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7 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Purchased a Rebreather
by Lauren Kieren:
Buying your first rebreather is no easy task and as with any large investment you want to make sure you are making the right purchase the first time around so you do not spend that money twice.
For the purpose of this text we are presuming you understand what a rebreather is and how it functions, and at this point you have researched the various rebreather models (or units) available, you have read all of the rebreather myths and misconceptions out there, and you may have read heated debates on forums discussing why the (insert rebreather model here) is the best.
Now you find yourself at a crossroads. You are ready to make a decision and place your order but you cannot figure out which rebreather is optimal for you.
Below is a list of helpful suggestions of things to consider and questions to ask when purchasing a rebreather.
Quality of service provided by manufacturer
Buying a rebreather is like starting a new relationship… you want to set up a mutual line of communication and support. A few questions to ask are: does the manufacturer answer calls or emails in a timely manner? How quickly can they send you parts? Is there a distributer or service center in your region? Do they send out electronics software updates and inform their instructors or divers when to upgrade?
All of this is important to ensure you get the best possible support with your new equipment and so that mild issues do not result in a lot of frustration and time out of the water.
We mentioned earlier, buying a rebreather is a large investment but it is important to understand that the spending is not over after your initial purchase. You will have annual expenses ranging from $300-$800 USD on cells, mushroom valves, and servicing that you cannot ignore. You currently have to service your open circuit diving equipment, so this should not be a new concept; however, the annual cost associated with servicing has the potential to increase with a rebreather.
Unfortunately, the dive community has seen annual service and parts replacement ignored by divers for financial reasons. In most cases we became aware of this due to an accident or incident reporting expired cells, malfunctioning mushroom valves, and other neglect, due to diver error or complacency. It is extremely important annual maintenance is well within your means and that you are not tempted to skip these required services due to financial stress.
Build and breakdown process
The build and breakdown process of a rebreather can vary significantly depending on the unit. I can dive or teach on multiple rebreathers that take less than 10 minutes to set up from start to finish while others take 30-45 minutes or more. The set up and break down process is extremely important, you cannot rush through this or skip over the steps on your checklist. To put it frankly, you are setting up life support equipment to go into an environment you cannot survive in without it. For the rebreather that takes close to an hour to set up, you may find yourself setting it up the night before a day of diving and then doing additional checks the morning of to streamline the process. On the other hand, with a rebreather that takes less time to set up, you may find yourself setting up the unit from start to finish the day of your dive.
You need to take a close and honest look at your personal dive habits and practices, and see which set up process realistically fits your personality. If you do not have a tendency of paying attention to detail or if you cannot see yourself spending additional time to prepare for a dive, it may not be a matter of which rebreather to choose but whether a rebreather is right for you.
Basic field repairs
Will you have the ability to do basic field repairs should something happen to your rebreather? For example, are the cells in the rebreather easily accessed for replacement? Can you replace mushroom valves without tools? Are leaks in the loop easy to identify and fix?
Alternatively, will you have to send your unit, or parts of your unit, back to the manufacturer to do simple repairs? If so, where are they located and how long will you be out of diving? Some divers may be okay with staying out of the water for a few weeks for simple repairs as a trade off for other features on the unit, while it may be very upsetting to others.
Size, trim, and weight distribution
Size, trim, and weight distribution are factors that are often slightly- or non- adjustable. This means you may have to live with what you got. It is extremely important that you choose a unit that fits you properly, is comfortable to wear (especially the breathing loop), easy to breathe, and trim out properly. In the past, I have introduced experienced rebreather divers to a new unit and they say, “Wow, I didn’t realize a rebreather could trim out this well or breathe this good!” This makes you wonder how they felt during all of the time spent on their first rebreather.
While they may seem like points that you can learn to live with, issues like this can become extremely frustrating for the diver over time. In addition, adding unnecessary weight to the unit is typically a debilitating remedy to an improperly balanced unit.
Are you planning to travel with your rebreather? Most of us do, so how a unit travels is typically a very important issue to consider when choosing a rebreather to purchase.
It is possible to travel with almost any rebreather in checked baggage however, if an airline loses or destroys your rebreather on the way to your destination just once, you may never check it again. One common option is to make sure you can carry on all of the critical/non replaceable items in your carry on, and check the items that can be replaced or rented at the site, such as a wing or harness. This way even if the airline loses your checked bags, you can still rent or replace the missing items and dive your rebreather as normal on your trip.
Even better, can you take your entire rebreather as a carry on item? There are a few rebreathers on the market that you can easily carry on, resulting in less worry and potential frustration of a rebreather MIA.
Try (more than one) before you buy
Many will argue that doing rebreather try dives is not beneficial for a prospective rebreather diver. However, having the opportunity to try multiple rebreathers will give the diver a chance to review the features of that unit in person and see how it dives. Rebreathers are designed to perform a similar task: remove carbon dioxide from the breathing loop, add oxygen or nitrox as necessary, and repeat. However, the execution of this task may vary from unit to unit. Designs differ quite a bit along with size, one size does not fit all and it is important to find a rebreather you will feel comfortable diving for years to come.
We previously stated that size, trim, and weight distribution are all important things to consider when purchasing a rebreather. Since everyone is different, how a unit feels in the water will vary from person-to-person and unit-to-unit.
Can you figure out ways to make just about any rebreather work for you? Sure, you can, however there is a significant difference between making something work and having an optimal unit for you.
Armed with the right information and knowing what questions to ask can ease the process of finding the rebreather best suited for you. For more information, visit the TDI blog to read more rebreather related articles; or to locate a TDI Instructor click here!
What do you wish you knew before purchasing your first rebreather? Tell us about it below!