Search Tools And Equipment

To perform good successful searches the team needs only a compass, rope and practice. However there are some other bits of equipment that can help in search and recovery. There will always come about a need for screwdrivers, hacksaws, pliers, wrenches, hammers and crowbars. It is a good idea for the team to paint all their tools with a bright high gloss paint. High gloss paint is best for underwater equipment for several reasons. First the substance in the paint that makes it high gloss, makes it seal better than flat, preventing rust. When an item is dropped the gloss can reflect light, making it easy to find. The team also should paint glow in the dark bands on all tools for night operations. Lastly an idiot cord should be placed on every piece of equipment.

An idiot cord is a small line that attaches to the tool. When a diver gets a tool or piece of equipment he attaches the other end of the line to himself. Where the diver attaches the line does not matter as long as the line is long enough to use the equipment and not on the weight belt. Many divers use an extra belt for equipment. This line then ensures that if the object is dropped it is still attached to the diver. Idiot lines help in several ways, One they reduce cost by preventing unnecessary replacement of tools, second they save time. In a rescue situation if a diver drops a key piece of equipment and has to return to shore that time could cost a life. Most of all it prevents unnecessary post project search operations for lost equipment.

PROBE RODS enable a diver to search an area for objects more efficiently. Divers often scan an area that they feel is effective, feeling they are doing the best job possible. In reality only the bottom is looked at. Many times the object the divers are searching for has been covered by silt, laying right beneath the surface out of sight. By constantly poking through the bottom with a long thin rod the diver can uncover what has been covered. A probe rod can be a valuable asset. Probe rods are not needed in rapid response and rescue, however, many teams help police and other groups find objects lost in the water.

To construct a probe rod get some quarter inch steel rods at the hardware store about 24 inches in length. Then place one end of the rod in a vice, and fashion a small loop on one end. To the loop attach a piece of rope for an idiot line. On the line place a spring clip for attaching to a belt or BC when not in use. Screwdrivers also make great probe rods. Large 18 inch screwdrivers down to the small 4 inch screwdriver make very useful search tools.

Underwater metal detectors can aid the diver when looking for small metal objects or even lost divers in black water. It will speed up complete scanning giving maximum coverage. They can be a valuable aid in zero visibility. Remember, there are two types of metal detectors, one for precious metals and one for ordinary metals.

Slates should be used whenever communication needs to be precise. Slates come in handy for recording information and keeping track of compass headings. When using a slate try to use a grease pencil instead of the lead type. Grease pencil erases easy and is better for diver to diver communication, because it is also easier to see. Every diver should carry a slate at all times.

Clips and rings are very useful. They can be used for attaching marker buoys, buddy lines or for quick searches. The use is only limited by the person using them. Always try to carry a few for the unexpected. Carabineers are highly useful due to their ease of operation.

Lift bags come in several sizes and styles, but what is important is if it has a relief valve or not. Bags without relief valves may not be able to be controlled as easy as those that do. The relief valve is handy on the surface for venting air for object execration. They slowly allow for the release of air. The team should have an assortment of lift bags from pocket bags to 500 pound bags. The team should be able to lift a car to the surface. For training the team should sink an old car in a selected training area. Not only is it good for lifting but also for practice removing victims trapped.

Home made lift bags can be made from 5 gallon foam cans, 55 gallon drums or old truck and tractor inner-tubes. An inner-tube is used by cutting a large hole on one side to allow air to enter and exit. Keep in mind that inner-tube lift bags are not very strong but when used in number can be very effective.

To secure the lift bag to the object straps or rope must be used. Nylon straps are strong, inexpensive and take up little room. Many divers use seatbelt material and 1 inch nylon web for securing bags to an object. Whatever used before you know its strength and have practiced with it underwater. Nylon straps have a tendency to come untied when wet, be sure of your knots.

Special equipment is needed but it is no different than the equipment a rescuer should take on every dive. The only difference is that it must be used in limited visibility. This special gear includes lights, compass, and buddy- line.

There are several types of lights with several uses. The three basic lights used in diving are main lights, back up lights, and chemical lights. Then there are shore based lights that are used to mark entry and exit points. Lights do not readily increase visibility. What ever the visibility is during the day it will be the same at night.

Main lights can be rechargeable, or non-rechargeable. Back up lights also can use either batteries. Chemical lights are used to mark divers, marker buoys, or anything else the diver wishes. Shore lights can be continuous burning, flashing, or strobe.

Buddy teams should use a buddy line. Buddy lines are good in any visibility. A team must be on the surface to monitor beach light and assist exiting divers. This does not have to be a diver.

Coat hanger markers are easy to make and worth their weight in gold. Gather up all the used, discarded or bent coat hangers you can find. Then straighten the hangers out. Cut the now straight hangers at 18 inches or 2 feet. Collect some empty liquid detergent and bleach bottles that are a solid color and cut triangles out from the sides, 4 inches in height. Using black enamel paint put a number or letter. Then using a paper hole punch place 3 to 4 holes on one side. Slide a coat hanger through the hole and you have a marker.

Coat hanger markers are great because they take up little room and are expendable. They have many uses. To use one the diver pushes the rod into the bottom leaving the flag visible. They are good for marking areas already searched, corners of grids or the way back to the boat or shore.

Surface marker buoys can be made of almost anything that will hold air. For a diver wishing to mark a spot he found a punching bag balloon is the easiest because it can be carried in the BC pocket. For marking a large area use bleach bottles. These come in quart, half gallon and gallon sizes giving a variety. Most are white in color so stand out well plus making a good background for numbers or codes.

Another good buoy can be made from half gallon pop bottles. Most of these bottles are clear plastic with a dark plastic bottom. These come in handy at night because they can be made to glow in the dark. To do this clean and dry as many clear pop bottles you think you may need, if you do not know, ten is a good starting number. Go to the hardware store or toy store and get some bright, glow in the dark paint, and a funnel. Pour the paint into the first bottle and roll it around, coating the entire inside of the bottle. Then place the funnel in the next bottle and repeat the same procedure. Pour the paint from bottle one to bottle two until all used before adding more paint from the can. Do this until all bottles have been done and then repeat the procedure. It may take more than two times to get all the bottles painted even. It is best to let them dry between coats. When a night operation comes up, the Team now has ten glow in the dark marker buoys for almost no cost.

To keep your markers in place, thin nylon cord or kite string will work. Attach one end of the line to the buoy and another to a one pound weight. You now have the marker ready to go. The length of the line depends on the depth of the water. To make the buoy self rising, roll the line onto the buoy. When the buoy is release from the bottom, it will unroll as it ascends.

When using pocket markers, the diver can inflate the balloon and tie the kite string to it. After sending it up, the diver then ties the string to the object he is marking.

A portable AIR LIFT or Sand Sucker, as it is called by wreck divers, may come in handy. This device is made to remove the bottom to look for items, or unstick a stuck car or boat. An air lift is a device that can greatly enhance search operations for small items. There are very few places or situations the air lift will be used in rescue work. However some dive teams search for small items for police and other parties. Commercial air lifts are expensive and not practical for the average Dive Team, however, the Team can build their own if they need one. This way they have an inexpensive professional tool that can be used anywhere. It can be used in weeds, mud, silt, sand or rock.

Air lifts work on a simple principle of physics called the venturi effect. It is made from a few inexpensive parts. The main feature is a tube of rigid plastic through which air is forced by injection at the bottom. When underwater the air forms bubbles, these rising bubbles within the tube expand and increase in velocity to get out of the tube. As the air rushes up a vacuum is created at the bottom. Whatever is in front of the tube will be "sucked up" or lifted out of the way. All parts can be gotten at the local hardware and dive store.


  • One 8 feet section of 3 inch PVC plumbing drain pipe.

  • One 3 inch PVC 90 degree elbow

  • One small brass valve

  • One high pressure valve to fit on a SCUBA tank

  • One 18 to 24 inch length of high pressure hose that is 1/4 inch diameter.

  • Two stainless steel drawer handles large enough to fit a gloved hand through.

  • Two adjustable stainless steel metal bands

  • Two adjustable nylon straps

  • One SCUBA tank

  • One 8" X 8" 1/4 inch wire mesh

To construct the air lift, attach the 90 elbow to one end of the tube, do not glue in place with PVC cement. It is not glued, so it will rotate to any direction, to direct the exhaust. Now attach the handles to the lower section of the 10 feet tube. The handles should be about 6 inches from the end of the tube. Using the metal bands affix the wire mesh over the same end. The SCUBA tank will be held in place with the nylon straps. The high pressure hose is fitted just above the mouth of the lift. A one gallon bleach bottle or milk jug can be secured to the exhaust end as a float.

All parts of the air lift can be stored and transported easily. They go together rapidly. One diver controls the air lift while the other searches. The device can be used with the end above or below the surface.

The volume of air and speed of sucking is controlled by the tank valve. The amount of air intake needed varies with depth and bottom conditions. Deepwater and soft bottoms use less air than shallow water and hard bottoms. Always keep in mind the depth or thickness of the material being excavated. Silt can be removed rapidly so a slow pace is indicated. How long the air in the tank will last depends on the amount of use.

For added safety the piece of quarter inch wire mesh is positioned over the sucking end of the tube. This prevents stones and other debris from acting as projectiles as they come out the other end of the tube. It also saves small items such as jewelry from going up the tube. Remember to keep track of currents and drift. The exhaust of debris can reduce visibility to zero. However the exhaust can be taken away from the site by adding in extra sections of tube. To add extra sections just get 3 inch drain pipe couplers. The pipes will stay together with just these.

If searching in black water, and the Team wants to use an air lift, then this can be done in one of two ways. The easiest is to attach a large mesh bag to the exhaust end of the lift. When the lift is used, anything in its path will be sucked up, and deposited in the bag, with the mesh allowing sand, mud, and silt to filter out. Another way is by attaching a mesh bag to an inner tube and securing the tube to the air lift. By directing the exhaust into the tube the same effect is accomplished. Both work well. The inner tube is better for shallow water where the end of the tube extends out of the water while the bag is best when the exhaust is below the surface.

DIVER'S PLANE A diver's plane is a device that allows a diver to search an area while being towed by a boat. It allows for rapid searches and can be effective when looking for lost divers, however, it is only effective in clear water. Another draw back is the contour of the bottom must be about the same and free of obstacles. To use the plane, a tow rope is extended from behind the boat. It should be attached to the boat the same as a water ski tow rope. The length of the line determines the depth the diver can obtain. With the diver holding on, the plane will descend to a depth one third the length of the rope. The speed of the boat should be slow to enable the diver to search and be safe. The diver can shift his weight on the handles to go left, right, descend or ascend, by planing the board in the desired direction. USING A DIVER'S PLANE REQUIRES PRACTICE it has the potential of being very hazardous if not used properly. It is also recommended that the tow boat use a prop guard. Cost of construction is low, so if the Team operates in an area where they might be useful build some.


  • A piece of ½ to 3/4 inch plywood cut so that it's 24 inches by 18 inches.

  • Two heavy duty stainless steel handles that a gloved hand can fit into.

  • Bolts and washers made of stainless steel and of adequate length to secure the handles through the board.

  • one eye bolt with washers, made of stainless steel, long enough to be secured through the plane. The eye should be large enough to allow a carabineer to fit through.

  • 100 feet of new rope

  • Small can of high gloss paint in a very bright color

  • Quart of MARINE varnish.

For construction determine the center line of the plywood and mark it. From one end of the center line measure out nine inches and mark, do the same for the other side. Next draw a line from the nine inch mark to the corners, and cut along the lines. You now have a trapezoid. The narrow end is the towing end. Now use a jig was to round the corners or cut them blunt.

Starting at the towing end measure back about four inches along the center line and mark. Drill a hole at this spot large enough to accommodate the eye bolt.

Taking a handel in each hand hold one on each side of the center line and feel for a good placement. Try to keep each handel in the same area on each side of the center line. Once handel placement is decided mark the spots for the holes. Drill the holes for the proper size bolts.

Sand the board paying careful attention to the edges making sure they are rounded and smooth.

Paint the board with the bright color high gloss paint, use no less than two coats. Once the paint has dried finish off by applying at least two coats of the marine varnish.

After it is dry, attach the hardware. Once the hardware is secure use a small brush and apply varnish around all washers. This seals any cracks made when securing the hardware.

On one end of the line tie a bowland and place a carabineer through it. Coil the rope and keep with the diver's plane.

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