Speeding up Decompression – Tips & Tricks

by Dr. Thomas W. Powell:

2 trimmed divers in deco

photo credit: Thaddius Bedford

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

6 replies
  1. Bill
    Bill says:

    Seems like mindfulness meditation would be beneficial for divers (and for everyone for that matter). Just focus on the breath 🙂

  2. Jim Allen
    Jim Allen says:

    Decompression is not some kind of “zen” behavior, it is a series of protocols and methods for getting gases normalized in solution. Frankly, this whole article wreaks of someone who has minimal decompression experience. Clearlly not a doctor of anything medical or scientific

  3. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    Bill, that is a fun way of thinking about relaxing and passing the time during decompression. The word mindful made me chuckle. I very much get your point that you still have to remain focused and cognizant of what you are doing. My real objective was to discuss how to make decompression periods less painful, or to “speed up the process” when it is something a diver must undertake.

    Jim, I absolutely agree with your definition of decompression and I imagine you took my article title as a reference toward truly reducing decompression time. If so, that misdirection was not intended. As I noted, that would require a dive plan change, which involves subject matter I was not intending to cover in this article. I thank you very much for your input, and could not agree more about what decompression is and how important it is when planned or needed. On a side note, I never alluded to being a medical doctor or even something as simple as a massage therapist (involving physical health), but I do have multiple degrees in the world of higher education. Similarly, I did work very hard to earn them. Again, thanks so much for your comments and I encourage anyone interested in sharing valuable knowledge to contact International Training and ask about the possibility of writing something! It never hurts to share and discuss information. That type of activity is what makes us all better.

  4. James
    James says:

    Normalizing gases within the human body is an activity that is still being studied. This is why we teach dive THEORY. If an individual has a disagreement with the information being provided, that is all well and good. Attacking someone by claiming that they are “Clearly not a doctor of anything medical or scientific” should be saved for some of the other SCUBA related boards.

    Side note to that:
    When using the term “doctor” in that way, it should be capitalized.

    Now for a personal attack of my own to share how it feels:
    I guess they don’t teach that in the Massage Therapist weekend seminars.

    I have not been diving very long, but even I know when someone is just being a d**k about something. I hope everyone enjoys their day.

  5. Kelvin
    Kelvin says:

    I liking the thinking behind the points. Although, I can’t help but feel that the IPAD example worries me a little. I would prefer a buddy that monitors the surroundings & would be on hand to help if needed.

    Before getting into the whole debate I understand fully that as a tech diver we are all considering/ have planned for the worst scenario that we may have to finish the dive alone on our our gases & self reliance. I just disagree with the disengagement of the what should be a concerted team effort.



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