10 Tips for Safe Descents and Ascents.

Ascent and Descent rates are critical to staying safe.

Scuba diving in Gozo is a treat and is the best place in the Mediterranean to dive. Deep diving, walls and caverns can be found in abundance, with clear, blue, warm water. Here are 10 Tips for safe ascents and descents when scuba diving on Gozo.

Sometimes, with good visibility divers tend to descend quickly and find they run into difficulty with equalisation of the ears. Ascent rates in clear water occur quicker than you intend, leading to your buddy grabbing hold of you to slow your ascent rate. These are common mistakes and easily preventable. Let’s take a look as some tips to ensure your scuba dive is enjoyable and a success.

The Descent;

1. Hold on to the descent line.

Descent and ascents are easier to control if you hold onto a rope. Until you feel experienced enough to make a free, controlled descent use a rope where ever possible. It makes it easy for you to stay with your buddy and the rest of the group. A rope allows you to descend at your own speed and prevents you from drifting away from the intended dive site. Equalisation becomes easier when you descend in a controlled manner and a slow descent helps if you need to stop. Remember to let out the air slowly from your BCD while descending.

During your ascent, the air in your BCD will begin to expand as the depth decreases. Novice divers might find themselves rising to quickly if not enough air is vented out of the BCD. If you are unsure of your ascent rate, hold the line and slowly deflate your BDC as you rise. Use the line to help you control your ascent rate.

2. Descend Feet First;

Try to maintain a vertical position for ascents and descents. Stay upright with your feet down and watch where you are going. As you gain more experience you can change this position later. Staying upright on your safety stop helps you maintain your correct depth between 6 – 4 meters.

Descend in a slow manner and try not to flail around. Being overweight will increase your descent rate making it difficult to equalise. Some dive sites on Gozo are quite deep, Reqqa Point, for example, requires a controlled descent down the wall side.

3. Use your Dive Computer;

To check your ascent rate and descent depths, use your computer as an aid. This is the safest way to control and achieve the correct ascent rate. Whilst you descend, your computer will provide you with your actual depth information. If the ascent rate is too quick, the dive computer will alert you to slow down. The quick ascent alarm is a very important feature and should not be turned off. Use your dive computer to make a safety stop; it will help you maintain the correct depth and time.

4. Use the Buddy System;

Whilst descending and ascending, make sure you have your buddy close. Losing your buddy during both ascents and descents is not a good way to begin or end a dive; stay near-by. During descent and ascent try to execute this skill at a similar rate. Remind each other to slow down if ascending too quickly. Rapid descents often end up in buddy separation, especially in poor visibility or deep dives like the Double Arch dive site on Gozo. Do not panic if you are low on air during the ascent, this will only increase the ascent rate. If necessary, share air using your buddies octopus, but better still check your air gauge and consumption more regularly.

5. Ascent and Descent Rates;

Remember, during ascent and descent, we need to give our bodies enough time to adjust to the changing pressure. Rapid descents often lead to ear equalisation problems and buddy separation, so descend in a slow manner.

Rapid ascents may cause serious injury such as decompression illness. During the ascent, the nitrogen bubbles in your body are released to a certain degree through exhalation. If you ascend to fast the nitrogen bubbles cannot be expelled quick enough, they begin to expand and become trapped causing divers to suffer from the ‘bends’, or worse. Rapid ascents can cause serious illness and death. Use your computer to ascend and do not exceed 9 m per minute. Panicked divers and divers who hold their breath on ascent will suffer from pulmonary barotrauma, which is a lung rupture and very serious indeed.

Another guide to help you ascend slowly is by watching your exhalation bubbles. The rule of thumb says you do not ascend quicker than the last bubbles which you have just exhaled. The absolute maximum ascent rate is 18 m per minute, but 9 m per minute is much better.

6. Always make a Safety Stop;

After each dive make a safety stop at 5 m for a minimum of three minutes. Try to relax and not overexert yourself at this depth. The safety stop is there to help your body release some of the nitrogen that is still in your body. If you completed a deep dive, then a safety stop is a must. The safety stop helps to prevent nitrogen bubbles forming and eliminates as much nitrogen as possible before exiting the water.

Sometimes conditions may be challenging in a swell at 5 m. If this is the case drop to 6 meters and try to stay there. Be aware of holding on to the boat anchor line, this will drag you up and down as the boat rises and falls in the swell. The rapid up and down movement whilst holding on to the anchor line at the end of a dive is not safe and should be avoided. Sometimes the rise and fall cause a few meters in depth difference, which is not appropriate for a safety stop.

Make sure you have enough air to end your safety stop safely, as top side conditions can change rapidly on Gozo.

7. Breath Continuously and don’t Breath Hold to save air;

The golden rule in scuba diving is breath continuously and never hold your breath. This rule is meant for the duration of your dive, also during ascent and descent.

Holding one’s breath during the dive may result in serious lung over-expansion injuries. All scuba divers are subject to pressure once they descend below the surface. As you increase your depth, your regulator provides you with more air than at the surface. For example; if you are at 30 m, you will require four times more air than you would at the surface. Your lungs during ascent stay the same as long as you continuously breathe, if you hold your breath your lungs will over-expand causing serious and life-threatening injuries.

8. Equalise early and often;

The equalisation is very important and should be done early and often. By equalising your ears, you prevent the build-up of pressure on your ears. No equalisation of the ears or late equalisation causes discomfort and pain. If you feel discomfort, stop immediately, rise a meter or two and try to equalise again. If the discomfort remains it is better to end the dive before you cause barotrauma of the ear.

Some divers equalise their ears by pinching their nose and breathing out gently against their closed nose. This will allow you to ‘pop’ your ears and equalise the pressure. Some divers struggle to achieve equalisation in this manner, they prefer to swallow or simply wiggle the lower jaw. Either technique is acceptable as long as it achieves the required outcome.

Divers who are suffering from a cold or sinus problems should not dive. Often the Eustachian Tubes are blocked with mucus and prevent equalisation taking place.

9. Safety when using a DSMB;

Practice using a DSMB often for safety reasons. A delayed surface marker buoy is a very efficient tool but requires skill and knowledge to safely deploy it. The DSMB is used to signal boats or mark your position in the water; they should be part of your dive gear! Deploying the DSMB underwater before you make your safety stop is a good idea. Make sure you do not get the reel line caught around any dive gear, otherwise the DSMB will drag you upwards. Never attach the DSMB to your person or to your BCD, if it gets caught up with passing surface traffic it will drag you behind it. Be ready to deflate a little air out of your BCD in case you start to ascend as the DSMB rises.

10. Hand Signals;

We are all aware that we cannot speak underwater, we depend on hand signals. Make sure you understand the hand signals that are given at the dive briefing, if not, ask. Your Buddies hand signals are also vital to you for your safety. Standard signals are often the same around the world but check with your Buddy that you understand their communication signals. It is important that you know how to ask your buddy how much air they have left and what the correct hand signal is to reply. Low on air and share air is important for the safety of both divers.

Enjoy your dive and make it a success.

Dive Smart Gozo