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Scuba Diving and flying

Airplane flying over clouds at sunset

Scuba Diving and flying

Many of the best dive spots in the world are often located at remote places in the ocean which require flying before scuba diving and after.

As all divers learn in their beginner course, we must be careful when combining scuba diving and flying due to an increased risk of getting DCS (decompression sickness).

In this article, we will look more at the topic of scuba diving and flying and answer the questions:

  • Can you scuba dive before flying?
  • Can you scuba dive after flying?
  • What are the no-flight times in scuba diving?
  • Does the length of the flight matter for scuba diving?

Can You Scuba Dive Before Flying?

No, you should not scuba dive right before flying due to an increased risk of getting decompression sickness (DCS) from the lowered cabin pressure on a flight. The recommended no-flight times in scuba diving are 12 hours after single no-decompression dives, 24 hours after repetitive dives, and 48 hours after decompression dives.

During a flight, the pressure inside the airplane cabin is around 0.7-0.6 bar, which means about 30-40% lower than at sea level.

Since the pressure drop during a flight is almost instant, this poses a dangerous risk of getting the bends when flying right after scuba diving.

Airplane cabins are pressurized down to ~0.6 bar

As such, take a sufficient pre-flight surface interval and book your dive packages, and transport accordingly.

Can You Scuba Dive After Flying?

Yes, it is safe to scuba dive after flying or being at altitude and there are no known health or safety risks. However, if you feel jetlag, dehydration, or joint aches after flying, it can be advisable to give yourself enough rest before going on a scuba dive.

Decompression sickness is caused by large concentrations of nitrogen in your body after scuba diving being released too quickly and thereby forming bubbles at lower pressures.

This is not the case after flying, as the cabin pressure is lower than at sea level and not higher.

In fact, many divers who arrive at their dive spot or harbor to embark on their liveaboard safari jump into the ocean right away for their first scuba dive.

Scuba diving after flying is fine and many divers cannot wait to get into the water right away.

However, make sure to drink plenty of water, and feel rested enough before doing so. Of course, your dive buddy should feel the same way!

What Are the No-Flight Times in Scuba Diving?

The no-flight times in scuba diving are the recommended preflight surface intervals after diving to avoid pressure-related health risks. The no-flight time for single no-decompression dives is 12 hours, 24 hours for repetitive dives, and 48 or more hours for decompression dives. They are based on recommendations by training agencies and research and include appropriate safety margins.

Please note that these numbers refer to recreational scuba diving only and differ for advanced technical and commercial diving. They are not set in stone and you will have to decide for yourself if you should wait longer before flying after diving.

Scuba diving no flight times.
The no flight times in recreational scuba diving.

For example, two shallow 15-meter dives lead to a lower nitrogen concentration in your tissues than a 7-day 24-dives liveaboard safari. However, on paper, the no-flight times are the same in both cases (24 hours).

As always, stay on the safe side and take a more conservative approach.

What Happens During The No-Flight Time After Scuba Diving?

During the no-flight time, the increased nitrogen concentration we accumulated during our scuba diving activities in our tissues slowly goes back to pre-dive levels. By giving our body time to desaturate, we lower the risk of getting DCS.

Remember, no-flight times should be spent desaturating. This means, do not use it to climb a mountain or go freediving. The former would lower the ambient pressure in a similar way as an airplane does, while the latter would again raise your nitrogen levels.

During a dive trip, this is the time you want to spend relaxing at the beach or pool, have a few drinks at the beach bar, or read a good scuba diving book.

Does The Length of the Flight Matter for Scuba Diving?

The length of the flight does not matter much in regard to scuba diving and flying. All airplane cabins are pressurized and the ambient pressure is lower than at sea level. Therefore, even short flights at lower cruising altitudes are as dangerous as long-distance ones right after scuba diving and should be avoided.

This is also the reason, why rescue helicopters must fly at very low altitudes after diving accidents, as higher ones would increase the potential for or the symptoms of decompression-related injuries.

Are There Exceptions to The No-Flight Time Rules?

The no-flight time rules should be applied by every scuba diver at any location. The only exceptions to this are dive spots located at altitudes higher than 4000 meters (12,000 ft) as the ambient pressure here is already the same or lower as the cabin pressure on airplanes and as such, no benefits can be gained from desaturating before flying.

As you can probably guess, the number of dive spots fitting this description is incredibly small and only two or three places around the world are located at such high altitudes.

It shouldn’t be surprising that neither fall under the “recreational diving” category.

There is no required no-flight time after diving at lake Titicaca is located at above 4,000m elevation.

If you want to read more on this, check out my ultimate guide to altitude diving!

Go Altitude Diving with Us!


Explore diving in crystal clear mountain lakes with us and go altitude diving in the Alps!

How to Plan Your Flights During a Dive Trip

The best way to plan your scuba diving and flying schedule on a dive trip is to follow these three steps:

  1. Determine how many days you want to go scuba diving
  2. Add an extra 24 hours after the last scuba dive
  3. Then book your flights accordingly

Example:

You want to do a five-day liveaboard safari around the Similan Islands in Thailand.

You decide to spend 5 more days sightseeing prior to embarking on your cruise.

The safari is scheduled to return to Kao Lakh (the most common starting place for this tour) at 17:00/5 pm on the fifth day (let’s say a Wednesday).

Liveaboard safaris like in the Similan Islands, Thailand, require at least 24 hours of no-flight time afterward.

As you will do 20 dives in total over a short amount of time, with most of them being repetitive dives, your no-flight time should be no less than 24 hours.

Therefore, the earliest departure date should be Thursday at 17:00 or preferably even later.

Conclusion

Now you know the no-flight time intervals after scuba diving (12, 24, and 48 hours), why we need to adhere to these rules, and a lot more about scuba diving and flying.

It is important that you stick to these scuba diving and flying regulations, as this will make your diving much safer and prevent the risk of you getting DCS.

When diving over longer periods of time, such as on a liveaboard safari, you should always take longer pre-flight surface intervals, as your overall nitrogen load is higher than after one-off dives.

Let me know your thoughts and experiences on no-flight times after scuba diving in the comments. 🙂

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Always dive with friends and happy bubbles. 😃

Cheers

Julius

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