This past weekend I got to witness rebreather divers in action, so I thought I’d do some research on rebreather technology. Rebreather diving actually predates SCUBA diving by several decades, the first being the Fleuss Rebreather. Invented by Henry Fleuss in 1878, it composed of a breathing bag, a copper tank of oxygen, and a rope soaked in caustic potash that served as a crude carbon dioxide scrubber. This device became an important part of WWII naval operations, and is a milestone in underwater exploration.
Modern rebreathers operate on the same basic principle, though they now are controlled by computer and many divers use some variation of trimix to reach extreme depths. Rebreather diving has always been used by military and commercial divers, mainly because it does not release bubbles. Navy divers needed to be difficult to detect by enemy ships, and commercial divers needed approach fish without spooking them. Most of all, rebreathers can reach immense depths without running out of air.
It wasn’t until the 90’s when rebreathers became available for recreational divers, and even then the costs can be prohibitive. The unit alone costs around 10,000 dollars, and the peripheral equipment can run tens of thousands more. That said, the rebreather can get you places that open circuit diving cannot. One rebreather diver I spoke to this weekend explained to me that California has tons of exciting dive sites that all lie well below recreational dive limits. Sunken battleships, plane wrecks, hidden caves, and other adventures lie in wait of those divers with the commitment and the funds to become rebreather experts.