A safety stop is a stop at 5m, or 15ft, for 3 to 5 minutes that divers make at the end of their dive.
The safety stop can be completed mid-water or at a shallow part of the dive site. Although safety stops are not mandatory, you’ll find that divers will complete a safety stop on every single dive.
Maintaining this exact level can be tricky for new or even experienced divers, so it’s not uncommon to hold onto an anchor or mooring line during the safety stop.
Why make a Safety Stop when scuba diving?
Safety stops are highly recommended on every dive, and especially important on deeper dives, because they significantly reduce our risk of decompression sickness.
As you will have learned in your open water course, when we breathe compressed air underwater, nitrogen is absorbed into our bloodstream and gradually accumulates in our body’s tissues. When we start to ascend, the pressure reduces and the nitrogen begins to slowly disperse from our tissues. A process often referred to as ‘off-gassing’.
If we ascend too fast, the pressure reduces rapidly and the pressure differential will cause nitrogen bubbles to form in our tissues and blood vessels. These nitrogen bubbles can then get trapped in our body, resulting in decompression sickness.
By making a safety stop, we are significantly slowing down our ascent which allows time for the excess nitrogen to slowly dissolve out of our bodies before we ascend through the greatest pressure change up to the surface.
And don’t forget when you’ve finished your safety stop it’s very important to swim slowly to the surface, no faster than 18m or 60ft per minute.
A safety stop doesn’t get rid of all of the excess nitrogen you absorbed during the dive. The process of off-gassing continues for several hours after your dive. Ascending slowly ensures that any tiny bubbles of nitrogen that may have formed, also known as silent bubbles, disperse slowly and don’t get stuck.
Scuba diving safety stops are a no brainer. Who doesn’t want to stay safe and spend extra time underwater?
We ScubaOtters certainly do!
Other advantages to making a safety stop
Reducing your risk of decompression sickness isn’t the only reason for making a safety stop!
First of all, this pause gives you the time to assess the surface conditions and identify any potential hazards before you make your final ascent. For example, it is dangerous to surface directly underneath or behind a boat so you can use this time to navigate to a safer spot.
Secondly, you can make sure that all your gear is properly secured for exiting the water. The last thing you want to do is lose your underwater camera, with all that epic footage of the manta rays, because you forgot to clip it back onto your BCD.
And lastly, it’s an opportunity to get that perfect scuba selfie with your buddy or master making bubble rings!
Check out this video if you’re looking for some creative ways to pass your time on your next safety stop:
If you’re interested in learning more, PADI published a great article about the history of safety stops and how we started doing them.
tips for Proper safety stops on every dive
Now that you know why every dive should end with a safety stop, we’ve put together our top tips for making every safety stop look easy.
Establish neutral buoyancy
Don’t forget to vent the air from your BCD as you head up to do your safety stop. Frequently adjusting your buoyancy will ensure you ascend slowly and don’t accidentally float up to the surface.
If you’re struggling to stay down during your safety stop, or need to pump loads of air into your BCD, then you probably need to adjust your weights.
Time your safety stop
Every diver should keep track of their own safety stop. Ultimately, as a certified diver, you are responsible for your own safety.
So don’t rely on another diver to time your safety stop. A dive computer will allow you to properly track your safety stop on every dive.
Maintain proper positioning
Whether vertical or horizontal, remember to keep your depth gauge, or dive computer, at chest level so your torso remains at the right depth.
Hold a line
If you find it difficult to maintain the same level then hold onto an anchor or mooring line. It’s much more important to stay at the same level during your safety stop than it is to hover in the perfect buddha position.
Swim slowly to the surface
Some divers think that once the safety stop is over they can fin up to the surface as fast as they like. But the last 5m, or 15ft, is actually the most dangerous part of the water column for lung overexpansion injuries or decompression sickness as this is where the biggest pressure change occurs.
So after your safety stop has finished make sure you swim slowly to the surface maintaining a safe ascent rate. Again, this is where having your own dive computer comes in handy. Your computer will monitor your ascent rate and warn you if you’re going too fast.
Frequently Asked Questions
Now you know exactly what safety stops are, why we make them, and our top tips for making every safety stop easy.
So you’ve got no excuse to skip the safety stop on your next dive!
How do you like to spend your safety stop?
Let us know your favorite ways to pass the time in the comments!