Technology moves at a rapid pace and no more so than in diving industry. Admittedly it might not always be obvious to the everyone, it could be utilising a new manufacturing technique, a new circuit board design or some other minute change. Every once in a while though a big jump happens that could make a massive difference to recreational diving. Rebreathers have been around for years in various formats and levels of complexity but I'm talking about a rebreather has requires minimal training and set up, allowing a recreational diver to enjoy the benefits of improved gas consumption, greater bottom time and and significantly reduce or even eliminating exhaust gas venting. Recreational rebreathers are hardly new for 2012 but the support and training for it will have a massive boost with new training material (Rebreather Type R) developed by PADI and the involvement of big manufacturing companies such as Hollis (American Underwater Products – AUP). PADI had some very strict requirements of what a sports rebreather should and shouldn't do by looking at the reasons behind previous incidents including:
- Not turning on gas
- Not turning on electronics
- Not doing pre-dive checks
- Not maintaining the rebreather
- Not maintaining skills and complex drills
- Automated pre-dive check with limited diver interaction
- Intelligent sensing including gas analysis and CO2 monitoring
- Simple bail-out with no return to closed loop
- Simple assembly and less parts such as single gas and interlocking parts
The soon to be released Hollis Explorer eSCR is the latest to join the list of recreational rebreathers. At the moment the Explorer is unique in its use of a single gas in the form of a 32-40% Nitrox mix. The Explorer has been designed with a heavy influence for the travelling diver. A 40% mix is much easier to find around the world than a 100% Oxygen fill, plug and play absorbent cartridges which are estimated to last about 2 hours depending on use will be available from certified dealers with qualified technicians having the option of being able to re-pack cartridges in the field if needed. The whole unit is designed to be replaceable with very few serviceable parts which also allows divers to remove the heavy pieces for flights and renting those parts at their destination. The explorer is actually a hybrid rebreather, using technology to intelligently switch between semi and fully closed loops to offer the diver the best option at the time. Pre-dive is effectively a self diagnostic check with a few prompts to the user like turning the gas on. After each instruction and confirmation the Explorer will physically check that the instruction has been carried out to prevent mistakes and incidents. Bail-out has also been simplified as much as possible. In the event of a problem the system will alert the diver via an LED visible display and vibrating regulator to either switch to open circuit or redundant bail-out tank. There is no option to return to a closed loop status once the units has given instruction to bail-out.
The PADI Type R rebreather training is split into two courses, the Rebreather Diver and the Advanced Rebreather Diver: The Rebreather Diver course is aimed at qualified entry level divers and above who have some open circuit scuba diving experience. The course will qualify divers to use a Type R rebreather to a maximum of 18m within no decompression limits. The course will teach the essential skills and responses to problems which, in most cases, will mean switching the mouthpiece to open circuit and ascending.
The Advanced Rebreather Diver course will the diver to have completed the Rebreather Diver course first on the same rebreather and will expand on the knowledge learned including the use of a bail-out cylinder. The Advanced Rebreather Diver will be qualified to dive to 30m (40m with PADI Deep Diver certification). The only real difference is the skills required to bail-out to a separate cylinder to allow ascent from greater depths. A diver is qualified on the particular rebreather that they passed the course in but qualifier programs will be available to allow crossover from one unit to another.