2013: Year of the Rebreather

Posted on January 8th 2013
2013 has been dubbed the 'Year of the Rebreather' by the scuba diving industry as it looks to entice new people to the sport.
Until now, rebreathers have been seen as the preserve of advanced technical divers who have made the most of the complex systems' advantages to explore places previously out-of-reach to open circuit divers.
But the industry is now looking to entice sport divers with the launch of training and equipment aimed squarely at the recreational market. Poseidon were first to hit the ground with their MkIV, but Hollis has a new unit out and the AP Diving are looking at some developments to their Vision model.
It is hoped the Type-R rebreathers, as they have become known, will do to the scuba industry what snowboards did for the stagnant skiing industry in the early 80s - make it sexy again.
There is no two ways about it, rebreathers are damn sexy bits of kit. Turn up at a dive site wearing a AP Diving Inspiration model, clad in its bright yellow carapace, or the new Hollis Prism II below, and you are not only going to get some envious glances but fellow divers will want to stop you for a chat. It almost seems rude when you have to go diving.
Without doubt, they are more complex pieces of machinery than conventional open circuit scuba gear, requiring more time and thought to set up and there are more checks to complete before entering the water.
Buoyancy certainly takes a little getting used to. There is none of the recognisable rise-and-fall when breathing on of scuba gear and it can sometimes, it feels like you are diving on the edge of control.
If you are a 'glass is half empty' person, then yes, it does mean there is potentially more to go wrong.
Mark Caney, vice president of the technical diving division at PADI and the man who helped design the recreational training programmes, said theType-R machines had been designed to be completely idiot-proof.
Type R units are electronically-controlled, provide a back-up for all the major systems informing a diver in the event of a problem and feature simplified set-up procedures to remove possible dive errors. Poseidon favours pre-packed scrubbers and a computerised start-up which gives a 'dive, no-dive' confirmation before the diver gets near the water. 
The benefits of rebreathers far out-weight the potential negatives. Longer no-decompression times in that recreational dive range; dynamic controls giving the optimum gas mix throughout the dive range; a warmer breathe; and silence. Absolute silence.
It was only when diving the James Eagan Layne, off Plymouth, last year, that I realised how noisy scuba divers are. The roar of their bubbles was like having a inescapable thunderstorm hanging over my head incessantly banging on my eardrums - it's no wonder marine life scatters when divers descend onto a reef. 
Whether rebreathers are the future of the scuba remains to be seen. They are still expensive, more complex to use than conventional gear and they have to shake off 15 years of bad press which has - arguably wrongly - left enduring doubts about their safety in the minds of many.  
However, the dive industry will be banking on the excitement surrounding the new units as it looks to them to breathe new life into the sport.


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