Is a consistent set of minimum standards needed?
I think it’s an essential; we need a minimum base of standards that are recognized. You know, good instructors are good instructors; bad instructors are bad instructors – that’s always going to be there. But at least if you have a standard that they have to adhere to, it forces them to be better than they may be otherwise. That’s what we’re hoping with an RSTC thing. We’re ready to sit down any time, and have mad that very known.
How do you see rebreather diving unfolding?
I think rebreathers are going to become a very viable part of the recreational industry. I don’t think it will ever replace open circuit, but I think it’s going to become a very large part of that market. I think they have a distinct place in diving, and I think they have a very, very great benefit for divers. They undoubtedly require a lot more discipline and supervision to use, and require a lot of very, very responsible training. The problem we’re faced with right now is getting really qualified instructors and it’s going to be difficult.
There are a few of us out there who have spent time on rebreathers, and quite a few ex-military divers who could teach it. Other than that, there are few people in the recreational diving industry who are qualified. I’m afraid there may be a trend to just go out and make people instructors. “Well, Joe is a good instructor. He trains 500 divers a year. Let’s make him a rebreathing instructor.” He may or may not be well versed on rebreathers and the risks on rebreathers. That’s the problem. If people are going to start diving rebreathers, there’s going to be an urgency in making people instructors and getting people trained. But you’ve got to have a very selective program.
How about the end-user training?
I think rebreathing has a lot of advantages, but it also has a lot more responsibility. The training has to be really, really top-notch. One of my major concerns is training a recreational diver who doesn’t look at his pressure gauge when he does a wall dive in Cayman, and runs out of air. How am I going to get him to monitor a rebreather? How am I going to get him to become aware of the subtlest little instinct that you need to develop for rebreather diving. “This doesn’t feel right. I’d better inject some gas.” How am I going to get him to go beyond just looking at the monitors? That’s part of my concern.
How do you know if your rebreather is working right?
I think the manufacturers are going to do all they can to try to create a common denominator of safety. Probably the biggest thing to keep manufacturers honest is something we in the industry don’t like, but in this particular application, may be good. It’s called liability. It’s kind of like nitrox diving. If we had a lot of bad accidents when we got started, we probably wouldn’t be in existence today. I think it’s the same with rebreathers. They don’t have a year or two to perfect operations. That’s another concern.
They’re going to have to perform perfectly out of the box?
Somebody’s going to get killed on a rebreather. What’s sad is that when it happens, most likely, it won’t be the fault of the rebreather. It could be, but most likely it won’t be. It will be human error, but the rebreather will get blamed. Regardless if the guy freaked out, bolted to the surface and embolized, it will be reported as a rebreathing accident. And maybe two years from now, when the flack clears, the rebreather will be found innocent, but meanwhile it may have killed the whole damn industry.
Interestingly enough, one of the things that’s going to have made it easier for rebreathers is that a lot of their problems have already been addressed by nitrox. Now that people are used to thinking mix, it’s easier to think rebreather.
What are your personal diving goals for the next year?
I’d like to do some more exploration at Eagle’s Nest with Larry Green. I would like to get down with Jim Bowden to look at his hole [the Zacaton Project – see aquaCORPS, N11]. I have great respect for someone who’s determined to bottom out that cave [Zacaton is over 1000 feet deep].
Jim and I talked an hour on the phone this morning about some of the problems he’s having to address: gas duration, the risk of HPNS, how much nitrogen you use as a buffer, how how to handle the possibility of hits at depths when you’re switching gases on decompression, as well as a couple of things most people don’t think about. There’s an extreme dehydration problem that’s very had to keep up with, and severe heat loss problems. He’s also talking about putting a decompression bell in with IV fluids at some of the shallower stops because there’s no way you drink enough fluids to replenish yourself even if you use a diving bell.
There’s a lot of complexity that people don’t think about and you’re gotta be willing to make an awful lot of sacrifices to do a dive like that. I always respect people who push the limits, even those I think are beyond reason, because if people didn’t push limits beyond reason, we wouldn’t have a wheel today, let alone automobiles. You have pushed the limits.
I used to be an explorer. I’m cycling back into it with limits. You come and you go. I think anybody can stay on that edge only so long and then you have to come off it before you can go back on.