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January 2024    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 50, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Scorkl: Why Divers See Its Potential Danger

from the January, 2024 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Scorkl is that little hand-held cylinder with a regulator for shallow leisure diving modeled after the SpareAir. It's not a safe idea, but a new version is expected to be available soon, the Scorkl 2.0 - Electric, featuring an electric air compressor and battery pack, enabling automatic refills of the portable underwater breathing apparatus at the touch of a button.

When a helicopter goes down into the sea in an emergency, crucial survival equipment for the crew is a small submersible breathing set. Many years ago, an enterprising businessman saw the opportunity to sell such an item to scuba divers as a redundant breathing source. He called it Spare Air because it could provide them with those essential few breaths needed at maybe 60 feet or so to get them safely to the surface if their main air supply failed. It added a sense of safety when regulators were thought unreliable a few decades back.

Since then, the dependability of diving equipment has improved considerably, and fewer divers seem to carry a Spare Air, though few still do. Scuba diving has become increasingly popular, so more entrepreneurs have sought to market this small tank and breathing valve to a mainstream audience of uncertified divers, such as boaters and vacationers.

They promise the ability to swim effortlessly underwater. Publicity videos show swimmers in ideal conditions wearing swimsuits and breathing easily from the small cylinder dangling from their mouths. They call it freedom from clumsy scuba gear. They recommend that "scuba-trained users not use the Scorkl below 30-feet and that non-scuba-trained users stay above 10-feet in depth as mentioned above." And how carefully will high school and college kids follow that advice?

Alas, one of the first things drummed into your head in a scuba course are the ramifications of breathing compressed air underwater. This happens the moment you are immersed, water being a lot more dense than air. Not only that, but the pressure changes in water in the shallows are a lot more significant than at deeper scuba diving depths.

Air embolism, emphysema, pneumothorax, and pulmonary barotrauma are all devastating damages awaiting the person who takes a breath of compressed air at as little as 10 feet deep and holds their breath as they swim to the surface. None of that appears to be mentioned in the publicity material, although it does state, " ... regardless of age or experience, anyone can now feel that indescribable freedom.

The original Scorkl, first launched in 2017, was supplied with a stirrup pump for manually filling the cylinder, which was a lot of work. It could also be hooked up to dive compressors. Now, Scorkl 2.0, comes with a small electrical compressor, making filling easier. It claims to produce Grade E air; the quality required for "air breathed from cylinders." While there is a filter between the compressor and the Scorkl, we'd sure like to see an independent test on air quality for such an inexpensive compressor, especially since many users might pump up their Scorkl in garages where carbon monoxide can be present (Grade E air has a maximum allowable range for CO).

So, just about anyone can get one without an iota of knowledge of the dangers of breathing compressed air underwater, whose only instruction comes from a manual they may never read, can dive much deeper than they should, maybe even skip breathing to stay a little longer. What could possibly go wrong?

PS: for a more thorough analysis of the problems with Scorkl, go to

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