
- Perform a thorough medical examination before and after every dive.
Decompression diving is a fascinating and rewarding type of diving that requires additional planning, equipment, and safety measures. However, decompression diving is not for everyone, as it requires undergoing the necessary training and certification and following strict decompression procedures. Nonetheless, if you seek to explore deeper and longer, challenge yourself, enjoy the thrill and adventure of extreme ocean depths, and improve your diving skills, then decompression diving might be an ideal activity for you.