Oceans of Opportunity

oh wait, we [divers] all need weight!

Among my numerous hobby ventures has been fabricating weight harnesses for divers. Having produced a batch recently, the topic is fresh on my mind, so I figured I would share some of the ins and outs of the design and my own philosophies on correct weighting for divers.

For starters, we all need to wear weight to aid in our being properly ballasted for any given dive. Short of wearing nothing but a bathing suit in the tropics and probably avoiding the need for any substantial weight, each and every diver requires at least some adjustment to help us break the surface. From day 1, we learn about ideal trim and buoyancy, and that a conscientious diver should aim to be neutral in the water. This is the perfect case for learning, but in practice it is not always ideal. For a working diver in particular, it may be advantageous to be negative or hard on th bottom, or it may be equally necessary to be slightly positive if working beneath structure.

At some point, many moons ago I realized that hiking a weight belt up high on my hips and then having all that lead rest on my kidneys for an hour at a time was less than comfortable. So, I worked a set of suspenders into the mix. This allowed me to wear the weights lower on my hips, which reduced the discomfort, and I quickly realized that this lower center of gravity was highly beneficial for working on the bottom while crouched over. The challenge with the suspenders was still allowing for ease of ditching in an emergency. So, I then added buckles on the shoulders that, when released, would allow the harness to slide up and over my shoulders, and the belt could be slid away safely.

As I spent more and more time hard hat diving for construction, there ended up being numerous instances where the weight harness would need to be ditched mid-dive from underneath my bailout harness – for instance if I were working on the bottom and needed to be heavy, then switched tasks and needed to be light to work up high on pilings or trusses without being dragged to the bottom. Out of necessity, I adjusted shoulder buckle placement several times until they were not inhibited by the bailout harness, and were easy to access.

It then dawned on me that the belt portion – being overladen with lead blocks – would tend to twist and become a confusing mess topside when trying to suit up, so I added a 4″ wide chassis and while at it, 4 low positioned d-rings for tools. The chassis doubled to reduce chaffing on my suits, and generally provided a nice central piece of material to expand on this harness design down the road. In the early days, this chassis was made from recycled firehose. I produced about 5 dozen belts with this firehose chassis design and in a variety of configurations – stitched, riveted, and bolted.

With a little momentum, I then teamed up with Manta Industries to have these more cleanly ‘produced’ which has resulted in a finished but highly functional look, and broader prospects for sales. There are another 2 dozen of this design out there, with the latest run available on my eBay store:

So, I get a lot of questions about weight harnesses. Mostly centered around how much these hold, and are the weights ditchable. To the latter, yes, you can ditch the whole harness very easily, and I have worked this into all of my diving configurations – for commercial work, hookah, technical diving, and more recently have integrated it into my sidemount setup. To the former, the harness can hold in excess of 50 pounds if needed, but I make a habit of keeping three belts in my truck at all times:

  1. an everyday belt with about 26 pounds. This is my ‘heavy’ belt when diving hotwater, my neutral belt with a wetsuit, and my light belt with a drysuit.
  2. a heavy belt with about 36 pounds. This is my heavy belt with a wetsuit, and a neutral belt with my drysuit.
  3. a light belt with 10 pounds. This is my light belt for a wetsuit.

If I’m in the heat of the moment and need a little extra, I also keep two 5 pound drop weight around which I can clip off as needed.

In any case, as I’ve observed new working divers wrestle with weight belts, sometimes even losing them mid dive, the justification for a harness just keeps presenting itself. It provides a secure means to hold the weight belt without accidental loss, can be worn low to encourage a more efficient working position, and if configured properly can still be ditched in an emergency.

There is nothing more embarrassing than jumping in for the big hero dive with the client on site, only to be too light, or too heavy. My advice to all – revisit those scuba 101 tips on proper weighting, spend the time to get it right, and keep track of adjustments required for any changes in equipment, tools and tasks, or diving environments. Like anything, it all comes with time in the water so get out there and put in your time!

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