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January 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Get Off the Air, Will You?

itís time to dive with nitrox

from the January, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Do you find that you are annoying other divers because you run out of no-deco-stop time long before they do? In groups of divers, those who don't use nitrox often cut short the bottom time of divers who do. If the divemaster running a group makes everyone rise when the first person runs low on no-deco-stop time, it's inevitable that air divers will be the first. Those diving nitrox will then end their dives when they could have stayed longer. It ain't fair.

Thirty years ago, ex-NOAA scientist Dick Rutkowski suggested that divers visiting deep wrecks off the coast of Florida could reduce the hazard of decompression illness (DCS) by increasing the proportion of oxygen (thereby reducing the nitrogen levels) in the air they breathed, And that's when nitrox for leisure divers was born.

It was inevitable that modern leisure divers would see nitrox less like an additional safety measure and more as a way to get better-value-formoney with more time underwater. With dive trips getting ever more exotic, and therefore, expensive, time in the water had become more precious.

However, the popularity of nitrox has produced conflict when divers who do not know each other are required to dive as a group at a dive resort or from a liveaboard. Nitrox divers are often disappointed when an air diver runs out of no-deco-stop time and needs to curtail the dive long before the nitrox divers, thereby cutting short their dive.

Several Undercurrent readers have written us about this, in a way surprising us that there are still so many divers who are not yet nitrox certified. An air diver may argue that he's always used air, so why change, but he's ignoring three strong and simple reason.

First, nitrox is safer, much safer, especially for an aging diver.

Second, you can have far more time underwater -- time for which you have traveled far and paid dearly.

Third, your stubbornness in sticking to the past won't be cutting short the dives of others.

Nitrox doesn't make the contents of your tank last longer, but it can make you last longer!

NRC (Nitrox & Rebreather College) was a German company that introduced a very much simplified nitrox course at the turn of this century, and bigger dive centers world-wide started to adopt it en masse. It was threatening PADI's dominance of diver training, so they bought NRC. There was a time, after that, nitrox training was included in PADI Open Water Diver training. Those days appear to be long forgotten.

So, of course, today PADI charges for a dry nitrox course, which can be undertaken at a PADI training facility or taken online by anyone with a PADI OWD or higher certification. After completing the on-line section of the course, you contact a PADI instructor or school for the practical experience of analyzing the contents of a tank. That should take you about 15 minutes at most.

The course cost to be certified as a nitrox diver is an exorbitant $250, plus or minus. We don't believe it merits being a separate course, and, in fact, should be integrated into every basic course. Everybody should be versed in it. But PADI wants the additional income, and it's not going away.

Regardless, amortize the $250 over your next 25 dives. Then, consider the price of nitrox. If you have to pay $10/tank, your extra 25 minutes underwater at 60 feet runs $20, about half as much diving time. And, you won't be pissing off our buddies who have to cut their dives short because of you.

Go to There are several other training agencies that also run nitrox courses. It isn't rocket science!

- John Bantin

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