Wreck or Rock?

Descending at speed on DPVs we pass 90, 100, 110, 120 metres; the pressure squeeze on my drysuit begins to exceed what I consider comfortable levels and the my power inflator, having been designed by an evil person, fails to keep up with the rate of descent. Like an inverted Polaris missile I reach for my wing inflator, which has of course has found its way into a position that requires shoulder dislocation to reach. After levelling out and getting  my first glance of the bottom I thought, “This is a wreck for sure, look at all the plates on the bottom”, though at second glance I was disappointed to see it was actually plate shaped coral.

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Annular Eclipse Photography

On my recent trip up with Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, we were lucky enough to encounter a annular eclipse. Despite the poor weather, the clouds parted just long enough to capture the event. I was lucky enough to borrow a filter on the boat and get a few shots, though it’s certainly not the easiest thing to do on a pitching boat.

Last Single Point of Failure

As I descend rapidly with my trigger finger hard against the DPV throttle, I begin to realise that the little trickle of water running down my neck isn’t just a little leak, but instead has quickly turned into what feels like a geyser. Before I know it I’m on the bottom in 80m with a fully flooded suit thinking “How did this happen?”. I quickly got out of Dodge before my predicament went from unpleasant in the 20C water, to life threatening an hour or two later.

The cause of my drysuit flood turned out to be the SI Tech silicon neck seal, which had pulled out of the ring that holds it in the suit. I suspect it pulled out progressively whilst doffing, though can’t be certain. What I do know for sure if that I’ll be inspecting my drysuit before any major dives in future, as I was meant to be diving the SS Federal in 120m on that day, so was lucky it happened on a Sydney wreck instead.

Complacency is also a factor in my demise here, as I had a minor leak on an earlier dive last (presumably due to a milder version of the same fault). I failed to inspect my suit, which would have trapped the error. An overwhelming sense of “she’ll be right mate” and laziness is no doubt to blame, which is stupid when you consider thermal protection is really the last single point of failure in our technical diving configurations.

On a side note, I’ve otherwise found the Si-Tech silicon neck and wrist seals to be both comfortable and reliable.

Nautilus Lifeline – An 18 month review

I eagerly awaited the arrival of my Nautilus lifeline (NL) some 18 months ago, and have carried it on every ocean dive I’ve done since (sorry guys, I’ve no logbook so can’t tell you how many dives it has done, but we’re talking 200-300). I’m pleased to say that I’ve not yet had to use it in anger, which is a pretty good thing in my book. With the unfortunate demise of my old website, so too was my old NL information page lost so I thought I’d build a new one.

I do a lot of deep diving, which regularly means long drifting decompression in the ocean under a surface marker buoy. Now if everything goes to plan, we deploy the buoy from depth and the boat will track the drifting buoy and pick us up several hours later, and often 5-10 miles from the original dive site. This is where the NL comes in, if the boat misses the buoy or leaves the site without us (intentional or not), I’ve got a last stand defense against being left in the ocean bobbing like a cork.

Our limited range tests of the unit worked fine, though I took away a few points:

  • Turn the volume up, as on a windy day in the ocean the lower volumes are difficult to hear (you’ll definitely need to remove your hood too)
  • The 3 second delay between when you push the talk buttons and when the voice communications actually get transmitted is far from intuitive. It contravenes normal radio operation and from my experience makes communications difficult if the user is unaware of this (easy to do in an emergency)
  • Hitting the RED button to initiate a DSC distress call is very easy to do, much more so than talking over a radio (particularly under stress). This is also well safeguarded against accidental presses too
  • Although changing the assigned VHF channel of either talk button in water is a feature, doing so is impractical and not something I plan to do (take charge of the VHF conversation and dictate channels to the other party)
  • The unit is positively buoyant and will float, though I still think a secure wrist tether is a necessary evil when using it to allow a hands free mode to attend to other tasks
  • I’m not too sure about the merit of the flashing strobe, it seems a little weak to be seriously useful but I’ve not real data to back this up
  • Replacing the USB charging cap is easily forgotten

Some features I’d like to see in the unit are:

  • A back-lit display and/or buttons (though I concede this may come with a serious power usage problem).
  • The ability to send an information based Digital Selective Calling (DSC) message (e.g. position report), as well as the distress message via an independent button.

Generally speaking the unit is small enough to fit in a dry suit pocket with ease, has a great depth rating of 130m (something we’ve tested many times), and the battery life in standby modes seems to be quite respectable (i.e. I’ve not noticed any dramatic drop in the battery level whilst not in use). If you haven’t read between the lines, I’m a big fan of this device and think it is worth every cent.

VHF Certification, DSC & MMSIs

Now this is where it starts to get a little silly. In Australia in order to use any VHF radio one is required to have a Marine Radio Operator VHF Certificate of Proficiency (MROVCP), which you need to do a short course and exam for (cost is about $150). As far as I can tell, anyone can use a VHF radio in the event of an emergency; that is if you were a passenger on a boat and the skipper (captain) was lost at sea you’d be fully entitled to pick up a VHF radio and call for help; or better yet initiate a DSC distress call. I ask then why can’t someone carry a NL and only use it in an emergency? The answer in my view is nothing, but I am NOT a lawyer and can’t confirm the law on this matter.

Unfortunately to enable the RED distress button you need to have a MMSI. In Australia these are issues by AMSA and also require a MROVCP, so to get the full capability out of the NL you need to do the course. What I also learnt in my VHF journey is that in other parts of the world MMSI numbers are issued freely (e.g. http://www.boatus.com/MMSI/), and that you can practically put any 9 digit string into the NL in order to enable the DSC feature. The one down side to using a fake MMSI (or one not issued in Australia by AMSA for Australian waters), is that in Australia when the DSC distress call is initiated, the MMSI won’t be able to be reconciled against a database of MMSI numbers. I’m no expert here, but I’m sure the rescue agencies will still come and get you, and boats in the immediate area don’t have that database anyway so will be none the wiser. I consider this analogous to an international yacht travelling into Australian waters and making a DSC distress call with a foreign MMSI.

Boat Information Card

As I dive on many boats, commercial and private, I’ve put together this little card that I give to new skippers (captains) that describes the NL and how I use it. from my experience to date I’ve found that skippers are very welcoming of such information as many had never heard of the NL before. I’ve also encountered about 20-30% of commercial charter boats that don’t have DSC enabled VHF radios, and slightly more recreational boats without them too as VHF is more of a commercial frequency in Australia. On the back side I’ve also included our red/yellow surface marker buoy protocol, though I understand this may not be everyone’s cup of tea. For reference, here is a word document for those wanting to do a similar thing – the template is free and re-use or modification is welcome without permission.



Disclaimer: I don’t sell or have any relationship with Nautilus Lifeline. I paid full retail for my unit and am just sharing my experiences with fellow divers and boaters in order to increase safety. 

Rebreather Forum 3 Videos

I was bummed out to miss Rebreather Forum 3 (RF3), as who really knows when the next one will be. I noticed today that some of the presentation were recorded and are now available online. I took particular interests in the talks by Evan Kovacs given his focus on imaging making, and he certainly builds some cool toys! Simon Mitchell’s talks as always are great, and there are lots of interesting views to be heard within the community.


That’s not a pot…THIS IS A POT!

I stopped by Scubapix today to pickup some parts and suffered a serious case of “pressure pot” man-envy. Peter’s new pot is a monster, capable of fitting a full size DSLR with grips and can go to 120-150m; depending on your level of fear. It’s quite a handy device when you do any bulkhead changes to a DSLR, or when you’re just not sure if things are 100%.  I took the opportunity to test both my Aquatica rigs after a few changes to the bulkhead configurations.

If you’re in Cairns, give Pete a visit at Scubapix whether you need to use his pot (he takes payment in beer), or need to pickup a new DSLR housing or accessory.


GoPro Underwater Top 10 Tips

Here’s my top to underwater GoPro tips:

  1. Get a flat lens (Hero 1-2) – you’ll need an aftermarket flat lens to use the GoPro standard housing underwater. They all work pretty well, though watch out for vignetting (blacked out) corners. Alternatively get the GoPro Dive Housing. Note that the newer Hero3 standard housing is good to go out of the box.
  2. Secure it – tether your GoPro underwater; the standard mounting system is pretty good, though has been known to fail unexpectedly.
  3. Turn off the LCD turn off the LCD BacPac when you don’t need it, it sucks the life out of the battery.
  4. Get close  you’ve heard it before, get close to your subject, then get closer.
  5. Stabilise Yourself  save the roller coaster rides for the theme park, stabilise yourself and trim your buoyancy before shooting video.
  6. Avoid Exposure Shifts  the GoPro doesn’t handle big shifts in exposure; lights and darks don’t get along so well, so try and avoid this.
  7. Feed it light – without enough light the Hero dies (just joking, it just struggles with exposure). Feed it rich light, and it’ll return nice saturated colour. Use wide angle video lights or stick to kiddy pool depths.
  8. Use filters wisely  filters can make or break you, so use the right type of filter for your colour water and stick to the shallows.
  9. Point of View use them for what they’re designed for; capture the world from a point of view – it needn’t be your own.
  10. Hog the glory – edit your video so that is tells a story, and share it with the world, or at least your friends on Vimeo.com.


I’m a grown man, and I pissed myself

I’m a grown man, and I pissed myself. There, I’ve said it!

Before I begin my rant, here’s Pee-valve 101 for the uninitiated. You put a one-way pee-valve in your drysuit, put a disposable, self-adhesive condom style device over your you know what, and connect the two via a hose. All going well, you’re able to take a leak with your drysuit on (above and below water). There are pitfalls however, including kinked hoses, complex shut-off valves (see below), and the mythical bug that can swim through the valve, up the hose and into your penis (I still get shivers about that one!). You might think YUCK, but when you’ve got to go on a 4-5 hour dive, something has to give. The alternative is adult nappies, to which I say YUCK. For the laddies, I’m aware of a device called the She-p, however I’m woefully unqualified to provide an opinion. 

With my brand new drysuit zipped up, I jumped in the water and began to relieve myself. Immediately I thought “OOOH NO! – there’s too much back pressure”. Moments later I came to the realisation that I had urinated inside the drysuit and had to face the ridicule of my peers, all of whom laughed as they heard me scream like a girl on the surface next to the boat.

Some say I’m incontinent, but I deny those rumours and am blaming the poor instructions that accompanied my Si-Tech pee-valve. Before you ask, I read the instructions thoroughly, which stated “Push the lid down and turn to close (off) and turn top open (on). When using, turn the valve open and then urinate.”. “Turn top to open “, what the hell does that mean? What they neglected to say was that the valve has 3 states, fully left is closed, full right is closed, and open is in the middle. Like any normal person, I assumed that a turning mechanism would use the same logic of “righty tighty, lefty loosey”, which was a mistake!

To be fair to Si-Tech, I’ll add that on subsequent dives I have used the device and am now master of my domain. I’m far from an expert on the topic, but have used a few models to date including the Dive Rite and OMS ones. I can’t tell you which is better, as all the balanced models seem to work, though the Si-Tech model does seem to have the need to check for an open state.

So be warned kids, if you choose to plumb yourself into such a device, you may want to test it by blowing through the hose  prior to soiling it. Oh, and before you ask where to buy the condom things from, I get mine from brightsky.com.au in Oz.

Navionics Chart Plotter & GPS Apps

Here’s the nerd coming out in me, but after missing out on a deep dive because someone had the wrong marks I’m now taking control of the situation. I was going to buy a GPS, but after some research I found out that Navionics make an IPAD App that is basically a full blown chart plotter and GPS for $45. It includes Australian and New Zealand waters, and is very detailed in terms of chart plotter information. I’ve only used the app out in the wild once thus far, but it paid for itself and certainly helped us located and dive a new wreck.

The only issue I’ve found with the app is that it doesn’t bulk import marks from other sources, so you have to enter this manually but it’s not the end of the world. You can export anything that you enter or snapshot though.

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