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A rebreather is a type of breathing set that provides a breathing gas containing oxygen and recycles exhaled gas. This recycling reduces the volume of breathing gas used, making a rebreather lighter and more compact than an open-circuit breathing set for the same duration in environments where humans cannot safely breathe from the atmosphere. In the armed forces it is sometimes called "CCUBA" (Closed Circuit Underwater Breathing Apparatus).

File:Inspiration front.JPg
Inspiration closed circuit diving rebreather

Basics

Rebreather technology is used in many environments:

  • Underwater - where it is sometimes known as "closed circuit scuba" or "semi closed scuba", or CCUBA = "closed circuit underwater breathing apparatus", as opposed to Aqua-Lung-type equipment, which is known as "open circuit scuba".
  • Mine rescue and in industry - where poisonous gases may be present or oxygen may be absent.
  • Space suits - outer space is, for all intents and purposes, a vacuum where there is no oxygen to support life.
  • Hospital anaesthesia breathing systems - to supply controlled proportions of gases to patients without letting anaesthetic gas get into the atmosphere that the staff breathe.
  • Submarines and hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers - where the gas in the habitat must remain safe. Here the rebreather is big and is connected to the air in the habitat.

This article is mainly about diving rebreathers.

As a person breathes, the body consumes oxygen and makes carbon dioxide. A person with an open-circuit breathing set typically only uses about a quarter of the oxygen in the air that is breathed in. The rest is breathed out along with nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

With a rebreather, the exhaled gas is not discharged to waste. The rebreather recovers the exhaled gas for re-use. It absorbs the carbon dioxide, which otherwise would accumulate and cause carbon dioxide poisoning. It adds oxygen to replace what was consumed. Thus, the gas in the rebreather's circuit remains breathable and supports life processes. Nearly always, the oxygen comes from a gas cylinder, and the carbon dioxide is absorbed in a canister full of some absorbent chemical designed for diving applications such as Sofnolime, Dragersorb or Sodasorb. Some systems also use a prepackaged Reactive Plastic Curtain (RPC) based cartridge, a common brand name for these RPC cartridges is ExtendAir. These absorbents may contain small amounts of soda lime, but are generally less toxic. Pure oxygen is not considered to be safe for recreational diving below 6 meters, so recreational rebreathers also have a diluent cylinder to reduce the percentage of oxygen breathed and enable them to be used to greater depths.

History of rebreathers

File:British navy frogman.jpg
British navy frogman in 1945
See also: Timeline of underwater technology

Around 1620 in England, Cornelius Drebbel made an early oar-powered submarine. Records show that, to re-oxygenate the air inside it, he likely generated oxygen by heating saltpetre (sodium or potassium nitrate) in a metal pan to make it emit oxygen. That would turn the saltpetre into sodium or potassium oxide or hydroxide, which would tend to absorb carbon dioxide from the air around. That may explain how Drebbel's men were not affected by carbon dioxide build-up as much as would be expected. If so, he accidentally made a crude rebreather nearly three centuries before Fluess and Davis: see this link.

This page describes and shows a rebreather designed in 1853 in Belgium by Professor T. Schwann; he exhibited it in Paris in 1878.

The first certainly known closed circuit breathing device using stored oxygen and absorption of carbon dioxide by an absorbent (here caustic soda), was invented by Henry Fluess in 1879 to rescue mineworkers who were trapped by water.

The Davis Escape Set was the first rebreather which was practical for use and produced in quantity. It was designed about 1900 in Britain for escape from sunken submarines. Various industrial oxygen rebreathers (e.g. the Siebe Gorman Salvus and the Siebe Gorman Proto) were descended from it; this link shows a Draeger rebreather used for mines rescue in 1907.

The first known systematic use of rebreathers for diving was by Italian sport spearfishers in the 1930s. This practice came to the attention of the Italian Navy, which developed its frogman unit, which had a big effect in World War II. Image of wartime Italian frogman.

In World War II captured Italian frogmen's rebreathers influenced design of British frogman's rebreathers. Ref British commando frogmen#1942 at "April" for more information: Many British frogmen's breathing sets' oxygen cylinders were German pilot's oxygen cylinders recovered from shot-down German Luftwaffe planes. Those first breathing sets may have been modified Davis Submarine Escape Sets; their fullface masks were the type intended for the Siebe Gorman Salvus. But in later operations different designs were used, leading to a fullface mask with one big face window. One version had a flip-up single window for both eyes to let the user get binoculars to his eyes when on the surface. They used bulky thick diving suits called Sladen suits. Early British frogman's rebreathers had rectangular breathing bags on the chest like Italian frogman's rebreathers; later British frogman's rebreathers had a square recess in the top so they could extend further up onto his shoulders; in front they had a rubber collar that was clamped around the absorbent canister, as in the CGI image below.

US Navy rebreathers were developed by Dr. Christian J. Lambertsen in the early 1940s for underwater warfare. Dr. Lambertsen, who currently works at the University of Pennsylvania, is considered by the US Navy as "the father of the Frogmen". Information about early history of USA frogman's rebreathers is scarce because the many available photographs of UDT men and training and operations rarely show a rebreather, as if there was a secrecy law against it.

Innovations in recreational diving rebreather technology

Over the past ten or fifteen years rebreather technology has advanced considerably often driven by the growing market in recreational diving equipment. Innovations include:

  • The electronic, fully closed circuit rebreather itself - use of electronics and electro-galvanic fuel cells to monitor oxygen concentration within the loop and maintain a certain partial pressure of oxygen
  • Automatic diluent valves - these inject diluent gas into the loop when the loop pressure falls below the limit at which the diver can comfortably breathe.
  • Dive/surface valves or bailout valves - a device in the mouthpiece on the loop which connects to a bailout demand valve and can be switched to provide gas from either the loop or the demand valve without the diver taking the mouthpiece from his or her mouth. An important safety device when carbon dioxide poisoning occurs.
  • Integrated decompression computers - these allow divers to take advantage of the decompression benefits provided by the ideal mix in the loop of a fully closed circuit rebreather. By monitoring the oxygen content of the mix they can work out the inert gas content and generate a schedule of decompression stops.
  • Carbon dioxide scrubber life monitoring systems - temperature sensors monitor the progress of the reaction of the soda lime and provide an indication of when the scrubber will be exhausted.

Advantages of rebreather diving

Efficiency advantages

The main advantage of the rebreather over other breathing equipment is the rebreather's economical use of gas. With "open circuit" scuba, the entire breath is expelled into the surrounding water when the diver exhales. A breath inhaled from an open circuit scuba system whose cylinder(s) are filled with ordinary air is about 21%[1] oxygen. When that breath is exhaled back into the surrounding environment, it has an oxygen level in the range of 15 to 16% when the diver is at atmospheric pressure. [1] This leaves the available oxygen utilization at about 25%; the remaining 75% is lost.

At depth, the advantage of a rebreather is even more marked. The amount of CO2 in exhaled gas is not a constant percentage, but a constant partial pressure of about 0.04bar. The amount of oxygen used from each breath is about the same - so as the ambient pressure increases (as a result of going deeper), the percentage of oxygen used from each breath drops. At 30m (100ft), a diver's exhaled breath contains about 20% oxygen and about 1% CO2.

Feasibility advantages

Long or deep dives using open circuit equipment may not be feasible as there are limits to the number and weight of diving cylinders the diver can carry. The economy of gas consumption is also useful when the gas mix being breathed contains expensive gases, such as helium. In normal use only oxygen is consumed: small volumes of expensive inert gases can be reused for many dives.

Other advantages

Rebreathers produce far fewer bubbles[1] and make less noise than open-circuit scuba; this can conceal military divers and allow divers engaged in marine biology and underwater photography to avoid alarming marine animals and thereby get closer to them. The electronic fully closed circuit rebreather, is able to minimise the proportion of inert gases in the breathing mix, and therefore minimise the decompression requirements of the diver, by maintaining a specific and relatively high oxygen partial pressure at all depths. The breathing gas in a rebreather is warmer and more moist than the dry and cold gas from open circuit equipment making it more comfortable to breathe on long dives and causing less dehydration in the diver.

Parts of a rebreather

File:Rebr rn parts labelled.jpg
A simple naval-type diving oxygen rebreather with the parts labelled
File:Inspiration back.JPG
Back of an Inspiration Diving Rebreather, with its casing opened

The loop

Although there are several design variations of diving rebreather, all types have a gas-tight loop that the diver inhales from and exhales into. The loop consists of components sealed together. The diver breathes through a mouthpiece or a fullface mask (or with industrial breathing sets, sometimes a mouth-and-nose mask). This is connected to one or more tubes bringing inhaled gas and exhaled gas between the diver and a counterlung or breathing bag. This holds gas when it is not in the diver's lungs. The loop also includes a scrubber containing carbon dioxide absorbent to remove from the loop the carbon dioxide exhaled by the diver. Attached to the loop there will be at least one valve allowing injection of gases, such as oxygen and perhaps a diluting gas, into the loop. There may be valves allowing venting of gas from the loop.

Most modern rebreathers have a twin hose mouthpiece or breathing mask where the direction of flow of gas through the loop is controlled by one-way valves. Some have a single pendulum hose, where the inhaled and exhaled gas passes through the same tube in opposite directions. The mouthpiece often has a valve letting the diver take the mouthpiece from the mouth while underwater or floating on the surface without water getting into the loop. Many rebreathers have "water traps" in the counterlungs, to stop large volumes of water from entering the loop if the diver removes the mouthpiece underwater without closing the valve, or if the diver's lips get slack letting water leak in.

Carbon dioxide scrubber

The exhaled gases are forced through the chemical scrubber which removes the carbon dioxide from the gas mixture and leaves the oxygen and other gases available for re-breathing[1]. The active ingredient of the scrubber is often soda lime. The carbon dioxide passing through the scrubber absorbent is removed when it reacts with the absorbent in the canister; this chemical reaction is exothermic. This reaction occurs along a "front" which is a cross section of the canister, of the unreacted soda lime that is exposed to carbon dioxide-laden gas. This front moves through the scrubber canister, from the gas input end to the gas output end, as the reaction consumes the active ingredients. However, this front would be a wide zone, because the carbon dioxide in the gas going through the canister needs time to reach the surface of a grain of absorbent, and then time to penetrate to the middle of each grain of absorbent as the outside of the grain becomes exhausted. In larger environments, such as recompression chambers, a fan is used to pass gas through the canister.

Scrubber failure

The term "break through" means the failure of the "scrubber" to continue removing carbon dioxide from the exhaled gas mix. There are several ways that the scrubber may fail or become less efficient:

  • Complete consumption of the active ingredient ("break through").
  • The scrubber canister has been incorrectly packed or configured. This allows the exhaled gas to bypass the absorbent. In a rebreather, the soda lime must be packed tightly so that all exhaled gas comes into close contact with the granules of soda lime and the loop is designed to avoid any spaces or gaps between the soda lime and the loop walls that would let gas avoid contact with the adsorbent. If any of the seals, such as o rings, or spacers that prevent bypassing of the scrubber, are not cleaned or lubricated or fitted properly, the scrubber will be less efficient, or outside water or gas may get in circuit.
  • When the gas mix is under pressure caused by depth, the inside of the canister is more crowded by other gas molecules (oxygen or diluent) and the carbon dioxide molecules are not so free to move around to reach the absorbent. In deep diving with a nitrox or other gas-mixture rebreather, the scrubber needs to be bigger than is needed for a shallow-water or industrial oxygen rebreather, because of this effect. Among British naval rebreather divers, this type of carbon dioxide poisoning was called shallow water blackout.
  • A Caustic Cocktail - Soda lime is caustic and can cause burns to the eyes and skin. A "caustic cocktail" is a mixture of water and soda lime that occurs when the "scrubber" floods. It gives rise to a chalky taste, which should prompt the diver to switch to an alternative source of breathing gas and rinse his or her mouth out with water. Many modern diving rebreather absorbents are designed not to produce "cocktail" if they get wet.

Failure prevention

  • An indicating dye in the soda lime. It changes the colour of the soda lime after the active ingredient is consumed. For example, a rebreather absorbent called "Protosorb" supplied by Siebe Gorman had a red dye, which was said to go white when the absorbent was exhausted. With a transparent canister, this may be able to show the position of the reaction "front". This is useful in dry open environments, but is not useful on diving equipment, where:
    • A transparent canister would likely be brittle and easily cracked by knocks.
    • Opening the canister to look inside would flood it with water or get unbreathable outside gas in circuit.
    • The canister is usually out of sight of the user, e.g. inside the breathing bag or inside a backpack box.
  • Temperature monitoring. As the reaction between carbon dioxide and soda lime is exothermic, temperature sensors, most likely digital, along the length of the scrubber can be used to measure the position of the front and therefore the life of the scrubber. [1]
  • Diver training. Divers are trained to monitor and plan the exposure time of the soda lime in the scrubber and replace it within the recommended time limit. At present, there is no effective technology for detecting the end of the life of the scrubber or a dangerous increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide causing carbon dioxide poisoning. The diver must monitor the exposure of the scrubber and replace it when necessary.
  • Carbon dioxide gas sensors exist, but they are not sensitive enough to be used in a rebreather - the scrubber "break through" occurs quite suddenly and the diver shows symptoms before the sensor indicates a dangerous build-up of carbon dioxide. Even if a sensitive carbon dioxide sensor is developed, it may not be useful as the primary tool for monitoring scrubber life when underwater, because mixed gas rebreathers allow very long dives where long decompression stops may be needed: knowing that the rebreather will begin to deliver a poisonous breathing gas in five minutes may not be useful to a diver needing to carry out an hour or more of decompression stops.

Effectiveness

In rebreather diving, the typical effective duration of the scrubber will be half an hour to several hours of breathing, depending on the granularity and composition of the soda lime, the ambient temperature, the design of the rebreather, and the size of the canister. In some dry open environments, such as a recompression chamber or a hospital, it may be possible to put fresh absorbent in the canister when break through occurs.

Controlling the mix

A basic need with a rebreather is to keep the amount of oxygen in the mix, or more technically known as the partial pressure of oxygen or ppO2, from getting too low (causing anoxia or hypoxia) or too high (causing oxygen toxicity).

With humans, the urge to breathe is caused by a build-up of carbon dioxide rather than lack of oxygen. When using a rebreather, as the oxygen in circuit is used, the resulting carbon dioxide is removed from the breathing gas by the scrubber, suppressing this natural warning. If not enough new oxygen is being added, and the oxygen in circuit is a long way from 100% pure, the proportion of oxygen may get too little to support life while plenty of gas seems to be in circuit. The resulting serious hypoxia causes sudden blackout with little or no warning. This makes hypoxia a deadly problem for rebreather divers: it was sometimes called "shallow water blackout".

In many rebreathers the diver can control the gas mix and volume in the loop manually by injecting each of the different available gases to the loop and by venting the loop. The loop often has a pressure relief valve preventing the "hamster cheek" effect on the diver caused by over-pressure of the loop.

File:Deepursuit.jpg
Advanced electronic rebreather controller.

In some early rebreathers the diver had to manually open and close the valve to the oxygen cylinder to refill the counter-lung each time. In others the oxygen flow is kept constant by a pressure-reducing flow valve like the valves on blowtorch cylinders; the set also has a manual on/off valve called a bypass. In some modern rebreathers, the pressure in the breathing bag controls the oxygen flow like the demand valve in open-circuit scuba; for example, trying to breathe in from an empty bag makes the cylinder release more gas. Most modern closed-circuit rebreathers have electro-galvanic fuel cell sensors and onboard electronics, which monitor the ppO2, injecting more oxygen if necessary or issuing an audible warning to the diver if the ppO2 reaches dangerously high or low levels.

Counterlung

Underwater, the position of the breathing bag, on the chest, over the shoulders, or on the back, has an effect on the ease of breathing. The design of the rebreather also affects the swimming diver's streamlining and thus ease of swimming.

For use out of water, this does not matter so much: for example, in an industrial version of the Siebe Gorman Salvus the breathing bag hangs down by the left hip.

A rebreather whose counterlung is rubber and not in an enclosed casing, should be sheltered from sunlight when not in use, to prevent the rubber from perishing.

Bailout

Some diving rebreather sets include a bailout regulator allowing the user to bail onto open-circuit using his diluent tank. This lets the diver ascend on a separate gas supply. The majority of rebreather trainers teach students to also carry an open-circuit scuba cylinder and regulator as a separate bailout source. Bailout is a key area of discussion for rebreather diving, as when the depth starts to increase the bailout strategy becomes a crucial part of planning particularly for technical diving.

Casing

Many rebreathers have their main parts in a hard backpack casing. This casing needs venting to let surrounding water or air in and out to allow for volume changes as the breathing bag inflates and deflates. In a diving rebreather this needs fairly large holes, including a hole at the bottom to drain the water out when the diver comes out of water. The SEFA, which is used for mine rescue, to keep grit and stones out of its working, is completely sealed, except for a large vent panel covered with metal mesh, and holes for the oxygen cylinder's on/off valve and the cylinder pressure gauge. Underwater the casing also serves for streamlining, e.g. in the IDA71 and Cis-Lunar.

Main rebreather design variants

Oxygen rebreather

This is the oldest type of rebreather and was commonly used by navies from the early twentieth century. The only gas that it supplies is oxygen. As pure oxygen is toxic when inhaled at pressure, oxygen rebreathers are limited to a depth of 6 meters (20 feet); some say 9 meters (30 feet). Oxygen rebreathers are also sometimes used when decompressing from a deep open-circuit dive, as breathing pure oxygen makes the nitrogen diffuse out of the blood more rapidly.

In some rebreathers, e.g. the Siebe Gorman Salvus, the oxygen cylinder has two first stages in parallel. One is constant flow; the other is a plain on-off valve called a bypass; both feed into the same exit pipe which feeds the breathing bag. In the Salvus there is no second stage and the gas is turned on and off at the cylinder. Some simple oxygen rebreathers had no constant-flow valve, but only the bypass, and the diver had to operate the valve at intervals to refill the breathing bag as he used the oxygen.

Semi-closed circuit rebreather

Military and recreational divers use these because they provide good underwater duration with fairly simple and cheap equipment. Semi-closed circuit equipment generally supplies one breathing gas such as air or nitrox or trimix. The gas is injected at a constant rate. Excess gas is constantly vented from the loop in small volumes.

The diver must fill the cylinders with gas mix that has a maximum operating depth that is safe for the depth of the dive being planned. As the amount of oxygen required by the diver increases with work rate, the oxygen injection rate must be carefully chosen and controlled to prevent either oxygen toxicity or unconsciousness in the diver due to hypoxia.

Fully closed circuit rebreather

Military, photographic and recreational divers use these because they allow long dives and produce no bubbles. Closed circuit rebreathers generally supply two breathing gases to the loop: one is pure oxygen and the other is a diluent or diluting gas such as air, nitrox or trimix.

The major task of the fully closed circuit rebreather is to control the oxygen concentration, known as the oxygen partial pressure, in the loop and to warn the diver if it is becoming dangerously low or high. The concentration of oxygen in the loop depends on two factors: depth and the proportion of oxygen in the mix. Too low a concentration of oxygen results in hypoxia leading to sudden unconsciousness and ultimately death when the oxygen is exhausted. Too high a concentration of oxygen results in oxygen toxicity, a condition causing convulsions, which make the diver spit his regulator out when they occur underwater and can lead to drowning.

In fully automatic closed-circuit systems, a mechanism injects oxygen into the loop when it detects that the partial pressure of oxygen in the loop has fallen below the required level. Often this mechanism is electrical and relies on oxygen sensitive electro-galvanic fuel cells called ppO2 meters to measure the concentration of oxygen in the loop.

The diver may be able to manually control the mixture by adding diluent gas or oxygen. Adding diluent can prevent the loop's gas mixture becoming too oxygen rich. Manually adding oxygen is risky as additional small volumes of oxygen in the loop can easily raise the partial pressure of oxygen to dangerous levels.

Rebreathers whose absorbent releases oxygen

There have been a few rebreather designs (e.g. the Oxylite) which had an absorbent canister filled with potassium superoxide, which gives off oxygen as it absorbs carbon dioxide: 4KO2 + 2CO2 = 2K2CO3 + 3O2; it had a very small oxygen cylinder to fill the loop at the start of the dive. This system is dangerous because of the explosively hot reaction that happens if water gets on the potassium superoxide. The Russian IDA71 military and naval rebreather was designed to be run in this mode or as an ordinary rebreather.

Rebreathers which store their oxygen as liquid oxygen

File:Aa aerorlox1.jpg
Aerorlox rebreather in a coal mining museum

If used underwater, the liquid-oxygen tank must be well insulated against heat coming in from the water. As a result, industrial sets of this type may not be suitable for diving, and diving sets of this type may not be suitable for use out of water. They include these types:

Cryogenic rebreather

There have been plans for a "cryogenic rebreather". It has a tank of liquid oxygen and no absorbent canister. The carbon dioxide is frozen out in a "snow box" by the cold produced as the liquid oxygen expands to gas as the oxygen is used and is replaced from the oxygen tank.

Such a rebreather called the S-1000 was built around or soon after 1960 by Sub-Marine Systems Corporation. It had a duration of 6 hours and a maximum dive depth of 200 meters of salt water. Its ppO2 could be set to anything from 0.2 bar to 2 bar without electronics, by controlling the temperature of the liquid oxygen, thus controlling the equilibrium pressure of oxygen gas above the liquid. The diluent could be either liquid nitrogen or helium depending on the depth of the dive. The set could freeze out 230 grams of carbon dioxide per hour from the loop, corresponding to an oxygen consumption of 2 liters per minute. If oxygen was consumed faster (high workload), a regular scrubber was needed. See:

  • Fischel H., Closed circuit cryogenic SCUBA, "Equipment for the working diver" 1970 symposium, Washington, DC, USA. Marine Technology Society 1970:229-244.
  • Cushman, L., Cryogenic Rebreather, Skin Diver magazine, June 1969, and reprinted in Aqua Corps magazine, N7, 28, 79.

There are articles on the web about a cryogenic rebreather called Titanic II. These articles are a hoax; some of them include unrealistic technology.

Other designs

  • In the Siebe Gorman Proto the absorbent was in a flexible-walled compartment in the bottom of the breathing bag and not in a canister.
  • This link describes an experimental drysuit (with built-in hood and fullface mask) and rebreather combination where the drysuit acts as the breathing bag, like in an old Draeger standard diving suit variant which had a rebreather pack attached.
  • Some British naval rebreathers (e.g. the Siebe Gorman CDBA) had a backpack weight pouch instead of the diver having a separate weight belt.

Risks and precautions with rebreather diving

Many diver training organizations teach the "diluent flush" technique as a safe way to restore the mix in the loop to a level of oxygen that is neither too high nor too low. It only works when partial pressure of oxygen in the diluent alone would not cause hypoxia or hyperoxia, such as when using a normoxic diluent and observing the diluent's maximum operating depth. The technique involves simultaneously venting the loop and injecting diluent. This flushes out the old mix and replaces it with a known proportion of oxygen from the diluent.

Divers using oxygen rebreathers are advised to flush the system when they start the dive, to get surplus nitrogen out of the system.

In addition to the other diving disorders suffered by divers, rebreather divers are also more susceptible to:

  • Sudden blackout due to hypoxia caused by too low a partial pressure of oxygen in the loop. A particular problem when using a closed circuit rebreather is the drop in ambient pressure caused by the ascent phase of the dive, which reduces the partial pressure of oxygen to hypoxic levels leading to what is sometimes called deep water blackout.
  • Seizures due to oxygen toxicity caused by too high a partial pressure of oxygen in the loop. This can be caused by the rise in ambient pressure caused by the descent phase of the dive, which raises the partial pressure of oxygen to hyperoxic levels. In fully closed circuit equipment, aging oxygen sensors may become "current limited" and fail to measure high partial pressures of oxygen resulting in dangerously high oxygen levels.
  • Disorientation, panic, headache, and hyperventilation due to excess of carbon dioxide caused by incorrect configuration, failure or inefficiency of the scrubber. The scrubber must be configured so that no exhaled gas can bypass it; it must be packed and sealed correctly. Another problem is the diver producing carbon dioxide faster than the absorbent can handle, for example, during hard work or fast swimming. The solution to this is to slow down and let the absorbent catch up. The scrubber efficiency may be reduced at depth where the increased concentration of other gas molecules, due to pressure, stops all the carbon dioxide molecules reaching the active ingredient of the scrubber.
  • The rebreather diver must keep breathing in and out all the time, to keep the exhaled gas flowing over the carbon dioxide absorbent, so the absorbent can work all the time. Divers need to lose any air conservation habits that may have been developed while diving with open-circuit scuba. In closed circuit rebreathers, this also has the advantage of mixing the gases preventing oxygen-rich and oxygen-lean spaces developing within the loop, which may give inaccurate readings to the oxygen control system.
  • "Caustic cocktail" in the loop if water comes into contact with the soda lime used in the carbon dioxide scrubber. The diver is normally alerted to this by a chalky taste in the mouth. A safe response is to bail out to "open circuit" and rinse the mouth out.

When compared with Aqua-Lungs, rebreathers have some disadvantages including expense, complexity of operation and maintenance and fewer failsafes. A malfunctioning rebreather can supply a gas mixture which cannot sustain life. Various rebreathers try to solve these problems by monitoring the system with electronics, sensors and alarm systems. Many very competent divers have died using rebreathers in accidents, which are often put down to operator error. Rebreathers are generally considered safer in extreme conditions such as deep dives (75m = 246 feet or more) or overhead environments, as they reduce the risk of running out of breathable gas.

The bailout requirement of rebreather diving can sometimes also require a rebreather diver to carry almost as much bulk of cylinders as an open-circuit diver so the diver can complete the necessary decompression stops if the rebreather fails completely. Some rebreather divers prefer not to carry enough bailout for a safe ascent breathing open circuit, but instead rely on the rebreather, believing that an irrecoverable rebreather failure is very unlikely. This practice is known as alpinism or alpinist diving and is generally maligned due to the perceived extremely high risk of death if the rebreather fails.

Some makes of rebreather

External links

Other information sources

Surface-only (industrial) rebreather manufacturers

(see SCBA)

Diving rebreather manufacturers

See also

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Reynolds, Glen Harlan (2006), "Seeking New Depths", Popular Mechanics 183(12): 58, ISSN 0032-4558
  2. Historical Diving Times #42 Summer 2007, p27

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