Garage Days Revisited

By Joel Silverstein:

Video Credit: Courtesy Capt. Billy Deans
***NOTE:***
This video was recorded over 20 years ago.

The Witches Brew – Trimix and Nitrox Gas Mixtures

So you’re planning on going diving this weekend and need to get your cylinders filled with nitrox. Imagine that you have a choice of getting that mix from one of only six dive centers in the United States. You can go to Long Island, New York; Gloucester City, New Jersey; Key Largo or Key West, Florida; Santa Cruz, California; or Bellingham, Washington to get those tanks filled. That’s right, back in the early days of technical diving we had a choice of six dive centers in the US that would fill our tanks with oxygen enriched air. If you were an active nitrox diver, the ability to obtain breathing gas was very limited. Getting gas required logistics far beyond that of driving to the local dive shop. Yet, that did not stop people from getting the coveted breathing gas. If you were near these dive centers, it was easy. If not, creativity crept in.

Tell any diver they cannot have something and soon they will make it themselves. It did not take long for divers to start mixing gas in their garages. Dive shop owners were strongly against this practice, and the industry frowned upon it just as loudly. Yet divers were mixing gas at home more than most could have imagined. Some divers were very successful at home brewing, but others were sloppy and dangerous. Most anyone with simple math skills could calculate proper proportions of oxygen and air to make a nitrox mixture. However, mixing nitrox gas was more complex than transfilling some oxygen and topping it up with air. It required oxygen, hoses, fittings, gauges, flow meters, an oxygen analyzer, and an air compressor. In addition, it took an understanding of cleaning for oxygen-service, gas system design, heat exchange, and the dangers of adiabatic compression. Most people could put the first parts together, but it was the oxygen compatible air and oxygen cleanliness that were the missing links for many. Some divers would fill their scuba cylinders at home with a specific amount of oxygen and then have them topped off with air at the local dive shop. On the surface, this seemed a logical solution, but it violated every rule of gas mixing, and it put many people at undue risk. In some situations, it resulted in serious accidents. If they were cutting corners in one part of this process, what else was not as good as required?

For divers who wanted to do it right, they sought out training from experts like former NOAA Diving Officer, Dick Rutowski in Key Largo, Captain Billy Deans in Key West, or ANDI co-founder, Ed Betts on Long Island.. The courses offered were comprehensive and usually took two to four days to complete. For those who could not get to these rare training events, the early CompuServe internet forums were a major source for gas mixing discussions. In addition, divers would share information they garnered from the Navy and NOAA diving manuals, as well as from the commercial diving industry. Along with all the seriousness and challenges that were facing technical diving in the early days, deep diving pioneer, Capt. Billy Deans created a video that parodied decompression table creation, breathing gas analysis and gas mixing. It gives today’s divers and gas mixers an idea of what we were up against back in the early days of recreational mixed gas diving.

It was not until Technical Diving International introduced the first TDI Gas Blender Course and textbook written by Jan Neal, that gas-mixing methodology became readily available to divers worldwide. Neal’s materials legitimatized recreational gas mixing and formed the basis for what we do today in teaching divers about mixing gases for diving. The dive industry as a whole has benefited from the contributions of divers over the years to gas mixing.

Learning about mixing gas is much easier today than it was twenty years ago. A whole industry has emerged that has made the tools of the trade much easier to get; between training, gas analyzers, gas boosters, compact compressors, filtration systems and a host of other items. While divers are able to get gas mixes from most any dive center around the world, there are those who still like to mix on their own and the right stuff is easy to get. Like in most every industry, great ideas and techniques are the product of a few brave individuals who sought out knowledge and adventure, many times from the workbench in their garage.


Joel Silverstein is the author of three books on nitrox, a major contributor to the NOAA Diving Manual, and TDI Instructor Trainer # 125. Since 1989 he has mixed more than two million cubic feet of breathing gas. Contact: joel@techdivinglimited.com

Nitrox Diver – It’s all academic

Ice vs Tropical Diving

Going down the path of our organization’s history we have heard numerous times, “Why are you doing it this way?” “Hey, we don’t do things like that, we do it like this.”

Nitrox was a course that originally required a two tank dive in order to receive certification. That was great if dive centers wanted to offer the two tank dive in conjunction with the certification and it was 80 degrees outside, but in all reality were those dives even necessary?

Diving is fun, which is why we do it. But we also believed in being effective and efficient in our educational programs and therefore came to the conclusion that a course that is purely academic, which does not have any practical purpose for any underwater skills, should not require two dives. If an instructor or a dive center would want to make the dives part of their curriculum, they had the option do to so, but we would give them that option rather than make it a mandatory standard.

Nitrox courses became a huge success for those places up north, just shy of polar vortexes and polar bears, where a student could take the course in a classroom or online and earn the certification after passing a knowledge review and properly analyzing a tank. Upon completion of the course the student would be well-versed in the fundamentals of theory behind the gas, the mixes, the partial pressure and the effects it had on the diver at depth. It was important to ensure that the nitrox divers understood the dangers of diving nitrox while also being able to reap the benefits associated with the enriched air. In order to do this, mask clearing, fin pivot and regulator retrieval were not necessary…therefore why make them dive? What information would the instructor evaluate by watching a diver dive nitrox? None. By eliminating the dives, we were allowing divers to take nitrox classes year-round and in rough weather conditions without the need to get wet.

This decision was simply one of those “It makes sense” moments that we’ve had throughout the years and recognized while developing the program… it was all academic!

Take SDI Nitrox eLearning here >