Yes, you can definitely spend your entire weekend at a dive show and still have a lot of fun! This is exactly what I did last weekend in Birmingham, UK, for the 2016 edition of the DIVE show. Not only I got to talk with incredible people, discover new destinations to inspire your next dream scuba diving holiday or adventure, but I also tried shiny scuba toys including a rebreather in one of the two pools of the show. The latter was a very first experience for me and as you can see in the pictures, it wasn’t as easy as my first scuba dive 18 years ago. Nevertheless, I think you will be interested in my experience about what diving with a rebreather involves.
Open circuit vs. Closed Circuit
When you’re passionate about underwater photography and videography, at some point, someone will pop up the question about rebreathers as they allow to spend longer time underwater and to approach wildlife easily as you don’t make bubbles which usually scare animals off.
If you’re unfamiliar with what a rebreather is, contrary to your standard scuba tank and regulator which can be called an “open circuit” because you get rid of the air you just breathed in, the rebreather is called ‘closed circuit” because you keep breathing the same air. “How is it even possible?” Thanks to a genius system of a canister filled with soda lime which absorbs the carbon dioxide and a tank of pure dioxygen that replenishes the air, you can breathe in and out the same air!
When I discovered that Midlands Rebreather Diving was offering free try dives with AP diving CCRs (Closed Circuit Rebreather) at the DIVE2016 show, I immediately jumped on the occasion. It was almost the first thing I did when I arrived at the N.E.C (National Exhibition Center of Birmingham) on Saturday morning: booking my experience as I guessed right it was available only to a limited number of divers.
Rebreather 1 – Florine 0
On Sunday morning, I arrived with my swim suit in my carry-on luggage, they had changing rooms and they were kind enough to give me a 3mm shorty (I figured out the water of the pool was not that warm when I saw the 2 instructors in a dry suit – fair enough they stayed the whole day in the pool!).
Once in the water with my instructor, we reviewed altogether the main components of the rebreather I was testing. He opened the back cover (in the water, no problem!) to show me the circuit between the air tank, the soda lime canister, and the O2 tank. He then showed me the two fancy dive computer displays: one that looks like a normal dive computer but bigger, and another one which was tiny and inside a magnifying glass called a head-up screen (I explain later how it is used). At that moment, I was already super impressed with the design of a rebreather: this is a piece of art of engineering.
Then came the moment to put the BCD attached to the rebreather on my shoulders. My instructor said: ” No worry, it will neutrally buoyant in the water!”: “Ouch!!!” Actually no, it wasn’t for me.
The entire system is extremely heavy, and when you know that currently I only need 1kg with a 5mm full wetsuit, with the 25kg of the rebreather, with a shorty 3mm, in a swimming pool, it’s not weights I need but additional floaters! Even by filling the BCD with air, it was barely enough. My instructor explained that usually you would use the rebreather with a dry suit and use the air inside the dry suit as a way to control buoyancy.
My top 5 surprises of diving with a rebreather
1 – The mouthpiece has a closed and open position: contrary to a standard regulator, it does not open when you inhale, it is either always closed or always open. So you have to make sure it’s closed if in the water and not in your mouth.
2 – You cannot use your lungs to adjust your buoyancy: that was my bigger shock but indeed it’s so logical. As you dive on the same quantity of air at any time, you cannot take more or less air in your body to ascend or descend. As I was told, “if you see a rock, you will go around it, not above it”!
3 – It comes with its own dive computer to control the PPO2: If you took the Nitrox speciality you know that controlling your Partial Pressure of Oxygen (PPO2) is critical for your safety. The instructor said I could forget to have my dive computer watch with a rebreather, the one that comes with the system is the only one you need. Well, I know some tech divers that would say any way you must have full redundancy of all your equipment. Anyway, as the rebreather is always calculating the best Nitrox mix depending on your depth, you need to keep an eye on it. I was so impressed when I realised I had a Nitrox gas blender machine in the back!
4 – The head-up screen of the dive computer made me feel like Iron Man: that was the fanciest point of my experience. There is a tiny display, inside a magnifying glass in a small cylinder that you can adjust to put it right onto the glass of your mask. It allows you to quickly check by looking in the corner what are the current parameters. I almost wanted to say “Jarvis, time to to do the deco on O2”!!!
5 – Considering the size and weight, I have still no idea how you can travel with it: please if you are regular rebreather diver, let me know what you do!
Do you think this first experience would discourage me? Not at all! I must say the fact of not making bubble to approach wildlife is hugely attracting me! As my instructor recommended me, I will look for an opportunity for an open water try dive to understand better how to deal with my buoyancy when using a rebreather. This is going to be my biggest challenge to start with.
General review of the DIVE2016 show in Birmingham
After LIDS last February in London, which was definitely small for a dive show happening in the capital of the UK, I was positively surprised to see that DIVE2016 was 3 to 4 times the size of LIDS. What a surprise, it is actually Birmingham that is the biggest dive show in the UK!
Interesting point regarding the destinations represented: there were many dive operators from the UK, Scotland and Ireland, but also Iceland, this is quite unique I think. The sunny destinations in Europe like Spain, Portugal, Cyprus were represented like the faraway paradise islands in the Caribbean and South-East Asia.
From a gear point of view, of course, by being in the UK, this is a perfect place to look for a dry suit. The diversity of companies offering accessories for underwater photographers and videographers was fantastic too. The most interesting things I’ve seen were the 5K video torch lights from Anchor Dive Lights and the professional housing for smartphones from Easydive.
Ocean conservation was also on the agenda with many UK charities represented like Bite Back aiming to make the UK the first country to completely ban the shark fin soup; Fourth Element was also introducing a range of swimsuits made from “ghost” fishing nets.
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