Diving and flying – how long do you have to wait?

06/01/2020

A topic that everyone has heard of before, but far too many have forgotten about. We explain how diving and flying are really related!

I am currently on the plane from Barcelona back to our beautiful island of Tenerife and looking at the calendar I see that I have 4x Discover Scuba Diving tomorrow. This makes me think about, that I often have to explain ‘diving and flying’ to our customers. So why not write a blog article about this subject?
Far too many people are unfortunately unsure about this, spread half-truths or worse lies. But it is just as bad not to take the topic seriously! So how long do you have to wait before you can jump on a plane?

Flying after Diving

Almost everyone knows: Generally it is not advisable to fly directly after diving. But how long do you have to wait after diving?

Let’s see first why we shouldn’t fly straight after diving. Even if we can safely get back to the surface after diving, we still have to spend some time at a normal atmospheric pressure of 1 bar before we can expose ourselves to a lower pressure. Because a lower pressure is what we have when we e.g. fly or go up a mountain (the Teide). Decompression models are based on certain assumptions and one of the most important assumptions is that after diving we are at an ambient pressure of 1 bar. Then the body can remove excess nitrogen in our body in a controlled manner. If we do not follow this rule, our decompression model is no longer correct. So it could happen that we gas out too quickly. In the worst case, this would mean a decompression sickness. We definitely want to avoid this, that’s why we stick to what diving physicians advise us to do.

So, how long do we have to wait?

Let us leave out the recommendations of the US Navy, after all they are made for military divers. With other devices (double tanks) and other parameters (e.g. pressure chamber directly on the boat)
The best recommendations gives us PADI. PADI specializes in recreational divers and that’s what we are!
These recommendations therefore apply to the average. Tall people, small people. Big, thin, old and young. Every body is different, so we’d rather play it safe so that nothing happens to us!
PADI tells us:

  • wait at least 12 hours after a simple dive
  • wait at least 18 hours after multiple dives

Important:
This applies to normal dives without deco stops! As PADI recreational divers, we generally do not make decompression stops. That means we end our dives before the no-stop limit runs to 0 minutes. Those who dive into decompression, be it accidentally or on purpose, accumulate more nitrogen and should therefore wait longer. A general rule here is at least 24 hours. However, as responsible PADI divers, we reject diving in deco for recreational diving!

If we want to be really exact, you would have to include the dive profile. After all, it makes a big difference whether I dive 20min at -10m depth or 20min at -30m depth. But in order to not make it too complicated, we treat all dives equally and stay on the safe side.
By the way:
Your dive computers often shows the 24h no-fly time, as well as the calculated desaturation time after which your body is completely desaturated. This allows you to better estimate what is currently happening in your body.

Let’s make it even easier:
Many of you will be diving on holidays, so generally there is no more diving on the day of the flight. This simple rule is sufficient in 95% of the cases to comply with the 12h or 18h rule 🙂

Fly before diving

Occasionally we are also asked whether diving is allowed to take place one day after flying. Yes of cause!
The flight ban after diving is based on the supersaturation with nitrogen, which we accumulate during diving. There is no problem at all, to get out of the plane and jump directly into the water!

Freediving and scubadiving

If we are already on the topic: There is a connection between SCUBA diving and freediving for the same reason. Simply said, we can treat freediving like flying. You are not exposed to a lower ambient pressure when freediving, but we have many very fast pressure changes due to the frequent and rapid up and down. Freedivers do not follow our usual 10m / minute ascent rate that we use when scuba diving. Freedivers tend to expect 1m / second. The frequent ups and downs can drive a supersaturated body into decompression sickness.
That is why we do not recommend freediving after scuba diving!
As with flying, the following also applies here: the other way around absolutely no problem 😉

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