Mention CCR rebreathers to a group of divers, and inevitably one person will roll their eyes and complain about the expense involved in diving silently and bubble-free. But is rebreather diving really that expensive? We believe it’s more about the diving than the money. Let’s take a closer look.
Why it costs more
Divers considering getting into CCR rebreather diving are, generally speaking, a few years into their diving career. In fact, many of them are technical divers, although you don’t have to be trained to hit great depths and complete long decompression stops to benefit from CCR diving.
With a few years of diving experience under your (weight)belt, you may have noticed that scuba diving is not a cheap hobby. And neither should it be. You are entering an environment that is alien to humans. To spend more time underwater safely requires more equipment. And while we may not always think of it that way, especially in the context of recreational diving, diving equipment is life support equipment.
The more you must rely on that equipment, so too must its quality improve. Technical divers committing to decompression stops arguably rely on their equipment more than recreational divers who could ascend directly, even though safety stops are highly recommended.
It’s about more than money
But even with lots of technical diving equipment, making bubbles and diving open circuit severely limits the time you can spend underwater. On the other hand, rebreathers will simply transform your diving. This is where the real advantage lies and where the argument becomes about more than money.
Let’s accept that rebreather diving also requires a sizable investment to get started—as do golf, skiing, and many other adventure/extreme sports. In the case of rebreather diving, the investment is in both training and equipment. Granted, you can complete at least the initial training with a rental rebreather.
However, once you decide that CCR is for you and you want to continue, daily rental will become more expensive than owning your own rebreather. Plus, understanding your rebreather will make you a more confident and comfortable CCR diver.
You’re buying time
So, how does CCR diving transform your underwater adventures? Simply put, rebreathers buy you time. Since you are recycling your breathing gas (yes, this is oversimplified), a small amount lasts much longer. If, for example, you are in 65 feet (20 m) of water, watching a group of reef sharks or simply enjoying the reef life, low gas will eventually limit your dive time.
On a rebreather, remaining scrubber time often becomes more of a limiting factor. Depending on the model of rebreather you’re diving, as well as diving conditions, you tend to have three hours or more underwater. Consequently, putting on what looks like a lot of equipment becomes more worthwhile because you are doing it to remain underwater for two or three hours at a time.
Your next limit is no-stop time. As a recreational diver, you probably already know that you can extend your no-decompression limits to a degree by diving nitrox for as long as your depth allows. As a technical diver, you simply plan sufficient decompression gas to cover your mandatory stops, plus a reserve. But—and this is the clever bit—as a CCR diver, you’re loading less nitrogen and therefore racking up less stop time. How is that? Put simply, you are diving a set partial pressure known as set point and generally equaling a PO2 of 1.3. This means your rebreather is supplying you with the best possible gas to either extend your no-stop limits or minimize your decompression obligation. More diving, less penalty.
You’ll save money on helium
Very little technical diving occurs without using helium in different trimixes. No matter where you are in the world, helium is expensive. Rebreather diving means that you use dozens of liters of helium per dive as opposed to thousands of liters needed for an open-circuit, technical dive. Even taking the cost of scrubber material into account, your cost-per-dive for trimix rebreather dives is much, much lower than it would be on open circuit. Assuming your goal is to complete longer, deeper dives, this is a real saving.
If this all sounds a bit abstract, let’s make it more concrete. Take Chuuk Lagoon, for example. Here you’ll find dozens of shipwrecks over 325 feet (100 m) long at depths between 40 to 195 feet (12 to 60 m). Based on current recommendations, it’s prudent to dive anything below 130 feet (40 m) on trimix.
So, you have a huge wreck to explore. Assuming you have booked on a technical diving trip, there is no real limit to your dive time. Practically speaking, two to three hours is possible. The idea would be to complete one morning and one afternoon dive with a long surface interval. Being able to spend two, or even three, hours underwater will really allow you to explore those World War II wrecks. And, even after two weeks of dives—including on some of the deeper wrecks—your helium bill, if you’re diving CCR, will be a few hundred dollars rather than thousands. And that’s in a remote destination with some of the world’s highest helium prices.
Compare that to open circuit, and even when carrying lots of gas, your dive time will be shorter, and your gas bill will be larger.
Marine life interactions
Aside from financial arguments, you should consider marine life interaction. One of the biggest differences between open circuit and rebreather diving is the lack of bubbles and, consequently, the lack of noise. This means marine life comes closer and tends to stay longer. The quality and the quantity of your marine life encounters improves. In fact, many species simply don’t seem to know what to make of CCR divers and come in to take a closer look.
We could go on, but in conclusion, there is not much point in comparing one-hour dives at 65 feet (20 m) on open circuit with the same thing on a rebreather, because as a rebreather diver, you can now complete entirely different dives. Your diving limits will change, and the opportunities for underwater exploration open to you will increase incredibly. It’s worth it.