What is decompression diving and how is it done?

Descompresión buceo

Post by Jony

March 25, 2024

It’s one of the fundamental concepts in diving. So crucial that it can determine the very experience of diving and its safety. That’s why at DPM Diving’s blog, we dedicate a specific article to delve into its understanding. Keep reading and learn all about decompression.

What is Decompression Diving?

Decompression diving refers to the process of gradually allowing the body to eliminate excess gas accumulated during a dive. Especially when the dive is deep.

Divers absorb nitrogen from the air they breathe, which dissolves into the bloodstream. If divers were to ascend rapidly to the surface without making the necessary stops, nitrogen could form bubbles in the body, leading to decompression sickness.

To prevent this, divers follow specific decompression profiles and make safety stops during their ascent, allowing the body to gradually eliminate the accumulated nitrogen.

Decompression Diving

Why is it so important?

Performing proper decompression when diving is essential to prevent decompression sickness. This includes symptoms such as joint pain, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and other serious neurological issues.

If decompression sickness is suspected, immediate medical attention should be sought. Treatment often involves the administration of oxygen and decompression therapy in a hyperbaric chamber. The speed of treatment can make a difference in recovery.

Basic principles of decompression

The basic principles of decompression in diving focus on managing the gradual elimination of absorbed nitrogen during a dive to avoid decompression sickness. To do this, we must consider two fundamental actions:

  • Gradual ascent: It is crucial to ascend slowly to allow nitrogen to be released gradually from the body.
  • Safety stops: These stops typically last a few minutes and are an essential part of decompression. This is managed through decompression tables, dive computers, and other methods to plan and execute safe ascents.

Boyle’s law: Pressure and volume

Boyle’s Law is fundamental in diving, as it explains how the pressure and volume of a gas change as a diver descends to different depths. The inverse relationship between pressure and volume is especially crucial when it comes to changes in the volume of respiratory gases due to water pressure.

As a diver descends, water pressure increases, reducing the volume of gases in their diving equipment and lungs. Conversely, as they ascend, pressure decreases, causing an increase in gas volume.

Essential Equipment

In order to perform safe and complete decompression, divers must have basic equipment through which they monitor dive times, depths, and bottom times to avoid problems due to nitrogen accumulation.

Dive Computers

The use of dive computers is widely spread, especially among professional divers and instructors. These are electronic devices that monitor real-time depth and dive time, automatically calculating decompression limits and safety stops.

Computers alert when the ascent is too fast and monitor other variables such as when successive dives are performed, which increases the nitrogen load in the diver’s body.

Decompression tables

Decompression tables in diving are tools that help divers plan their dives and ascents safely, providing information on the maximum dive time allowed at a specific depth and the necessary safety stops during the ascent.

There are different decompression tables, and their choice depends on the certification agency and the specific model of tables used. Some tables are based on the maximum depth reached and the total dive time, while others consider repeated dives in the same day.

Practical tips for decompression

Decompression Diving

Now that we know the theory about decompression and the necessary instruments to effectively monitor it, it’s time to dive into practice with a series of tips that can help you before, during, and after diving to prevent any related issues.

  • Plan maximum depth, dive time, and safety stops using decompression tables or a dive computer.
  • Ascend to the surface gradually and controlled.
  • Strictly adhere to recommended or required safety stops.
  • Stay well hydrated before and after dives, as proper hydration can aid in nitrogen elimination.
  • Respect recommended surface intervals between dives to allow the body to eliminate some of the accumulated nitrogen.
  • Ensure your dive equipment is in good condition.
  • Monitor depth and dive time constantly to ensure compliance with established limits.
  • Undertake advanced and rescue diving courses to improve your skills and knowledge.
  • Consider having dive insurance that covers medical expenses in case of decompression sickness or other diving-related health issues.

Watch for danger signs. Listen to your body!

The mantra of ‘know your limits’ applies to any sporting or recreational activity, but it becomes even more important when it comes to diving, as ignoring your body’s signals and limitations can lead to serious health problems.

It’s vital not to exceed time or depth beyond your capabilities and experience. Once underwater, the excitement of spotting something of interest or challenging yourself can lead to risky decisions, so it’s essential to stick to the dive plan and follow the guide’s instructions at all times.

Decompression in cold water vs. Warm water

Water temperature also plays a significant role in decompression, so this aspect should be considered when planning the dive, always adapting to particular conditions. Here are some general considerations.

Decompression in cold water

In colder waters, the body tends to expend more energy to maintain a suitable internal temperature, which can increase air consumption and affect decompression.

Prolonged exposure to cold can lead to greater loss of body heat, which can influence fatigue and the diver’s comfort during and after the dive.

Some studies suggest that exposure to cold can affect the body’s sensitivity to decompression, although the exact relationship is not yet fully understood.

Decompression in warm water

In warmer waters, the body doesn’t need to work as hard to maintain temperature, resulting in lower air consumption and less physical effort during the dive.

Warmer conditions are usually more comfortable for divers, which can contribute to better performance and overall well-being during and after the dive. Additionally, the lower energy demand to maintain body temperature in warm waters can reduce fatigue and improve recovery after the dive.

Is everything clear about decompression diving? In this article, we’ve covered both theoretical and practical concepts to ensure responsible and safe diving. To do this, also remember to dive with trusted schools, accredited professionals, and experienced guides who will guide you at all times and ensure your safety underwater.


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