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May 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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What Has the EU Done for American Divers?

when it comes to dive gear, plenty!

from the May, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

At a time when Britain is heading for Brexit, that may sound like a strange question. Bear with me. When I began my career as Technical Editor of Diver Magazine (UK) more than three decades ago, I immediately made a lot of enemies in the trade. Regardless, using and reviewing diving equipment was great fun. You see, a lot of gear, quite frankly, did not measure up. So, I ensured that I always had total equipment redundancy on test dives, which usually meant carrying two independent tanks on my back and an arm full of computers.

It never much bothered me to carry a spare mask, and BCs are so low-tech, they could usually be accommodated even if sometimes it was tricky to get the air out of them during an ascent. I remember having a couple of desperate failures that gave me a scare, like the Buddy Trimix wing that split when I fully inflated it at the surface. I managed to grab the ladder of the boat before I plunged into the abyss.

Fins quickly revealed if they were completely useless. I went away on a liveaboard trip with three pairs of prototypes from Bob Evans of Force Fins and found, disappointingly, they were all ineffective in strong currents.

Some people in the trade still bear a grudge, because after my articles, they ended up with a warehouse full of regulators they could not sell, forgetting that I might have saved them from a manslaughter charge. One German brand sank without trace, as did Dacor after it was bought by Mares. The CEO of the huge Italian company, Mares, now retired, admitted one open-heel fin design was awful, but said he wished I hadn't told everyone! They stopped production immediately.

British engineers Ian Himmens and Stan Ellis of ANSTI invented a machine to make quantitative tests of regulators. It simulated breathing down to a depth of 165 feet (50m) with an inhalation rate of 25 liters/minute. Linked to a computer, it printed out the results as a tell-tale graph of each regulator's performance. I tested a wide range of regulators back in the early '90s and discovered some would not go past 60 feet (18m) safely. It caused a furor when the British Sub Aqua Club's Mike Todd and I published the results, but after arguments, those manufacturers concerned went back to the drawing board and made better ones. It was gratifying to witness them do that.

So what has this got to do with the European Union? Well, my fun as an equipment critic was spoiled when the EU brought in regulations concerning life-preserving equipment. Unlike in the U.S., where there are no standards whatsoever, all diving equipment sold within the EU has to meet stringent test criteria. For example, all regulators have to be capable of supplying sufficient gas at 50m (165 feet) on demand, without giving positive pressure, either. Manufacturers needed to buy ANSTI machines, and most regulators now come with an ANSTI certificate supplied. Similarly, BCs had to be able to give sufficient buoyancy and evacuate that air sufficiently quickly to meet CE-certification. Equipment will bear that CE-mark.

Soon, there was no really bad diving equipment on the market in the UK (and Europe), and I ended up scoring everything 8/10. Occasionally, I'd find something that really appealed to me and award it more. My equipment reviews lost their edge!

So how does all this help the American diver? The U.S. home market is a big one, but if a manufacturer wants to sell its products in the equally large or even larger European sphere, the products must be CE-certified. One American computer manufacture (Pelagic, then part of Oceanic) even introduced dual algorithms to accommodate this European demand, though there is no actual CE-certification for computer software.

The spin-off from EU CE-certification has benefitted those who buy American-made diving equipment also destined for the European market. It's easy to check if a product is available in Europe by going to a company's European or British website. But, if some gear is only available in the U.S., ask yourself why, before you commit to buying it.


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