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January 2010    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 36, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Taking Your Cell Phone Diving: Dumb Idea or Good Safety Tool?

from the January, 2010 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Richard Glock (Tampa, FL) had this question for us: “Have you considered carrying a cell phone with you while diving? Granted, if you’re miles offshore, you won’t have reception but I’ve been impressed by how many dive boats get service on their cell phones on the water. A Verizon Wireless rep told me that the Casio G’zOne Boulder phone is water-resistant to six feet. A water-tight container to carry the phone in that would fit in a BC pocket would sure be helpful if I were in trouble at the surface.”

The first thing I would say is there is nothing more repulsive than a diver on a dayboat calling someone on land between dives, especially because they tend to be loud and obtrusive, too often checking on their market position. But maybe safety is a reason to carry a phone on board, so first we checked with Verizon Wireless about its waterproof phone. Spokeswoman Brenda Boyd Raney says the G’zOne passed military specs that make it safe to take into water but Verizon will only guarantee it to be water-resistant, with all ports closed, for up to 30 minutes at a depth of three feet. As for reception, “boaters and divers can often get cell signals while in lakes and close to the shoreline while at sea,” says Raney, but that kind of depth limitation makes it pretty useless for divers.

We contacted the Coast Guard’s Florida sector to see if it ever gets 911 calls from stranded divers bobbing offshore. Public affairs officer Marianna O’Leary said not as of yet. “We issued a press release in August telling boaters not to rely on their cell phones to contact us. Instead, we’re encouraging marine radios because they’re a lot more reliable and water-resistant.”

We’ve seen divers’ anecdotes of their cell phones and BlackBerries being able to work on dives, at least shallow ones. Bob Darwin (Seattle, WA) got a call during a safety stop. Jeff Sohn (Carbondale, PA) and his dive buddies took a few old cell phones on dives to see what would happen. “We used ziplock baggies for some and a watertight camera housing for others. The baggies kept them dry but the LCD screens imploded around 40 feet. The camera housing worked well, though. We lost cell service around 35 feet. Texting worked the best.” Rick Preston (Olympia, WA) accidentally left his BlackBerry in the pocket of his drysuit undergarment and had it vibrate with a calendar reminder at 130 feet. “At first, I thought I was having a heart attack.”

Other divers don’t see the point of bringing the devices on a dive. “I could text my buddy: ‘omg shrk bhnd u totlly cool,’” said one. “Oh, and take a pic when the shark bites his leg off and send it to my friends.” “I thought the purpose of diving was to get away from things like cell phones,” says another.

If you must bring your cell phone along, store it in a waterproof canister (OMS makes a small one that costs around $10 and is waterproof down to 300 feet). While making a call during a dive is impossible, you could use it for a 911 call on the surface. Program your dive boat’s cell number into your phone before backrolling in case it has disappeared when you surface. Or if you prefer to keep your $400 iPhone at home, buy a cheap cell phone to make a 911 call -- the FCC requires that all cell phones, regardless of service status, must be able to reach 911 services if they’re in range of any cellular carrier.

Or you can go all out and splurge on the Alpha Underwater Cell Phone System. For the princely sum of $1,790 you can make and take calls while diving. It buys you a full-face mask with hose and first stage, a 130-foot-long cable with waterproof connector, a Bluetooth-integrated waterproof interface box for your cell phone, and an inflatable buoy with flags. SkyMall sells it, so you can read all about the gizmo on your next flight.

But don’t tell anyone you read this in Undercurrrent. We’re a bit embarrassed that we even published this, but I suppose I’m old-fashioned.

- - Ben Davison

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