Air Integrated Dive Computers

 In Scuba training

Air integrated computers, that is, a dive computer receiving wireless information from a transmitter on a regulator’s first stage became widespread in the last decade, but are still frowned upon by many divers because of perceived reliability and safety issues. I think this is unfortunate and undeserved, and as such I invite you to examine the merits and pitfalls of diving with an air integrated computer

It seem to always be the same three issues with transmitters that worry divers. It’s loss of signal; it’s the risk of loss of air, through some sort a malfunction or rupture; and lastly the fragility of the transmitter and related handling issues.

Looking at the potential problem of loss of signal, we need to understand what this problem is and what it isn’t. We are not talking about a loss of air – “only” a loss of signal. Granted it’s an inconvenience, but the air is still safely in the tank – right where you need it.
In scuba diving I believe you shouldn’t check your gauge to see how much air you have left. You should check your gauge to confirm how much you have left. Keeping track of your air, knowing how much you have left, is a skill you acquire as you become a better diver – because air consumption really isn’t arcane diving lore, privy only to the most hardcore divers – it’s pretty basic, and everyone can learn it. This sort of sixth sense in scuba diving can and should be trained no matter if you dive in the Philippines or in the frigid waters of Norway. You can see a shift towards this sentiment in the updated PADI open water course as well, as students are at all times expected to know (within a reasonable margin) how much air they have left.

What this means, is that even if you lose the signal, you’ll should still have a very fair idea of how much air you have left. Of course it’d be prudent to alert your buddy you have an equipment problem and then calmly ascend to do your safety stop and abort the dive, rather than continue the dive. However, try to to compare that to the rupture of a high pressure hose feeding a normal submersible pressure gauge. A ruptured hose will deplete your gas quickly, plus the loud bang and violent hiss of bubbles may cause some divers to panic, adding further danger to a somewhat tricky situation. (Many divers erroneously assume that a tank will empty faster if the ruptured hose is a high pressure one, rather than one that feeds the power inflator or regulator. In reality the opposite is the case – the pressure may be greater, but the smaller orifice of the high pressure plug makes all the difference.) A burst hose is a serious occurrence and the diver needs to act immediately, aborting the dive and of course, preferably, securing the octopus of the diving buddy – just in case…

I’d argue that loss of certain knowledge of how much air you have left, is better than the certain knowledge your are losing your air very quickly… And this isn’t conjecture – a high pressure hose feeding a gauge is much more likely to fail catastrophically than a transmitter. Parts potentially prone to failure are multiple o-rings, the actual hose itself and of course the mechanism inside the gauge, any of which can give and cause loss of air. Compare that to the transmitter which has one o-ring. One. And no hose, which incidentally is the part most likely to fail.

One objection to transmitters that often pop up is handling issues based on the fragility of a transmitter. The argument is that it’d be a bad idea to try and lift a full tank, BCD and regulator assembly by the transmitter, and that by the very design and position on the first stage – a clumsy deck hand can easily misuse the transmitter as a handle. Although transmitters are fairly sturdy, I agree there’s no reason to take any chances. When I teach scuba diving, I always make it a point never to lift or carry a full assembly by the first stage anyway – you’re likely to damage hoses and o-rings, especially if the unit is heavy. When I engage in diving where I expect someone else might be handling my gear (for example when boat diving on a dive holiday,) I make sure there’s no way anyone can get it wrong. I tell the people who will be handling my gear ahead of time how to lift it, and more often than not, that’s met with a knowing smile and an assurance, that how they always handle scuba gear with transmitters. Transmitters aren’t really a novelty anywhere anymore. Regardless – if you worry about it – carry your own gear – or use one of these small life hacks.

Disconnect the first stage from the tank after your done diving. That way anyone wanting to move the complete unit will have to use the tank valve, or spend time reattaching the first stage.
When you’re in the water and want to pass your unit up to a boat, hold the unit by the transmitter yourself. That way, the deck hand will have to grab hold of something else.

Lastly, to the best of my knowledge no dive shop in the Philippines offer rental of integrated computers, or have it as standard on their dive equipment. Neither do we at Marine Conservation Philippines – not because the technology isn’t good, but because transmitters are still fairly expensive – also, another point is that everyone can read a gauge – but not everyone would be immediately able to use a dive computer they are not familiar with.

Thanks for reading.

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