All courses at some point are about planning your dive, sometimes they talk about it – but what exactly is meant by that? Do you need to know anything about it if you’re following a guide anyway?
We think: Yes. As a trained diver, you are responsible for your own dive, so you need to make sure you are comfortable with the plan and confident that you want to and can do the dive that way. And you want to know that you’ll be okay even if something doesn’t go as planned after all.
For a good, working dive plan, you need three things:
1. Decompression planning
2. Gas planning
3. Emergency plans
Sounds complicated? It is not at all. It’s only ever as complicated as the dive you’re planning.
Deco planning? Isn’t this something only for very advanced and technical divers?
If by that you mean planning quite accurately beforehand the time at a certain depth and the ascent with deco stops: Yes. But deco planning also means understanding what a reasonable dive profile looks like and making a decision about what you think is safe enough. To do this, you need to know a few things.
Where do the no decompression limits come from?
No decompression Limits did not fall from the sky like the Ten Commandments, they are not the conclusion of a process of knowledge, and certainly not the crown of creation…
No-decompression limits are a risk assessment: approximately one in 10,000 dives ends in a DCS. That is accepted as acceptable.
But where do these boundaries come from?
First of all, from experience: Divers have become ill. Research has come out of that, and from that has come knowledge to a certain extent about what leads to decompression sickness. You want to reduce the risk of getting them – that’s what the whole deco theory is about. An introduction to this can be found in the SSI Science of Diving Manual and Decompression Diver and of course in the Punkfish course “Decompression Theory”.
Here is just a brief summary on where the no-decompression limits come from.
No-stop time: Reach the surface without mandatory stop
Diving within no-decompression limits means that you can easily (slowly!) surface at any point in time. One is not supersaturated when the surface is reached, that is, no tissue has a pressure above the respective M value.
You can find these limits in any dive table, here as an example the one from SSI. It is called “Doppler zero time limit” here, because ultrasound measurements with a Doppler device, which can measure bubbles in the blood circulation, were also involved in the determination of these limits.
When surfacing after a certain time, one is not completely saturated, but according to the table, one reaches a certain “repetition group”. This is a sign of how much nitrogen is in the body after the dive.
The deeper you go, the less time you get to spend there. But: if you ascend slowly after the maximum time on the depth, you will reach the surface with a smaller repetition group than if you dive shallower and for longer. Why is that?
Step by step: let’s look at the three dives at 18, 30 and 37 meters depth. We descend rapidly and remain at depth until we reach the no-decompression limit according to the SSI table. Then we surface at 9m/min. The graphic then also shows the first five minutes on the surface.
Below the dive profile we see a heat map – a representation of tissue saturation. From this we can see the following things:
Our body absorbs nitrogen at different rates in different places. The blood is saturated very quickly via the lungs, and less well perfused parts of the body saturate more slowly. Because the human body is composed of an infinite number of different tissues, saturation is modeled on compartments, i.e., theoretical tissues.
The tissues, here in model 16, are represented by the lines, which are closely superimposed here. The fast tissues at the top, the slow tissues at the bottom. The color indicates whether and to what extent they saturate and desaturate.
The individual tissues saturate at different rates. In the beginning, the pressure from the outside is much greater than that in the tissues – saturation is fast. The more the tissues saturate, the smaller the pressure difference. They then saturate more slowly.
The time it takes for a tissue to travel half the distance of the pressure difference between the gas and the tissue is called the half-life. The fast tissues are assumed to have a half-life of 4 minutes, followed by up to an hour in the fast and medium tissues, and the slowest has a half-life of over 10 hours. Relevant for recreational divers:inside are the fast and medium tissues.
Any tissue can withstand a certain amount of supersaturation. The M-value tells us how large this must be: at what excess pressure in the tissue does the risk of DCS become too great?
In the heat map, the M-value of each tissue is shown in shades of yellow and red. Red means that 100% of the M-value has been reached, the further it goes into yellow, the further below this limit the tissue is.
During a fairly leisurely dive to 18m to the no-decompression limit, the allowed tissue supersaturation (i.e., the M value) is reached in the middle tissues upon reaching the surface. The upper lines, the very fast tissues, are below their M value, the slow tissues are only very slightly saturated.
If we dive to 30m until reaching the no-decompression limit, quite fast tissues reach a saturation that makes a safety stop important. Upon reaching the surface, slightly faster tissues are at M-value, compared to the shallower but longer dive at 18m.
When we go deeper into the no-decompression limits, here at 37m, it’s the fast weaves that slow us down. When their M value is reached, we have to show up. The middle tissues are not yet particularly saturated.
To really savor the no-decompression time, you can of course do multilevel dives with the help of the dive computer – that’s what you actually do almost all the time in real diving. In this process, the fastest tissues are saturated at depth, but are allowed to desaturate again as they ascend, while the middle tissues continue to saturate.
When surfacing, the fast tissues have long ceased to be a problem. Nevertheless, several such dives in a row are suspected of triggering “undeserves DCS hits” disproportionately often.
What does a low-risk dive profile look like?
What we do at depth almost doesn’t matter – for the ascent, the following always applies: simply follow the desaturation curve….
How do you get that to work?
As a simple rule of thumb, even after no-stop dives, it’s good to allow at least five minutes for the last ten meters: one from 10 to 5m, three for the safety stop, one more to the surface.
Yes, another whole minute to the surface! The end of the safety stop does not mean that you now shoot to the surface via power inflator. You just elegantly take another minute and go up slowly, really: SLOWLY.
How well do I need to plan my dive?
As long as you dive within the no-decompression limits, you can simply surface at any time if there is a problem. Slow and controlled, but you just go up and then look further.
When diving like this, it is sufficient for planning purposes to estimate how much gas you still need at what depth to get up safely in case of a problem. How to do this exactly follows in the next section. Then you agree on a maximum depth, check the computer and fini regularly, go up on time, and all is well.
It is helpful to have a rough idea of the no-decompression limits: 45 minutes at 20m, 20 minutes at 30m, 8 minutes at 40m, something like that – the order of magnitude helps to know the dive profile in advance.
The situation is different if a direct ascent is not possible, e.g. if you make a deco dive. In that case, you should be sure that the air is not only bs to the surface, but also for the necessary stops. This makes planning much more complex – the knowledge of which belongs in another course, deco theory.
How much air (gas) is enough?
How much do I consume if everything goes well?
What do I need if something goes wrong?
How much do I need to get me and my buddy to the surface in one piece?
My planned gas consumption
To estimate which cylinder to choose for a particular dive, you need to know how much you are likely to use. For this, you need to know two things: Your own consumption, and the planned dive profile.
How much do I consume? Respiratory minute volume (l/min)
1. How many liters have I consumed?
At the beginning of the dive I had a full tank with 200 bar, at the end I had 50 bar left. So I have used 150 bar.
With this pressure was the air in a diving bottle, which has a certain volume.
150 bar from a 10l bottle is 150bar x10l=1500 barl
2. At what depth?
To know how much I breathe, I have to convert the consumption to what it would be on the surface – so, a volume.
Average depth 12m corresponds to 2.2 bar
1500 barl : 2,2 bar = 682l
3. In what time?
Last but not least, I need to know what I breathe in a certain period of time – in one minute can be measured quite well. Therefore, we calculate what volume we breathe per minute – the respiratory minute volume (AMV)
Dive 45 minutes
682l : 45 min = 15.2 l/min
Liters consumed by pressure by time makes AMV
How much do you consume when things are not going well?
We know our RMV on a normal dive. But what happens when everything is no longer calm, but we are stressed and breathing hard?
When you breathe with exertion, your breathing rate increases. Normally it is 12-16 breaths per minute. During heavy work, it can rise to as many as 50 breaths/minute. In addition, the respiratory volume , normally about 0.5l, also increases up to 3l.
There is a wide range between 12×0.5= 6l AMV at rest and 16x3l=48l. Our normal AMV is already above the 6l resting breath. Can it really go up to 50l?
Some assume this and calculate their reserves according to it. In the case of firefighters, such high values are also quite measurable; they breathe significantly more in an operation on land, where they work hard with heavy equipment on their backs. But if you look at what is physically feasible underwater, it becomes clear that you can only sustain such breathing for a few breaths. A bit more controlled and above all not physically overexerted you are under water already. How much, you have to estimate for yourself – planning a little more conservatively than you actually believe is certainly always a good idea.
How much reserve is enough?
There is, of course, a reason that we think so much about the sufficient amount of gas: Having nothing left to breathe has fatal consequences under water. Even if it is a rare problem, the consequences can be so serious that we must take good precautions at this point.
If we know our RMV and that of our partner, we can calculate how much air we need at what depth to safely surface together at any time. This is the hard limit, the rock bottom.
In a critical situation – a medium-pressure hose bursts, there are only bubbles around you – you need a moment to sort yourself out. We assume 2 minutes here, which is rather little. Then ascend together, at no more than 9m per minute, so controlled.
In doing so, we count on our RMV, but calculate that we will no longer breathe easy in this situation. For this example calculation, we decided to assume that we breathe twice as much during problem solving as we normally do during diving, but only 1.5 times as much during ascent. This can be discussed and adapted for your own safety needs.
What this already means is shown in the table: with 12l bottles, 40m is already quite deep. With a very low RMV it is still possible, but you should first check whether it is really enough for you and your partner, who may breathe more.
And if something goes wrong?
Even when we were planning for gas, we saw that we were basically planning for a severe problem – even in the really unlikely event that a gas supply fails completely, we have enough with us to reach the surface safely.
Of course, a similar thing applies to everything else that can go wrong. How exactly we deal with it depends on two factors: How likely is the problem? And what are the consequences when it happens? A broken fin strap, while far more likely than a burst center pressure hose, is such a minor problem that most of us don’t take a replacement strap into the water, and rightly so.
Probable triggers of accidents
Diving accidents always have a trigger – a problem that started the chain of events that led to an incident. What that is, DAN compiled from 500 accidents from 2017.
We see here that “No more breathing gas” is ahead by a wide margin, DAN Annual Diving Report 2019 Edition.
Even though our equipment is safe and well maintained, problems can always occur. Just a grain of sand in the inflator can cause the jacket to permanently inflate; a regulator can blow off for any number of reasons; every plastic eventually breaks and every O-ring bursts.
Such problems repeatedly lead to incidents reported at DAN. Let’s take a look at the most common ones here – by the way, the full report is available here: DAN Annual Diving Report 2019 Edition
Apparently, Free-flowing regulators have repeatedly led to accidents. The main way to avoid this is to do one thing: From time to time, practice continuing to breathe from a regulator that is blowing off. The first time you should have practiced this in the OWD course – but to not forget it afterwards, you have to do it again and again.
A regulator can suddenly blow off under water because it is icing up. This can happen if there is some moisture in the bottle, or if ice forms in the second stage. It can also block something for another reason – but whatever happens: When a regulator is free-flowing, you keep getting air. This is still enough for a regular promotion.
If the jacket inflates by itself, it is usually because the inflator button is stuck. Pushing and pulling the first can solve the problem. If not, the inflator hose must come off: You practiced this once in OWD. But if you never did it again after that – try it again. It doesn’t require strength, but technique, and you have to remember that every now and then.
Nothing left to breathe
If this happens, there has been a massive error in your gas planning – equipment problems alone cannot cause this.
Of course, it can happen that a single controller no longer delivers anything. For example, when rust from the bottle clogs the filter. Or when water blocks the valve from the inside. In the Regulator itself, this occurs, if at all, as a freak accident – incredibly rare.
When hoses burst
Which is worse: a broken high-pressure hose or a leaking medium-pressure hose?
High pressure sounds much more dangerous, but in this case it is not. The cylinder pressure, i.e. the high pressure, comes out of the first stage only through a tiny hole in the hose. Even if this bursts, the air only flows out very slowly.
The medium pressure hose, on the other hand, supplies us with air, and delivers a large amount of it at 10 bar above ambient pressure. The hose diameter and the outlet from the first stage are many times larger than those of the high-pressure hose – the air flows out completely within a few minutes.
With a burst high pressure hose you can still finish the dive quietly, with a burst medium pressure hose the way leads straight up.