In the world of scuba diving, deep diving is anything deeper than 18 meters (59 feet) according to PADI and SSI. For recreational scuba divers, the depth limit you can scuba dive to is 40 meters (130 feet).
But you better believe 40 meters isn’t the deepest a human has dived to.
Technical divers go much deeper!
The deep-diving world record is currently held by Ahmed Gabr from Egypt who made it all the way down to 332.35m (1,090 feet 4.5 inches) back in September 2014.
Want to learn more about how deep diving works, and how this world record deep dive was accomplished?
Wondering what on earth technical diving (AKA tec or tech diving) is? It’s simple.
It’s scuba diving with a ceiling that doesn’t allow a diver to ascend to the surface at any time of the dive. Either due to a literal ceiling, like a cave or wreck. Or a virtual ceiling due to required decompression stops.
Decompression stops are stops made at certain depths for scuba divers to allow nitrogen off-gassing. They keep you safe when you’ve been exposed to breathing gasses at pressure.
Anyone scuba diving beyond 40 meters would usually use specialist equipment to be able dive that deep. Like twinsets, sidemount, and special gas mixes. You also need to have special training to understand the dangers, safety procedures, and protocol!
Tech divers use special gas mixtures, rather than air. It’s usually trimix or heliox. These are mixed gas combinations of oxygen, nitrogen and helium. It helps reduce the risks of deep diving, and be able to dive for longer. They adjust their gas mixture depending on their depth and their planned time at each depth.
So that’s deep diving, in principle. Some thrill-seekers have taken deep diving to the absolute max and set world records.
Risks of Deep Dives
As always with scuba diving, if you follow the rules and guidelines, you’re going to be safe.
There are, of course, risks though! Deep diving holds inherently more risks than when you’re in shallower waters.
Decompression Sickness (The Bends)
When you’re scuba diving, you’re breathing air, but under pressure. Air is made of oxygen, nitrogen, and other gases.
The body uses up oxygen, but not nitrogen.
So it ends up in your bloodstream.
This is usually fine because it dissolves out as you ascend, if you do it slowly enough. Less than 10 meters/second is advised.
Slower than 18 meters/second means your computer won’t require you to do a deco stop or make your safety stop a requirement.
In order to avoid decompression sickness, divers must strategically stop, at certain points of their dive, for the nitrogen in their bodies to dissolve.
Due to the technological advancements in the diving world, advanced dive computers help big time in avoiding this.
Always follow your dive computer for guidance.
If you ascend too quickly, the nitrogen can’t escape and turns into bubbles in your blood. Once out of the water, this causes you to bend over (hence ‘the bends’!) because the bubbles get stuck at your joints, and cause pain.
In the worst-case scenario, it can cause death. If it looks like someone has symptoms, call emergency services.
Deep diving may not be covered in your dive insurance plan, so be sure to look at the details and small print before attempting one.
Deep diving exposes you to nitrogen narcosis. It’s a dizzy, narcotic feeling from nitrogen accumulation.
It’s dangerous because it can make you disoriented and slow, and have tunnel vision (among other things).
Suddenly reading your dive computer and instruments becomes a little tricky!
It can cause anxiety, fear and panic, and even unconsciousness and death.
The deeper you scuba dive, the more exposed you are to the risks. It can affect the same person very differently from day-to-day.
But there are some predisposing factors that can make it much worse. Like dehydration and a hangover! So – don’t drink then deep dive!
Also, don’t deep dive then drink, it can make you feel like you have nitrogen narcosis even when you’re on land!
While not everything is known about narcosis, it can be solved by ascending a few meters until the symptoms disappear.
If you plan on going fairly deep, narcosis and oxygen toxicity start to become huge factors that must be accounted for. In order to get around this, advanced divers will mess around with their air blends removing Nitrogen and Oxygen for Helium.
Rapid Air Consumption
Air gets denser with depth due to increasing pressure. So you consume air more rapidly when you’re deep diving than you do in shallow waters.
To avoid an out of air situation, breathe deeply and slowly, and check your gauge often! As a backup, carry a pony bottle or have a spare tank hanging at your safety stop.
Another issue deep divers have to deal with is running out of oxygen. As you go deeper, gasses such as oxygen and nitrogen condense under pressure. This ultimately leads to divers consuming their air at a much faster rate.
On deeper recreational or tech dives, it’s extremely common for divers to bring extra tanks or pony bottles. If you’re planning to break the record for the deepest dive in the world, coming up with a plan on where to keep all your air is half the battle.
Gabr claims to have brought 9 different tanks with him for the dive!
Deep Diving Records
If you want to break the world record for deep diving, you’re going to have to go pretty far under the surface of the ocean.
He ridiculously made it all the way down to 332.35m (1,090 feet 4.5 inches) back in September 2014. You might be wondering where on earth you can scuba dive that deep. He chose the Red Sea, off the coast of Dahab in his home country.
How did he do it?
Years of preparation.
Ahmed was a scuba diving instructor for 17 years. He spent a humble four years of training for his world record attempt. He even worked with yoga masters to learn how to breathe efficiently and slow his heart rate.
This world record wasn’t an accident.
If you’re going that far underwater, it takes a lot of meticulous planning and preparation.
Ahmed contacted the Guinness World Records over a year before the dive took place to let them know his plans.
It only took Ahmed 12 minutes to get down there, but it took almost 15 hours to get back up. When scuba diving that deep, you have to have decompression stops to ensure your safety.
It takes a lot of tanks to spend 15 hours in the ocean. Ahmed used a whopping nine tanks.
His support team of nine divers gassed through a serious 92 tanks! The support team also consisted of technicians and medical staff – it was a serious affair.
But why on earth would anyone want to do it?
Ahmed said his goal was to prove that humans can survive at extreme depths and pressures. Albeit, not for long!
Deep diving this far into the abyss of the ocean comes with its challenges.
There’s a ridiculous amount of pressure, and darkness and the cold becomes exponentially more overwhelming.
The obvious threat of limited air supply is the greatest challenge to survival during any underwater activity.
Other Deep Diving Attempts
The deep diving holy grail is hitting 300 meters. Think of the four minute mile but for scuba diving! More people have been to the moon than have achieved this feat.
The first legend to do it was Brit, John Bennet, in 2001 at Atlantis Dive Resort. It wasn’t his first world record.
He claimed the first deep-diving world record in 1999, at 200 meters, then again in 2000 reaching 254 meters. His record-breaking deep diving lasted until 2005.
Before Ahmed’s current world record, Nuno Gomes from South Africa was the top dog. His deep-diving claim to fame was 318.25 meters (1,044 feet), in the same location!
It looks like Dahab’s the place to be for dipping your toe in the deep-diving pond. Nuno set the first record for deepest cave dive in 1996, so he’s still a legend. That was in Boemansgat Cave, South Africa.
South Africa’s Verna Van Schaik has also dived the cave, and holds the record for deepest scuba dive for women!
This has been a dangerous dive for many who have fallen victim to its depths though.
Unfortunately not all world record deepest dive attempts go well.
He was aiming for 366 meters in St Croix, the US Virgin Islands.
He didn’t make it to his first support checkpoint at 110 meters at 38 minutes after he descended.
His support divers waited for as long as they physically could but he was never found. It’s thought he attempted to rise in the wrong location.
He’d been diving for four years and preparing for the deep dive for two years.
He had a team of 28 supporters including medics. Despite this, he didn’t live to tell the tale.
Famous Deep Dive Sites
Belize Blue Hole
The Belize Blue hole made our list of the best dive sites in the world, and it also turns out to be one of the deepest sites out there.
At its deepest point, it’s 135 meters, so tech divers have a lot of fun on this one. The average diver only needs to go 30 meters to see the reef.
Overall, deep diving is an extremely dangerous process for even the most expert divers to take part in. To break the record, Gabr had to plan for years, not to mention his near 2 decades of dive instructor experience. Many lives have been claimed from deep diving.
In 2015, Guy Garman drowned while performing a world record dive. The exact place where he went wrong isn’t exactly clear but should serve as a warning that even the most experienced divers aren’t sage.
While it usually brings some pretty cool stories, you shouldn’t really dive deep for the sake of being deep. Sure, if a certain dive site awaits you at depth, then it’s important to come up with a diving structure and strategy to safely complete the dive.
We hope we cleared up some commonly asked questions about deep and tech diving!