Tech diving was what got me started using rebreathers…cave diving in the late 1980s. But that is not what drives me to use them now.
Most of my diving is regular “recreational” diving. And I find that rebreathers allow me to enjoy that to a much greater degree than I can on open circuit scuba. There are many things I love about doing non-technical dives on a rebreather: animals, peace, time, and freedom.
Recently, I took my Liberty Light rebreather and flew from California to Florida. I wasn’t there to dive, but I did manage to sneak away to Key Largo for a day to play. I dove with Rainbow Reef Dive Center, jumping on one of their boats and running out for two-morning dives. I was the only rebreather diver on the boat, but that was not an impediment.
One of the dives was on the wreck of the Benwood. The wreck is located in 40 feet (12m) depth. It was a shallow dive, easily accessible, with lots of people visiting it on a daily basis. Why a rebreather, then? Because I get to see more. During the dive, I watched a 200-300 pound (90-135 kg) grouper swim the length of the wreck. During its traverse, it swam out of its way to avoid the other divers who were in the water with me. Dodging the final open circuit diver, it swam back to the wreck, and down the side directly past where I was waiting. It didn’t swerve but passed about a foot in front of my face. Then it turned 180° and came back to me because of my dive buddy, who was about 10 feet beyond me. Finally, it turned off, passing about 20 feet (6m) below another diver. So close! So spectacular!
Later in the dive, I found a sea turtle, resting in the ribs of the sunken vessel. I came up beside it and laid down next to it. No bubbles. No scuba noise. Just the quiet swish of my air through the breathing hoses, and the sounds of the shrimp crackling around us. The turtle closed its eyes again, ignoring me, and returned to doing the same thing I was doing…enjoying the peace of being underwater.
We also dove the Spiegel Grove, a large wreck located in about 140 feet (42m) of water. There was a moderate current running, about a half a knot. We could swim against it to the anchor line, but it took some exertion. Down the anchor line, hand over hand, to the deck at 100 feet (30m). My partner and I were both huffing and puffing a bit, but gradually our breathing slowed down. We started up the wreck, but after only 15 minutes we had to turn the dive. He had nearly exhausted his 100cf (14L) cylinder! I returned with him back to the anchor line and watched him depart. I stayed, playing and shooting photographs of the other divers until I watched the last one head to the surface. So I followed. During the 45 minutes on the bottom, I had only used 200 psi (15bar) of my 20cf (3L) oxygen cylinder, and was not even close to my decompression limit. The amount of time I can spend on the bottom is virtually unlimited on most of these dives, which I love!
And the lack of time pressure yields another benefit…a feeling of freedom, of truly belonging beneath the waves. I love wandering into the water, able to wander and enjoy the leisurely exploration of even my local dive sites. Imagine being in the mountains, wanting to walk 30 minutes to a waterfall, but being limited in time to only an hour. You get there, and no sooner than you do, you have to turn around and leave again. You see it, but only barely. I used to feel that way when exploring underwater using “normal” scuba. But that has changed. Now, I can easily spend an hour, two, four, or more! The freedom to roam, to explore, or just to sit for a long duration and watch a fish build a nest or a shark being cleaned is priceless.
OK, you have read this far…I will admit, I lied. Rebreathers ARE for tech divers. But I have to say, they are for recreational divers, too. I have tons of fun diving my Liberty rebreather on easy, shallow dives. I would hate to give that up by only using it for my technical diving!