The incidence of decompression sickness is quite low, but that doesn’t mean that you are impervious to the risk. Following established protocols during normal diving practices will reduce your risk significantly. It’s worth noting that extreme cases are most often linked to other diving emergencies. Read our tips on how to prevent scuba diving accidents and how to prevent problems underwater, and you will further reduce your risk of injury.
This is not where you want to go after diving! © US Naval Forces Central Command
- Hydration. If you are not hydrated your circulation system is sluggish which means you will not off gas your nitrogen load efficiently. How much you should drink varies; your pee should be straw coloured, if its darker you need to drink more water.
- Conservatism. Always plan a conservative dive profile and stay well within the nitrogen loading limits. Tracking your nitrogen levels is easy with a dive computer but do be aware that if it fails, standard practice is to stay out of the water for 24 hours so that your body is clean to start afresh with another computer. Remember to be extra cautious if you have recently been ill if you are older if the dive is strenuous or extremely cold.
- Ascend slowly. You need to ascend slowly enough for your tissues to release gas safely. Training agency guidelines recommend a speed of between 9m and 18m per minute. Your computer is likely set to between 8m and 10m per minute. Read our tips on safe ascents.
- Safety stop. A safety stop allows your body an extra few minutes to off gas before ascending; it’s prudent to make one after every dive.
- Profiles. Keep your dive profile to a smooth down and up curve and avoid saw-toothing which can turn silent bubbles into silent killers. Extreme fluctuations of depth are not tested practices so even computers would have difficulty accurately tracking your nitrogen load.
- Repetitive Dives. Standard practice is to make your deepest dive of the day first. Decompression theory was tested using this practice. Go outside of this, and you are in uncharted territory. When making multiple dives over a few days add in extra conservatism. Keep your last dives shallower than 12m and consider sitting some dives out if you are not well rested.
- Exercise. Vigorous exercise before or after a dive changes how your circulation system is working, so kick back and relax after a dive but not with a beer.
- Alcohol. Apart from being a diuretic and contributing to dehydration, alcohol also changes your circulation. You certainly don’t want to be hung over pre-dive, and you should be conservative with consumption post dive too.
- Flying and altitude. The reduced pressure in an airplane or at altitude will release any nitrogen still working its way out of your system. Wait a minimum of 24 hours before flying or ascending to altitude. There’s some great diving in mountain lakes which require more training to understand safe decompression practices. Make sure you’re trained before exploring.
- Fitness. Dive tables and computer algorithms are conservative, but they don’t account for your health and fitness. Your body needs to be in good condition to effectively eliminate nitrogen. Being overweight and unfit increases your risk of a diving emergency and puts you at risk of decompression sickness.