Ultrasound Networks for Divers

The Verge reported yesterday on a new type of diving console (the device attached to a hose that goes to your vest and lets you control buoyancy as well as giving you information such as depth, etc.) that hooks into a communications network based on ultrasound.

This network allows divers to communicate amongst each other as well as with the “base station” on the diving boat.

The idea, of course, was prone to pop up. Communication between divers under water is line-of-sight only, since it isn’t possible to speak under water - at least with normal scuba gear, This is why every dive should be done with a “buddy” - i.e. a one-to-one pairing of divers that keep each other in sight.

A lot of responsibility rests on the organizer of a diving trip - usually an instructor - when he or she takes a group of divers (not seldom 10 or more) on a dive. If you have inexperienced divers in the group, the “take care of your buddy” system frequently breaks, because it’s so damn pretty down there...

However, I see two main issues with introduction of this type of technology:

1. The buddy system works well - if both divers apply it properly - for a number of reasons. Often, the buddies are friends in real life (most people go diving with their significant other or friends instead of going on a diving trip alone), which helps in many situations where communication is key - if one of the two runs out of air, for example

I’m quite afraid that introduction of underwater communications will break the buddy system and create groupings of divers, as well as the breaking away of individual divers from the group that prefer to dive alone. Should something bad happen - from something simple as a calf cramp to more serious issues such as a broken respirator or a diver that gets stuck in a crack - panic will likely ensue. Everybody will start hitting buttons to “ping” others resulting in a communications overload of the network and a guaranteed negative outcome to the situation.

2. Ultrasonic communication underwater isn’t new; it’s been around as a military application for many years. It does have environmental issues, however. Ultrasound (defined as any sound frequency above 20kHz) is audible to many fish and other marine animals. If you’ve even been diving at the typical hotspots worldwide, you know how crowded those spots get. I’ve seen spots with 10 diving vessels, each carrying up to 30 divers. Imagine the sound pollution generated by 300 divers in the water at a single location, each hooked into an ultrasound network... I don’t want to think about what that will do to the fauna in the area!

Technology is a good thing - I’ll be the first to tell you that. But some things work just fine without it, better even. Personally, I think the buddy system for divers is one of those.
That such a system used only for emergency beaconing would be a benefit goes without saying, of course.
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