What is an Underwater Scooter and How Does It Work?
An underwater scooter, also known as a diver propulsion vehicle or DPV, is a device that allows scuba divers to glide effortlessly through the water. It is equipped with a motor and propeller to propel the rider at speeds faster than they could swim with fins alone. Underwater scooters come in a variety of styles, but most share some key components:
- Surface unit – The part of the scooter that remains above water, which typically contains the batteries, motor and controls. It is connected to the diver by a hose.
- Submersible unit – The underwater portion of the scooter which contains the propeller that pulls the rider through the water. It is connected to the surface unit by a hose for the power supply.
- Hand controls – Controls on the handlebars under water that allow the diver to accelerate, decelerate, steer and reverse. They control power to the propeller.
- Propeller – A propeller, either shrouded or open, powered by the batteries and motor to spin and pull the rider through the water.
- Batteries – Rechargeable batteries, usually lead-acid or lithium-ion, to power the propeller and motor. They are contained in the surface unit.
- Motor – An electric motor that draws power from the batteries to turn the propeller. It is located either in the surface unit or the submersible unit depending on the model.
The basic idea is that the propeller pulls the diver through the water as it spins. The faster it spins, the more thrust is generated and the faster the scooter can glide. Hand controls on the scooter allow the rider to control that speed and steer accurately where they want to go. An underwater scooter offers much more power and range than a standard scuba setup with fins alone.
A brief history of diver propulsion vehicles (DPVs)
Diver propulsion vehicles, or DPVs, have been in development since the early 1950s. The first models were created by inventors hoping to provide a means for military divers to stealthily and efficiently cover distance underwater.
One of the earliest models was the Broussard Electric Diver, introduced in 1957. It featured an air-powered propeller and could reach 2 knots while pulling a diver. In the 1960s, the Dolphin and Kellac DPVs were introduced for military use. These were more compact but still air powered.
In the late 1960s, battery-powered DPVs were introduced which provided longer run times and less noise than the air-powered models. The Sexton-Hamilton DPV was one of the first commercially available battery-powered scooters. Over the next few decades, various military organizations including the U.S. Navy SEALs adopted DPVs for combat swimmer operations.
Recreational underwater scooters started becoming popular in the late 1980s and 1990s. Models like the Silent Explorer and ScubaJet allowed recreational divers to cover more ground and stay submerged longer. Advanced DPVs such as the Yamaha Seascooter and bonex Scooter provided high speeds up to 100 feet deep.
DPV technology has significantly advanced in the 21st century. Lithium-ion batteries allow for longer run times, brushless motors provide more power and efficiency, and advanced propellers generate more thrust. Recreational scooters can now reach over 5 mph, while high-performance scooters for technical divers can reach 10 mph or more.
Underwater scooters continue to gain popularity in the recreational scuba diving market as they allow divers to conserve energy while exploring more territory on each dive. Today there are many options available for all types of diving from recreational to technical and commercial applications. The future of DPVs is faster speeds, longer run times, and more compact, lightweight designs.
The benefits of using an underwater scooter for diving
Here are the main benefits of using an underwater scooter for diving:
- Conserve energy – The underwater scooter does the hard work of propelling you through the water, so you conserve your energy for enjoying the dive rather than finning constantly. This means less air consumption and less fatigue, allowing you to dive longer.
- Cover more ground – An underwater scooter allows you to explore a wider area on each dive. You can travel farther from shore or your dive boat and access more remote dive sites. Some scooters can reach over 5 mph, covering a large distance over the course of a dive.
- Improve mobility – An underwater scooter provides powered mobility through the water, so you are not limited by how fast you can kick. This allows you to navigate in conditions where finning alone would be difficult such as strong currents. It also provides stability and control for less experienced divers.
- Reduce disturbance – The underwater scooter allows you to glide through the water smoothly with less disturbance to marine life around you compared to finning. This makes it ideal for underwater photography and videography, allowing you to get close to your subjects without frightening them away.
- Share with a buddy – Most underwater scooters tow a buddy along behind, so you can share the experience with another diver while still enjoying the mobility and range of the scooter. Some scooters can tow two or more divers at once.
- Extend your dive season – An underwater scooter allows you to continue diving even when conditions make it challenging to swim and fin. You can dive in colder water temperatures, surface chop, and light or variable currents that would otherwise limit your ability to have a enjoyable and prolonged dive experience with just fins.
- Increase thrill factor – Reaching high speeds up to 5-10 mph or more and gliding effortlessly through the water can provide an added level of excitement and thrill for experienced divers seeking adventure. High performance scooters open up opportunities for technical diving and new underwater experiences.
Overall, underwater scooters provide many benefits that enhance both recreational and technical scuba diving by improving your range and endurance, making diving more comfortable and convenient, and adding an extra element of thrill. They open up new possibilities for exploration and photography and extend your potential dive season.
Is it Safe to Use an Underwater Scooter?
While underwater scooters can be a fun way to enhance your diving experience, it’s important to consider some safety precautions before using one.
The main risk with underwater scooters is injury from the propeller. The propellers on most scooters spin at high speeds to propel the scooter, and coming into contact with the propeller can cause cuts, lacerations, or even finger amputations. It’s critical to always keep a safe distance from the propeller when the scooter is on, and be very careful not to touch it. You should also turn the scooter off immediately if there are any entanglement or other issues.
Another risk is loss of buoyancy control. The scooter can make it more difficult to control your depth and stay neutrally buoyant. Be very careful when descending or ascending, go slowly, and frequently check your depth gauge. If at any time you feel you are losing control of your buoyancy, immediately release the scooter handle and correct your buoyancy before grabbing the handle again.
Underwater scooters also use heavy batteries which can be a hazard if flooded or overheated. Only use batteries approved for underwater use from reputable brands that are properly sealed and rated for the depth you plan to dive to. Be very careful when changing and charging batteries to avoid injury.
By following good safety practices, being attentive during your dives, carefully maintaining your scooter and batteries, and knowing how to quickly release the scooter in an emergency, underwater scooters can be used responsibly. But divers should never forget that there are inherent risks to using motorized equipment underwater. Always put safety first when using an underwater scooter.
Are Underwater Scooters Worth Buying?
Underwater scooters, or diver propulsion vehicles (DPVs), can be a fun way to enhance your scuba diving experience. But are they worth the investment? Here are some factors to consider:
Cost – Underwater scooters range widely in price from $300 up to $1,000 or more, depending on the model and features. For casual recreational diving, you can get a basic scooter for a few thousand dollars that will suit your needs. If you dive frequently, a mid-range model may be a worthwhile investment. The high-end scooters are really only necessary for technical or commercial diving.
Added enjoyment – An underwater scooter can make diving more enjoyable by allowing you to cover more ground with less effort. This means you can explore larger dive sites and see more sea life and underwater attractions. Scooters are also fun to operate and can make you feel almost like you have superpowers underwater!
Increased range – The power from an underwater scooter will give you a much farther range than swimming alone with scuba gear. This means you can access dive sites and underwater locations that would otherwise be too difficult to reach by just swimming.
Safety considerations – While underwater scooters are generally quite safe if operated properly with the necessary precautions, they do present additional risks like propeller injury, loss of buoyancy control, and battery hazards. You need to make sure you thoroughly understand how to safely operate the scooter before using one.
Added responsibility – Owning and operating an underwater scooter also means additional maintenance and care requirements. You’ll need to properly maintain your scooter and batteries to keep it in working condition. If anything fails or goes wrong, it’s your responsibility to deal with it.
For many recreational divers, an underwater scooter can be a very rewarding purchase that enhances your diving enjoyment and experience. But go in with realistic expectations about costs and responsibilities. And never forget to put safety first when using an underwater scooter. With the right precautions taken, underwater scooters are worth considering for any avid diver.
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