Friday, 9 August 2019

Scuba Diving Equipment



The defining equipment used by a scuba diver is the eponymous scuba, the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus which allows the diver to breathe while diving, and is transported by the diver.

As one descends, in addition to the normal atmospheric pressure at the surface, the water exerts increasing hydrostatic pressure of approximately 1 bar (14.7 pounds per square inch) for every 10 m (33 feet) of depth. The pressure of the inhaled breath must balance the surrounding or ambient pressure to allow inflation of the lungs. It becomes virtually impossible to breathe air at normal atmospheric pressure through a tube below three feet under the water.

Most recreational scuba diving is done using half mask which covers the diver's eyes and nose, and mouthpiece to supply the breathing gas from the demand valve or rebreather. Inhaling from a regulator's mouthpiece becomes second nature very quickly.  The other common arrangement is a full face mask which covers the eyes, nose and mouth, and often allows the diver to breathe through the nose. Professional Scuba Divers are more likely to use full face masks, which protect the diver's airway if the diver loses consciousness.


Less common are closed circuit (CCR) and semi-closed (SCR) rebreathers which, unlike open-circuit sets that vent off all exhaled gases, process all or part of each exhaled breath for re-use by removing the carbon dioxide and replacing the oxygen used by the diver. Rebreathers release few or no gas bubbles into the water, and use much less stored gas volume, for an equivalent depth and time because exhaled oxygen is recovered, this has advantages for research, military, photography, and other applications. Rebreathers are more complex and more expensive than open-circuit scuba, and special training and correct maintenance are required for them to be safely used, due to the larger variety of potential failure modes. 

In a closed-circuit rebreather the oxygen partial pressure in the rebreather is controlled, so it can be maintained at a safe continuous maximum, which reduces the inert gas (nitrogen and/or helium) partial pressure in the breathing loop. Minimising the inert gas loading of the diver's tissues for a given dive profile reduces the decompression obligation. This requires continuous monitoring of actual partial pressures with time and form maximum effectiveness requires real-time computer processing by the diver's decompression computer. Decompression can be much reduced compared to fixed ratio gas mixes used in other scuba systems and, as a result, divers can stay down longer or require less time to decompress. A semi-closed circuit rebreather injects a constant mass flow of a fixed breathing gas mixture into the breathing loops, or replaces a specific percentage of the respired volume, so the partial pressure of oxygen at any time during the dive depends on the diver's oxygen consumption and/or breathing rate. Planning decompression requirements requires a more conservative approach for a SCR than for a CCR, but decompression computers with a real time oxygen partial pressure input can optimize decompression for these systems. Because rebreathers produce very few bubbles, they do not disturb marine life or make a diver's presence known at the surface; this is useful for underwater photography, and for covert work. 


Open Circuit Scuba has no provision for using the breathing gas more than once for respiration. The gas inhaled from the scuba equipment is exhaled to the environment, or occasionally into another item of equipment for a special purpose, usually to increase buoyancy of a lifting device such as a buoyancy compensator, inflatable surface marker buoy or small lifting bag. The breathing gas is generally provided from a high-pressure diving cylinder through a scuba regulator. By always providing the appropriate breathing gas at ambient pressure, demand valve regulators ensure the diver can inhale and exhale naturally and without excessive effort, regardless of depth, as and when needed.

The most commonly used scuba set uses a "single-hose" open circuit 2-stage demand regulator, connected to a single back-mounted high-pressure gas cylinder, with the first stage connected to the cylinder valve and the second stage at the mouthpiece. This arrangement differs from Emile Gagnan's and Jacques Cousteau's original 1942 "twin-hose" design, known as the Aqua-lung, in which the cylinder pressure was reduced to ambient pressure in one or two stages which were all in the housing mounted to the cylinder valve or manifold. The "single-hose" system has significant advantages over the original system for most applications.

In the "single-hose" two-stage design, the first stage regulator reduces the cylinder pressure of up to about 300 bars (4,400 psi) to an intermediate pressure (IP) of about 8 to 10 bars (120 to 150 psi) above ambient pressure. The second stage demand valve regulator, supplied by a low-pressure hose from the first stage, delivers the breathing gas at ambient pressure to the diver's mouth. The exhaled gases are exhausted directly to the environment as waste through a non-return valve on the second stage housing. The first stage typically has at least one outlet port delivering gas at full tank pressure which is connected to the diver's submersible pressure gauge or dive computer, to show how much breathing gas remains in the cylinder.


For some diving, gas mixtures other than normal atmospheric air (21% oxygen, 78 % nitrogen, 1% trace gases) can be used, so long as the diver is competent in their use. The most commonly used mixture is nitrox, also referred to as Enriched Air Nitrox (EAN), which is air with extra oxygen, and thus less nitrogen, reducing the risk of decompression sickness or allowing longer exposure to the same pressure for equal risk. The reduced nitrogen may also allow for no stops or shorter decompression stop times or a shorter surface interval between dives. A common misconception is that nitrox can reduce narcosis, but research has shown that oxygen is also narcotic.

The increased partial pressure of oxygen due to the higher oxygen content of nitrox increases the risk of oxygen toxicity, which becomes unacceptable below the maximum operating depth of the mixture. To displace nitrogen without the increased oxygen concentration, other diluent gases can be used, usually helium, when the resultant three gas mixture is called rimix, and when the nitrogen is fully substituted by heilum, heliox.

For dives requiring long decompression stops, divers may carry cylinders containing different gas mixtures for the various phases of the dive, typically designated as Travel, Bottom, and Decompression gases. These different gas mixtures may be used to extend bottom time, reduce inert gas narcotic effects, and reduce decompression times.


To dive safely, divers must control their rate of descent and ascent in the water and be able to maintain a constant depth in midwater. Ignoring other forces such as water currents and swimming, the diver's overall buoyancy determines whether they ascend or descend. Equipment such as diving weighting systems, diving suits (wet, dry or semi-dry suits are used depending on the water temperature) and buoyancy compensators can be used to adjust the overall buoyancy. When divers want to remain at constant depth, they try to achieve neutral buoyancy. This minimises the effort of swimming to maintain depth and therefore reduces gas consumption.

The buoyancy force on the diver is the weight of the volume of the liquid that they and their equipment displace minus the weight of the diver and their equipment, if the result is positive, that force is upwards. The buoyancy of any object immersed in water is also affected by the density of the water. The density of fresh water is about 3% less than that of ocean water. Therefore, divers who are neutrally buoyant at one dive destination (e.g. a fresh water lake) will predictably be positively or negatively buoyant when using the same equipment at destinations with different water densities (e.g. a tropical coral reef). The removal ("ditching" or "shedding") of diver weighting systems can be used to reduce the diver's weight and cause a buoyant ascent in an emergency.

Diving suits made of compressible materials decrease in volume as the diver descends, and expand again as the diver ascends, causing buoyancy changes. Diving in different environments also necessitates adjustments in the amount of weight carried to achieve neutral buoyancy. The diver can inject air into dry suits to counteract the compression effect and squeeze. Buoyancy compensators allow easy and fine adjustments in the diver's overall volume and therefore buoyancy.

Neutral buoyancy in a diver is an unstable state. It is changed by small differences in ambient pressure caused by a change in depth, and the change has a positive feedback effect. A small descent will increase the pressure, which will compress the gas filled spaces and reduce the buoyancy, and unless counteracted. The diver must continuously adjust buoyancy or depth in order to remain neutral. Fine control of buoyancy can be achieved by controlling the average lung volume in open circuit scuba, but this feature is not available to the closed circuit rebreather diver, as exhaled gas remains in the breathing loop. This is a skill which improves with practice until it becomes second nature. 

Buoyancy changes with depth variation are proportional to the compressible part of the volume of the diver and equipment, and to the proportional change in pressure, which is greater per unit of depth near the surface. Minimising the volume of gas required in the buoyancy compensator will minimise the buoyancy fluctuations with changes in depth. This can be achieved by accurate selection of ballast weight, which should be the minimum to allow neutral buoyancy with depleted gas supplies at the end of the dive unless there is an operational requirement for greater negative buoyancy during the dive. Buoyancy and trim can significantly affect drag of a diver. The effect of swimming with a head up angle of about 15 deg, as is quite common in poorly trimmed divers, can be an increase in drag in the order of 50%.

The ability to ascend at a controlled rate and remain at a constant depth is important for correct decompression. Recreational divers who do not incur decompression obligations can get away with imperfect buoyancy control, But when long decompression stops at specific depths are required, the risk of decompression sickness is increased by depth variations while at a stop. Decompression stops are typically done when the breathing gas in the cylinders has been largely used up, and the reduction in weight of the cylinders increases the buoyancy of the diver. Enough weight must be carried to allow the diver to decompress at the end of the dive with nearly empty cylinders.


To take advantage of the freedom of movement afforded by scuba equipment, the diver needs to be mobile underwater. Personal mobility is enhanced by swimfins and optionally diver propulsion vehicles. Fins have a large blade area and use the more powerful leg muscles, so are much more efficient for propulsion and manoeuvering thrust than arm and hand movements, but require skill to provide fine control. Several types of fin are available, some of which may be more suited for manoeuvering, alternative kick styles, speed, endurance, reduced effort or ruggedness. Streamlining dive gear will reduce drag and improve mobility. Balanced trim which allows the diver to align in any desired direction also improves streamlining by presenting the smallest section area to the direction of movement and allowing propulsion thrust to be used more efficiently.

Occasionally a diver may be towed using a "sled", an un-powered device towed behind a surface vessel which conserves the diver's energy and allows more distance to be covered for a given air consumption and bottom time. The depth is usually controlled by the diver by using diving planes or by tilting the whole sled. Some sleds are faired to reduce drag on the diver.


Water attenuates light by selective absorption. Pure water preferentially absorbs red light, and to a lesser extent, yellow and green, so the colour that is least absorbed is blue light. Dissolved materials may also selectively absorb colour in addition to the absorption by the water itself. In other words, as a diver goes deeper on a dive, more colour is absorbed by the water, and in clean water the colour becomes blue with depth. Colour vision is also affected by turbidity of the water which tends to reduce contrast. Artificial light is useful to provide light in the darkness, to restore contrast at close range, and to restore natural colour lost to absorption.


Water has a higher refractive index than air -  similar to that of the cornea of the eye. Light entering the cornea from water is hardly refracted at all, leaving only the eye's crystalline lens to focus light. This leads to very severe hypermetropia. People with severe myopia, therefore, can see better underwater without a mask than normal-sighted people. Diving masks and helmets solve this problem by providing an air space in front of the diver's eyes. The refraction error created by the water is mostly corrected as the light travels from water to air through a flat lens, except that objects appear approximately 34 % bigger and 25 % closer in water than they actually are, The face plate of the mask is supported by a frame and skirt, which are opaque or translucent, therefore total field-of-view is significantly reduced and eye-hand coordination must be adjusted.

Divers who need corrective lenses to see clearly outside the water would normally need the same prescription while wearing a mask. Generic corrective lenses are available off the shelf for some two-window masks, and custom lenses can be bonded onto masks that have a single front window or two windows.

As a diver descends, they must periodically exhale through their nose to equalise the internal pressure of the mask with that of the surrounding water. Swimming goggles are not suitable for diving because they only cover the eyes and thus do not allow for equalisation. Failure to equalise the pressure inside the mask may lead to a form of barotrauma known as mask squeeze.

Masks tend to fog when warm humid exhaled air condenses on the cold inside of the faceplate. To prevent fogging many divers spit into the dry mask before use, spread the saliva around the inside of the glass and rinse it out with a little water. The saliva residue allows condensation to wet the glass and form a continuous film, rather than tiny droplets. There are several commercial products than can be used as an alternative to saliva, some of which are more effective and last longer, but there is a risk of getting the anti-fog agent in the eyes. 


Protection from heat loss in cold water is usually provided by wet suits or dry  suits. These also provide protection form sunburn, abrasion and stings from some marine organisms. Where thermal insulation is not important, lycra suits/diving skins may be sufficient.

A wet suit is a garment, usually made of foamed neoprene, which provides thermal insulation, abrasion resistance and buoyancy. The insulation properties depend on bubbles of gas enclosed within the material, which reduce its ability to conduct heat. The bubbles also give the wet suit a low density, providing buoyancy in water. Suits range from a thin (2 mm or less) "shortie", covering just the torso, to a full 8 mm semi-dry, usually complemented by neoprene boots, gloves and hood. A good close fit and few zips help the suit to remain waterproof and reduce flushing- the replacement of water trapped between suit and body by cold water from the outside. Improved seals at the neck, wrists and ankles and baffles under the entry zip produce a suit known as "semi-dry".

A dry suit also provides thermal insulation to the wearer while immersed in water, and normally protects the whole body except the head, hands, and sometimes the feet. In some configurations, these are also covered. Dry suits are usually used where the water temperature is below 15 deg C (60 deg F) or for extended immersion in water above 15 deg C (60 deg F), where a wet suit user would get cold, and with an integral helmet, boots, and gloves for personal protection when diving in contaminated water. Dry suits are designed to prevent water from entering. This generally allows better insulation making them more suitable for use in cold water. They can be uncomfortably hot in warm from entering. This generally allows better insulation making them more suitable for use in cold water. They can be uncomfortably hot in warm or hot air, and are typically more expensive and more complex to don. For divers, they add some degree of complexity as the suit must be inflated and deflated with changes in depth in order to avoid "squeeze" on descent or uncontrolled rapid ascent due to over-buoyancy.


Cutting tools such as knives, line cutters or shears are often carried by divers to cut loose from entanglement in nets or lines. A surface marker buoy on a line held by the diver indicates the position of the diver to the surface personnel. This may be an inflatable marker deployed by the diver at the end of the dive, or a sealed float, towed for the whole dive. A surface marker also allows easy and accurate control of ascent rate and stop depth for safer decompression. A bailout cylinder provides breathing gas sufficient for a safe emergency ascent. 

Various surface detection aids may be carried to help surface personnel spot the diver after ascent. In addition to the surface marker buoy, divers may carry mirrors, lights, strobes, whistles, flares or emergency locator beacons. 


Unless the maximum depth of the water is known, and is quite shallow, a diver must monitor the depth and duration of a dive to avoid decompression sickness. Traditionally this was done by using a depth gauge and a diving watch, but electronic dive computers are now in general use, as they are programmed to do real-time modelling of decompression requirements for the dive, and automatically allow for surface interval. Many can be set for the gas mixture to be used on the dive, and some can accept changes in the gas mix during the dive. most dive computers provide a fairly conservative decompression model, and the level of conservatism may be selected by the user within limits. Most decompression computers can also be set for altitude compensation to some degree.

If the dive site and dive plan require the diver to navigate, a compass may be carried, and where retracing a route is critical, as in cave or wreck penetrations, a guide line is laid from a dive reel. in less critical conditions, many divers simply navigate by landmarks and memory, a procedure also known as pilotage or natural navigation. A scuba diver should always be aware of the remaining breathing gas supply, and the duration of diving that this will safely support, taking into account the time required to surface safely and an allowance for foreseeable contingencies. This is usually monitored by using a submersible pressure gauge on each cylinder.


The safety of underwater diving depends on four factors: the environment, the equipment, behaviour or the individual diver and performance of the dive team. The underwater environment can impose severe physical and psychological stress on a diver, and is mostly beyond the diver's control. Scuba equipment allows the diver to operate underwater for limited periods, and the reliable function of some of the equipment is critical to even short-term survival. Other equipment allows the diver to operate in relative comfort and efficiency. The performance of the individual diver depends on learned skills, many of which are not intuitive, and the performance of the team depends on communication and common goals. 

There is a large range of hazards to which the diver may be exposed. These each have associated consequences and risks, which should be taken into account during dive planning. Where risks are marginally acceptable it may be possible to mitigate the consequences by setting contingency and emergency plans in place, so that damage can be minimised where reasonably practicable. The acceptable level of risk varies depending on legislation, codes of practice and personal choice, with recreational divers having a greater freedom of choice.

@ Jackie San


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