Kids can certify as Junior Open Water divers as young as 10 years old. Kids this age must limit dives to 40 feet (12 m), however, and kids up to age 14 can’t exceed 60 feet (18 m). But even though these dives are relatively shallow, it’s imperative to make safety stops when diving shallow with kids. Following are some of the most important reasons to observe safety stops, along with some suggestions on how to make them a habit.
Reason No. 1: Use caution to minimize risks of illness and injury for everyone, but especially your children.
Scuba courses teach us the importance of safety stops, but many divers aren’t as diligent as they should be unless they’re on a deep or long dive. You should, of course, plan and execute a safety stop with every dive, no matter how long or how deep.
It’s not ethical to test the effects of pressure on a child’s system, so the depth parameters for young divers are more conservative than for adults. Along that same line, we cannot determine if the effects of nitrogen are greater for children either. But since their bodies, systems, and joints are smaller than ours, even a shallow dive could have a greater effect on a child than it does on an adult, in terms of nitrogen loading. This makes a safety stop even more important, even when diving shallow with kids.
Reason No. 2: Computers may fool you, so make a deliberate stop.
We had to teach our junior-diver son that your computer might make you think you’re okay when you’re not. He started his safety stop as we came over the top of the reef and made our way toward shore. When he headed in well-shy of three minutes, I questioned what he was doing. He showed me that his computer appeared to have completed the safety-stop countdown. I signaled for him to follow me back into deeper water and had him look at his computer again. He was surprised to see that the stop was still counting down.
Our computer settings, like many, automatically display a safety-stop countdown at about 18 feet. It counts down the three minutes, but if you move into water that is less than eight feet deep, the countdown stops, just as it does when you go deeper than 18 feet. If you make a deliberate stop at 15 feet, you can avoid this confusion.
Reason No. 3: You need to set a good example for your kids.
We need to model the behavior that we want our children to imitate. This is especially important when it comes to diving, because just as our actions on land teach them how to be good citizens and stay safe topside, our actions underwater will teach them how they should behave and stay safe while diving. Just as we do not take shortcuts with safety on land, we should not take them underwater either.
Reason No. 4: Safety stops need to become a habit.
Just like telling them to pick up their clothes, brush their teeth, and turn out the lights, we must repeat and remind them about dive rules, such as safety stops. Planning a stop, talking about it, and executing it on every dive — no matter how long or how deep — will help make safety stops a habit for children. You may have to remind them while on the dive as well. Our son is 13 and I am still reminding him to turn off the lights.
Our children will grow into adults, and will hopefully continue to dive on their own. As their dive role models, we must ensure they have the skills, habits, and knowledge to keep them safe underwater on every dive. Reinforcing the importance of making safety stops, even on very shallow dives, is a key part of the equation.