How Deep Can Scuba Divers Go?

How Deep Can Scuba Divers Go?

How deep can scuba divers go? It’s a common question and one we’ll definitively answer here. By the time we get to the end, you’ll have all the info you need. 

According to the PADI, the diving limit for recreational diving is 130 feet (40m) but scuba novices are advised to stay above 60 feet (18m). Beyond 130 feet, you’ll most likely start needing decompression stops before you surface. The world record for a deep dive is 1090 feet (332m).

While that is the short answer, the truth is a little more complex. Many factors go into your diving depth such as your expertise and technical ability along with time under the surface. Here we’ll look a little further into how deep scuba divers can go. 

How Deep Can Scuba Divers Go?

There are generally two things that will limit you in terms of how deep a scuba diver can dive. The first is the amount of oxygen they have and the second is your experience. You then have to consider the health implications of deep diving.

If you want to know the current world record for scuba diving then that is held by a man called Ahmed Gabr who was able to dive to an incredible depth of 1,090 feet (332m). To make that dive, Gabr had 17 years of experience behind him along with his special forces training in the Egyptian army.

What his dive did highlight was how cautious divers have to be with decompression sickness.

It took just 12 minutes for him to dive down to his record depth but had to take an extraordinary 15 hours to get back to the surface to avoid the many dangers posed by ‘the bends‘.

Not everyone can afford to have a whole team around them and not everyone has the level of experience he did. For the vast majority of divers, their safe diving depth will be much, much shallower than that.

Once you go beyond 20 feet (6m), then you’ll need to refer to a dive table regarding how long you can be at your bottom depth. The longer you’re underneath the water, the more likely you are to need to have a decompression stop as more and more nitrogen enters your body (this is what causes “the bends”.

For example, at 90 feet (27m) you’d need to have a full decompression stop if you were in the water for longer than 25 minutes.

Alternatively, you could dive for 130 feet (40m) without needing a decompression stop at all, as long as you were there for less than 10 minutes. In this situation, it would still be advisable to include a safety stop as a precaution.

You learn all about dive tables and decompression stops in your initial scuba diving course.

For divers, they will need to include these stops when judging their remaining oxygen (A dive computer will work this out for you). It’s also not a place for those prone to panic attacks either (although for some, myself included, scuba diving can be brilliant for those who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, it’s very calming down there!).

This is why experience is required for deeper dives as you need to stay calm at all times, keep an eye on your gear while also giving decompression sickness the respect it deserves.

So as divers keep pushing the literal limit on scuba diving depth, the reality for an individual diver is a lot different. Their maximum depth should depend on many factors including confidence, experience, equipment, the competency of your fellow divers and the water conditions. 

Scuba diver at the sea floor in hover position

What is Decompression Sickness (The Bends)?

Decompression sickness (the Bends) is the result of the expansion of nitrogen bubbles in your body caused by a return to normal atmospheric pressure. Making a slow ascent and having a safety stop will allow all the Nitrogen bubbles to leave your body before you surface

As you dive down and start to use your regulator, you’ll be breathing in compressed air, which includes nitrogen. This compressed air contains a lot more molecules than regular air you breathe at the surface, leading to a huge influx of nitrogen in your body. This then gets absorbed into your tissue.

Deep down in the water, this isn’t an issue.

The high water pressure means that the nitrogen bubbles are compressed and cause no issues. As you ascend, those bubbles will start to expand as the pressure drops.

That expansion of nitrogen gas will then injure your tissue and block blood vessels. This can cause severe pain in the joints, headaches and a general ill feeling. In the worse scenarios, it will stop blood flow, cause paralysis and kill tissue. 

The severity of decompression sickness will depend on how much compressed air you’ve breathed in, how long you’ve been under the water, and the depth of water. These have to be closely monitored to avoid illness.

How to Prevent Decompression Sickness?

Decompression sickness is prevented by allowing your body to naturally release nitrogen before you reach the surface. For most recreational divers this is achieved by slowly ascending and stopping for a “5 at 5” (stopping at 5m for 5 minutes on your way up) .

As you breathe out, you’ll be releasing the nitrogen from your body. As you ascend to the surface, you need to allow your body enough time to release enough nitrogen that it no longer becomes an issue. 

The further down you go, the more stops you’ll need on the way up.

On these stops, you’ll allow for a small amount of expansion of the nitrogen bubbles while your body releases them. This means your body will slowly adjust until you reach the surface. 

Can you Die from Diving Too Deep?

The short answer to this is yes. But that doesn’t mean you should never dive. When done the right way, diving can be very safe. Following what you learn in your initial scuba course will prevent this from ever being an issue.

A recreational diver will never have to worry about diving so far down that the pressure becomes too much for them to breathe. At the recommended limit of 130 feet (40m), you’re going to be under approximately 5x atmospheric pressure. 

While that may seem like a lot, your lungs are going to easily cope with it. So you don’t need to worry about being crushed but what others dangers are there? 

Drowning can occur for a variety of reasons at great depths, often as panic can set in. This is why you should always be careful about exactly how far down you’re going. This can also occur if you have a non-diving related health issue and also, if you run out of air.

Another potential issue from diving too deep is nitrogen narcosis. While not lethal in itself, this can lead to many of the same issues you get when you’re drunk such as disorientation, trouble concentrating and poor judgment. 

While risks need to be managed, you’re never going to accidentally give too deep if you have the right gear and take sensible precautions. 

At What Depth Will Water Crush You?

Water won’t crush your whole body but after the 1,000 feet (305m) mark, your body would find it extremely difficult to breathe. A bit further below that depth, your ribcage would most likely break.

The answer to this question depends on your definition of ‘crush’ as if we were being pedantic, there is no depth of water on Earth that would crush your bones. 

What most people mean is: at what point does the pressure become so high that you can no longer breathe? Well, we don’t really know as no one has tested it out! 

If you’re asking this question, it may be because you’re wondering if there is any chance of you being crushed on a recreational dive.

The answer to that, as you may have figured, is no.

Unless you’re aiming for the world record in scuba diving, you don’t need to even think about it. Your lungs cope amazingly well with those high pressures and there will be no risk of crushing. 

At What Depth is the Ocean Dark?

The sunlight zone of the ocean extends to 650 feet (200m) below the surface. Beyond that, the light starts to decrease rapidly.

The amount of light you see when you’re diving is going to depend on a few different factors. Being in the dark is where panic sets in for many. You should only every dive in the dark unless you’re completely comfortable with what you’re doing.

Light also changes colour the deeper you go. This is because certain wavelengths can penetrate deeper than others. You’ll stop being able to see red, for example, at around 20 feet down!

After that, you’ll start losing oranges, then yellows and greens. At the 130 feet (40m)limit, you’ll most likely only be able to make out blue colors. This can also be disorientating to a few divers. 

Once you get down to about 1,300 feet (396m), you’ll lose visible blue light with the only light getting through being ultraviolet, which isn’t visible to the human eye. 

A turtle from below

At What Depth is Scuba Diving Dangerous?

In short, any depth beyond your level of training and experience would be dangerous. The depth where scuba diving becomes dangerous depends on the competency of the diver and the quality of their gear. 130 feet (40m) is the limit of recreational diving for this reason.

For a complete novice who has never dived before, 30 feet (10m) for example, could be seen as highly dangerous if they start to panic and become disoriented.

Whereas, expert divers who are using to deep diving can easily handle depths of over 130 feet (40m) with no issue at all.

As with many different activities, you need to make the right precautions and have the correct training. An expert diver will never get complacent about the oxygen in their tanks and the dangers below the surface. 

What is the Deepest Dive Ever Made?

Without the use of a specialised suit, the deepest ever dive was 1,090 feet (332m) by Ahmed Gabr just using scuba equipment. If you include the use of an atmospheric suit, then that figure extends to 2,000 feet (610m) which was completed by Navy diver Daniel P. Jackson.

This was effectively a tiny submarine so his lungs weren’t under as much pressure.

If diving in a submersible counts then there have been a few crewed expeditions to Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. 

Located in the Pacific, Challenger Deep is the deepest point in the ocean at a staggering 35,856 (10,929m) feet below the surface. One of the men that have reached the bottom, James Cameron, is the same person who directed the movie Titanic. 

The full film (below) is definitely worth a watch!

What is the Deepest Dive without Scuba Equipment?

Perhaps the most impressive dive ever belongs to Herbert Nitsch. He free-dived without any additional oxygen to a mind-blowing 702 feet (214m). Freediving is a sport where you dive without scuba gear, just holding your breath!

It did come at a cost. Nitsch suffered multiple strokes due to decompression sickness. Thankfully he recovered enough to once again enjoy free diving, despite some ongoing health issues.

Don’t Forget Your Dive Insurance!

Before you go out on any dive trip or holiday, it is essential to make sure you have insurance that covers you if something goes wrong. Check out our dive insurance article for more information.

Or go straight to these dive insurance company websites:


Diver Alert Network (DAN)

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As we’ve seen, the answer to the question of how deep can scuba divers go is a difficult one to answer.

Novices should stay about 60 feet (18m), more experienced recreational divers should stay above 130 feet (40m) but the world record for scuba diving is an impressive 1,090 feet (332m).

How deep you dive should always be done with an abundance of caution. Here we’ve looked at the dangers of going too far and the importance of experience.

Only when you have immense experience and mental strength should you push beyond the 130 feet (40m) barrier. 

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What is the deepest scuba dive ever made?

Egyptian diver, Ahmed Gabr holds the world record for a scuba dive, an incredible depth of 1,090 feet (332m).

What depth can recreational divers go to?

Open water divers are certified to dive to 60 feet (18m), Advanced open water divers are certified to dive to 99 feet (30m). The limit of recreational diving is 130 feet (40m)

What is the deepest free-dive ever made?

Herbert Nitsch free-dived without any additional oxygen to a mind-blowing 702 feet (214m).

Paul Fulbrook

Paul Fulbrook is a writer, scuba diver, ex-science teacher and marine biologist. He has a passion for coral reef biology, diving on coral reefs and writing about diving. He also loves cats and his children (sometimes).

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