Safe Descent & Ascent – The Ups and Downs in a diver’s life

Life is a rollercoaster – we all know that life sometimes takes us up and sometimes down. Especially in the life of a Scuba diver these ups and downs are a crucial part of the game. In order to avoid discomfort under water or back on the surface we want these ups and downs – or let’s call them ascent and descent – to increase our safety.

PADI has developed a very easy way to follow the correct steps for safe descents and ascents. Here we can follow two phrases, so we don’t forget how to do this 5-point descents and ascents properly:

Safe Diver


fish sail rock


samui dIver, sail rock
S O R T D and S T E L A

We should follow the phrase S O R T D when descending. Each letter stands for one step of our descent:

S – Signal. We confirm with an OK-Signal that our buddy is ready
O – Orientate. We orient ourselves at a visual reference above or under the surface
R – Regulator. We put the regulator in our mouth
T – Time. We check if the timer of our computer is activated
D – We lift our inflator up high, release air and descend

While descending it’s very important to keep eye contact to your dive buddy. At the same time you also focus on where you are descending. Make sure you know what’s underneath.

It certainly makes things easier if you have a visual reference like a rope or a buoy line that you can follow. This is helpful in poor visibilities or in strong currents when it’s easier just to hold onto the rope. In some circumstances we also might need to descend without a reference. In this case especially check your depth gauge frequently, watch your compass and stay close to your dive buddy.

Then, after the dive when it’s time to get back to the surface we can follow the other phrase:


S – Signal. We confirm with an OK-signal that our buddy is ready to go up
T – Time. – We check the dive time on our computer to make sure we’re within our limits
E – Elevate. Hold up (elevate) the inflator hose in order to release air from your BCD
L – Look up, so you know where you are going
A – Ascent. Now swim up with only using your fins at a rate not faster than 18 m per minute

When following a dive computer your ascent is even slower than that. Most computers maintain an ascent rate of around 10 m per minute. To make sure your ascent is not getting too fast always release some air from your BCD as you swim up. All the time while swimming to the surface make sure that you turn and watch out for possible obstacles. At the same time stay close to your buddy.

Also while ascending it’s helpful if you can follow a visual reference like a rope. When you have to perform an ascent without such a reference then it’s again important to follow your computer, your compass and stay close to you dive partner.

Then as the last part of our ascent once we have reached the surface we have to inflate our BCD completely to maintain positive buoyancy. Then, once you’re floating comfortably switch from your regulator to the snorkel and swim towards the boat. As directed by the boat crew in some cases the boat also might come to pick you up.

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