Put simply - yes!
This is always a bit of a controversial one but the answer is quite simply yes.
Not only can you ignore your safety stop whilst scuba diving but there are occasions when, and circumstances under which, you absolutely should ignore it and instead proceed directly to the surface.
As we covered in our blog ‘What is a safety stop in diving?’ safety stops are not mandatory. Provided you dive within the limits of recreational sports diving then there is no need to complete a safety stop.
Completing one is a really, really good idea and we absolutely encourage everyone to do so on every dive - but…
And it’s a big but.
It is a safety stop. The moment it becomes a non safety stop blow it off and surface.
When should I skip my safety stop?
A safety stop is about reducing the risk of decompression sickness.
It does nothing to reduce other potential risks and that is the trick - recognising when other risks have exceeded the decompression concern.
When you need to surface (either planned or otherwise) consider whether a safety stop is appropriate and sensible. In the vast majority of situations it will be but there are occasions when it’s not.
If, for example, the surface conditions have changed and you're facing significant swell that means your safety stop would be conducted in something of a washing machine, consider simply surfacing.
Occasions on which we have elected to not complete a safety stop are:
Jelly Fish: Following a dive in the Canary Islands our group was surfacing and had been joined by a smack of jellyfish (yes that is the collective noun - we checked!). The smack was floating around between the surface and around 8m/25ft. We didn’t know if they were harmful but we called off the safety stop and proceeded directly to the boat.
Lightning: This was again in the Canary Islands. A storm developed whilst diving and we could see the lightning lighting up the dive site (really impressive to see!). The dive boat had also signalled, 'Abort dive'. It’s worth considering that a lightning strike can penetrate up to 6m/20ft in salt water so not somewhere you want to be hanging around.
Illness: We had a diver who had vomited through his regulator underwater. He was uncomfortable enough for us to decide that we needed to proceed directly to the surface.
Injury: A diver had suffered what turned out to be a minor head injury whilst not concentrating passing into a wreck. Although not serious the cut on his head was sufficient for us to decide we needed to get back to the surface.
The above are simply situations where Dive Bunnies guides have decided to abort the safety stop - it is not exhaustive and we would add things such as out of air and diver lost situations would also necessitate not completing a safety stop.
Perversely the most serious incident that we have ever been involved with under the water resulted in a decision to complete the safety stop. Due to the likelihood of us being on the surface for some time prior to being picked up we did decide that the safety stop needed to be completed to minimise the risk of decompression sickness.
So I should always plan to complete a safety stop?
Yes - you should always plan to complete one.
It is better to plan on a safety stop and not need one rather than need a safety stop and not having planned for one. This is also why it is so important that recreational sport divers observe there no decompression limits.
We have encountered divers who think it is acceptable to routinely breach their NDL and incur mandatory longer ‘safety stops’. At the point a safety stop becomes mandatory it becomes a decompression stop.
Unless you have completed initial technical training you will not be qualified to manage decompression obligations and it is extremely likely that your insurance will be negated in the event that you make a habit of breaching no decompression limits.
Any recreational sport diver who thinks that ‘going a bit too deep for a bit too long’ is fine and ends up with an extended safety stop is completely ignoring the fact that someone may need urgent help.
Technical divers are trained to deal with emergencies under the water. Recreational sport divers are trained to surface as soon as possible to deal with emergencies at the surface.
So everybody in a group has to dive in a manner that means safety stops can be sacrificed.
What about decompression sickness?
We all know that diving is one of those activities that is as safe or as dangerous as the individual involved wants to make it.
Although most of us elect to dive in a way that makes scuba extremely safe and enjoyable, there is a level of risk that simply cannot be completely removed.
Decompression sickness (DCS) is one of those. The only way to guarantee you will never suffer a DCS hit as a scuba diver is to never dive.
It’s no different from driving. You can keep to the speed limit, ensure your car is properly serviced, enable all the safety features and wear a seatbelt - but you can’t eliminate the risk of being involved in an accident.
Performing a safety stop is no different. It absolutely reduces the risk of suffering a decompression incident and is something that you should plan and expect to do. But it only deals with the decompression risk - there are occasionally other risks that come to the fore.
This is why diving sensibly and within your no decompression limits is so vital as it ensures you can ascend directly to the surface if someone in your group needs attention.
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