The sport of scuba diving has always attracted the adventurous and casual vacationer alike. Given that it is a sport that delves into alien environments that require life support, it’s track record for safety is unparalleled. Of course, the exemplary safety record that the sport enjoys does come with a few caveats. First being that whoever undertakes exploration of our beautiful underwater world should receive proper training from a reputable and affiliated instructor. Secondly, the safe dive should endeavor to use only equipment of the highest quality that is meant for the sport. Beyond initial training and equipment, ongoing education and mentorship are key to the ongoing enjoyment of the sport. A consideration that is often overlooked by divers is actually verifying the contents of their SCUBA cylinder prior to every dive. Lives have been and continue to be lost from this silent killer lurking in the shadows of an otherwise safe and benign sport, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With that in mind, let’s discuss how easy and affordable it truly is to verify the contents of your cylinder and take this potential danger out of your personal dive equation.
Most Dive Shops Pump Safe Gas
While there are still remote incidents of bad breathing medium, most dive shops strive to pump safe gas. With compressor maintenance schedules, quarterly gas analysis, and creating a safe physical environment, dive shops should be applauded for their efforts to help keep us safe on our dives. Of course, with anything…mistakes can be made. With day to day operations, mechanical breakdown and environmental issues cannot be 100% percent eliminated. Any diver who holds a Nitrox card knows that they should be at a minimum verifying the oxygen percentage in their nitrox blends. This is where complacency kicks in. You just got your tanks filled and want to get in the water, I completely understand. Or the dive shop, in their busy morning rush fill your cylinders and thrust them back in your direction without offering the opportunity to analyze the mix. Being the trusting diver strap them on and dive them…hoping that the shop has given you the proper mix. Of course, there are simple steps that you can take to ensure that your gas is safe.
The Sniff Test
This rough test is effective in detecting contaminants from oil, diesel fumes, and other combustible products. To perform this test, simply crack open the cylinder valve just a little bit and give the contents a quick “sniff”. If something smells funny….return the cylinder to the dive shop for a proper analysis. While the sniff test is good for contaminants that you can smell, it does not allow for the detection of colorless and odorless gasses like Carbon Monoxide(CO). No sweat, though there are also quick and easy testing products for CO.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Color change sensors are a quick and inexpensive means of detecting the presence of Carbon Monoxide in your breathing gas. These sensors come in two basic forms. Qualitative devices that change color and give you a simple “good or bad” result. There is a caveat with this type of sensor in that it only indicates that the individual sample has or has not exceeded acceptable limits. Quantitative Carbon Monoxide sensors are a little more intricate and have a color change “scale” that allows you to determine the amount of carbon monoxide present.
In recent years, electronic Carbon Monoxide detectors have hit the market with some even integrated into Oxygen analyzers. This advance facilitates a quicker and more accurate analysis of your breathing gas.
With the growing popularity of Nitrox diving, amazing advances have been made in recent years with respect to Oxygen monitoring and testing technology for divers. The most common Nitrox analyzers use a replaceable sensor that allows for an accuracy of within 0.1%. In using a Nitrox analyzer, the diver needs to be aware that the sensor detects the partial pressure of Oxygen contained within the sample and not the actual percentage…despite actually displaying the result as a percentage. With this in mind, we need to understand that changes in pressure or altitude and ambient temperature can and often will skew this result. As with any piece of equipment, the user should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the safe operation and maintenance of any gas analyzing equipment.
Know The Symptoms Of Bad Breathing Gas
As an educated and aware diver, you should know and understand the signs and signals that your breathing gas isn’t up to the quality needed for a safe and enjoyable dive. Like with anything involving diving, if you have any concerns regarding the gas in your cylinder…abort the dive and remedy the issue. Like I stated above, the sniff test is rather effective at detecting the presence of most petroleum-based contaminants. Does your gas smell or taste funny? Thumb the dive and get a proper gas analysis done on the contents of your cylinder. With respect to Carbon Monoxide, there is a myriad of common symptoms that often make this medical emergency tough to diagnose quickly. These symptoms include; a headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. With high levels of Carbon Monoxide loss of consciousness and death are possible. Oxygen Toxicity is another issue caused by elevated partial pressures of Oxygen present in breathing gas. Some of the symptoms of Oxygen Toxicity include; tremors, ringing in the ears, nausea, tunnel vision, and seizures.
Proper diligence with respect to breathing gas is like anything in diving. It requires education, quality equipment, and the ability to fight off complacency. If you would like to know more about properly understanding the contents of your SCUBA cylinder, seek out a local instructor or ask any of us here at Dive Right In Scuba. We work hard to ensure that divers are well educated and well equipped.