On the “Road” Less Traveled with Technical Gear
With the right approach, traveling with a Rebreather may be easier then you think!
Few, if any, dive destinations are able to provide the experienced tech diver with a complete list of rental gear. It is simply impractical for a resort — even a tech-friendly one that is part of the TDI family — to underwrite the sort of inventory that would satisfy all the needs of customers whose idea of what constitutes the “right kit” covers a broad spectrum of equipment from numerous manufacturers.
Most of the techies I know will drive a vehicle packed with their own kit whenever possible, and when flying is the only option, will pack one or two articles of clothing and use up the rest of their baggage allowance transporting their own dive gear.
The situation is more critical for CCR divers, especially those whose travel plans start at an airport security line-up.
The special challenges for a CCR diver include unit specific training and certification; a diver can only use the machine he or she has experience diving with and other machines are off the menu without an additional orientation program.
This effectively means that rental CCR units at one’s destination are an unlikely option. At several thousand dollars/pounds/euro a pop, CCRs represent a huge investment for a dive shop’s rental department; offering more than one or two types or models is rare. The bottom line is that the vast majority of divers will take their personal CCR on vacation with them because there is NO rental unit available. Even in the cases where there is a rental available, many CCR divers prefer to take their own unit – It’s a comfort thing.
Some CCR units are compact and use up only a portion of a diver’s baggage allowance. Others accrue excess baggage fees right from the outset. Also, several units require specific cylinders and or valves which translates into yet more weight.
Quite apart from the logistical challenges of packing a CCR, cylinders (which MUST have the valves removed), CO2 scrubber material (we suggest shipping well beforehand), regs for bailout bottles, and the required assortment of spare parts and supplies for a safe and happy dive time, there are some other issues worth considering.
The first is that a rebreather – especially the unit head – can simply look weird when viewed through an airport scanner. I have had luck with CCR and dive lights, to the point where the x-ray tech has piped up “who is the cave diver?” when my carry-on has been travelling on the belt. But this is the exception. Expect to have to explain what you are travelling with.
Here are some suggestions with regard to that challenge.
When I travel with a rebreather, I create a “This is life-support” document. It is a simple statement on headed note paper with every attempt to make it look as official as possible. The document states that the equipment is scuba gear. That it is safe for travel and conforms to airline guidelines. It explains that the scrubber head contains electronics (if it does) and gas sensors (I am careful to avoid ANY mention of oxygen based on past experiences dealing with people in authority who failed high-school chemistry). It states that there is no compressed gas, no harmful liquids or chemicals: just the business end of a couple of regulator first stages and some tubing.
The first time I used it (a few years back) the TSA agent I presented it to said something like: “Oh, we’ve seen these before” and I was cleared in minutes.
The other “trick” that seems to work is wrapping some portion of the unit in a wetsuit or with something else that screams out DIVE GEAR. There seems to be nothing quite as reassuring for someone faced with this mysterious lump of kit as something they recognize. What works is giving the folks checking your kit an opportunity to guess what the heck it is. Most of all, take the time to explain to them what it is you are going away to do, and be polite (Public Relations 101!).
A buddy of mine was called back to security at a US airport (Honolulu) to explain his checked baggage, which contained – among other things — his scrubber packed complete with its head and stuffed with Tshirts and underwear. It seems the tech searching the bags thought it was a scuba cylinder containing compressed gas and the handset was a pressure gauge. When confronted, my friend said, “hey, that’s an understandable mistake…” rather than “NO, you’re wrong!” The final outcome? He was back in the lounge drinking coffee within a couple of minutes and his baggage made it the rest of the way to Truk Lagoon.
You, too, may have read horror stories about trying to get through customs with scrubber material, which for those who are unfamiliar with it, is a white powdery material. I have never tried it and will probably never attempt it anytime in the future. There are several shipping options that, to me at least, seem more reliable and less costly. If there is no sorb available where you are heading – which with the growing interest in CCR is becoming less and less common – using FedEx, UPS, DHL or another reputable company can be the best alternative.
Start the shipping process early and ask about duty and import taxes before committing, and in some destinations, be prepared to pay a little extra for “handling fees”.
All in all, airline travel with a CCR is more complicated than traveling with OC gear, but with a little pre-planning, it is manageable and the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Some Tips for Travel with CCR
- If the option exists, use Rebreather friendly operations – resorts or live-aboards with CCR supplies on hand and experience working with CCR divers (Ask SDI for a list of CCR friendly operations around the globe.)
- Arrange for oxygen fills (with booster if possible) at destination, explaining that this is critical.
- Wherever and whenever possible, arrange for Scrubber medium to be ready for your arrival. Even at a rebreather friendly destination, book what you need, plus some contingency sorb well in advance of your departure. If in doubt, ship your own but do research on local import and tax/duty requirements.
- If possible, rent bottle for diluent and oxygen. Check they are the correct dimensions and that the valves will fit your regulators.
- Arrange for “bailout” bottles at your destination. Aluminum 80s work well but take your own rigging hardware AND check if the valves are DIN or Yoke. (The issue of left and right hand turn knobs is less of an issue and these are items that you can carry yourself if needed.)
- If you are traveling with your own oxygen and diluent bottles, remove valves and leave bottles open… this means not even tape should be covering the open neck.
- Remove oxygen stickers from bottles and reapply at your destination.
- Pack “This is life-support” document with unit and carry several spares.
- Be ready and willing to explain your kit to airport security personnel.
- Be patient!
- Learn to make do with a minimum of fresh clothing!
- Have fun!!
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