2 scuba divers looking towards surface light

How Deep Can Scuba Divers Dive?

One of the most common questions we get from people who are new to scuba is how deep can a scuba diver dive? 

There are actually a myriad of different answers to this question depending on things such as training, age, and type of diving.

For recreational scuba divers, which are the vast majority of divers in the world, the maximum depth you can dive is 130 feet or 40 meters, which can be done with an advanced certification. For open water divers, the recommended depth limit is 60 feet or 18 meters.

There are a number of things to consider when thinking about depths. Let’s take a look at the major implications and considerations in this article.

many scuba divers ascending under a boat

Who Sets the Depth Limits?

The limits are recommendations made by the various scuba diving certification agencies such as PADI and SDI. 

The ultimate goal of setting these recommendations is that people do not engage in activity that is outside the bounds of their training.

To dive to up to 60 feet of depth, you will need to complete open water certification. This is the basic scuba diving certification that all entering divers will complete. 

It provides all the basics including important safety information. 

Open water divers can safely dive to 60 feet.

If you want to dive to greater depths, you will need to complete advanced open water. People often hear the word advanced and assume that they need to be excellent divers. 

This is not the case. 

Advanced simply means you learn more advanced skills.

In fact, you could theoretically complete your open water certification and immediately begin advanced open water. 

However, it often helps to get at least a handful of dives in before pursuing advanced open water.

Advanced open water provides extra training in things that people are more likely to run into in deeper dives such as a greater understanding of decompression stops, navigation, and dive planning. 

These tools will help ensure better safety and enjoyment of deep dives.

2 scuba divers on the seabed

Can You Dive Past These Limits?

Well, technically, yes. There is no such thing as dive police. However, there are operators that may strictly enforce the limits. 

Although it is more likely that you may exceed the 60 foot open water limit on some tours.

For example, during my dives in Belize, there were times that we dove up to 85 feet despite only being open water certified at the time. 

However, this was in a safe environment with little current and two dive masters for a group of six people.

Typically, dive operators will be stricter with limits in more dangerous situations such as those with high currents or challenging dives. 

Additionally, it is important that divers feel comfortable and knowledgeable.

In fact, there are situations where you may not want to dive up to your recommended limit. For example, if you are diving a new site with adverse conditions, you may want to stay closer to the surface for safety. 

Each dive is different and decisions should be made with skills and safety in mind.

scuba divers going through a fissure

How Deep Can a Human Dive?

This is another question that people often ask. It is normal for people to want to test their limits and many people in the diving world have done this over time.

Currently, the world record for freediving (i.e. diving without scuba equipment) is 702 feet, which is mind-blowing for both the depth and the ability to hold your breath for that long. 

Remember no scuba equipment means no air.

The world record for greatest depth with scuba equipment was set in Egypt in 2014 by Ahmed Gabr when he reached a depth of 1,090 feet. 

The dive down took 12 minutes while coming back to the surface took 15 hours. Yes, hours! 

That’s because of the massive amount of decompression stops needed to prevent getting the bends. He trained for four years for the feat.

Tech divers are people who dive professionally, typically for things like oil rig maintenance and other tasks. 

They typically consider any depth greater than 200 feet of 60 meters to be a “deep dive.” Within recreational diving, most people consider a dive over 100 feet to be a “deep dive.”

a scuba diver with bubbles

What Are Unique Risks of Deep Dives?

Again, with recreational diving, any dive greater than 100 feet is typically considered a “deep dive.” 

In fact, scuba divers can take a specialty deep diving course which is recommended for people who want to frequently dive at depths greater than 100 feet. 

This course builds upon advanced open water training.

When we think about deep dives, there are three main risks that tend to pop up. These are decompression sickness, nitrogen narcosis, and rapid air usage.

Decompression Sickness

Decompression sickness is probably the risk that is most familiar to people, even non-divers. It is typically referred to as “the bends.” 

It is known as the bends due to the joint pain that is typically associated with it as in you feel it in places that your body bends.

As you dive deeper, you encounter increased pressure from the water column on your body. As such, everything becomes compressed. 

This includes the molecules in your tissues. As you breathe your air, you breathe in and your tissues store more nitrogen.

As you come back towards the surface, things decompress. 

However, if things decompress too quickly, bubbles can form which can lead to pain and even potential depth due to gas forming in your blood and tissues.

Thus, it is important to do decompression stops along the way up so that you give your body time to help remove the nitrogen from your tissues and blood stream in a safer manner. 

Decompression sickness can occur at depths over 20 feet, but is much more likely in deep dives, requiring careful planning and attention.

4 scuba divers on the seabed

Nitrogen Narcosis

The second risk associated with deep dives is nitrogen narcosis. 

You can think about this as getting drunk underwater. This isn’t something experienced by everyone. 

But some people experience symptoms akin to drunkenness when their body takes on too much nitrogen.

This typically is first sensed as tingling of the fingers, dizziness, or disorientation. Another symptom can be tunnel vision. 

Nitrogen narcosis in of itself is not dangerous to your health; however, its effects can cause other problems.

People experiencing this may have difficulty reading their gauges and have impaired decision making. 

Some people experiencing it have even done irrational things like take their regulators out of their mouths.

Dive buddies should always watch for signs of nitrogen narcosis. 

Additionally, if you experience symptoms on a deep dive, simply ascend until the symptoms go away and continue your dive at that depth.

Rapid Air Usage

The final risk that comes with a deep dive is rapid air usage. As you learn early in your open water training, you consume greater amounts of air when the air is compressed more heavily. 

This is because the air becomes compressed, meaning that each breath breathes in more air.

Thus, on deep dives, you will go through your air supply much quicker than on shallow dives. 

For example, a diver may be able to dive for an hour or more at 20 feet on a tank of air. 

However, at 130 feet, you’re probably going to have only ten minutes of bottom time before you have to start going back up.

Another part of the issue here is the fact that deep dives require longer decompression stops. Thus, you will need to ensure that you have enough air left for these stops.

fish part in an arch as a scuba diver goes through

Do I Need to Do Deep Dives?

Ultimately, the answer to this question depends on your goals as a diver. The majority of recreational divers prefer tropical coral reefs. 

Fortunately, coral reefs prefer lots of sunlight and tend to grow very poorly in depths above 60 feet.

Thus, if you want to mainly dive reefs, you’ll likely never need to do a deep dive. In fact, many great reefs are under 40 or even 20 feet in depth. 

There are canyons in reefs that will penetrate a bit farther and things like reef walls may go deeper, but most of what you’ll want to see is within open water limits.

If you have a goal to dive shipwrecks, you’ll likely want to explore training for deep dives. 

While there certainly are some shallow water shipwrecks, a lot of the more popular ones sit at greater than 60 feet of depth. Thus, it really depends on your goals.

2 scuba divers around a shipwreck

Final Thoughts

Scuba divers often wonder how deep they can dive. 

While tech divers tend to dive hundreds of feet and the world record is over 1,000 feet, recreational scuba divers will stick to depths under 60 feet for beginners and under 130 feet overall.

You’ll be able to see lots of things fairly close to the surface, particularly in popular vacation destinations. 

However, those wanting to take on some new challenges can learn more about deep dives.

Mike Seals
Chief Crisp Eater at Guiness Brewey | + posts

Mike resides in landlocked Indiana but takes every opportunity to travel to warm waters for diving. When in his home state, he typically dives quarries. His favorite place to dive is the reef off of Ambergris Caye, Belize. When not diving, he works as a researcher, runs marathons, and spends time with his three kids.

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