Scuba Diving Safety Stops Guide

Last Updated: September 19, 2023

There are many rules and techniques that need to be learned before you go scuba diving. One of them is called the safety stop, which is necessary to acclimate a person’s body at the end of the dive. If a diver doesn’t perform the safety stop, they will be at risk of decompression sickness.

People who are new to scuba diving need to learn what will keep them safe when they are underwater. One of the most essential techniques is the safety stop. If a diver forgets to perform one, they will not be able to dive for the rest of day and have to monitor themselves for decompression sickness.

If you’re interested to learn more about the scuba diving safety stop, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll go over some of the most essential aspects of safety stops so you’ll understand why it’s so important.

What is a Safety Stop in Scuba Diving

safety stop in scuba diving

A safety stop is when a diver stops when ascending, at 15 feet for 3 – 5 minutes. The purpose is to help the diver’s body get rid of nitrogen bubbles. When divers go underwater, the pressure causes nitrogen to be diluted and travel throughout the body. Once the diver starts to ascend, the pressure starts to decrease.

This causes nitrogen bubbles to form in the diver’s body and they will need to be released. Problems can arise when ascending too fast, because the pressure will be reducing rapidly. If the safety stop is not performed, the bubbles get larger which might lead to nitrogen narcosis and decompression sickness.

Slowing down an ascent is crucial for allowing those nitrogen bubbles a chance to dissolve. The pressure underwater is a lot different than it is at the surface, which is why divers need to let the nitrogen dissolve before the extreme pressure change when they reach the top.

It’s important to know that a safety stop won’t completely get rid of all the nitrogen that was absorbed in a body. Even after coming on the surface, the off-gassing process will continue for several hours.

The point of the safety stop is to help any tiny nitrogen bubbles that formed disperse so they won’t get stuck.

When is a Safety Stop Required?

Safety stops need to be performed when divers are in depths that are greater than 32 feet. Although it is not mandatory, it is beneficial to do one every time you go diving. Typically, it is performed towards the end of a dive when ascending. It can be done midwater or in a shallow area.

There are some situations when divers should not perform a safety stop though, such as in emergency when out of air and they need to get to the surface quickly.

Most new divers are not sure where the right area is for a safety stop. Even experienced divers have trouble picking the right time to stop. One thing that helps a lot is using an anchor line to keep track. This can be very helpful for those who don’t have a diving computer to let them know exactly where to stop.

While a lot of divers think they can ignore doing safety stops when they are in a shallow water, this isn’t recommended. It’s good practice to do a safety stop every time you are ascending from any depth. Some who go really deep a safety stop can’t be avoided.

Before the safety stop, it’s not recommended to ascend faster than 60 feet per minute. After the stop is complete, you should swim up to the surface slowly.

What is the Best Depth for a Safety Stop?

Divers don’t have to worry about a safety stop until they are on their way up. The ideal depth for performing a safety stop is 15 feet or 5 meters below the surface. Because there is a great change in pressure in the water at approximately 15 feet below the surface.

Divers who have a rope to hold onto usually don’t have trouble making a safety stop at this point. However, those who don’t may need to make the stop a bit deeper, roughly 19 feet below the surface.

It is recommended to have an anchor or rope to hang onto, especially if you don’t have a diving computer to monitor your current depth. When you are able to hang on to an anchor line, it’s easier to stay in place and you will not have to worry about floating up to the surface.

One of the most important things to pay attention to when making a safety stop is the buoyancy. A steady buoyancy is necessary so there are no changes in depth and pressure.

Is There a Safety Stop Calculator?

While many steps of being underwater need a diving table or calculator, the safety stop is done independently. Divers can use a diving computer to assist them with choosing the right spot to make the stop. The dive computers have a safety stop calculator algorithm that knows your exact depth, how long you’ve been at that depth and how long and deep your dive was, among other helpful data.

It is recommended that divers hold the diving computer chest level when they make this stop. This will help them maintain buoyancy and keep their body at the right depth level.

divers being vertical at safety stop

Making it without any help can be difficult for new (and experienced) divers. This is why it’s recommended to use a line or anchor. It will give a visual reference so it’s not as challenging to stay in the right spot. Divers also don’t have to worry about being in a particular position (vertical, horizontal) to make this stop. As long as they are comfortable and can maintain the position, there shouldn’t be a problem.

How Deep Can You Dive Without a Safety Stop?

It is always recommended to do a safety stop when ascending no matter how deep you went. Of course, safety stops can’t be avoided for very deep dives, they shouldn’t be avoided for short dives either. There are many stories in the diving community of situations when a safety stop was avoided.

A responsible diver should ignore all the myths surrounding safety stops and make one every time. Some might think that avoiding it, will allow more time underwater. This is putting the diver at risk of an injury when they return to the surface. When making a diving plan, scheduling 3 to 5 minutes in the end for a safety stop is crucial.

There are divers who are certified to use nitrox, which has a higher concentration of oxygen to limit nitrogen. While these divers won’t have as many nitrogen bubbles to worry about, this doesn’t exempt them from having to make a safety stop.

Safety Stop vs Decompression Stop

Both safety stops and decompression stops are necessary for avoiding decompression sickness. As mentioned above, a safety stop is performed on the way up to allow the nitrogen bubbles to dissolve before the change in pressure. A decompression stop is mandatory and needs to be performed when a diver has exceeded the no decompression limit.

Sometimes divers accidentally exceed this limit, so they will need to make a decompression stop. It will have different requirements for the depth and length of time needed. The requirements will depend on how far the diver had exceeded the limits. The length of the decompression stop can be determined using a diving computer too.

Final Thoughts

A safety stop in scuba diving is important no matter how deep the diver descends. Divers will learn about this technique during scuba lessons before their first journey to the underwater. A safety stop is typically judged by the diver on their way up from the dive. One should be performed every time unless there is an emergency.

If a diver skips out on the safety stop, they could be at risk of an injury when they emerge on the surface. During the safety stop, nitrogen bubbles that have accumulated in the diver’s body will have an opportunity to release, so they don’t cause problems when the diver reaches the surface.

The change in pressure when underwater is what causes the nitrogen bubbles build-up and if the correct procedures are not followed, they could cause decompression sickness.

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