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The biggest question is "What is Nitrox?" Well, the air we breathe is Nitrox. Air consists mostly of two gases: Nitrogen (79%) and Oxygen (21%), and there are some trace gases that are also in the air, they exist in such small quantities that we can ignore them. Nitrox is also referred to as "Enriched Air" or air that has been enriched with Oxygen so that it has more than 21% of Oxygen usually 22% to 40% - blends that are usually used in Recreational No Decompression Dives. But really, Nitrox refers to any Nitrogen-Oxygen gas-mix, including blends that have less oxygen than air. For the purpose of Technical Diving, you learn to use Nitrox gas mixes from below 21% to up to 100% - although the richer mixes are usually used only for decompression.
Although Enriched Air Nitrox is relatively new to recreational diving, military and research divers have been using it to extend their no decompression limits for over 50 years. In fact, the first recorded Enriched Air mix was recorded by Draeger as early as 1917. The United States Navy and British Royal Navy studied and used Enriched Air in the 1940's and the United States Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have more than 20 years field experience with Enriched Air used by their research divers.
There is also the question of how do you name a Nitrox mix. To distinguish one blend of Nitrox from another, the diving community uses the abbreviation EANx (for "Enriched Air Nitrox") followed by the Oxygen content percentage. For Example EANx36 is a Nitrox blend that contains 36% of Oxygen and the balance (64%) of Nitrogen: you would read "EANx36" as "Enriched Air 36" or "Enriched Air Nitrox 36" if saying it aloud. The most two common blends used in recreational diving are EANx32 and EANx36.
Why do you want to use Nitrox? You can stay longer underwater! The primary application of Nitrox is that divers use it to extend the no-decompression limit beyond normal air no-decompression limits. Nitrogen dissolves into your body while you are breathing air under pressure. The longer and deeper you dive, the more Nitrogen you absorb.
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You feel less tired after repetitive dives on Nitrox. Well, some might argue that it isn't true, but any instructor who works and completes 3 to 5 dives a day will tell you that they do feel a whole lot better when these are completed using Nitrox. The best way is to try it yourself, but beware that this is only noticeable when completing at least 2 dives in one day as your body doesn't have to work as hard to flush the excess Nitrogen out of your system, you feel less tired.
People have a tendency to think Nitrox is dangerous and is meant to be used by highly trained professional divers and especially divers who want to go deep Actually recreational no decompression Enriched Air dives have a maximum limit of 40 meters / 120 feet.
The full advantages and benefits of Enriched Air are truly only felt when diving between the depths of 21 and 36 meters or 70 to 110 feet , either on a No Decompression dive, or when Tech Diving as a travel gas or decompression gas.
What are the hazards of diving on Nitrox? As mentioned earlier, there is a trade-off - you can't get something for nothing.
Oxygen Toxicity: Underwater, Oxygen has its own sets of problems, some of which are significantly more hazardous than Nitrogen. As you reduce your Nitrogen exposure, you increase your Oxygen exposure. Much of what you will learn in the PADI Enriched Air course and the TDI Basic Nitrox course deals with keeping your Oxygen exposure within safe limits whilst diving. In fact, Oxygen Toxicity is the most serious of the potential hazards unique to diving on Enriched Air Nitrox and tracking your Oxygen exposure becomes your priority.
Equipment considerations: Most of the special procedures you need to dive safely with and handle Enriched Air Nitrox relate to its higher Oxygen content. By itself, Oxygen won't burn or explode, but many substances react with Oxygen and will burn vigorously or explode when in contact with a high amount of Oxygen: any piece of equipment that will come into direct contact with Enriched Air Nitrox will have to be dedicated solely to diving using Nitrox. Nitrox Cylinders have to be easily visually identifiable or the consequences could be fatal. Standard Regulators may be used with mixes up to EANx40, depending on the manufacturer's recommendations and local diving laws, but any richer mix will require specially serviced and Oxygen cleaned regulators. Other equipment you will learn to use in a Enriched Air Nitrox course are Oxygen Analyzers, which enable a diver to personally check the Oxygen content of the tank he is about to dive with an absolute MUST of diving on Nitrox!
More complex dive planning: Enriched Air Nitrox dive planning requires a few more planning steps than diving on air, and you will have to use several tables to plan your decompression and Oxygen exposure. Most divers don't find these additional steps too complicated, but the process has more potential for error, and less tolerance for error if you make one.
Whatever the circumstances, "Plan your dive and Dive your plan" is always the rule!