The Age-Old Question of How Deep the Open Water Certified Diver Can Go
If you’ve been around the dive world or have just recently become scuba certified, you may have experienced a bit of confusion as to how deep Open Water certified divers can actually go. What depth are you qualified for? Can you dive deeper than that? At what depth will the scuba police pull you over?
18m/60ft Max Depth?
First, let’s address the reason for such confusion. In the Open Water Diver course, there is an 18m/60ft maximum depth limit set in the training standards. In your course, you will make four open water dives and will not pass the 18m/60ft limit. Therefore, you will not yet have been trained for what training standards deem to be a DEEP dive (anything after 60ft is considered to be a deep dive). At the end of the course (if you complete all of the skills, academics, and dives), you will be a certified Open Water Diver, therefore allowed to rent gear on your own, book guided dives, and be “qualified” to dive to a maximum depth of 18m/60ft.
Now, after you are certified as an Open Water Diver, you may want go on a dive that takes you deeper than 18m/60ft., but can you?
Let’s discuss deep dives a little further, shall we? During deep dives, more attention needs to be given to your computer’s no stop limit (how long you can stay at depth). There will need to be more adjustments made for proper buoyancy control. You will also experience an increased air consumption rate (how fast you are breathing the air from the cylinder). Since you have yet to dive to more than 18m/60ft, it is recommended that you dive with a professional so you may have the added safety and instruction needed to enjoy your deep dive. They will ensure proper gauge checks, buoyancy control, and will keep you within no decompression limits.
Training Dives vs. Recreational Dives
Now, let’s say that you decide to go out with a dive operation for a fun day of diving after your certification. Since this is a recreational dive (not a training dive or class) and since you are a certified recreational Open Water scuba diver, the guide may take you, with conditions being agreeable and deemed safe, deeper than 18m/60 ft., and may take you to the maximum recreational dive limit, which is 40m/130ft. If conditions are safe and controlled, you ARE allowed to go to that depth.
That being said, it is rare but not unheard of, especially for some adventurous dive sites around the globe, that a Divemaster/guide would take divers to maximum recreational dive limits. Safety concerns aside, it makes for a very short dive as your air will not last very long at that depth. Also, your no decompression time will be very short. In the dive world, many dive operations have in house diver prerequisites set for particular dive sites.
Many boats have a policy of a 30m/100f max, especially on “no bottom” dives like the Backwall of Molokini Crater. But there are things to see beyond 30m/100 ft. Many divers have dived beyond 30m/100ft, not having any additional deep dive training or experience, because they were being led by professionals.
When diving with professionals, they are the Scuba Police, and just like in the real world, some officers are more strict than others. It will depend on the operation and their internal rules and pre-requisites regarding the dive site, conditions, and the other divers in the group that will determine if you can participate in that particular “deep” dive. Believe me, any rule or prerequisite set by a dive operation or instructor is there for your safety.
Now, when you dive with a buddy, away from a dive operation, guess what? No Scuba Police. So you can do whatever you want. But just like in your non-dive life, breaking set limits, deviating from standards, ignoring safety precautions, or not being a prudent safety minded person could result in major life-threatening consequences. Your life is in your hands and diving is about personal responsibility (whether you are with a professional guide or not).
The recreational dive limit is set at 40m/130ft for several reasons. This is due, most practically, because your air will probably not last you more than 10-15 minutes at that depth. There’s also some real math related to nitrogen and oxygen intake and partial pressure issues. But most importantly, you will have passed no decompression stop limits and will have entered decompression diving. This means you will have to stop at certain depths for a period of time to off gas. This is very different then the 15ft for 3 minute SAFETY STOP we make during recreational diving.
So, how deep can you dive when you’re diving on your own? As deep as you want, I guess. How long do you want to live? That’s a different question! -Javier Cantellops
The short, super long answer is… as an Open Water certified diver you are qualified to dive “independently” (with a buddy of course), without a certified professional guiding you, to 18m/60ft.
This is why we recommend continuing your scuba education and going on more dives. We especially suggest taking more classes and specialties like Advanced Open Water (after which you will be qualified to dive to 30m/100ft), Deep Diver, Peak Performance Buoyancy, or Wreck Diver to name a few. This additional training and experience will ensure that you become a well-rounded, safe, and skilled diver. Maybe your goal will be becoming a Master Scuba Diver. Make no mistake though, that title is not earned after just a few dives. In the end, there are no Scuba Police when diving away from a dive operation.
As far as diving on your own, do so responsibly and with a deep respect for our oceans, the sport, and for your safety. “Conservative” is a good motto to have when diving. As an instructor, I relish every dive whether it’s 9m/20ft. for 100 minutes or 36m/120ft for 15. Either way, I am constantly checking my gauges to ensure I am within safe limits, as should you. Stay within dive limits, dive conservatively, and check your gauges frequently.
And know that if you’re diving with me or my crew, we are most definitely the Scuba Police and we will pull you over if you’re not following our rules. 🙂
Dive on, dive safe, and strive to be that Master Scuba Diver, with safety always at the forefront.
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photo credit for the super cool over/under shot: Rob Wilson