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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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August 1998 Vol. 13, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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What to Do if Your Automatic Inflator Sticks Open

from the August, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

If the valve of a low-pressure inflator on a buoyancy compensator or a drysuit sticks open, a dangerous, out-of-control ascent can result. What can be done to minimize problems with stuck inflator valves?

The best thing, of course, is to prevent problems from arising in the first place. Proper maintenance and frequent inspection of the valve can go a long way toward preventing the valve from sticking. The second way to minimize potential problems is to have a high level of awareness while diving: the faster you recognize a problem, the faster you can deal with it. If your valve should stick during a dive, take the following actions:

First, disconnect the low-pressure hose. Don't waste time fiddling with the inflator button. Instead, unhook the hose. Continue the dive using oral inflation techniques. (Remember how?) Don't reconnect the inflator hose until you can inspect the entire mechanism out of the water after the dive.

Second, maintain buoyancy control. If you've become positively buoyant from air admitted to your suit or BC, immediately swim downward as hard as you can while disconnecting the hose. Use pressure to reduce the volume of any extra air. The shallower you are, the more important this becomes, because the rate of expansion becomes greater the closer you are to the surface. Swim down hard, grab something on the bottom, turn to an upright position, and vent excess air. Avoid rising passively. Fight to remain at depth.

Finally, if you do lose control and begin rising toward the surface, maneuver yourself into a face-up position and flare your arms, legs, and fins to create the maximum cross-sectional body area. This will slow your ascent rate dramatically. After achieving this position, attempt to vent excess air. Maintain normal breathing and ride out the ascent. Always disconnect the low pressure hose, even if you have to do so during an outof- control ascent. Do this as soon as you realize that you'll be unable to swim down hard enough to overcome excess buoyancy. If you simply try to swim down the whole time you're rising toward the surface, you'll eventually reach a point where you'll lose directional control due to buoyancy problems. Once you lose control, you'll be unable to achieve the flare position, and your overall ascent rate will be much greater than if you had flared earlier in the ascent.

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