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Fellow scuba enthusiasts, do you want your dives to be safer, to stay down longer, and to have more energy for celebratory drinks after rinsing out your gear? I’ll take that as a duh — which is why it’s so crazy it took me so many years to get my nitrox certification.

Earlier in 2016, before leaving Thailand for the summer, I realized I’d . My solution? I signed up for three different continuing education courses at three different dive schools on Koh Tao to shake myself out of it! And I chose topics that challenged me. After tackling the Self Reliant Diver certification at Master Divers — which you can read about here — I moved onto the Enriched Air Diver certification course at Ban’s, the largest dive school in the world by volume of divers certified.

Ban's Koh Tao Course Review

Ban's Koh Tao Course Review

The  course, also often referred to as “nitrox,” is PADI’s most popular speciality — and it’s easy to see why. (I’ll use the two terms interchangeably throughout this post.) This simple one-day course can be done and dusted in a matter of hours, and in fact as a “dry course,” it can technically be completely without stepping a single fin underwater — though, ahem, why would you want to miss the fun part?!

I chose to take this certification quite seriously. As a PADI Divemaster, I have always felt self-conscious about the gaps in my understanding of dive theory, and I figured this course would be the perfect opportunity to fill them out. And so I turned to my longtime friend and Senior Instructor at Ban’s, Chris Pearson.

As the local coordinator at Hyperbaric Services Thailand, a key member of Koh Tao Rescue, and a PADI Staff Instructor, he was almost over-qualified to certify little ‘ol me in a simple Enriched Air course. I mean, just look at this list of qualification!

• PADI Staff Instructor
• Diver Medical Technician (IMCA)
• Emergency First Responder Instructor Trainer
• C.E.E.R – Challenging Environments Emergency Responder Instructor
• M.I.R.A – Medicine In Remote Areas Instructor
• DMR Level IV – Diver Medical Responder Instructor
• Hyperbaric Chamber Tender & Operator (SSS Recompression Chamber Network)

Phew! Thankfully, Chris was more than willing to take me on as a student. I knew he’d know exactly how to get the information through to me — Diet Coke lecture analogies, coconut quiz-passing bribes and all.

Enriched Air Nitrox PADI Course

Enriched Air Nitrox PADI Course

So, let’s start with the basics. What is enriched air? It all comes down to what’s in the tank. A standard scuba tank is filled with compressed air identical to what we breathe on land, which is 79% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. Nitrox tanks on the other hand have an oxygen content of 22-40%, with 32% and 36% being the standard mixes.

Don’t worry, this blog post does not require a calculator — I just wanted to impress you all with the use of fancy fractions. (Did it work? Discuss amongst yourselves.) Yet the real benefits of diving nitrox go beyond wowing your friends with math and the fashion potential of coordinating with those sassy green and yellow tanks.

Less nitrogen is, for the most part, a good thing. Nitrogen is enemy numero uno when it comes to decompression sickness, long breaks between dives, post-diving naps and something called “no decompression limits,” which calculate how long you can stay at certain depths. Diving enriched air allows you to dive longer (due to less nitrogen exposure), safer (you can dive an air profile on a nitrox tank for super conservative dives), with shorter surface intervals (as there’s less nitrogen to off-gas) and with less fatigue (yup, you guessed it, another byproduct of less nitrogen exposure).

So what keeps the entire dive community from ditching standard air and breathing nothing but nitrox? Good question. The answer, for most divers, is simply price. It’s more expensive! Other factors include limited availability, the hassle of checking the blend in your tank for each dive, and stricter depth limits due to the increased risk of oxygen toxicity (there’s always a trade-off, eh?).

Ban's Dive School Koh Tao Thailand

Ban's Dive School Koh Tao Thailand

The course itself is straightforward. In fact, it is the only PADI dive course ever to be streamlined rather than expanded. Why? Because, dive computers! In some ways, these magic little wrist machines have made diving nitrox as simple as the touch of a button.

But yet you still need to understand the concepts behind the calculations, and that’s where the certification comes in. Things like partial pressure and oxygen toxicity are, in my opinion, quite complicated, and I didn’t want to just pass the test and move on. I really wanted to understand. And so I didn’t move past a single sentence in the course manual until I felt confident I could explain it to a child if necessary. Bottom line? Praise Chris for his patience.

The course kicked off with an introductory video by PADI followed by a custom lecture from Chris and many interruptions by me to ask questions. Next, I sat down for some quality time with my manual, completing a simple knowledge reviews at the end of each chapter to seal in new concepts. Finally came the exam, which I aced with the humble pride that some accept PHDs with.

HTMS Sattukut Koh Tao

HTMS Sattukut Koh Tao

And then we put it into practice. After learning to set my dive computer for various nitrox blends, I mastered how to check tanks with an analyzer tool and record my findings, and finally how to read the markings on a nitrox tank. One thing I didn’t realize before taking this course is you MUST check your own gas blend each and every single dive so you can plan accordingly. While oxygen poisoning is incredibly rare, it is serious, and thus divers have to be vigilant about checking their air blend, making a dive plan and staying within their computer’s dive limits.

Ideally, though this step is technically optional, you’ll conclude your course with a dive or two on nitrox so you can see what all the fuss is about. Which is exactly what Chris and I did, to the HTMS Sattakut, one of my old favorite dive sites on Koh Tao.

HTMS Sattukut Koh Tao

HTMS Sattukut Koh Tao

HTMS Sattukut Koh Tao

Enriched Air Nitrox PADI Course

While it was interesting to note the different readings on my dive computer and to see the different markings on my snazzy new tank, the contents were indiscernible otherwise from standard compressed air — it doesn’t taste, feel, or smell any differently.

Thanks to our longer dive time and shorter surface intervals, we were the last ones back on the boat from the first dive and the first ones back in the water for the second, at good ‘ol White Rock dive site.

Ban's Koh Tao Course Review

Ban's Koh Tao Course Review

Ban's Koh Tao Course Review

Enriched Air Nitrox PADI Course

Ban's Koh Tao Course Review

Ban's Koh Tao Course Review

And then I was certified, sealed with a high-five at the surface! As we hopped off the dive boat, I felt ready to take on the world — a far cry from my normal post-dive sluggishness.

So what divers should consider getting their Enriched Air certification? Anyone who wants to dive longer and feel sprightlier! Those doing multiple dives over multiple days — on liveaboards, at dive resorts, etc. — are the primary targets. Those looking to brush up on certain dive concepts (like me!) will also find it a great catch-all little course to really check your comprehension of dive theory, with the right instructor. And finally, those pursuing other specialities like Intro to Tech, Photography, Sidemount, and other courses that involve staying underwater for longer will find nitrox to be a natural step in their continuing education.

If you too are considering this course, you’ll walk away with a comprehensive understanding of what nitrox is, when and when not to dive it, what the risks are, and how to plan for enriched air dives.

Ban's Koh Tao Course Review

Enriched Air Nitrox PADI Course

I feel strongly that finding the right PADI dive shop and instructor are key when it comes to this course. I’ve heard it described by so many in the diving industry as “an easy sign off” and “a throwaway course” and while I don’t want anyone reading this to be discouraged or intimidated from signing up, I also don’t like to see it treated dismissively. So look for the right fit.

Only a handful of shops on Koh Tao compress their own enriched air. I recommend taking the course at a school that does, and asking your instructor if they actually use it. Ban’s is , and Chris is one of those instructors. Clearly, I was thrilled with my experience and can’t recommend Chris more highly. If you’re looking to take this or any other recreational diving or dive medic training course on Koh Tao, reach out to him!

Enriched Air Nitrox PADI Course

Enriched Air Nitrox PADI Course

Enriched Air Nitrox PADI Course

Personally, I’ll be diving nitrox whenever it’s available and affordable to me from here forward. It just feels good!

And as someone who used to joke that I had to stop watching Bill Nye the Science Guy because all the theory was a bit over my head, I was proud to really wrap my mind around this course. If these things come easy to you, kudos! If not, don’t be discouraged. Science has never come easy to me, and for too long I let that mental block dictate what I thought I could and couldn’t achieve with diving. These days I know that with the right instructor, the right attitude, and a bribe of one fresh coconut for passing my final exams, there’s little in diving I can’t do.

Do you dive nitrox? Let’s get gassy in the comments!

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This post is brought to you by PADI as part of the PADI AmbassaDiver initiative. Read  on the PADI blog!

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36 Comments...
  • Emily
    December 13 2016

    Another great post with gorgeous pics, Meihoukai!! Although parts of this one went way over my head, ha, I wanted to comment on this diving post bc I had to let you know that my husband and I are officially signed up to do our first ever dive in a month on our honeymoon!!!! And that is FULLY because of you! I’m a little nervous but mostly so excited. Thank you for the inspiration always!!

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2016

      That is AWESOME EMILY! I’m so excited for you! Please let me know how it goes 🙂 You’re going to have so much fun!

  • Dominique
    December 13 2016

    I found that quite a few divers in the Netherlands used enriched air and I wondered why I wouldn’t use it. Thanks for this article, because it certainly created some awareness. I’d like to do as the rookies do, for now; until I’m completely comfortable under water and then I might make the switch too!
    Dominique recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2016

      I have heard nitrox is super popular in Europe. Might be a fun little course to treat yourself to on your next trip 🙂 I always love to learn something on my travels!

  • stephanie
    December 13 2016

    Great interesting article! But I have two questions 🙂
    1) What certificate do you need to have to do this course? divemaster?
    2) What is the price difference between an ‘normal’ fundive and a ‘nitrox’ fundive? How much more expensive is it?
    x
    stephanie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2016

      Hey Stephanie! You only need to be an Open Water diver to do this course — great question and I will clarify in the post itself! The cost difference really depends on the dive center. Sometimes it’s an extra $10, sometimes $20, sometimes more! And then some dive resorts and liveaboards even boast FREE enriched air, in which case it’s the perfect excuse to do this course!

  • Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate
    December 13 2016

    I’ve been diving nine years now and never tried Nitrox (mainly because I haven’t had time to take the course). Now I wanna! Especially if it kills that tired, need-a-nap-stat feeling I inevitably get every time I surface from a two-tank dip!
    Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2016

      I think you’d like it! I’ll sit in with you for a refresher if you take it here in Thailand with Chris 😛

  • Cate
    December 13 2016

    This looks like a super cool course, though one that seems slightly complicated. It’s cool how you feel so different after diving, and not lazy. Great pics!
    Cate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2016

      A little complicated, but nothing unmanageable! And thanks for the photo kudos 🙂

  • Julie
    December 13 2016

    I’m so glad you wrote this post! I just booked some time in Malapascua diving with Thresher sharks in January, and they recommended signing up for the Nitrox course as well. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m even more excited now!

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2016

      Oh man I am so excited for you! The thresher shark dive is INSANE and nitrox is definitely a good idea for that dive so you can hang around a bit longer if they are being shy. Have so much fun! Let me know if you spot any!

  • James
    December 14 2016

    Wow Meihoukai! Great post and great pictures. I’m sitting in the cold New England and envy your great time in warm weather and certainly your dive experience. Keep the stories and pictures coming please!
    James recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2016

      Thanks James! I have another big diving post coming up soon… stay tuned!

  • Rekha Devarapalli
    December 14 2016

    Thanks for the useful info Meihoukai!
    Rekha Devarapalli recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2016

      You’re so welcome! Are you considering this course Rekha?

  • Kate Storm
    December 15 2016

    Man, nitrox sounds like fun! Diving with fewer afternoon naps can only be a good thing, right?

    Also: those photos are making me miss Koh Tao!
    Kate Storm recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2016

      So happy to be back on my favorite island 🙂 Can’t wait to start diving again once the weather perks up, too!

  • Wew
    December 16 2016

    post dive zzzz is part of the joy, tho.

    Good bloke, that.

    w

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2016

      I see your point… post-dive naps are pretty blissful under the right circumstances (ie. a raging inbox isn’t giving you nightmares).

  • chris
    December 17 2016

    I was really curious to see how this was.

    Sounds like it would be the thing for everyone if it was a bit cheaper!

    I fully appreciate the serious manner in which you signed off the post, as after all, despite the wonder that is diving, it’s no game either 😉

    • Meihoukai
      December 18 2016

      Indeed, when I kept asking, “but… why doesn’t everyone dive nitrox ALL THE TIME?!” during my course, cost was the answer that kept coming up 😉 Of course depth is another concern, but for most recreational divers the increase in price is the real concern. Hopefully as demand increases and enriched air becomes more commonplace, the overall cost will drop!

  • becky hutner
    December 17 2016

    Meihoukai, it is a testament to you & your writing & your beautiful photography that a non-diver who can quite safely say she’ll never dive is still engaged by your scuba content!!

    • Meihoukai
      December 18 2016

      That is quite a compliment, Becky! Thank you… and maybe we can get you underwater one of these days yet!

  • Kelsey
    December 18 2016

    Thanks for this post! I’ve been certified for 10 years and wondering what to do next. Definitely going to be looking into this now!
    Kelsey recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 18 2016

      Awesome Kelsey! Sounds like a perfect next adventure… let me know how you like it!

  • Rick
    December 18 2016

    Great info!
    I hadn’t been diving in years and finally got down to Polynesia for a couple of weeks. The first dive kicked my ass so bad I didn’t dive again for the next week.
    Snorkeling was wonderful with shallow dive sites and manta rays swimming in 5′ of water. I never realized an enriched tank would have made the difference since I always thought it was for an extremely deep dive. After long airplane flights and exhausting travel I should have taken an enriched tank to my room for recoup before I went diving 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      December 19 2016

      Actually, I too was confused about how depth related to enriched air dives. I had the same misconception you did! That’s why this course is so great, leaves you with all the facts — and the ability to try it out for yourself!

  • Sharon
    December 19 2016

    Thanks for addressing the question of why we don’t all jump on the Nitrox bandwagon. I had been told it made diving for longer safer and everyone tells you to go for your Nitrox training cert. No-one was ever able to explain why everyone isn’t going down this path, if it’s so good. Appreciate the explanation, thanks.
    Sharon recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 20 2016

      Ha, that’s pretty much the same question I kept pushing in the course (I guess I’m a skeptic at heart!) I’m so glad I left with a clearer understanding.

  • Dominic
    December 20 2016

    It’s so cool to see one of my favorite dive sites at this blog. I also checked your linked article about the HTMS Sattakut. When they sunk the ship you could still move the cannon with the handle wheel. That was really something for my dive groups.

    I like your photographic style. I am especially intrigued by this monochrome creme sepia style. My favorites are the photo with the banner fish and the one with the grouper. They have a certain interesting feel to it.

    • Meihoukai
      December 20 2016

      Thanks Dominic! I love that dive site too. Since I shoot with only natural light, sometimes for deep dives black and white or sepia editing is the only way to save a shot 🙂

  • Randal
    December 22 2016

    Great review! I did my Nitrox cert with SSI over 12 years ago and I’m glad to read it doesn’t seem to have changed much.

    • Meihoukai
      December 27 2016

      I guess the science stays the same, even as technology changes 🙂 Here’s to twelve years of diving!

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    December 26 2016

    Ah, Nitrox. The most annoying of all dive courses…to explain to divers that NO, you won’t get a longer bottom time with a Nitrox tank if you’re an air hog. It’s THEORETICAL extra bottom time, but air consumption comes first. Trying to get it across to divers looking for a quick air-hog fix that if you blow through an air tank in 30 mins, you will also blow through a Nitrox tank in 30 mins used to make me crazy 🙂

    I’m glad you had such a great experience and your instructor sounds fantastic. Having a Nitrox certificate is awesome for liveaboards if you’re doing a lot of dives per day, and also for places like Bonaire with shore diving – you can definitely get in a much longer dive and not be constrained by the dive shop boat schedule!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 27 2016

      That is such a good point and one I totally didn’t even think of because (NOT TO BRAG BUT OKAY I’M BRAGGING) I just so happen to be great on air. And yes, I’m super excited to have my Nitrox cert ready to rock for my next liveaboard! By the way, when are we diving together… have you booked your ticket out here or what.