Just like anything in life, you’ll have to take it slow while learning to scuba dive. No one’s expecting you to descend to 40 meters (130 feet) on your first dive!
Don’t worry – beginner scuba divers can safely dive down to depths of 18 meters (60 feet) or more, which is one of the most common depths for many a dive site.
Light also drops as you descend, the water preventing the sun’s rays from getting to you. This can trigger some fears and claustrophobia, not quite what you want on your first dive!
Beginner scuba divers should stick to shallower depth limits and focus on getting your scuba skills up to par before venturing into deeper waters.
In addition, deep diving is a specialized skill that requires additional training and experience in the form of the Advanced Open Water Diver course or one of the deep diving specialty courses. As you progress and gain more experience, then you can think to dive to deeper depths.
📈 What Happens If You Exceed The Limit For Recreational Diving
If you are lucky, nothing. Many divers accidentally exceed the maximum depth but don’t show any symptoms of dive injuries. However, always monitor your depth through your dive computer or depth gauge to make sure you are within recreational diving limits.
At sea level, the pressure is at 1 atmosphere, or 1 bar. Pressure increases by one atmosphere for every 10 meters of depth.
At 10 meters / 33 feet depth, it is at 2 bar, and at 20 meters / 66 feet depth, it is tripled at 3 bar, and so on, you get the drift.
This means, that instead of breathing in 21% oxygen 79% nitrogen, you are breathing in triple that amount at 20 meters.
While we metabolize oxygen, we cannot metabolize nitrogen, which has to be dissolved in our bloodstream over a period of time.
Because we are breathing in higher concentrations of oxygen and nitrogen at depth, if you go beyond the limit, there are a few things that can happen.
Oxygen toxicity is when you’re breathing too much oxygen, usually at deeper depths. It can happen suddenly and without warning, and cause convulsions, blurred vision, dizziness, and trouble breathing.
The partial pressure of oxygen, or total amount you’re breathing in, doubles every 10 meters (33 feet) you descend. When you get to a certain depth, it leaves you vulnerable to toxicity which can be dangerous, even fatal.
This happens on dives of about 30 meters (130 feet) or more. It feels like you are drunk! You might get woozy in the head and be prone to doing stupid things like taking off your scuba equipment or regulator. We once had a student start cycling underwater!
Too much time at a deeper depth also puts you susceptible to DCS. The increased pressure can cause nitrogen to be forced into your body, expanding as you ascend and causing often severe injury, especially if you dive regularly.
🏊♂️ Recreational Scuba Diving Limits
Let’s take a look at the depth limits for the beginner scuba diver.
The depth limits you have to adhere to depend on whether you are scuba certified or not. In addition, some dive shops have a limit for recreational scuba divers of 30 meters (95 feet), while others are of 42 meters (130 feet) for those with a special certification.
Non-certified beginner divers can try scuba diving by taking an introductory course, such as PADI’s Discover Scuba Diving or SSI’s Try Scuba. These “try diving” type courses have depth limitations of 12 meters (40 feet).
Courses are typically a day long and will take you through the very basic scuba skills like mask clearing and regulator recovery that are essential to every scuba diver.
The minimum age to take a Discover Scuba course is 10 years. If the child is from 8 to 10 years, he or she can be enrolled in PADI’s Bubblemaker program, which allows young children to try diving at a maximum depth of 2 meters.
Anyone interested in learning to scuba dive can enroll in an basic scuba certification course, such as PADI Open Water Diver, SSI Open Water Diver, NAUI Scuba Dive.
For example, the PADI open water diver certification course begins with theory, then progresses on to scuba diving in a swimming pool, and finally, to four open water divers.
The first two dives takes place at a maximum depth of 12m (40 feet), but you dive deeper on the final two dives at a maximum depth of 18m (60 feet).
Any advanced open water diver training should cover depths of up to 30 or 40 meters (95 to 130 feet) depending on the training agency.
Related: Can you scuba dive if you can’t swim?
Certified Scuba Divers
Certified Adult Diver
Open Water Divers have limits of 18m (60 feet) while Advanced Open Water are to 30m (95 feet) or 40m (130 feet) if they take any deep dive specialty courses.
Junior Open Water Divers can dive to 12 meters (40 feet) if between 10 to 12 years, and 18 meters (60 feet) from 12 to 15 years.
An Advanced Junior Open Water Diver can dive to 21 meters (70 feet) between the ages of 12 to 14 and up to 30 meters (130 feet) upon turning 15 years old.
🛑 Maximum Depth Limit For Different Scuba Training Agencies
These limits may vary from different parts of the globe, local regulations, and scuba diving organizations.
While PADI and SSI are the most well-known, other scuba diving organizations such as BSAC, RAID, NAUI, and others have their own Open Water scuba certification and different depth limitations.
Scuba Dive Depth Limit For Other Agencies
- The BSAC (British Sub Aqua Club) restriction for Ocean Divers is 20 meters (65 ft).
- The depth restriction for RAID Open Water is 20 meters (65 feet).
- The NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) allows up to 18 meters (60 feet).
- The 1 Star Diver restriction set by the CMAS (Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques) is 20 meters (65 feet).
- The maximum depth for an SDI (Scuba Diving International) Open Water Scuba Diver is 18 meters (60 feet).
✅ The Importance Of The Depth Limit
Remember on of the scuba rules, “dive within your limits”? The industry standard depth limit is there for a reason.
When the regulations are followed, scuba diving is a fairly safe activity. However, scuba diving can be a dangerous sport if you decide to get ambitious and go against your dive training and experience.
As you go deeper, the water pressure increases, when water pressure increases the risk of oxygen toxicity also increases.
The consequences of oxygen poisoning may not appear right away and will vary depending on the situation. This is one of the scuba diving injuries that are preventable by following your depth limit.
Depth is vital in scuba diving since the deeper you go, the more aspects you must consider. While not exhaustive, deep diving comes with associated risks, like:
- More air is used when you are diving deeper, meaning you’ll have to plan your air consumption much more carefully to accommodate for the time it takes to ascend slowly and get back to the surface
- Because there is more pressure, you will be absorbing more nitrogen in your body and tissues the deeper your dive go, leaving you more vulnerable to DCS
- You will have a higher chance of getting nitrogen narcosis as you dive deeper or beyond 25 meters or 80 feet
- Your BCD or buoyancy control device’s lift will vary significantly during your dive and you’ll have to constantly adjust it to compensate for the pressure changes
- In deeper water, you’ll lose light and might feel a little uncomfortable as the world turns less bright and loses colors
Popular diving sites around the world have more common depths of 15 to 25 meters. Why do you think? Because shallower depths can be so much fun! Colors are brighter, the sun rays can still illuminate the underwater world and you can have a blast with less associated risks.
📑 Final Thoughts On Dive Depth Limits
To reiterate, limits are there for a reason. They are there to keep your safe and for you to always dive within your comfort zone, training, and diving experience. If you want greater depths, take your Advanced Open Water Course and gain the necessary training and thorough knowledge to do deep dives.
Speak to your scuba instructor or local dive shop about how to start diving or further your diver training. Stay safe out there and happy bubbles!