Making a good dive plan

by David Miner

In your basic open water certification course, you learned about dive planning and how to properly plan a dive. The dive planning motto is “plan your dive and dive your plan.” You probably heard this a lot in your training course and on your first few dives, but maybe not as much since then.

The same dive planning principles apply whether reef or wreck diving or deep or shallow diving

Dive planning is an important part of any dive, whether diving on a reef at 30 feet or diving a deep wreck at 120 feet, the same principles apply. Dive planning begins by assessing every team member’s skill level and experience. Maybe you dive with the same buddy on every dive or maybe your friend just got certified and wants to start diving with you or maybe you’re on a charter boat and got paired up with a complete stranger for the days diving. Either way, you need to begin the dive plan by assessing each person’s level of experience because it may be much different than yours. Knowing each person’s skill level as well as all dive planning procedures are for the safety of the divers participating in the dive. If everyone understands and is comfortable with the dive plan, the dive will execute much easier and safer.


Start by finding out what everyone wants to do and what he or she wants from the dive. If someone is only comfortable diving to 60 feet, don’t plan a dive to 100 feet. Make sure everyone is comfortable with the location, depth, bottom time planned, and type of dive. A very experienced diver may expect much more from the dive than an inexperienced diver. As a group, discuss all of the parameters of the dive. Many times, the things you miss or don’t talk about are the things that lead to problems. Here are some good questions to cover:


·         How many logged dives does each person have?

·         What type of diving environment have they dived in?

·         What is each person’s comfort level with the dive plan?

·         What gas is everyone diving (air or nitrox)?

·         What type of alternate air source is each person using?

·         What is each person’s breathing rate (how long can they dive on a tank at the depth you’re diving)?

·         Does everyone know when and how to make a safety stop?

·         What hand signals does each person know and understand?

·         How does each person handle an out-of-air situation? Review the procedures with the group.

·         Who is going to lead the dive? Make sure this is clear with the group.


Assessing others in the dive group is only half the battle; you must also assess yourself. How rested are you, when was your last dive, how do you feel about the dive plan, how does your experience compare to the others in the group, how comfortable are you with the divers in the group? These are all important questions to ask yourself during the planning stages of your dive.

Know the individuals in your dive team, their experience levels, abilities, and comfort levels By knowing the experience level of the team members and knowing your own abilities keep the team from diving somewhere they shouldn’t, going to deep, staying to long, or conducting a type of dive that is out of the “comfort zone” of someone. By staying in each person’s comfort zone, you decrease the chance of a problem occurring.

 In addition to picking a dive site, planning the dive depth, and bottom time, you must also plan and review other basic requirements, such as planning the end of the dive when your tank reaches 500 psi, reviewing proper air sharing procedures, and decide who is going to lead the dive.

Being back on the boat with gas in your tank requires planning for all dive members on your team


You were taught and almost all dive operators require you to be back on the boat with no less than 500 psi remaining in your tank. This means that you need to end the dive with more than 500 psi so that you can return to the dive or entry point and conduct the required safety stop. To do this, you must plan your dive accordingly. Each person on the team must be comfortable with the turnaround time. If someone’s comfort level is ending the dive with 1000 psi, then the team must understand that going below 1000 psi may put that person out of his or her comfort zone.



When planning the end of a dive, you also need to understand how long a tank lasts for each person. You can’t plan a 45-minute bottom time at 60 feet if someone’s tank usually only lasts them 30 minutes at that depth. Obviously, they would run out of air or have to end the dive by themselves, which would separate the team. To keep the team together, you’ll have to end the dive when the first team member reaches the predetermined remaining tank pressure.


You also need to make sure you review proper air sharing procedures with the group. If someone hasn’t dived for a while, they may be a little rusty and going over the procedures will make them more comfortable with the dive plan. Make sure each person is comfortable with the procedure before going diving.


During dive planning, you also need to determine who is going to lead the dive. This avoids following the wrong person and getting separated from the group. You may be on a guided dive, which means a dive master or instructor will be leading your dive. In this case, they are the obvious leader of the dive. Make sure your leader understands everyone’s comfort level and doesn’t change the plan during the dive. Your leader should also be able to communicate with the team by using a few hand signals if needed during the dive. Review these hand signals before entering the water. Finally, make sure the team is comfortable with the person selected to lead the dive.


Finally, once you’re at the dive site, suited up, and ready to dive, have the dive leader quickly brief the team again. Go over the dive plan and make sure there aren’t any other questions. Once the briefing is complete and the group is ready, go diving and have a great and relaxing dive.