What you need to know about flying with scrubber material… in this day and age!
During a recent trip overseas to spend a week diving from a tropical live-aboard with a handful of friends — and a couple of students signed up for classes — there were a number of logistical challenges to be dealt with.
All dive trips require some planning, but none more so than when your hotel room is going to float around for several days out of sight of land. Quite different from the usual decisions focused on whether or not to take enough T-shirts for the whole trip or save travel-bag space for “contingency” dive gear (trusting the on-board gift shop to make up any clothing and fashion deficiencies), this one had the added complication of being a “CCR-only” vacation.
In and of itself, traveling with a CCR presents some unique complications, not the least of which is how to make sure the whole team will have sufficient “sorb” for the whole trip.
Sorb (a sort of generic name for the chemical that’s used to “absorb” a CCR or SCR diver’s exhaled carbon dioxide) is essential for rebreather diving, but it’s not yet a very common over the-counter purchase in the average dive shop. This is gradually changing, but for our trip, we had no choice but to bite the bullet and take ours as checked baggage on one of the major US commercial airlines… in fact, it was the newly merged Continental United, which according to the in-flight literature and little “welcome to your flight video” shown before take-off, now bills itself the World’s Largest Airline. To our surprise, the whole exercise was way less distressing than we expected. Actually, let me own up to something here: the whole exercise was way less distressing than what I told everyone it was going to be. Who knew? The times they are a changing!
The great new development with several major airlines is that they have a comprehensive statement published on their websites, essentially letting customers know that they will ship sorb for you as long as it conforms to their published specs… and you are willing to pay any additional over-weight-allowance charges.
The specs as they stood a few weeks prior to writing this article included the ingredients found in at least two of the most popular brands and formats in common use in the recreational ‘Breather’ community.
A quick primer for those not yet familiar with the workings of rebreathers: Sorb was traditionally most commonly available in an irregular granular form sold in two grades. In this format, it is an off-white color and looks more like non-clumping cat-tray filler than a sophisticated blend of ingredients designed to prevent hypercapnia; this explains the slang term “Kitty Litter” used to describe it. It also came in a more regular spherical form, probably more common in Europe and Asia than North America. It is the rebreather manufacturer who determines which size and shape works best in the units it makes and sells. The majority of units used by the technical diving community accept Sorb in the granular format.
One of the tasks of getting a rebreather ready for diving is to carefully fill the scrubber housing or compartment with the right kind of sorb packed to the correct level. This is a painstaking exercise.
To help make the job easier and the results more predictable, sorb is also available in the form of a pre-packed canister. Sorb canisters are uniform and much simpler to use and several rebreathers have been designed or reengineered to accept this canister form. Rebreathers designed for use by the sport-diving community accept canisters of sorb.
Certainly, the units that our teams of travelers were using needed sorb in this format and we each decided to take a 20 kg tub of the “stuff.” To help ensure that it arrived when we did, and to circumvent problems with possible contamination, we took the step of only sending tubs that were unopened. (This also helped with customs at the other end of our flight.) We printed out a copy of the airline information that related to its shipping policy, taped one copy to the tub and carried another with us at check-in. We also took the precaution of writing in felt marker pen on the side of each canister “Needed for Life-Support System.”
I had previously believed that shipping canisters would be easier than flying with them but after this “less then stressful experience” not only will I do it again, I will also be far less apprehensive!
So, next time you are at a flight counter off to one of your favorite sites and you hear the diver beside you explaining to the Flight Attendant …”it’s like kitty litter…but…it’s not” say hello and make it a point to dive together!
If you have been receiving our eNewsletters over the past few months, you may have noticed a number of articles about rebreathers. The simple fact is that with a dedicated push from rebreather manufacturers bringing “easy-to-use” rebreathers to market, coupled with strong encouragement from major certification agencies such as SDI/TDI to add “non-tech” courses to their CCR curricula, rebreather diving is becoming more mainstream. If you are interested in finding out if rebreather diving (tech or sport) is a good fit for you, drop into your local SDI/TDI dive center and speak with one of the dive pros there about some exciting new developments that will help you make up your mind.
To learn more about Tech Diving and to get started on your own CCR course, visit our website: https://www.tdisdi.com