Dive industry trade shows… are they dead or just sick?

Comparable stats from other industries (in conjunction with DEMA’s figures) seem to indicate that the broad appeal of a “traditional” trade show is waning. There are some notable exceptions, but several years of experience watching attendance at and sales at DEMA suggest the dive industry is not one of those exceptions.

I had a unique opportunity this past November to visit Orlando and attend our industry’s biggest trade show wearing several hats. I was not tied down to one booth — as in past years — but wandered the floor, made several presentations, and generally “mingled.”

As a travel product marketplace, DEMA is sans pareil. However, despite some brave attempts at making a visual impact from many of the more mainstream scuba services (punctuated by several lack-luster booths from one or two major players), this year’s show showed all the vibrancy of an old dog too tired to play fetch. Saturday, for example, the show curled up and napped.

From conversations before the show, during and after, I believe the industry has faith in consumer shows still — albeit with a slightly updated approach compared to the old “put up a shingle and wait for the customers” — but a trade show as expensive, as regional, and as poorly attended as DEMA… well, the jury seems to be out.

 

N.B. DEMA stands for the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association.

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CCR Cave… special circumstances or a walk in the park?

Following on from one of the main debate streams that surfaced during the NACD conference, a few buddies and I recently discussed the “deliverables” of a CCR Cave Diving course.

One of them — and it seems a valid topic to present to “new” CCR cave divers as well as experienced OC cave divers signed up for a cave orientation course — is gas volume management for bailout scenarios.

Typically, OC cave divers have a pretty simple set of rules to govern how much gas they need to carry with them. For CCR divers, those rules are not as simple because there is an extra variable. And that variable is the diver’s gas consumption rate once he has bailed out: it will vary a lot!

To better understand that why this is, we have to consider the reasons that would drive a CCR diver to abandon “the loop” to breathe open-circuit.

One example — perhaps the worse-case scenario — is carbon dioxide poisoning. There are a bunch of possible events that could lead up to this, but for the time-being, let’s just take it as read that the diver has experienced one almighty pear-shaped CO2 breakthrough event, and has ALMOST left it until too late before bailing out. He is hyperventilating and is close to panic.

So, what consumption rate is best to use as a benchmark?

For most to the OC stuff I teach — and in lieu of real data — a SAC rate of 14 litres per minute is a good starting point. (That’s about half a cubic foot for those struggling with imperial units.) To find the actual consumption (RMV), that number would be multiplied by the depth or average depth expressed in bar and the product of that calculation by a number to represent the Dive Factor (workload, thermal stress, etc.). For most OC dives, a DF of 1.5 to 2 is OK. However, for a CCR diver battling back from the edge of CO2 oblivion, a DF of 3 is the minimum recommended stating point.

To put this into a real-world example, consider a CCR diver bailing out around a 40 minute swim from the mouth of a cave with an average depth of 25 metres.

Our 14 litre per minute consumption rate now gives us 14 X 3.5 (depth in bar) x 3 (DF) X40 (minutes to surface) which equals 5880 litres.

That is a lot of gas, and effectively requires the diver to carry more than two fully-charged 12 litre cylinders (aluminum 80s) as bailout. Is this realistic? Is it realistic to imagine that the elevated consumption rate experienced immediately following CO2 break-through would persist for the full duration of the exit swim? Also, is it wise for the diver to have no redundancy in the event of one of those two bailout regulators malfunctioning?

What do you think?

NACD Rebreather Summit

This past Sunday (November 13), I attended the National Association for Cave Divers Rebreather Summit in North Florida.  This annual get-together follows the regular NACD social and symposium held Friday and Saturday; and is a low-key affair… but the topics discussed usually speak to the heart of what concerns the technical CCR crowd in N. Fl and beyond.

The format for the summit is simple: brief presentations in the morning, a break for lunch, and a panel discussion in the afternoon. The audience submits questions for the panel to answer, and the panel — consisting of representation from rebreather manufacturers, training agencies, and related “stake-holders” — does its best to provide answers.

The vast majority of questions focused on CCR training rather than innovations in design and technology, and seemed to be looking for answers about training at both ends of the spectrum: sport and hard-edged tech.

So what were the topics raised?

Moves within the industry to make rebreathers available to sport divers through simplified machines and “abridged” training was one thing questioned. The suggestion of three-day programs for sport certs raised a major alarm with some audience members, and the panel was asked to comment.

The consensus really was “let’s wait and see,” because central to these New and Shortened programs is that the academics are completed onLine before a student steps into a class. Given that this would allow a full three days (as a minimum) for practical skills development, the panel cautiously agreed that sport rebreather certs could work. Since making rebreathers available to sport divers was the major hum at DEMA the week before, sports certs and sport-level rebreathers ARE promising to make the industry an interesting study over the coming months.

(For example, I’ve just read a post in one of the onLine diving forums wondering how come an essential piece of a recreational CCR (an ORing) mysteriously “came off” almost causing some serious grief. What is more disturbing is that the missing ORing (which in this case is designed to prevent CO2 blowby around the sorb canister and which should have been noted as missing during the initial assembly and checks) seems to have been overlooked a second time when the unit was reassembled prior to a second attempt to dive it. This seems to be a classic case of either complacency or poor training… or a mix of both.. but was absolutely operator error.)

As controversial, or at least engendering as much interests among the audience, was the question of CCR specific cave instruction.

Two issues on this topic. The first was if someone with training and experience with OC in a cave would gain anything from taking a full CCR cave class. The second asked about the need for a full curriculum of cave classes aimed at divers who have no desire to dive OC ever.

The panel seemed to agree to a person: there are techniques unique to CCR that may not be intuitive to  OC cave divers — therefore at very least a day or two Orientation Workshop seems appropriate — and a cave CCR program for “new” techdivers is a must. In fact Ben Remenants, who has developed TDI’s CCR cave program, was in the audience and offered his opinion on this score. Certainly as more divers gain their experience totally inside the world of CCR, it is totally counter-intuitive expecting them to take a cave class wearing anything but CCR gear.