collage of old magazine images showing scuba divers

DIY scuba gear (don’t try it yourself)

when popular science Associate editor Herb Pfister gave instructions to the scuba gear themselves In 1953, Exploring the Deep Sea for Fun was such a novel idea that the acronym SCUBA — Autonomous Underwater Breathing Apparatus — was only a year old. The man who coined the term, Christian Lambertsen, was an Army medic during World War II and developed one of the early unrestrained scuba devices. It was known as a closed-circuit rebreather, and it scrubbed carbon dioxide2 From the exhaled breath and recycled oxygen of US Navy “frogfish” divers. Lambertsen’s device was neither the first nor the last such device. Japanese blacksmith Kenzo Oguchi created the first known underwater breathing machine in 1918, and marine explorer Jacques Cousteau and French engineer Émile Gagnen traced Lambertsen’s method with the Aqua Lung, which used a regulator that delivered compressed air only when the wearer inhaled and exhaled carbon dioxide.2 in the surrounding areas.

By the mid-1950s, the experience of depth exploration in this way was still quite uncommon, but crafty DIYers wanted to get in on the action. Pfister described scuba diving as “a whole new sensation, one that’s really out of this world.” In 23 illustrated steps, he explained how to repurpose the then-ordinary elements such as surplus carbon dioxide2 High-pressure tanks and connectors from oxygen therapy equipment dealers and aluminum sheets for building a scuba—all for about $40 (about $438 in 2022).

Today, deep-sea diving isn’t the fledgling sport it was back then – although it’s still a fairly upscale hobby – and we realize that the risks of building your own scuba likely outweigh anything new. Snorkeling equipment is readily available to potential explorers. Additionally, some homemade projects, especially those that require precision-made parts like oxygen regulators, can cost more when you don’t buy in bulk like manufacturers do. For example, a set of budget scuba gear on Amazon will set you back $499, while individual components can add up to thousands of dollars—especially if you want quality gear from top brands like Aqualung or Cressi.

However, if you’re excited about the potential costs and building your scuba gear from as close to scratch as possible, the parts are there – although what was cheap and available in 1953, like copper tubing, can be expensive now. In addition, we must also consider developments in clothing, such as the invention of buoyancy compensators – diving jackets with air pockets that allow users to control their ascent and descent. This equipment makes things on your spine much easier than Pfister’s plywood board and harness.

However, the biggest concern is safety. Underwater diving systems have changed little since the mid-20th century. After the deaths of two people in California in 1952, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which had led the way in the adoption of non-military diving in the United States, developed a set of rules and regulations for the activity; These include air quality standards and specifications for breathing masks and helmets. The first version was released in 1954. However, it would be difficult to make any DIY equipment meet the requirements.

Back in the 1950s, though, Pfister was a bit of an optimist as he handed out tips to diving beginners ready to take garage pools for a dip. “Using a diving lung is as safe as crossing the street,” he wrote. But he warned that even crossing the street has its rules. “You, for the first time, are about to cross into a new medium—the deep waters.”

This story originally ran fall 2022 reckless PopSci version. Read more PopSci+ Stories.

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