The History of Diving
Ashley Denton   Jun 11, 2020 Admin

Ever wondered how modern Scuba came about? Well let’s start with the meaning of the word! Scuba stands for:

Self

Contained

Underwater

Breathing

Apparatus

This means the diver is completely independent of a surface air supply in order to breathe underwater. Scuba began as a term solely to describe the equipment used and later became a noun.  

 

The first two breathing devices were invented by the beginning of the 1900s, starting with open-circuit equipment and closed-circuit rebreathers. The first open-circuit design was lacking air cylinders which meant divers had to access air from a hose line to the surface. Per our definition above, this means that open-circuit Scuba had not yet been invented. This design limited their mobility and depth which left engineers looking for a better way to explore underwater. By the mid 1900’s, high pressure cylinders became available which meant two systems for Scuba had emerged: Open-circuit Scuba (the diver’s exhaled breath is discharged directly into the water) and closed-circuit Scuba (carbon dioxide is removed from the diver’s exhaled breath, oxygen is added and is then recirculated in a closed loop).

 

Closed-Circuit Equipment:

The first rebreathers were not practical for recreational diving as they had a very limited depth range, a bulky design and were created to use with diving helmets. The first practical Scuba rebreather was built by the diving engineer, Henry Fleuss in 1878. The system had a dive duration of up to about three hours but had no way of measuring gas consumption during the dive. Adapted versions of this rebreather were extensively used by the British, Italian and German militaries during the 1930s and through World War II. Countries continued to use the rebreather primarily for military frogmen as they don’t make bubbles, thus not giving away their presence. The acronym "SCUBA", originated in the United States Navy, where it meant a frogman's rebreather. They are currently manufactured for military, technical and recreational Scuba but remain less popular to use than open-circuit equipment.

 

Open-Circuit Equipment:

Although the first open-circuit systems were created in earlier years, the first successful and safe open-circuit Scuba was designed in France in 1942 by Naval Lieutenant, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and engineer, Emile Gagnan. It was patented and named the Aqua-Lung which was the first open-circuit regulator to reach worldwide popularity and commercial success. This invention featured a double-hose design and allowed much more freedom and mobility underwater. The product was patented but was arguably circumvented in Australia and modifications were made to feature a single-hose design. This new technology is more closely related to what we use today.

 

Scuba Harness:

The early Scuba sets did not have all the bells and whistles that divers enjoy today. They consisted of shoulder straps, a waist belt, no buoyancy aid and no backplate which meant the cylinders rested directly on the diver’s back. The buoyancy control device, or BCD, was introduced in 1971. Today, there are several configurations of the Scuba harness that allow for specialty diving techniques such as cave diving and wreck diving where the diver may be in tight spaces.

 

Enriched Air Nitrox (EAN):

The air we breathe is basically a mix of approximately 21% oxygen and 79% nitrogen. Enriched Air Nitrox for divers is a gas blend of oxygen over 21% - usually around 32% but can be up to 40%. Divers use this enriched air mixture to reduce the amount of nitrogen in their bodies. This results in longer bottom times, shorter surface intervals and a reduced risk of decompression sickness, which leads to the ultimate goal…more diving!

 

The US Navy began using enriched air nitrox in the 1950’s for military use. In 1985, the International Association of Nitrox Divers began teaching nitrox for recreational diving. The diving community was slow to adopt the use of nitrox but in 1992, NAUI became the first major agency to support the air mixture followed by PADI in 1996. Today, Calypso teaches SSI’s Enriched Air Nitrox program where divers learn how to safely plan and dive with EAN mixtures to achieve the most comfortable dive experience.

 

Since the beginning, diving experts have been looking for ways to improve the Scuba experience. Today, we get to glide effortlessly through the water while gazing at the underwater aquarium that surrounds us. We look forward to new inventions and the future of diving with you!



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