History of Scuba Diving Part 2: Diving Suits

Scuba Diving for sport is actually relatively new, but more and more people are turning to scuba diving to enjoy and explore the ocean. However, mans will to explore the underwater world is well documented and dates back thousands of years.

While diving bells and even early diving suits had been developed and used for some time, the tried and true method of a diver holding their breath remained the most common way to work underwater for some time. Pearl divers are often some of the most well known divers, dating back thousands of years.

This was in large part because early diving suits and diving bells were very restrictive. They could be cumbersome to use underwater and had a long way to go before they could be considered as safe and reliable as simply holding your breath is.

The Early Diving Suits

In order to protect the diver from the pressure of the water when diving, a number of reinforced diving suits were developed. These diving suits used an air pump on a ship, which sent air to the suit through a long tube.

Early diving suits relied upon a heavy helmet that fit over the divers head, but was not physically attached to the diving suit. The air that was pumped into the helmet escaped from the bottom of the helmet, which worked well as long as the diver was sure footed. However, if the diver stumbled or fell while diving, water would pour into the helmet.

This design was improved upon in 1840's by an inventor named Augustus Siebe who discovered a way of sealing the helmet, so that it was attached to the suit. The suit itself was made out of a waterproof canvas and rubber material, so by creating a seal between the helmet and the suit, Siebe was able to greatly improve the safety and usefulness of the diving suit.

Siebe's diving suit became the standard in the industry for over a hundred years and most pictures of early diving suits are of the Siebe Design.

Decompression Sickness

With the development of a more effective diving suit, divers were able to work underwater for longer periods of time and at greater depths. However, it was soon discovered that breathing air that had been compressed by the depths of the ocean had some very negative effects on health. In 1878, Paul Bert discovered that these problems were caused by nitrogen expanding too quickly when the diver rose to the surface,. This lead Bert to suggest that divers come back to the surface slowly.

A table would later be developed by J.S. Haldane, which told the diver at what depth to stop at and for how long, in order to avoid decompression sickness.

Early Scuba Systems

For hundreds of years, divers were very limited, as they had to have a air hose running to the surface in order to breath. Even with the development of the Siebe Diving Suit, divers were still restricted in that they needed to be tethered to a ship or pier.

The first autonomous diving system, which is a self contained breathing system that can be carried underwater, was developed in 1865 by Benoit Rouquayrol.

Rouquayrol pumped air from the surface into a compressed tank, which could be disconnected for short periods of time, allowing the diver to freely move about.

The first rebreather, which recirculates exhaled air, was developed about 10 years later by Henry Fleuss, who used a breathing bag that was attached to copper tank. One of the advantages of a rebreather is that it does not leave a trail of bubbles and a more advanced design, developed by a German Company called Draeger in 1911, was used in both World Wars by special forces during underwater missions.

The Modern Scuba System

It was not until the 1930's that systems similar to those in use today were developed. It was around this time that a modern well sealed mask and snorkel system was developed, as well as fins for the feet. This helped divers, as they could begin to shed the bulky diving suit, with its extremely heavy helmet.

A regulator was also developed, which could be attached to high pressure air tanks and was able to deliver air to the diver whenever they breathed.

The regulator was an extremely important invention, as other scuba systems either sent air continuously to the diver or had some sort of switch that had to be operated by the diver. The two-stage-regulator, on the other hand, could detect even the slightest breath and send air to the diver.

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