Are decompression stops a time for thoughtful contemplation, a spot of mischief or yet more photography? Kirsty Andrews considers the options.

Ah, the decompression stop. Enforced minutes of doing not-a-lot at the end of the dive, when you might be cold/ bored/needing relief of some sort... do the seconds tick by too slowly, or do they pass in a flash?

Casting my mind back a few years, I used to be a fan of the odd game on a safety stop. My dive slate was filled with noughts and crosses, hangman, and after a few of these my buddies and I might even progress to a mimed ‘I spy with my little eye’... ingenious!

It is on decompression stops that I first learned the important signals for ‘I desperately need a wee’, ‘why isn’t my computer counting down fast enough’ and ‘no, I definitely don’t want to do the Hokey Cokey’.

These days I’m far too cool for such antics. If I’m hanging out by a shotline, I’ll be examining every inch of it for exciting lifeforms, be they juvenile lumpsuckers (two found so far!) or teeny-tiny caprellid shrimps (inevitably you’ll surface covered in the things and the whole boat will point and laugh at the infestation). If I’m going with the flow midwater with my SMB then my camera is still poised to capture any jellyfish, comb jellies, sharks, dolphins, whales, submarines or other enticements that might pass by.

Do you ignore any other divers and gaze into space, imagining yourself an aquatic astronaut and tuning in to your inner Zen? Or are you the chatty type, trying your hardest to describe the original purpose
of that particular piece of rusty metal you’ve just seen, using only your three-finger mitts and the medium of dance, to the exasperation of your bemused buddy?

Maybe your conscientious nature compels you to use those bonus minutes productively to practise shut-down drills, gas switches and extra bubble checks. Or maybe you’re a competitive type and without acknowledging it you are not-so-secretly showing off that your buoyancy and trim is the most admirable of them all. Not for you, the hanging off the buoy or shotline; your breathing control and carefully balanced kit weighting keep you attuned perfectly to the ocean, thank you very much.

For those who can’t possibly wait to surface, it is possible to take drinks and snacks down with you, to while away those final minutes. Compressible containers for the former and easily chewable/ swallowable for the latter are advised.

I’ve seen waterproof MP3 players and laminated magazines in use, but these would suggest a length of deco stop beyond my own comfort zone. Half an hour is about my personal limit, and if a stage of rich mix can cut that down a bit, so much the better.

My buddy Fred gets bonus points here for demonstrating a new skill of bubble blowing on this particular extended stop in Scapa Flow. We’d ascended from a perfectly enjoyable dive on the Bayern Turrets at 35m and had ten minutes or so to hang around.

Thankfully Fred understood my signals for ‘ooh, that’s fun, could you just do that again, I didn’t quite catch it on camera’, ‘again please, I got my camera settings wrong’, ‘one more time please’... Never spend a deco stop with a bored photographer!

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This column article was originally published in SCUBA magazine, Issue #115 June 2021. For more membership benefits, visit

Images in this online version may have been substituted from the original images in SCUBA magazine due to usage rights.

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