Dive Planning

Posted on (Updated on ). 7 Min Read
Writing plan by hand

Dive planning is an important skill all scuba divers should possess and ensures you are always safe underwater.

As the old saying goes: Plan the dive, dive the plan!

However, in times of dive computers and mass tourism, thorough dive planning seems to be neglected more often than not. However, planning your dive beforehand is not just reserved for technical divers and tour operators.

This guide will teach you how to plan your dives, what tools to use for that purpose, and why you should not neglect dive planning!

Why you should plan your dives

Dive planning is important to make sure all divers in the group are ready and prepared to go underwater. Planning your dives beforehand prevents out-of-air emergencies, decompression accidents, and losing group members underwater, and makes a dive more relaxed.

In your Open Water Diver course you learned the famous saying:

Plan the Dive. Dive the Plan.

There are many benefits to good dive planning:

It’s required

Planning your dives is required for every diver. Plain and simple.

Just like watching your air underwater or equalizing properly, a dive plan is part of every diver’s duties above and underwater.

It only takes a few minutes

Dive planning is often just a matter of minutes and is worth so much!

Unless you are an advanced technical diver, dive planning can easily be done properly without a lot of effort.

Better Air Management

Planning your dive includes setting a time and maximum depth (MOD= maximum operating depth) for all divers. This way, it is easier for everyone to manage their air reserves and prevent out-of-air emergencies.

Scuba diver checking pressure
Good dive planning makes air management much easier.

Prevents Decompression Illness

The most common cause of decompression illness (DCI) is human error. Planning your dives, including bottom times and non-decompression limits (NDL), prevents emergency ascents and forgetting about decompression obligations.

You won’t lose anyone underwater

Knowing where you are diving to and from is part of every dive plan. This prevents dive buddies from getting separated or lost underwater and subsequent premature endings of our dives.

It makes your dive more fun

Last but not least, dive planning makes your diving activities more fun. You’ll know exactly where to go and what to expect and not lose time, air, or nerves on having to improvise underwater.

How to plan your dives: 7 Simple Steps

These are the 7 simple steps to planning every dive:

  1. Pick a dive site
  2. Choose an Objective
  3. Select the right scuba gear
  4. Set dive time, depth & route
  5. Make a deco plan
  6. Have an emergency plan
  7. Do a briefing

1 Pick a dive site

Obviously, you need a place to dive.

Select a dive site that’s appropriate for all members of your dive group and that’s within the limits of their diving certification.

What to think about:

  • How deep is the dive site?
  • Are there objectives like current or poor visibility?
  • How can I enter/exit the water?
  • Are there permits/purchase of tickets required?

2 Choose an Objective

A dive usually serves a purpose whether it is to have fun with your underwater camera, practice your skills, or see a certain landmark.

Choose the objective together with your dive buddy or group and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Divers exploring underwater plane wreck
Pick an objective of the dive before descending.

This also includes adjusting the dive plan to the diving conditions on-site.

What to think about:

  • Will the visibility be good enough to see what we came for?
  • Is there strong current that can
  • How can I take the desired image without disturbing the environment?
  • What do we do if the conditions underwater change?

3 Select the right gear

Picking the right scuba gear for the job is important!

It’s best to check out what the local divers use when planning your dives, however, you can also check out Facebook groups, and online forums, or ask the local dive centers about it.

What to think about:

  • What exposure suit do I need?
  • Can I get my tanks filled close by?
  • Are there laws/regulations concerning the dive equipment used?

Set dive time, depth & route

This is arguably the aspect most people connect directly with “dive planning”.

Before starting your dive, you have to set a dive time, or “bottom time“, the maximum operating depth (MOD), and the route you’re taking underwater.

This depends mostly on your experience and the gas you carry in your scuba tanks.

Our FREE air consumption calculator can help you here!

Of course, you need to observe the environment and diving conditions and maybe adjust your dive plan accordingly.

What to think about:

  • How much gas do we have in our tanks?
  • Are there regulations/laws on maximum diving depths?
  • Do we need to be back at the dive center/boat at a certain time?

Make a deco plan

Yes, deco plans matter even for recreational divers and even Open Water Divers.

Deco does not only refer to mandatory decompression stops but also to your entire gas management and non-decompression limits.

Count in how much time you need to get to your maximum depth, how long you’re planning to stay there, and what your dive computer shows you as the NDL in that case.

Calculate how long it takes to get up to the surface following safe ascent rates and how much air you will need for that.

A safety stop is always required and should never be neglected.

What to think about:

  • How much gas do we have in our tanks?
  • Are there regulations/laws on maximum diving depths?
  • Do we need to be back at the dive center/boat at a certain time?

Have an emergency plan

It’s better to be safe than sorry.

A good dive plan includes safety measures and a contingency plan for emergencies.

Advanced first aid kit
A first aid kit should be part of your emergency preparation.

Of course, everyone having proper dive insurance should be a given.

What to think about:

  • Where is the nearest hyperbaric oxygen chamber
  • How do we store our emergency oxygen?
  • Is the first aid kit complete?

Do a briefing

A dive briefing is the last step of the dive planning phase and should recap all the steps from before.

It’s one last chance to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Preferably, you are diving with a certified Dive Leader, however, if you have enough experience with dive group management you should be well prepared.

Diving group at shore
A briefing is a great way to get everyone ready before the dive.

Of course, everyone having proper dive insurance should be a given.

A few tips:

  • Let everyone confirm the dive plan
  • Allow time for questions

Tools for better dive planning

Here are a few tools you can use to plan your dives easily:

  • Dive computer with NDL planner
  • Dive tables
  • Online calculators & tools
  • Weather & wind forecasts
  • Dive site maps

Dive computer with NDL planner

Good dive computers include NDL planners, and some technical dive computers allow for quite sophisticated dive planning.

Check out the best dive computers in 2023 for some recommendations.

Dive tables

Dive tables used to be the de facto standard for dive planning. They are relatively easy to use in theory and all they require are a dive watch to take the time.

They are still the go-to tool for technical divers, however, have been replaced mostly by dive computers nowadays. Understanding how they work is still a great way to learn more about decompression principles, however.

Online calculators & tools

There are plenty of great tools and calculators online that help you plan your dives.

As a matter of fact, we have published a number of useful tools on this site for free!

Social Diving air consumption calculator
The Social Diving air consumption calculator is a great tool for dive planning!

Weather & wind forecasts

Use your phone to get current weather and wind forecasts for the dive spot you’re planning to dive at.

This way you can avoid diving in thunderstorms or getting caught in heavy rain or wind.

Dive site maps

Die site maps are available at all dive centers around the world, and at many dive sites.

They help you understand what you’ll find underwater and visualize the dive plan for everyone.

Beginners might want to confirm with an experienced diver whether they read the map right.


This concludes our guide on dive planning.

We hope it helps you plan your next dives quicker and ensures you are always safe underwater.

Remember: A dive plan may also end up being “we need to postpone the dive“. This is still better than getting trapped in bad situations.

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