In scuba diving, the rule of thirds is a rule of thumb used by divers to plan dives so they have enough breathing gas remaining in their diving cylinder at the end of the dive to be able to complete the dive safely. This rule generally only applies to diving in overhead environments, such as caves and wrecks, where a direct ascent to the surface is impossible and the divers must return the way they came.
For divers following the rule, one third of the gas supply is planned for the outward journey, one third is for the return journey and one third is a safety reserve. However, when diving with a buddy with a higher breathing rate or a different volume of gas, it may be necessary to set one third of the buddy's gas supply as the remaining 'third'. This means that the turn point to exit is earlier, or that the diver with the lower breathing rate carries a larger volume of gas than he alone requires.
Reserves are needed at the end of dives in case the diver has gone deeper or longer than planned and must remain underwater to do decompression stops before being able to ascend safely to the surface. A diver without gas cannot do the stops and risks decompression sickness.
In an overhead environment, where it is not possible to ascend directly to the surface, the reserve allows the diver to donate gas to an out-of-gas buddy, providing enough gas to let both divers exit the enclosure and ascend to the surface.
^ abSheck Exley (1977). Basic Cave Diving: A Blueprint for Survival. National Speleological Society Cave Diving Section. ISBN 99946-633-7-2.
^Bozanic, JE (1997). "AAUS Standards for Scientific Diving Operations in Cave and Cavern Environments: A Proposal". In: SF Norton (ed). Diving for Science...1997. Proceedings of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (17th Annual Scientific Diving Symposium). Retrieved 2008-07-05.
National Speleological Society Cave Diving Section