It’s always a sad moment when you have to start your ascent, but it’s important to remember that your dive isn’t over. Don’t become complacent as you need to take as much care in these final minutes as you did for the duration of the dive. Read our pointers to help your ascent be trouble free.
Going Up © Greg Grimes
- Signal. Don’t assume your buddy has registered it’s time to end the dive. Make sure they have acknowledged with a clear signal so that you make your ascent together. If you are diving with a team or a group, remember what you agreed with them and let them know you’re leaving if required.
- Look up and listen. Check the water column above you. Are there any hazards? Is there a boat moored overhead? Be aware of sounds from the surface. Noise from boat engines travel a long way underwater, but you can hear if the sound is getting closer or going further away. Keep listening until you are on the surface.
- Directions. Follow any instructions that you were given for surfacing. For example, a common one for diving from large vessels is to surface close to the reef for protection but swim out a ways on the surface for your pick up.
- Buoyancy. As pressure decreases, air spaces expand, and exposure protection becomes more buoyant. The greatest pressure change occurs between 10m and the surface so stay in control and be ready to release air from your BCD.
- Speed. You need to ascend slowly to be safe and minimize your risk of decompression sickness. Training agencies recommend speeds between 9m and 18m per minute and most computers are set to between 8m and 10m per minute. Divers of yesteryear will tell you to ascend slower than the smallest bubbles from your exhalation; this is a good guide if you have nothing else.
- Disorientation. Although not common, disorientation can occur when ascending in blue water without any reference and can also be caused by expanding air escaping your sinus and ears. To combat it you need a reference; this can be your buddy, their bubbles, your computer or a line from an SMB. Holding on to your buddy and hugging yourself can also bring some relief.
- Reverse block. This painful ear problem is caused by air not being able to escape as it expands upon ascent. To remedy this, descend a meter or so and allow the air time to work itself out. You can help by wiggling your jaw, stretching your neck or blowing your nose.
- Safety Stop. This pause before your final ascent adds prudence to your plan allowing your body that extra few minutes to off gas. Unless there’s an emergency, there’s no reason to blow it off, and you never know what might pass by.
- Marker. Mark your ascent area. Sending an SMB to the surface or surfacing by your dive float or flag offers some safety from boat traffic. If you happen to find yourself without either a good blast of air from your alternate regulator can serve to show you’re coming up.
- Final ascent. As you ascend, spin so that you can see the surface from all sides and protect your head by stretching one arm out. This will save you from hitting your head on a divers tank or a kayak.
For what to do next, read our tips on how to stay safe on the surface.