Saturation decompression may be initiated by an upward excursion as long as the excursion remains within the limits permitted by the Unlimited Duration Excursion Tables. The alternative is to begin travel at the appropriate decompression rate without the upward excursion. Decompression travel rates are found on Table 15-9.

TABLE 15-9

TABLE 15-9 Saturation Decompression Rates.

Upward Excursion Depth

The minimum depth to which the upward excursion may be made is found by entering Table 15-8 with the deepest depth attained by any diver in the preceding 48 hours. The total upward excursion actually chosen is determined by the Diving Officer and Master Diver, and approved by the Commanding Officer, taking into consideration environmental factors, the diver’s workload, and the diver’s physical condition.

Travel Rate

The travel rate for the upward excursion is 2 fsw/min. Beginning decompression with an upward excursion will save considerable time and may be used whenever practical. 15-9.

Post-Excursion Hold

Due to the increased risk of decompression sickness following an upward excursion for dives with a storage depth of 200 fsw or less, a 2-hour post-excursion hold should be utilized. The 2-hour hold begins upon arrival at upward excursion depth.

Rest Stops

During decompression, traveling stops for a total of 8 hours out of every 24 hours. The 8 hours should be divided into at least two periods known as “Rest Stops.” At what hours these rest stops occur are determined by the daily routine and operations schedule. The 2-hour post-excursion hold may be considered as one of the rest stops.

Saturation Decompression Rates

Table 15-9 shows saturation decompression rates. In practice, saturation decompression is executed by decompressing the DDC in 1-foot or 2-foot increments when indicated in the dive protocol. For example, using a travel rate of 6 feet per hour will decompress the chamber 1 foot every 10 minutes. The last decompression stop before surfacing may be taken at 4 fsw to ensure early surfacing does not occur and that gas flow to atmosphere monitoring instruments remains adequate. This last stop would be 80 minutes, followed by direct ascent to the surface at 1 fsw/min.

Traveling is conducted for 16 hours in each 24-hour period. A 16-hour daily travel/rest outline example consistent with a normal day/night cycle is:

Daily Routine Schedule

2400–0600 Rest Stop

0600–1400 Travel

1400–1600 Rest Stop

1600–2400 Travel

This schedule minimizes travel when the divers are normally sleeping. Such a daily routine is not, however, mandatory. Other 16-hour periods of travel per 24- hour routines are acceptable, although they shall include at least two stop periods dispersed throughout the 24-hour period and travel may continue while the divers sleep. An example of an alternate schedule is:

Alternate Sample Schedule

2300–0500 Travel

0500–0700 Rest Stop

0700–0900 Travel

0900–1500 Rest Stop

1500–2300 Travel

The timing of the stop is dependent upon operational requirements. The travel rate between stops should not exceed 1 fsw per minute.

TABLE 15-9

TABLE 15-9 Saturation Decompression Rates.

Atmosphere Control at Shallow Depths

As previously stated, the partial pressure of oxygen in the chamber shall be maintained between 0.44 and 0.48 ata, with two exceptions. The first is just before making the initial Upward Excursion and the second during the terminal portion of saturation decompression. Approximately 1 hour before beginning an Upward Excursion, the chamber ppO2 may be increased up to a maximum of 0.6 ata to ensure that the ppO2 after excursion does not fall excessively. The ppO2 should be raised just enough so the post-excursion ppO2 does not exceed 0.48 ata. However, when excursions begin from depths of 200 fsw or shallower, a pre-excursion ppO2 of 0.6 ata will result in a post-excursion ppO2 of less than 0.44 ata. In these cases, the pre-excursion ppO2 should not exceed 0.6 ata, but the post-excursion ppO2 should be increased as rapidly as possible.

The second exception is at shallow chamber depth. As chamber depth decreases, the fractional concentration of oxygen necessary to maintain a given partial pressure increases. If the chamber ppO2 were maintained at 0.44–0.48 ata all the way to the surface, the chamber oxygen percentage would rise to 44–48 percent. Accordingly, for the terminal portion of saturation decompression, the allowable oxygen percentage is between 19 and 23 percent. The maximum oxygen percentage for the terminal portion of the decompression shall not exceed 23 percent, based upon fire-risk considerations.

Saturation Dive Mission Abort

If it is necessary to terminate a saturation dive after exceeding the abort limits (see paragraph 15-20.4), standard saturation decompression procedures shall be followed.

Emergency Cases

In exceptional cases it could be necessary to execute a mission abort and not be able to adhere to standard saturation decompression procedures. The emergency abort procedures should only be conducted for grave, unforeseen casualties that require deviation from the standard decompression procedures such as

  • An unrepairable failure of key primary and related backup equipment in the dive system that would prevent following standard decompression procedures.
  • Unrepairable damage to the diving support vessel or diving support facility.
  • A life-threatening medical emergency where the risk of not getting the patient to a more specialized medical care facility outweighs the increased risk of pulmonary oxygen toxicity and increased risk of decompression sickness imposed upon the patient by not following standard saturation decompression procedures.

An Emergency Abort Procedure was developed and has received limited testing. It enables the divers to surface earlier than would be allowed normally. However, the time saved may be insignificant to the total decompression time still required, especially if the divers have been under pressure for 12 hours or more. In addition, executing the Emergency Abort Procedure increases the diver’s risk for decompression sickness and complications from pulmonary oxygen toxicity.

Before executing a mission abort procedure that does not follow standard decompression procedures or the abort procedures contained in paragraph 15-20.4, the Commanding Officer must carefully weigh the risk of the action, relying on the advice and recommendations of the Master Diver, Diving Officer, and Saturation Diving Medical Officer. Specifically, it must be determined if the time saved will benefit the diver’s life despite the increased risks, and whether the Emergency Abort Procedure can be supported logistically.

NOTE USN dive system design incorporates separate primary, secondary, and treatment gas supplies and redundancy of key equipment. It is neither the intent of this section nor a requirement that saturation dive systems be configured with additional gas stores specifically dedicated to execution of an emergency abort procedure. Augmentation gas supplies if required will be gained by returning to port or receiving additional supplies on site.

Except in situations where the nature or time sensitivity of the emergency does not allow, technical and medical assistance should be sought from the Navy Experimental Diving Unit prior to deviating from standard saturation decompression procedures.

Emergency Abort Procedure

Emergency Abort Procedures should only be conducted for grave casualties that are time critical. Decompression times and chamber oxygen partial pressures for emergency aborts from helium-oxygen saturation are shown in Table 15-10.

Emergency Abort decompression is begun by making the maximum Upward Excursion allowed by Table 15-8. Rate of travel should not exceed 2 fsw/min. The upward excursion includes a 2-hour hold at the upward excursion limit. Travel time is included as part of the 2-hour hold. Following the Upward Excursion, the chamber oxygen partial pressure is raised to the value shown in Table 15-10. Decompression is begun in 1-foot increments using the times indicated in Table 15-10. Rate of travel between stops is not to exceed 1 fsw/min. Travel time is included in the next stop time. The partial pressure of oxygen is controlled at the value indicated until the chamber oxygen concentration reaches 23 percent. The oxygen concentration is then controlled between 19 and 23 percent for the remainder of the decompression. Stop travel at 4 fsw until total decompression time has elapsed and then travel to the surface at 1 fsw/min.

For example, the maximum depth of the diver in the last 48 hours was 400 fsw, and the Commanding Officer approves using the Emergency Abort Procedure. From the Upward Excursion Table, the complex travels to 307 fsw at a rate not to exceed 2 fsw/min. It takes 46.5 minutes to travel. This time is part of a 2-hour hold requirement as part of the upward excursion for emergency aborts.

Because the post-excursion depth is between 273–1,000 fsw, the chamber oxygen partial pressure is raised to 0.6 ata. Once the atmosphere is established and the remainder of the 2-hour hold completed, begin decompression in 1-foot increments with stop times of 12 minutes from 307 to 200 fsw. The travel rate between stops should not exceed 1 fsw/min. Travel time is included in the stop time. It will take 21.4 hours to arrive at 200 fsw.

At 200 fsw the 1-foot stop time changes to 21 minutes. It will take 70 hours to reach the surface. The total decompression time is 93.4 hours (3 days, 21 hours, 21 minutes, 36 seconds). By contrast, standard saturation decompression would take approximately 4 days and 3 hours to complete.

During and following the dive, the divers should be monitored closely for signs of decompression sickness and for signs of pulmonary oxygen toxicity. The latter includes burning chest pain and coughing. The divers should be kept under close observation for at least 24 hours following the dive.

If the emergency ceases to exist during the decompression, hold for a minimum of 2 hours, revert to standard decompression rates, and allow the oxygen partial pressure to fall to normal control values as divers consume the oxygen. Venting to reduce the oxygen level is not necessary.

TABLE 15-10

TABLE 15-10 Emergency Abort Decompression Times and Oxygen Partial Pressures.

Decompression Sickness (DCS)

Decompression sickness may occur during a saturation dive as a result of an Upward Excursion or as a result of standard saturation decompression. The decompression sickness may manifest itself as musculoskeletal pain (Type I) or as involvement of the central nervous system and organs of special sense (Type II). Due to the subtleness of decompression sickness pain, all divers should be questioned about symptoms when it is determined that one diver is suffering from decompression sickness. For treatment, refer to Figure 15-9.

Type I Decompression Sickness

Type I Decompression Sickness may result from an Upward Excursion or as the result of standard saturation decompression. It is usually manifested as the gradual onset of musculoskeletal pain most often involving the knee. Divers report that it begins as knee stiffness that is relieved by motion but which increases to pain over a period of several hours. Care must be taken to distinguish knee pain arising from compression arthralgia or injury incurred during the dive from pain due to decompression sickness. This can usually be done by obtaining a clear history of the onset of symptoms and their progression. Pain or soreness present prior to decompression and unchanged after ascent is unlikely to be decompression sickness. Type I Decompression Sickness that occurs during an Upward Excursion or within 60 minutes immediately after an Upward Excursion shall be treated in the same manner as Type II Decompression Sickness, as it may herald the onset of more severe symptoms. Type I Decompression Sickness occurring more than 60 minutes after an Upward Excursion or during saturation decompression should be treated by recompressing in increments of 5 fsw at 5 fsw/min until distinct improvement of symptoms is indicated. Recompression of more than 30 fsw is usually unnecessary. Once treatment depth is reached, the stricken diver is given a treatment gas, by BIBS mask, with an oxygen partial pressure between 1.5 and 2.8 ata. Interrupt treatment gas breathing every 25 minutes with 5 minutes of breathing chamber atmosphere. Divers should remain at treatment depth for at least 2 hours on treatment gas following resolution of symptoms. Decompression can then be resumed using standard saturation decompression rates. Further Upward Excursions are not permitted.

Type II Decompressions Sickness

Type II Decompression Sickness in saturation diving most often occurs as a result of an Upward Excursion. The onset of symptoms is usually rapid, occurring during the Upward Excursion or within the first hour following an excursion ascent. Inner ear decompression sickness manifests itself as nausea and vomiting, vertigo, loss of equilibrium, ringing in the ears and hearing loss. Central nervous system (CNS) decompression sickness may present itself as weakness, muscular paralysis, or loss of mental alertness and memory. Type II Decompression Sickness resulting from an Upward Excursion is a medical emergency and shall be treated by immediate recompression at 30 fsw/min to the depth from which the Upward Excursion originated. When Type II Decompression Sickness symptoms do not occur in association with an Upward Excursion, compression at 5 fsw/min to the depth where distinct improvement is noted should take place. Upon reaching treatment depth, symptoms usually begin to abate rapidly. If symptoms are not significantly improved within 5 to 10 minutes at the initial treatment depth, deeper recompression at the recommendation of a Saturation Diving Medical Officer should be started until significant relief is obtained. After reaching the final treatment depth, treatment gas having an oxygen partial pressure of 1.5 to 2.8 ata shall be administered to the stricken diver for 25-minute periods interspersed with 5 minutes of breathing chamber atmosphere. Treatment gas shall be administered for at least 2 hours and the divers shall remain at the final treatment depth for at least 12 hours following resolution of symptoms. Decompression can then be resumed using standard saturation decompression using rates shown in Table 15-9. Further Upward Excursions are not permitted.

TABLE 15-9

TABLE 15-9 Saturation Decompression Rates.

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