Enriched Air - Is It Worth It
What it is
Enriched Air, commonly called Nitrox, is a blended breathing gas that contains Nitrogen and Oxygen just like air. In dive shops all over the world, you will hear people talking about Nitrox, saying things like “you will feel better after a dive with Nitrox” or “you don’t get dry mouth when you dive with Nitrox”, “Nitrox is safer than air” or my favorite, “you can stay under longer on Nitrox”. In this article, we are going to discuss these myths, and explain the real benefits of diving enriched air.
Dispelling the myths
Scuba diving is a strenuous activity, and your level of activity is going to determine how tired you are following a dive. There is no evidence that people diving with enriched air are less fatigued than divers breathing air.
Also, the gas that we are breathing is filtered and has very little moisture in it. Both air and Nitrox are extremely dry, drink water before and between your dives, stay hydrated.
Finally, Nitrox, when dove to the limits, does not offer any wider margin of error than air, when dove to the limits. In fact, one of the things that must be monitored when diving Nitrox is your maximum depth. This is because at deeper depths, the oxygen in your breathing gas can become “toxic” causing a seizure. This means that there is at least one more thing that must be closely monitored while diving using enriched air. The biggest benefit that we see is that you have extended dive time over air when breathing enriched air.
As divers, the time that we can spend under water is really limited by a couple of things. The first is the amount of breathing gas that we are carrying. A 80 cubic foot scuba cylinder filled with air will last just as long as a 80 cubic foot scuba cylinder filled with Nitrox. If you find yourself running low on air before your dive computer is telling you to come up, there is no reason for you to dive enriched air… yet. However, there is some truth to being able to stay under longer on Nitrox than Air. The other thing that limits our time underwater is the build up of Nitrogen (an inert gas) in our system. If your dive computer is regularly telling you to come up before you are low on gas, You are a great candidate for using and benefiting from Nitrox.
Why you need it
The benefits of diving Enriched Air are very real, in certain situations. When divers are surfacing from their dives with plenty of air in their “tank”, when divers are doing multiple dives over the course of a day and want to shorten their surface intervals, or when divers want to be able to spend more time underwater without building up a decompression obligation, Nitrox can be hugely helpful. To make the most out off the switch to enriched air, you should really be diving using a computer. Tracking your real dive while breathing Nitrox will give you the most benefit for the additional cost.
Finally, before you start diving with enriched air, take the class. Learn more about this and other exciting PADI Specialty Courses here!