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What is Nitrox and why do most Scuba Divers use it?

Author: Maduro Dive Staff

More than 60 years ago when Jacques Yves Cousteau first introduced the concept of exploring the underwater world, viewers watched the Captain and his crew strap on tanks filled with air and the concept of SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) would born.

A common mistake that was made was that these divers were taking down oxygen tanks, when in reality the tanks contained compressed air. The air that you and I breathe every day is a combination of nitrogen and oxygen (actually 21 percent oxygen and 79 percent nitrogen to be exact). When you scuba dive, the longer you stay under the water (bottom time), the more nitrogen your body absorbs.

Photo courtesy of PADI

When divers absorb too much nitrogen in their blood stream, they develop a condition known as the bends. (This is also known as decompression sickness). To help divers reduce the potential for this situation, the dive industry introduced the concept of Enriched Air (or nitrox) in the late 1990s. Nitrox is simply a gas mixture that has a higher concentration of air and a lower concentration of Nitrogen. If a diver is breathing less nitrogen, the chance of developing the bends is greatly reduced.

For traveling divers, using Nitrox provides several important benefits. These include:

Longer Bottom Times: If you are breathing in less nitrogen, in theory you can stay underwater longer. This is important for divers spending investing in scuba diving vacations. Note: This won’t help if you’re an air hog who uses air quickly during the dive…  just a friendly observation.

Shorter Surface Intervals: Following every scuba dive, divers are required to have a surface interval where their bodies recover and burn off excess nitrogen brought into their system during the dive. This is common and part of the diving experience. When using Nitrox, the surface intervals are shorter because there is less nitrogen to burn off.

More Relaxing Experience: There is no scientific proof, but nearly everyone we have spoken with who uses Nitrox swears they surface feeling more energetic. We guess the only way for you to know for sure is to try Nitrox diving yourself!

All of the major scuba training organizations offer certification in diving Nitrox. For more details, contact your local dive center.

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