Let’s Talk About Nitrox
What the heck is Nitrox anyways!?
If you’ve been on a dive boat, dive shop or around divers during the past 20 years, you’ve probably heard the term “nitrox” being used a few times. Maybe you know what it is, but maybe you don’t and were embarrassed to ask what it is. Well, in this post we are going to answer some of the questions you always had about nitrox but were too afraid to ask.
So let’s begin with the basic. What is Nitrox?
– Nitrox is a term that refers to any gas mixture that is made up of nitrogen and oxygen. This includes the “regular” (atmospheric) air that we breathe every day here on the surface, which includes approximately 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% other trace gases (argon, helium, hydrogen, carbon, krypton, etc.). What we commonly use as “nitrox” in diving is actually “enriched air”.
Ok, so what is “Enriched Air”, then?
– Well, enriched air means that the gas mixture has a higher oxygen content than that of regular air. Does that make sense? To put it in numbers, if regular air has 21% oxygen, enriched air nitrox has an oxygen content of 22% to 99%.
So what’s so great about it then?
– Well, enriched air mixes allow us to lengthen our no decompression limits (NDL) and shorten our surface intervals (SI) due to a lower nitrogen uptake in the body’s tissues. Now, this doesn’t mean you can go deeper. In fact quite the opposite. As you increase the percentage of oxygen in the mix, you must reduce the depth to lower the risk of oxygen toxicity.
This blog post is not going to to into full detail about that. That’s what a proper course is for. Come on.. you weren’t expecting a full class out of a blog, were you?
So, what are the benefits of diving with enriched air (or nitrox for short)?
Well, as we reduce the concentration of nitrogen in our tissues, we can lower the risk of decompression sickness. Mind you, the only way to completely eliminate the risk of DCS is by not diving. Also, some people feel less tired after a dive with nitrox (which is very subjective), again, we can lengthen our NDL, or even add an extra layer of conservatism by diving with an enriched mix and an air profile.
So is it worth getting Nitrox certified?
Absolutely! In fact, in many live-aboards, it is a requirement that you are nitrox certified. This is because you could be doing as many as 5 or more dives per day, in some pretty remote locations, and the last thing they would want to have to do is to have to med-evac someone to the nearest chamber which could be several hours away.
Also, if you down the road, decide you want to embark on the road to technical diving, well, nitrox is a prerequisite for all technical level courses.