Equipment Problems

Equipment problems are minor predicaments that can lead to major problems if uncorrected. Every diver needs to be vigil for himself and all others. Do not fail to correct a potentially dangerous situation because you do not know the person who is having the problem. Equipment problems arise due to the diver using unfamiliar, ill-fitting, severely modified, or ill-serviced equipment. Divers who rush into the water without properly inspecting his or his buddy's equipment is asking for trouble.

Tank problems often occur because it is normally the most neglected piece of gear. Other than the mandatory once a year VIP, or five year Hydro, divers rarely look at their tanks. The most common problem is O-rings. The regulator to tank O-ring should be free of nicks and cuts. They come in two sizes, and every diver should carry both. To avoid technical names they are called: fat ones, and thin ones. Whenever the tank to regulator area leaks, replace the O-ring first, even if the current one looks fine.

The other major tank O-ring, is the valve O-ring. Air leaking at the tank to valve joint is most likely the O-ring, however it maybe stress fractures of the tank neck. When a tank is leaking here, drain the it and get it inspected. Never dive with a tank that is leaking at the neck, no matter how insufficient.

Some tanks have SPG ports which may leak due to the O-ring. Leaking at the port is easy to fix but requires that the tank be emptied before changing the port plug. Never attempt to remove any part of the valve assembly while there is pressure in the tank.

Many divers have a problem positioning their tank properly in the pack. It is either to high, so it hits their head, or it is to low so it hits their bottom. To remedy this, adjust your tank the way you think it should be, then have your buddy check it. If it is all right, mark your tank to show where the pack should go. When using rental, or multiple tanks, be sure your buddy checks your tank placement after you don it.

Valve problems frequently develop due to the valve being turned on to hard. By this we mean that inside, the valve is a male to female fitting, which actually opens and closes the seat, when the knob is turned. These fitting are normally brass. Brass is a soft meatal, so abuse causes damage. Think of tank valves as water faucets. When they are turned on and off too hard, the faucet drips, with a tank, it leaks.

Sometimes the valve is not opened completely. This results in the diver running out of air, while air is still in the tank. This occurs from the practice of opening a tank all the way and then turning the knob back. The reason for this was to protect those brass fittings mentioned above. The result when done incorrectly, is the pressure gauge will read full, due to the complete opening of the valve, but the closing will decrease the actual usable air based on the closure of the orifice. Never do this or teach anyone to do this technique. Always open the vale completely and not to hard.

J-valves are sometimes put in wrong resulting in false pressure readings. When having a J-valve repaired be sure of who is doing the servicing. J-valves are not as common as they once were and many young divers have never seen one, much less serviced one.

Contamination of the air used to fill the tank sometimes happens. It exhibits itself by smell and sometimes taste. Oil or resins have an acetone taste similar to finger nail polish remover, and some contaminates have a fruity smell and flavor. Carbon monoxide is hard to detect. When diving and you develop a headache or a person surfaces complaining of a headache, check the air. In the field try checking by placing a white cloth over the valve and blowing air through it. Look for particles and/or discoloration. If contamination is found, alert the air station responsible, and the local Department of Health. If the store displays signs that say "PURE AIR" and/or signs saying Pro Facility with NAUI, PADI, or any other large dive certification organization alert them also. Their representatives are prepared to handel these type of situations. When a dive shop is found to have contaminated air that compressor must be shut down and serviced.

Regulator problems usually result from improper care. First stage problems are rare, and manifest as a free flow most of the time. Regulators are designed to break in the open position, thus the free flow occurs. When it happens underwater, come the surface immediately. The regulator is still breathable, although air will leak out quickly. In cold water the chance of freeze up is greatly increased. The regulator must be repaired, you cannot fix a first stage malfunction in the field, so do not try.

There are older regulators that malfunction in the closed position. If you are still diving with one of these type regulators it is time to buy a new one, no pun intended. When these regulators clamp shut at the first stage, they are shut, having a safe second means nothing, it also is attached to the first stage. The only safe way to dive with one of these regulators is by having a pony bottle system.

Second stage problems most commonly are free flow and stuck exhaust valves, which cause water leakage. Second stage free flow is most often dirt, or debris in the lever assembly. Hitting the purge, or shaking it in the water may dislodge the culprit. Some regulator second stages can be opened and cleaned, when this is the case do so. Water leakage on inhalation is caused by one of two things normally: a torn second stage diaphragm, or a stuck exhalation port. When it occurs the diver can aspirate water, or panic. If it occurs remember that by putting the tongue at the top of the mouth, water can be blocked on inhalation. Use caution on breathing and surface.

To fix stuck exhaust valves, remove the exhaust "T" and gently lift each flap. It can be done above or below the surface. Remember many manufactures place small screws in the "T" so removal underwater may not be possible, however many diver prepare for exhaust valves sticking by removing the screw on all regulators they own.

A hole or tear in the second stage diaphragm is the second major cause of water leakage. When this is the case it must be replaced, a well prepared dive team, always has an extra second stage diaphragm. Do not lose a rescuer because you failed to expect the unexpected.

An alternate air source is just another second stage. However, it has some unique problems of positioning and keeping it from falling off. The easiest way to keep one from dragging the bottom is by placing an alligator clip on it and clipping it to the BCD material. Alligator clips do not slow the speed to which one can be put in operation and do not tear BC material.

Regulator freezing occurs in extremely cold water, about 42oF. It is generated by moisture in the tank icing the high pressure seat, or ice forming in the bias chamber (usually piston). What happens is the high pressure air of the tank expands as it moves through the regulator. This expansion of air cools internal parts, and when water temperature is low ice crystals can form. This ice can produce a free flowing regulator resulting in the air coming out to be more than if you depressed the purge button. This type of free flow can rapidly empty a tank. When buddy breathing with a safe second in waters below 42oF, you greatly increase the possibility of regulator freezing due to the extra work load on the first stage.

Second stage freezing occurs from exhalation moisture. Prevention can be done by using factory environmental packages or antifreeze caps. When out of the water, keep the regulator dry. Completely submerge before breathing. Whenever a regulator freezes do not pour hot water on it to defrost it. Place it in a vehicle or even back in the water.

Buoyancy compensators rarely have problems. What results is the diver being unfamiliar with the particular BCD, he is using, and has an inability to locate the inflate/deflate hose. Some buoyancy compensators when fully inflated, restrict the diver dexterity, or freedom of movement. Improper maintenance leads to pre-dive problems as well as problems during the dive.

Failure to monitor gauges, results in more problem situations than any other conditions. A big reason this happens is because divers say their console is difficult to locate. Air or water may leak into the gauges due to damage. When this occurs they may or not work properly. Do not take a chance, get them serviced. With the surge towards decompression computers not monitoring gauges can lead to more serious decompression problems.

Dry suits can offer problems to the diver if he is unfamiliar with them. Anytime a diver uses a dry suit, he should practice in a pool before going into open water. Buoyancy compensators are sometimes not used with dry suits, because divers feel the suit itself can operate as a BC. The major reason given for not using a BCD with one is that the suit controls, normally on the chest, will be covered by the BC. However the back mounted BC can eliminate that problem. The other reason is the first stage does not have an extra low pressure port for the suit attachment. The issue of whether or not a dry suit should be used with a BCD has raged on for years and will continue. It is recommended that a BCD always be worn when diving.

Practice using a dry suit in the pool to learn control. Find out how it feels with, and without a weight belt. When you feel you are being pulled up by your feet arch your back, or give forceful downward kicks. Position affects inversion, this is why pool practice is required before jumping into the water. Learn all emergency procedures for dry suits, as well as how to swim in one.

One situation that may arise to the dry suit user, is that of an out of air, or low on air diver who does not have the lift required to surface. When acting as trained, he will drop his weight belt. Dry suit users have extremely heavy weight belts, some over 40 pounds. Unlike a wet suited diver who drops his weight belt, when the dry suit diver drops his, he may have a sudden shift in buoyancy and rocket to the surface, maybe even feet first. This is extremely dangerous and can lead to air embolism and panic. How does the wearer prevent this? Primary is pool training. Before a dry suit wearer drops weight, he must already be exhausting air, and pointing towards the surface with his left hand holding the exhaust valve. If the suit has detached gloves, hold one arm up to exhaust air out the sleeve. Learn proper dry suit techniques.

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