Brief History of Diving Equipment

Picture of by Mikela Borg

by Mikela Borg

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Mankind has always been keen to explore further; human ingenuity has driven us to overcome environmental adversity and physiological barriers. The intrigue, for venturing the depths has been motivated by our curiosity to explore the vast, deep, blue sea, and all that lies within. Retrieving items from sunken shipwrecks, salvaging remains and oyster diving has been one of the primary reasons mankind needed and wanted, to dive further, for longer.

Our lungs have outgrown our desire to discover more. Mankind’s necessity to dive deeper has pushed us to develop technologies that enabled us more bottom time (time underwater). An air reservoir bag depicted in Phoenician drawings was one of the first underwater breathing apparatus known to men. In the notebook of famous Renaissance polymath Leonardo Da Vinci, a depiction of one of the first air supplied, buoyancy suit with an integrated facemask was sketched. Although never built, this 16th-century idea was envisioned as a military technology to resist the Ottoman Empire. It is known that necessity is the mother of invention; the need to have longer underwater access drove us to invent the technology, yet the drive for exploration made diving more accessible to humans. Mankind’s bewildering curiosity is manifested in the minds of the great inventors and engineers, who pushed the boundaries of human limitation, by inventing better equipment and breathing apparatus.

The diving bell, the hard helmet and the closed dress were the first technological concepts that allowed humans to venture underwater.

During these years, diving was accessible for the privileged few. August Siebe engineered ‘deep-sea diving helmets’ based on the improved design of the Dean Brothers, through his company ‘Siebe & Gorman’ the helmet design evolved to include the 12 bolt design and oval windows. This made the suit water-tight, so some might credit Siebe for coming up with the first drysuit. The porthole to the ‘Silent World’ was opened to the public eye, by the world-renowned French, explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. As an inventor, he developed the first regulator with on-demand air, at ambient pressure. Together with Gagnam, a friend & engineer, they designed and manufactured the ‘Aqualung’, a design that has changed very little throughout the years. Cousteau’s name is synonymous with diving not as an inventor but due to the simple fact that he kept on dreaming, he kept on exploring further and deeper in the undersea world. An ever-increasing public interest in recreational diving was generated with Cousteau’s films & documentaries that depicted never-seen footage of marine life, shipwrecks and tropical destinations.

He travelled the world with his underwater camera & his crew aboard the Calypso (a vessel he bought from Malta). They conducted oceanographic research and filmed several movies that even won them an Oscar. Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s capacity for curiosity explains the most bewildering aspects of the drive to exploration, a drive-in which he manifested in others.

Self, Contained, Underwater, Breathing, Apparatus, has provided us with the opportunity to marvel at the beauty of the ocean…throughout the years, diving has become safer and more accessible worldwide. The equipment used has changed and has changed the way we dive. Looking back at the roots of the sport, one can appreciate the advances made that facilitated the way dive. The future looks bright and promising with more equipment & technologies coming our way.

Visit our mini-dive museum available at Divemed. We have collected(/owned) several vintage equipments throughout the years, mainly a WWII rebreather, a Siebe Gorman Helmet, Decabrain(first dive computer) and several models of antique regulators and masks.

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