by Dr. Thomas W. Powell:
For the technical diver, decompression is an event that cannot be avoided. To go deep, and stay longer on an open circuit rig, you are going to go beyond your no decompression limits. With this requirement being recognized, decompression periods can be tedious and long, depending on the type of diving performed by the diver. The reality is that an individual cannot reduce decompression stop times without altering a dive plan. To make decompression periods more enjoyable however, a diver can find various activities to pass the time in an efficient and useful manner.
Some ideas for expediting a decompression stop may include:
- The first action a technical diver can perform during a decompression stop involves working on skills. This is a good time to set a line marker as a visual reference and practice skills like hovering, trimming out, and even kick styles like the back kick. A decompression stop is a period during which a diver must stay at a certain depth on a certain gas. The objective is to stay at a specific depth, which makes hovering in a trimmed out position a great skill to practice. For this reason, the time should not be wasted, and it is a perfect opportunity to work on becoming a better diver.
- Second, a diver may enjoy certain modern advances in technology. This may seem excessive, but I was recently speaking to a dive professional and rebreather diver who watched his students on a decompression stop. They gathered iPads in waterproof cases, and from their decompression staging location, began to read. They had literally prepped their equipment to allow them to read books while waiting out a decompression cycle. This may seem to break from the idea of, “getting away from it all while underwater,” but it is an effective means of passing time during a decompression stop in an enjoyable manner.
- The third way for a diver to pass the time during a decompression stop is through exercise. Most divers recognize that strenuous exercise during a descent or dive can cause an elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, and therefore and faster on-gassing. Conversely, the Divers Alert Network (2014) states that exercise during decompression stops can aid in the off-gassing of inert gasses. Essentially, light exercise can increase your body’s ability to decompress. Despite this factor, the exercise performed must be mild. The Divers Alert Network also states that too much exercise can cause bubble formation, similar to shaking a soda bottle. This bubble formation can be problematic, and put the diver at risk. A safe and effective example is swimming around the line while working on trim.
- Fourth, a diver can play a game with his or her buddy or team. This could be something pre-planned using wet notes or some form of game (like cards) left at the decompression stop location during descent. A game will focus the mind and pass time in an efficient manner. This type of activity can also allow for work on hovering skills. If the divers involved are trimmed out, holding cards, and monitoring the actions of others while maintaining depth, the divers are both having fun and practicing skills.
- This final method for speeding up decompression stops involves the ultimate activity for a technical diver. An individual can begin planning out a future dive. Essentially, the diver can even plan a future dive to the same location, planning times at depth, bailout procedures, and gas requirements on his or her wet notes. This action would actually make the best use of time and allow the diver to hone his or her skills at working tables and math problems on the fly, underwater.
Divers always seem to be looking for fun and excitement at every turn. This desire is magnified in technical divers. Decompression stops are a necessary break required any time a diver passes his or her no decompression limit, especially if this passage is performed on purpose in a technical plan. If a diver must take a deco stop, the time can be used in an effort to improve personal skills while enjoying his or herself. The reality is that a diver must determine what works best for his or her own personal needs. The goal is to be safe, enjoy the sport, and pass the time in the best manner possible.
Dr. Thomas W. Powell – Owner/Instructor Trainer (SDI/TDI/ERDI) – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC