5-Point Descent in Diving

Two scuba divers above water getting ready to go under
Photo-Biotic Leigh Righton / Getty Images

Floating on the surface before a dive is exciting! Whether the water is clear enough to see angelfish 40 feet below or so murky that the bottom isn't visible, most divers can't wait to descend and start diving. Filled with happy anticipation, it is tempting for a diver to skip pre-dive checks and safety protocols in a rush to get underwater. However, if you have ever accidentally descended with a snorkel in your mouth, you know that taking the time to follow safety procedures is well worth a few extra moments on the surface. A proper five point descent takes only seconds and ensures that a diver is properly prepared before going underwater.

The steps of the five-point descent are signal, orientation, regulator, time, and descend.

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Natalie Novak above water signaling thumbs down
Instructor Natalie Novak of divewithnatalieandivan.com demonstrates the first step of the five point descent for scuba diving - signaling that she is ready to descend.

Natalie L Gibb, author

The first step of the 5-point descent is to signal to your dive buddy that you are ready to descend by making a thumbs down sign. This sounds obvious, but it is important to ensure that both divers are ready to begin before running through the descent procedure. A diver who is fiddling with his mask or adjusting his weight belt will not be able to focus properly on the steps. It is preferable to make a descent sign as opposed to verbal confirmation. Conditions may make it difficult for a diver to remove his regulator or snorkel in order to speak, and boat engines or other noises may make it difficult to hear a dive buddy's words.

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Natalie Novak in scuba gear above water pointing arm for orientation
Scuba instructor Natalie Novak references and orientation point on shore during the five point descent.

Natalie L Gibb, author

The second step of the 5-point descent is orientation. While most training organizations recommend picking a fixed object on the shore as an orientation point, there are many ways for a diver to orient himself. The sun may be used as a directional orientation (provided it is not high noon), as may ocean currents. A quick look below can help a diver to understand how bottom topography aligns with compass headings and the shore and ensures the diver that he is above the intended start point. By far the most exact way for a diver to orient himself is by using a compass. This step of the 5-point descent is a great opportunity to confirm or set compass headings.

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Diver exchanging the snorkel for the regulator
Instructor Natalie Novak of demonstrates how to switch a snorkel for a regulator underwater during the 5-point descent.

Natalie L Gibb, author

The third step of the 5-point descent is to either exchange the snorkel for the regulator or to confirm that each diver has his regulator in his mouth before continuing the descent. Snorkel mouthpieces feel almost identical to regulator mouthpieces, and it is not uncommon for a diver to accidentally descend breathing from his snorkel instead of from his regulator. What a nasty surprise! In rough conditions, a diver may have to switch from his snorkel to his regulator without completely removing his head from the water, as illustrated on the left side of the image.

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Natalie Novak in scuba gear above the surface checking the time
Scuba instructor Natalie Novak of demonstrates how to check the time during the five point descent.

Natalie L Gibb, author

The last action a diver should take before deflating his buoyancy compensator (BCD) is to check his timing device. The diver's bottom time (the time used for calculating his maximum dive time) begins when a diver starts his descent. Checking his timing device immediately before descent helps to keep this time as accurate as possible. If using a dive watch, this step is a good opportunity to set the watch bezel or record the start time on a dive slate. If using a computer, divers should confirm that the computer is turned on and ready to record dive statistics.

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Natalie Novak doing an underwater demonstration
Instructor Natalie Novak of demonstrates how to deflate her BCD and equalize her ears during the 5-point descent.

Natalie L Gibb, author

The last step of the 5-point descent is to deflate the buoyancy compensator (BCD) and descend. Deflate the BCD just enough that you slowly begin to sink, and exhale to help yourself descend the first few feet. Equalizing your ears once on the surface before descent helps to prepare them for subsequent equalizations and helps to compensate for the initial (and most extreme) pressure change near the surface. Keep the BCD inflator at hand in order to add air to the BCD as you descend. You will need to compensate for your decrease in buoyancy as the water pressure around you increases.

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Enjoy Your Dive

Scuba diver underwater with coral reef and brightly colored fish

Georgette Douwma / Getty Images

You have completed the 5-point descent! While running through these steps only ​takes a few seconds, doing so ensures that recreational divers are prepared to go underwater and that all their gear is in place. Enjoy the dive!