While it seems like only yesterday, the pursuit of ‘extended range diving’ as it was then defined about two decades ago was very basically understood as the technique used to dive just a bit deeper than conventional recreational diving. It meant strapping on a set of double cylinders, pushing the limits of using air as the breathing medium, and perhaps incurring a few or several minutes of planned decompression.
That marked the boom of ‘technical diving’ which brought with it lots of new equipment designs, philosophies, and techniques – all of which very quickly popularized ‘technical diving’, for better or worse; now there is an all too easy path to be diving just a little bit deeper and for a little bit longer – places where those shy in practical experience can quickly get into trouble.
With rebreathers coming online in a big way over the last several years, we’re seemingly in that place yet again, where the path to access tools, technology and techniques that can take you very, very far in ‘extending your range’ is within extremely easy reach.
Interestingly however, I believe we are quite a long way from realizing the fullest potential in range extensions that rebreather technology affords us. With little exception, despite rebreathers offering life support capacities often in excess of four hours, dive times are still relatively ‘short’, often two hours or less which ends up being a function of required decompression – both in being able to physically carry enough bailout to affect an open-circuit contingency from the furthest point of the dive while balanced with reasonably comfortable decompression exposures.
So, what is our next range extension? Well, that is going to require a fairly significant innovative push. There have been isolated projects that have demonstrated the full range extension potential of rebreathers, both by way of depth and duration. For instance, diving to 150 meters or more has been occurring rather routinely, and there have been several long duration dives, often in excess of 8 hours with augmented decompression or multiple life support systems in place. Operating at these extremes will likely be the next wave for routine intervention, but to get there routinely means addressing basic human needs.
For the first time, we’re just one incremental step away from the type of underwater excursion that very much mirrors a long hike on the trail, or even an overnight backpacking trip. It’s literally right there at our doorstep, and very much the next evolution in our extension of range extensions. Per usual, its all about depth and time, and time at depth.
Today I went for a brief swim to cool off and clear my head and did some practice running line reels as I kicked out away from the beach. I ran out about 400 linear feet and as I stood there at the end of the line, staring off into the void of the openwater, I realized that taking steps away from our shores, quite literally, may provide the impetus for the next push.
It’s right there in our backyard for the taking. Forget the boats, the destinations, the trips, and focus the effort on leaving the beach in a big way. Imagine a 2, 3, 4, or 5 miles excursion right from your own doorstep and the hugely vast expanse of unknown ocean that becomes well within reach. Very, very exciting times lie ahead, and that is right where I’ll be – time to gear up.
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