55 Things Divers Born After 1985 Won’t Understand

by: Brian Carney

A typical day at SDI/TDI/ERDI Headquarters consists of lots of emails, phone calls and, of course, meetings.  Over the years these meetings have gone through a lot of different topics and formats, but what happened last week was something I was not expecting … yet.  Generally, in a Marketing meeting we throw around topic ideas for different things we feel would make for great content.   In this particular meeting I found myself listening and then ultimately being asked to write about a topic because I was the most qualified due to my age!  Let that sit for a minute… my age.  When did I become the guy old enough to know about something?  How did that happen?  Well, after I got over that small issue, we started discussing the topic of difficulty people of my age or older (43 for those of you counting) have relating to the generation of Millennials. Take it from me, as I am reminded of it every day at the office, they think and act differently than we do.

This article is the first of three that will address the differences in generations in the industry: Things divers born after 1985 will not understand. A presentation at DEMA titled Inside the Millennial Mind – How to connect with #Millennials to increase business, presented by Lauren Kieren (Millennial) and myself (old guy).  Finally an article by Lauren titled, Things divers born before 1985 will never understand.

Just so I could have some additional insight into this topic I consulted a few other “old guys” for help.  Dan Orr, Harry Averill, and also Bret Gilliam were kind enough to send me their thoughts on this topic for which I am grateful for their input.

    1. The name of the first electronic dive computer, the EDGE, was actually an acronym for “Electronic Dive GuidE” – Dan Orr would know as he named it.


  1. CO 2 cartridges were standard equipment for BCD’s. In early models of BCD’s it was standard equipment to have a CO2 cartridge with a mechanism designed to fill the BCD in an emergency situation to provide buoyancy.   After years of questionable results such as random trigger of inflation at times when it was not needed or also not working when it was needed, or being a pain to maintain due to corrosion, they fell out of favor.   There was a time when it was impossible to find a buoyancy device without a CO2 cartridge
  2. Purge valves on masks were mainstream. In the early 70s purge valves were introduced as a feature on the front of masks.
  3. Octopus regulators were not mandatory.
  4. Pressure gauges were not mandatory, instead divers relied on J valves. SPGs were mandated around 1977 by all training agencies.
  5. A Horse Collar BCD was the only option for a BCD. There were numerous options beginning in 1973 including the At-Pac and Scubapro Back Mounted BC called a Buoyancy Compensating Pack or BCP. In 1977 Scubapro introduced the Stabilizing Jacket that changed everything to this style for most divers.
  6. Back inflation BCDs started long before technical diving
  7. SOS Decompression Meter – Dive computer (aka Bend-O-Matic) was actually sold as a dive computer but had no electronic parts, instead it operated mechanically.
  8. Cave divers got their gear from the hardware store.
  9. Dive gear only came in men’s sizes; women’s sizes were introduced around 1979 for such gear as wet suits and BCDs.
  10. Technical diving had not started yet. Or more appropriately, the term Technical Diving had not been coined yet.
  11. You could have dive gear in any color as long as it was black.
  12. You could buy a wet suit in a kit and put it together yourself… hopefully.
  13. If you wore a buoyancy device of any kind, other divers wondered if you were scared or couldn’t swim.
  14. Buoyancy devices came with a crotch strap.
  15. Divers were suspicious of single hose regulators and would sometimes be heard saying, “Can you really get enough air through that small hose?”
  16. Some divers actually wore pantyhose in order to help them get the early wetsuits on.
  17. At one time, it took lung power to inflate a buoyancy device.
  18. You had to roll over on your back to let air out of your buoyancy device.
  19. It was a life vest before it was a buoyancy compensator.
  20. If you took the original 71.2 cu. ft. aluminum cylinder off under water, it would reach the surface before you.
  21. You had to thread your shoulder straps properly to allow for quick release.
  22. You had to constantly check your “J” valve to make sure it wasn’t accidentally pulled down.
  23. Divers would look at your tank valve and try to figure out if it actually looks like a “K” or “J”.
  24. When the Totes Company actually made dry suits.
  25. When you had to learn about ‘suit squeeze’ before dry suits had variable volume capability.
  26. When dive knives were longer than your snorkel
  27. To protect yourself from denizens of the deep, you carried a shark billy or a Faralon Shark Dart.
  28. When you didn’t have to be a duck to wear ‘duck feet’.
  29. When you cave divers were just as likely to find a car inner tube in their ‘wings’ as their automobile (Note:  the first pair of wings I used actually had an automobile inner tube as a bladder). The very first cave-diving BCs were actually Clorox bottles.
  30. When your dive light could probably double as an aircraft landing light.
  31. You had to decide to keep or remove the neck strap from your regulator 2nd stage.
  32. You had to get into your dry suit through the crotch.
  33. You could buy weights shaped like hand grenades.
  34. You inflated your buoyancy device with a separate air bottle attached to the bottom.
  35. You could choose any breathing gas as long as it was air.
  36. Sportsways, Healthways, Voit, Parkway, Harvey’s, Swimaster, Nemrod, Imperial, Dacor were part of every diver’s vocabulary
  37. If someone asked you, “Are You A Turtle?”, you’d have to answer, “You bet your sweet a** I am!” or you’d owe them a drink.  (Comment:  This was the marketing campaign by Imperial to promote their Imperial Turtle wet suits)
  38. Nitrox and mixed gas didn’t exist for the recreational diver
  39. Sonic alerts, e.g. DiveAlert
  40. Use of oxygen for decompression
  41. Split fins – what are those?
  42. Integrated weight system consisted of a belt with lead on it.
  43. There was no mandatory insurance for dive instructors
  44. IANTD, TDI, ANDI, IDEA, MDEA, ACUC, RSTC were not created yet.
  45. There were very few liveaboard dive vessels and those only traveled to a limited selection of areas.
  46. Most wet suits were nylon-lined, but had textured neoprene on the outside.
  47. No cylinders larger than 80 cubic feet were available.
  48. Dual valve manifolds were not available, instead diving with independent doubles was the only choice.
  49. No Spare Air devices
  50. There was no color film faster than 200 ASA
  51. Portable recompression chambers were the size of a Semi Truck.
  52. No such thing as a referral programs to complete open water training in another location by another instructor
  53. Solo diving was actually what you learned how to do in your Open Water Instructor course
  54. In the span of ten years (approximately 1975 to 1985), items such as alternate-air-source second stages, power inflators, tank-integrated BCs and instrument consoles had gone from being a rarity to being the norm. This is the greatest amount of change in diving equipment in a short period of time that has ever happened. A 1985 diver would look more like one of today’s divers, some 30 years later, than he would look like a diver from ten years earlier.

As with any list, we are sure to hear of more items that we missed and encourage our readers to add to it.   The one big thing to come out of these articles and presentations is that the industry has come a long way due to innovation and passion from the people within it.  Now is the time to start looking to the next generation and tap into their passion, we just need to find a way to communicate with them.

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36 replies
  1. Matt Eker
    Matt Eker says:

    8: Before my time, but people i have dived with called the SOS a “Dial-a-bend” and would tap it on the gunwhale of the boat if they deemed it wasn’t “clear” enough for the next dive!

  2. Richard Taylor
    Richard Taylor says:

    Brilliant! Still have the Edge, DecoMeter, Horse Collar BCD & Twin Hose!
    Add a couple more though:
    #56. Deco Tables were USN, DCIEM or Buhlmann. Custom tables were bought one at a time from Dr Bill Hamilton (DCAP) until Sheck Exley’s DrX was released (and then tweaked manually ,based upon the outcomes)!
    #57. Buddy Breathing was considered a mandatory skill at Open Water level!

  3. Rick McNulty
    Rick McNulty says:

    Having first been introduced to the wonders of the underwater world as a necessity to my career work servicing swimming pools back in 1978, you are most correct that the changes made at that time were fast and furious all the way through the early 1990’s. All of the technologies being developed at that time fueled my passion for all things underwater which led to my becoming an instructor myself. My instructor mentors used pieces of the older equipment as visual examples of where diving equipment design had started and the advancements that were being developed. It was exciting to be certified by Dick Rutkowski and Bret Gilliam of IAND (IANTD) as a NITROX instructor at the first tech diving instructor course here in Chicago back in 1992. This was at a time when the use of NITROX was not accepted by some of the major dive agencies because it was deemed too technical and not for recreational diving. Fortunately, that is not the case today. It is my hope that the current generation of Millennials will continue to develop exciting and safe new ways to enjoy the underwater world. Clear skies and calm seas, Rick McNulty NAUI #14304L IANTD #177 TDI #257

  4. David Cunningham
    David Cunningham says:


    Great article, reminds me of old times.

    The lowest certification level, now Open Water, was “SCUBA Diver”, required 40+ hours of training and 6 dives.

    The “Open Water” course might include solo high current no visibility dives with line tenders, 3/4 mile hikes with full gear to the dive site, and navigation dive evaluations with lengths over 1/4 mile.

    SCUBA tank purchases frequently included free air fills for life.

    All divers knew how to use dive tables and did. Most divers knew how to calculate SAC and use it to plan dives.

    No one knew you could not dive deeper than 218 FSW on air.

    Really cool divers like E.D. dove Andrea Doria with double 72’s and no BC.

    You could NOT miss Jacques Cousteau or Sea Hunt on TV.

    Mahalo for bringing up some great memories.


  5. chris B
    chris B says:

    Oh you forgot that often dive courses were actual commercial dive certifications – i was surprised to get a 5 year ticket back in 1976.
    A Scuba dive course was was 1216 week event : 1 night a week theory and 1-2days a week in the water.
    It involved everything you needed to do to 120′ including mandatory deco diving, it included a full first aid course, rescue, night diving…everything. I am amusing myself now doing the modern TDI courses in 2015.
    The dive instructor would make you swim without “flippers” with all your gear on and no BC to ensure you had buoyancy correct. No BC’s were allowed during the courses.

    Tobacco tins made good weight moulds.

    Buddy breathing on 1 regulator….. the list goes on.

  6. David
    David says:

    My first bouyancy device was a split 1/2 of an airline life vest our girl fiend stews stole for us from the air lines they worked for, co2 cylinders included. 1970’s

  7. David Bunch
    David Bunch says:

    Nice. Fond memories and some gear is still adequate. (my skinny dipper with its big numbers., and my trusty J valves.j
    The first diver safety device was a two cartridge tube worn around the waist that formed a ball in front to float the diver when the cartridges were detonated
    The 120 rule to remember the no decompression limits from 60 to one hundred feet. (if you used 20 instead of 25 for the 100 ft depth.
    The original US Navy ascent rate ( for submarine escape crews) was 25 feet per minute. WWII UDT divers wanted 100 ft per minute and a compromise was made which became standard at 60 ft per minute.
    No safety stops until later.

  8. Frank Johanson
    Frank Johanson says:

    When I started diving, 1962 (age 14), the tanks were held on with canvas straps (I still have my U. S. Divers original steel tank and double hose regulator). The buoyancy compensatory was “drop your weight belt”. We were up-to-date, we had “J” valves. Our dive computers were human brains. We memorized the charts for the dive. Today’s dive computers are too small to read, so we still have to memorize the charts. The dive computer is there to keep the boat captain happy. I still use Voodoo gas at age 67. You have a fancy name for it called No-Ox. In reality, it has extra OX, not none! Diving knives were U.S. Army bayonets. I did have to get a new wetsuit as mine finally fell apart. I still like the wing for a “BC”. Your wrap around BC jackets are like dragging a parachute behind you, underwater. My Best to All. I might join the present and get a new tank.

  9. Tony Howard
    Tony Howard says:

    Just as a response to the above, whilst many points are valid, there is a HUGE US bias to the points listed and some of the terminology is only used in the US.

    For example:

    Point 3: UK divers only rarely had masks with purge valves. The most common masks were the basic single oval lens rubber mask with steel compression band.

    Point 5: very few UK dives used ‘J’ valves or any valve with a reserve lever. We commenced the use of SPG’s much earlier than in the US.

    Point 6: The use of basic lifejackets was superceded by the ABLJ, (Adjustable Buoyancy Life Jacket) , in the 70’s, with the the most common brands being the Fenzy and Atlantic from La Spirotechnique , others were also made by Buddy. They were nicknamed Horse Collars because of their design.

    Point 15: They still do (on most wings and backplates).

    Point 17: Not in the UK 🙂

    Point 18: All divers should still be able to do this. We were also taught how to use the BCD as an air resource for emergency out of air ascents.

    Point 21: Apart from overseas trips to warm water diving, most UK and European divers use steel cylinders not aluminium. N.B. We also don’t use the CuFt measurement system, instead our cylinders are designated by volume and pressure, i.e. the most common sizes are 7 litre, 10 litre, 12 litre and 15 litre and in the UK they are filled to 232 BAR (3365 psi).
    Steel cylinders are always negatively buoyant, even when empty,

    Point 22: Why? Any properly webbed up harness should stay together not fall apart. The most basic harness doesn’t even have a shoulder break.

    Point 23: Refer to point 5

    Point 24: Refer to point 5

    Point 25: Not sold in the UK

    Point: 26: You still have to advise on suit squeeze, it’s not disappeared, only that we can now manage and relieve it.

    Point 27: Some still are; and BTW, why carry a snorkel (unless of course you are snorkelling not diving).

    Point 28: Not in the UK. We carry crab hooks!

    Point 29: Not in the UK.

    Point 32: Most good divers still have a necklace on their backup 2nd stage.

    Point 34: You still can (they’re a bit more like mini-hand weights now).

    Point 35: Until very recently you could still buy a Buddy (AP Diving) BCD Stab jacket fitted with an emergency air inflation cylinder (0.3 litre 200 BAR).

    Point 37: Apart from Dacor and Nemrod these brand names are mostly unknown in the UK.

    Point 42: Split fins are still bloody useless and annoying. The turbulence created is one of the most effective ways of stirring up the silt and creating a zero viz dive for any following diver and you cannot frog-kick with them. They should be banned!

    Point 48: Refer to the use of steel in point 21. Originally many divers used modified LPG cylinders and pressure reducing valves, as used for portable gas heaters, in caravans and motorhomes (RV’s).

    Point 50: “Spare Air”= Spare Death. It should be taken off market. It’s a dangerous piece of wasted money. Divers should carry an independent alternative air source comprising of an appropriate 2nd cylinder for the dive fitted with a decent regulator, not a crappy item with bugger all capacity, awful regulator and one that’s probably never regularly tested.

    Point 51: Not true. I worked in photographic retail from 1975 and faster colour film was available in the professional market and there was always the option to ‘push’ the ASA by changing the developing and processing times.

    That’s just my personal comments.

  10. Tom Karnuta
    Tom Karnuta says:

    Outstanding article and so true. I’ve just been sitting here howling. How many unscheduled ascents happened due to that darn CO2 cord getting snagged and pulled by mistake. Well, at least 1. And we thought we were so cool when we started wrapping the collars on our “life vests” with duck tape to give us a bit more clearance.

    I can still remember getting my first pressure gauge.

    My first certification was YMCA, it says “Skin Diver”.

    TDI 3884

  11. danielle
    danielle says:

    Actually, this should be titled for people who began diving after 1985 not those who were BORN after 1985. Someone may have been born in 1975 but was not likely diving by 1985.

  12. David Sloan
    David Sloan says:

    My first Certification was N.A.S.(skin) D.S in Colorado Springs,Colorado in 1974-1975 (also my first Ice Dive…it was very thin ice,an in a wet suit) The Power Inflater was my first up grade Weaver Super Vest. oh..”Dive with your head not your back.” The Edge my first dive computer Instructor Model in silver.
    *Still Diving* Thank you Very Much

  13. Tom Karnuta
    Tom Karnuta says:

    And don’t forget what some instructors used to call “Harassment”. This was the part of the course where all your gear was placed at the bottom of the deep end of the pool. You as the student would dive in swim down and start to put on your gear, as your instructor ripped it off. What fun!

    Also: Head first descents where the norm
    And of course, it was OK to put your mask on your forehead, without some bozo 21 year old divemaster giving you grief.

    • Rusty Barnett
      Rusty Barnett says:

      Yep! Also, sitting on the bottom in my DM class, passing a single tank around the circle with no regulator, catching breaths by cracking the valve into your cupped hand… 🙂

  14. Peter Le Sueur
    Peter Le Sueur says:

    Octopus rigs were only used by instructors, buddy breathing meant sharing your own regulator and hoping your buddy gave it back after a few breaths! oral inflation or horse collar BCDs etc

  15. Don
    Don says:

    Still have my SOS / Benz-O-Matic in its “egg)” protective case to “keep it in calibration” when traveling on airlines. Also have the over / under speargun named the Doublette manufactured by Arbalette Corp. Fires a spring loaded spear from the center tube and rubber bands launch the top shaft.

    In the 50’s the prominent (and only ) mask was the Squale imported directly from France to south Florida. Thin walls and fit every face. Also popular was the VOIT Fifty Fathom two hose Regulator.
    Don’ t recall ever reaching 50 fathoms.

  16. Tony Anderson
    Tony Anderson says:

    Lots of good memories here. My first “dive suit” was an Army surplus “scuba tote”. Dove for 5 years, then got a diver certification via the “NASDS Forgotten Diver” program as a requirement to become an instructor with the YMCA and then PADI. (You also needed to be a YMCA Lifeguard).
    The life vest was an actual “May West” surplus inflatable life vest.
    Back in the “Good old days” you were a DIVER it wasn’t just something you did!
    In many ways it is unfortunate that diving has become too politically correct

  17. David Wilson
    David Wilson says:

    Very interesting piece and having lived through the fifties, sixties and seventies I can relate to many of the points made. However, as a Brit, I agree with Tony Howard that there is too much USA-centricity and too little understanding of what went on in the rest of the world back then. No. 12, The Fordian statement “You could have dive gear in any color as long as it was black” was signally untrue of certain mainstream manufacturers in the earliest days, who produced masks and fins in a variety of colours from the 1950s onwards. You mentioned Ohio-based So-Lo Marx’s Totes drysuits, which were available in brown, yellow and green in their time, never in black. In 1959 some manufacturers (notably US Divers) made suits and other gear in “safety yellow.” As for “You had to get into your dry suit through the crotch”, the earliest drysuits trended to chest entry, neck entry or two-piece garments. And readers of “Some divers actually wore pantyhose in order to help them get the early wetsuits on” may be surprised to know that some modern freedivers use the same technique, having reverted to more body-fitting versions of the old unlined wetsuit.

    So be aware that there was still plenty of variety from year to year and from country to country in the pre-1980 world of diving. And just because something is newer doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better. This said, a stimulating review of the differences between “now” and “then”.

  18. Ian Whittaker
    Ian Whittaker says:

    Sorry Tony Howard but I would disagree with a few of your comments. I started diving in 1968 and it was most certainly Cubic Foot cylinders and many of them were the aluminium Luxfers. The steel bottles e.g. the 40 cf ‘Tadpole’ and it’s bigger brother the 80 cf ‘Pig’ needed lead backpacks., furthermore my first depth gauge, with the wee bubble in the tube was calibrated in feet. Of the old school I still carry a snorkel, you might plan to dive but if push comes to shove and you end up on the surface with no air it sure helps. In fact, only last year when when a diver in a group on a boat dive went ‘missing’ on a dive for 45 minutes after he was due on the surface his first words on getting back on the boat was “I’m glad I had my snorkel”, he had been heading for shore when we found him. Finally, stockings did help getting into a 3/16″ single skin neoprene wet suit.

  19. ger
    ger says:

    used oxygen to decompress in the late 70’s early 80s on dives in Superior (stern of Emperor, etc). Apparently, from list, this has fallen out of practice. can anyone explain why, point to articles, etc.?

      SDI/TDI/ERDI says:

      The use of 100% oxygen for decompression has not fallen out of practice.  We are sorry if the article caused confusion.  Quite the contrary, it is still widely used around the globe for accelerated decompression.   It is currently taught in a number of our courses, Advanced Nitrox, Decompression Procedures, Extended Range,  Trimix, and Advanced Trimix. 

  20. William Savage
    William Savage says:

    Mike Nelson and “Sea Hunt” should have been top of the list.

    FWIW, when I was taught to dive around 1970 we were told that you couldn’t incur a deco obligation on a single tank dive.

  21. Mujaahida Duffy
    Mujaahida Duffy says:

    I was styling in 1978 orange and black farmer john, ASA 200, was just special developed as ASA 400…
    Remember Diver born before 1985, should not be limited to just a specific decade…. Depending on how old you are is the key to matching the authors examples…lol

  22. Joyce Holmes Steinmetz
    Joyce Holmes Steinmetz says:

    In 1975, I was certified as a NAUI “Scuba Diver” by D. Lee Kvalnes of First State Sports, Delaware. The course was 40 hours of classroom and pool, 4 hrs/wk x 10 weeks, followed by 2 quarry dives and 2 ocean boat dives. One of the pool skills was the “black-out bail-out.” With duct tape on your mask lens, jump in the deep end, sink to the bottom, take off all your gear, stow it carefully, turn off the tank, and place the mask on the pool bottom last. Surface and catch a breath or two. Dive to the bottom, turn on the tank, put on the blacked-out mask, and suit back up. It was a thorough course and I felt very comfortable in the ocean from day 1.

  23. Rusty Barnett
    Rusty Barnett says:

    Turtle Club FAR pre-dates Imperial wetsuits…to at least WWII. My grandfather was a B-24 crewman and had an actual membership card (which I now have) with the induction questions on the back. I am told it got its start in the military aviation community. As for the rest of the lis…thanks! Takes me down memory lane! 🙂



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