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The History of Safety Stops


Today, safety stops are common practice. Every diver knows that before ascending, one should stop at 5 meters for 3 minutes to help exhale the nitrogen absorbed during the dive. The safety stop not only slows the release of nitrogen, which reduces the risk of decompression sickness, but it also reminds divers to look out for obstacles that may be in the way of their ascent.


Safety stops were not common practice. Here is a brief history of the evolution of safety stops and what the current recommendations look like.




Many of the practices that recreational divers use today came from military divers. The 18 meters / 60 feet per minute ascent rate began with the US Navy as a compromise between combat freedivers and the needs of the commercial grade diving safety helmet. More recently, the Navy has revised this to a slower pace of 10 meters / 30 feet per minute. Andrew Pilmanis performed one of the first studies of safety stops in 1974, examining rates of ascent and bubble formation in divers.




The launch of the Recreational Dive Planner in 1988 introduced safety stops to a wider audience. This step, along with the PADI "SAFE Diver" campaign, has been a huge help in diver education.


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In 1994, graduate student Donna Uguccioni wrote her master's thesis on safety stops that expanded on Pilmanis's work from the 1970s onwards. Her study used Doppler scans to determine that divers who practice safety stops have less blistering in their bloodstream than those who don't. All of this, combined with the popularity of dive computers, continued awareness of the importance of safety stops.




Today, it is well known that safety stops are beneficial to all divers. Most divers wouldn't dream of not making a safety stop. Dive computers now remind divers to make a safety stop. This simple practice has improved diving safety in many ways. It's surprising to realize that it wasn't common practice 30 years ago.

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