Doing It Right Diving
Home Equipment Knowledgebase Downloads


What's DIR really about?
DIR - An essay
Situational awareness
Calculations on the fly
Dive planning on the fly
How much lead?
Pre-dive procedures
Gas switching procedure
Singles, H-valves or doubles?
Average depth for deco?
Using the min deco table
Nitrox Class Part 1
Nitrox Class Part 2

DIR II (from video)
DIR III (from video)

Printer-friendly version

Can average depth be used to estimate deco?


When we try to estimate how much deco we need to do for a certain profile some people use the average depth of the dive for this. Some computers and bottomtimers also calculates average depth during the dive for you. But does using average depth for deco really work?


Let's see how this approach works on different profiles having the same average depth - 40 minutes at 30m/100ft.

  • Profile 1 - Average: 40 min at 30m/100ft
  • Profile 2 - Deep to shallow: 20 min 40m/130ft + 20 min 20m/70ft
  • Profile 3 - Shallow to deep: 20 min 20m/70ft + 20 min 40m/130ft
  • Profile 4 - Cave type: 10 min 40m/130ft + 10 min 20m/70ft and going back 10 min 20m/70ft + 10 min 40m/130ft.

I will run these profile in GAP using RGBM with nominal conservatism and Decoplanner using Buhlmann with gradient factors 30/85 to see how much deco in minutes we have to do for each combination. Let's use 21/35 as backgas and 50% nitrox for decompression. Remember, it's the difference in time between the different profiles uing the same deco algorithm we are interrested in. I just though we could have some variation using both a bubble model as RGBM and a dissolved gas model as Buhlmann

Deco algorithm1-Average2-Deep to shallow3-Shallow to deep4-Cave type
RGBM19 min13 min24 min17 min
Buhlmann18 min17 min23 min22 min

As you can see doing "Profile 2 - Deep to shallow" we will be slightly conservative using the average depth which is fine of course. However, doing "Profile 3 - Shallow to deep" we can't use an regular average is this will NOT give us enough decompression.

Actually the equivalent square profile giving the same amount of deco (24 minutes) is about 34m/111ft for 40 minutes using RGBM. And on "Profile 4 - Cave profile" we have a discrepancy between the different models where RGBM says ok and Buhlmann says you need more deco.

Also using longer deco or different depth differences will yield the same results. You could make the difference larger or smaller if you wanted too. I just tried to use an example that would be reasonable for a single deco gas dive.


From this we can draw the conclusion that using a straight average is not recommended for profiles going shallow to deep and might be a problem for cave type profiles. Otherwise it will work fine and even be slightly conservative.

The solution to the problem above is to take the profile into account and using a weighted average where we weight towards the deeper side when we have profile going shallow to deep. Having experimented with different profiles I found that using 75% of the difference a good rule of thumb. In this case that would be 35m/115ft.

Running average

Of course calculating an average is easier in our example as we used the same time at different depths. When you spend different times at different depths it is more work for the poor brain. In real life what I do is keep track of the weighted average during the dive, a running average it could be called. Let's do an example.

Let's say we did "Profile 4 - Cave type". During the dive I would look at my depth and time regularly or when doing major depth changes.

  • First we did 10 minutes at 40m/130ft - my average is 10min@40m/130ft.
  • Then we spent 10 minutes at 20m - my average is 20min@30m/100ft.
  • Then another 10 minutes at 20m - my average is 30min@27m/90ft. (20min@30m/100ft + 10min@20m/70ft).
  • Then down to 10 minutes at 40m - my average becomes 40min at 33m/110ft. (30min@27m/90ft + 10min@40m/130ft which mathematically is 40min at 30m/100ft but weighted deeper).

And when in doubt - always err on the deeper side.

Usually we don't dive to exact depths but if you keep running your average in your backhead and guesstimate it to deeper depths you will end up with a good average. It's also a good idea to practice this using some kind of depth profiler to compare to after the dive. I have used Reefnet's Sensus Pro device and like that because I can keep it in my pocket and it's easy to download.

Also remember that a lot of dives you actualy spend most of the time at the exact same depth so keeping a running weighted average might be overkill. And as always we always have the option of using our maximum depth to estimate the deco - the most conservative approach but also the safest.

Have fun!


This page was last modified 27 August 2009
ⓒ 2002-2021 Peter Steinhoff