Cruising With SCUBA

The only sport I enjoy more than SCUBA diving is sailing, and fortunately cruising and diving go hand in hand. One nice aspect of cruising is being able to get to some of those remote dive sites not accessible to the shore-based or even live-aboard dive operations. From what I’ve seen out there, with a bit of thought, most any cruising yacht can be set up to make diving fairly easy and enjoyable. A dive compressor is one piece of equipment that I wouldn’t leave home without!

I have a 110 volt powered portable Bauer compressor aboard Moonshadow. I purchased it as a second-hand reconditioned unit from an outfit called Brownie’s Third Lung in Fort Lauderdale Florida in 1994. My unit has been retrofitted with an automatic discharge system for condensate and automatic shutoff when the tank has been filled to the desired pressure. The cost was about US $2600.

As for the logistics, the compressor is securely attached to a shelf in the lazarette in a spot that allows for adequate ventilation. It has been hard wired into the main electrical panel. An 80 cubic foot tank takes about 28 minutes to fill to 3000 p.s.i. Tanks are filled during the genset run. For better ventilation, the lazarette hatch is left open when tanks are being filled and there is an extension to the intake hose that picks up air from near the hatch opening. Additionally I have a 15-foot fill hose extension for filling tanks on deck or in the dinghy tied to the stern. As an aside, for cleaning the bottom or clearing a fouled prop, I have a “hooka” set-up, which is a regulator with a 50-foot hose for getting into the water without having to put on SCUBA gear. By placing the tank on the gunwale amidships, I can easily reach the entire bottom of the boat for a wipe down or any other work below the surface. In the event of a fouled prop or other underwater emergency, I can be in the water in less than a minute.

The compressor has been very dependable and trouble free. Maintenance is simple and consists of changing the filters every 25 hours, the crankcase oil annually, the drive belt as necessary, checking oil level regularly and running the unit at least once a month to keep all the parts and seals lubricated.

It is important to have tanks stowed securely before you get underway. I designed a very simple system for holding the tanks in place in the lazarette. The system consists of a marine grade plywood shelf attached to the hull next to the bulkhead. This was routed out to accept four 3” tall sections of PVC pipe that are slightly larger in diameter than the base of the tanks. The PVC sections were glued in place. The 4 tanks stand in the PVC receptacles and are strapped up top to secure them to the bulkhead with very heavy nylon webbing/Velcro straps. They can easily be filled in place.

Since we are often diving in remote locations that may be far from any medical assistance, we have taken a few extra precautions. First of all, I have taken the PADI “Rescue Diver” course. Second, I always carry a pocket mask to facilitate easier rescue breathing. We carry oxygen in the event that we do have a dive emergency. Lastly, we usually limit ourselves to one dive a day, use a dive computer, and don’t dive beyond one hundred feet.

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