How Does a Dive Computer Work?

Last Updated: February 21, 2022

With exhilarating depths and underwater secrets to explore, scuba diving is one of the most popular adventure activities. However, there is more to scuba diving than what meets the eye.

Many factors need to be constantly monitored throughout a dive session. And that’s where dive computers come in. Their sophistication provides you with accurate information, making your monitoring process quite hassle-free.

In this post, I will help you get acquainted with the abc’s of dive computers. Knowing how to use a dive computer is absolutely crucial.

So, before diving into the deep blue sea, taking a plunge into this guide might be a good idea.

Dive Computer Basics

Let’s start at square one. A dive computer is an integral part of the diving equipment. It comes with a display that provides divers with the necessary information regarding their dive.

If you hear divers talking about a personal decompression computer or a decompression meter, don’t be stumped. They are referring to dive computers, just in a different manner. Diving computers are built to endure and to provide divers with real-time information.

Some of the components include pressure sensors, an analog-to-digital converter, clock, display, faceplate, waterproof housing, and power supply.

Additionally, they have a temperature sensor, RAM and ROM. Most underwater computers make use of decompression algorithms to warn divers about their risk of developing decompression sickness.

Just remember, dive computers are not the same as dive watches.

How Do You Read a Dive Computer?

The dive computer’s display provides you with a lot of information. But all that information will be of no use if you don’t know how to read it correctly.

Therefore, if you are looking to use a dive computer, learning to interpret it is paramount.

Generally, the display of a wrist dive computer can give you the following information: time, depth, information about previous dives, no stop limits, emergency decompression, and more.

Upon acquainting yourself with these terms, you will be able to read a dive computer accurately. To help you in this end, I have provided in-depth coverage of the display information below.

What Does a Dive Computer Tell You?

how to read a dive computer

A dive computer’s display is an absolute gold mine of information that can make all the difference during your dive session.

The information you’ll find include the following.

1. Time

Your dive computer can keep you updated on your dive’s duration by displaying the dive time. Additionally, most display the regular time as well, so that you don’t lose track of what’s happening on land.

2. Depth

In scuba diving, dive depths are crucial. For instance, entry-level divers are only allowed a depth between 60 and 66 ft. If you are diving for recreational purposes, you can’t dive beyond a depth of 130 ft.

Similarly, the allowed maximum depth for divers, irrespective of the purpose, is set at 160 ft. Sometimes, this limit can be increased.

Dive computers constantly update your dive depths so that you don’t have to rack your brains, trying to calculate the depth yourself.

It can also tell you about the maximum depth you reached during the dive at the end of your dive session.

3. Ascent Rate

This information will become important while you’re returning to the surface. Your ascent rate cannot be too fast or too slow, and the dive computer will display the information for you.

At times, if your ascent rate is improper, it can alert you by beeping.

4. Emergency Decompression

As far as scuba divers are concerned, nitrogen is not a friend. At times, during your ascent to the surface, your body might need a pause. Why do you ask? Your body needs to expel the nitrogen from your blood.

If the gas does not get expelled, it might lead to decompression sickness – a condition characterized by joints pain, dizziness and fatigue.

Your dive computer can alert you about the need for an emergency decompression stop, where you halt temporarily during the ascent.

5. No Stop Limits

Closely related to the emergency decompression feature, the no stop limits in your dive computer perform a slightly different function. It tells you when to make decompression stops and tells you how long the stops should be for.

Quite a useful feature, don’t you think?

6. No Stop Time Remaining

The no stop time remaining information on your computer’s display is for you to know about the depth you can dive to without needing to pause for a decompression stop.

7. Enriched Air Compatible

It is important to ensure that your diving computer is enriched air compatible. When divers use enriched air during a dive, it can significantly alter their diving experience.

For instance, they can extend their dive times and no decompression limits using enriched air. Your dive computer needs to take enriched air into account and show updated information accordingly.

8. Battery Level Indicator

As is the case with every electronic device, scuba diving computers also display battery levels. It would be helpful if you checked your battery levels before diving. Now, you wouldn’t want it to sputter and die halfway through the dive, would you?

9. Information About Previous Dives

For divers, keeping a log of their activities is quite important. Here’s a fact you need to know: Divers shouldn’t fly for at least 12-18 hours after diving. With flying or high altitude in general, the risk of developing decompression sickness is high.

If you find that you’ve lost track of your dives, just check your dive computer. It can surprise you with a well-kept record.

The more sophisticated and top quality dive computers can give you extra information. For instance, you can learn about the gas mixture in use and the cumulative oxygen toxicity exposure (CNS).

By understanding the terms mentioned above and their meanings, you will become an expert in reading dive computers. You will also get to know how to use them properly.

Why Should I Use a Dive Computer?

Are you a diver who still makes use of the dive tables? While old is gold, there are many advantages of using dive computers over dive tables. I have rounded up the key advantages, take a look:

  • No Need for Manual Calculations

Planning a dive involves a lot of calculation. And performing them manually is hard. A dive computer can perform all the necessary calculations on its own. Just provide the necessary input, and let it do the rest.

  • Regular Warnings

Possibly the greatest advantage, they can be programmed to provide you with audible alerts if something goes wrong during the ascent. Also, emergency decompression alerts are particularly useful.

These alerts can go a long way towards making your dive a safe one.

  • Great for Record-keeping

As I mentioned earlier, these gadgets are impeccable at maintaining your diving history. And you know what the best part is? You can download this data onto your computer, allowing you to analyze your dive data in whichever way you want.

  • Makes Room for Flexibility

With dive tables, you can’t alter your dive course or schedule. However, that’s not the case with a dive computer. Considering that it feeds you with real-time data, you get more freedom to decide what you do during the dive.

For example, if you’d like to explore a different route than planned, you can do that.

How Do I Choose the Right Dive Computer?

Ok, now that you know how does a dive computer work and how to use it properly, what’s next? If you are looking to buy one to accompany you on your next dive, I’d like to help you with that.

When trying to figure out what suits you the best, keep in mind the following factors:

Read: How to Use a Dive Watch

You should be able to use it without a ruffle. So, considering the ease of use will also help greatly.

Summing Up

For scuba divers of all levels, dive computers are very handy to use. It wouldn’t be wrong to regard them as the jack of all things scuba diving: they can measure pressure, temperature, time, and depth.

They can also sync this data with your changing body conditions while diving. Add to this mix the interesting array of features they offer, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

On your next dive, I hope that your very own dive computer will accompany you.

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