Near Death Scuba Dive Experience With A Hookah System

by Paul Ross
(Sale. Vic. Australia)

Hi world wide dive family,

I am back from PNG trip and had 35 days of heavenly fun--among which I explored long forgotten wrecks and dive sites, and got a great many long dives in on sites better than the GBR.

For your information/knowledge or education allow me though to share one unusual near-death-experience that others might be able to learn from; or you might be able to contribute your further knowledge, experience and intelligence about, for myself and others to benefit from.

We were diving with a Hookah system with two hoses, on the Starboard side of a 372 foot long shipwreck sunk about 1945. (The Muscoota) I began to feel a very unusual strong Mask squeeze at about 12 meters; this was accompanied by intense ear pain and slight dizziness; all of which was relieved by ascending a couple of meters-yet took 2-3 attempts to totally eliminate those feelings before I could continue descending. This had never happened to me before in my previous 100 plus dives.

I could not understand the symptoms nor see from my clear thinking analysis of that situation that there was any serious problem that I was not fixing-with the surface visible from my vantage point, so I continued with the dive considering it a one off oddity. I did alert my dive buddy that I had experienced ear pains and dizziness. Perhaps at this point I should have ascended to be sure my thinking was as clear as I believed.

At 14 meters and again at 20 mts I began experiencing that sensation of ones tank getting low-(air hunger and cheeks touching inside my mouth as I sucked for more) -but I had not got a tank!

I quickly got my buddies attention and gave him the out of air signal. He, having far less dive knowledge than myself and little experience diving with others for a long time, was confused, but understandably and particularly so, because, he reasoned that if one diver on a Hokah system is out of air then we should both be out of air.

I reasoned that the hookah compressor must have tipped over or my hose had kinked. I had never dived Hookah before.

My mind was so clear I was reasoning that I was fortunate enough to have done all those courses for just such an eventuality through SSI and now I knew what to do. My confused buddy (at my distress) made it easy for me my cooperating with my hand signals. The Training worked, I thought to myself.

Calmly I let him know I needed his regulator; so he shared it (though he did not exhale and did not understand my signals to do so through limited experience or forgetfulness.) I simply compensated for this by stopping in our ascent when I had the regulator in my mouth-again congratulating myself on my calm thinking!) I continued to check the hoses and my regulator, yet found found nothing after quite calmly investigating all equipment at depth.

I even calmly latched onto his boat life vest we were using instead of BCD and placed his hands on my vest. All went well for us both as I took a good ten minutes to ascend-as we had been down for 76 minutes at the start of this trouble, and he was not exhaling between sharing, so I took a further three minutes at 5-6 mts too of course.

Whilst packing up our gear he observed and concluded that the problem lay in the Hookah set up. The "Y" junction pipe from the air-compressor obviously has three ways for air to flow--BUT-- any of the three connections can be made to fit any of those pipes. What we concluded had happened was that the air inlet was actually connected to what possibly ought to have been an outlet.

Consequently (we believed) the configuration of pipes caused my supply of air to be delivered via a 90 degree turn and his at about 30 degrees; where both should have been delivered to the divers at the same angle. We assumed that if he fixes this that the next dive, and or dive buddy he has will not have any problems.

Time prohibited testing out this theory and as he lives in PNG I have yet to hear from him regarding any follow up dive experiences. Back in Australia this theory was confirmed by experimenting with garden hoses.

Yet, as you will see we were wrong, and my self congratulations at my calmness, experience, skills and decisions all through from the beginning were based on my inexperience and arrogance.

Now before I give you the answer of where I was at fault-what do you think?

Perhaps it will help in your conclusion if I were to exclude something. Going to a what I was told was a third world country where hygiene may have not been perfect, and possibly professional technicians may not have been readily available or parts I had decided to overcome this concern by taking my own regulator, stinger outfit, fins, mask and other basic personal equipment.

My regulator was only serviced before the trip and we had done a few shallow dives in PNG before this wreck dive which was mostly between 5-10 meters, or less!

Here is the answer I received from my Diving Instructors, which was later confirmed by our DAN Dr.

Dear Paul,

Ok what I think happened then is, your reg is a scuba reg not a hookah reg.

Your reg is designed for a 1st stage that effectively increases the line pressure as the unit is operated deeper.

It worked at 10m but when you went to 20m the hookah supply doesn't increase the delivery. In fact it will slightly decrease and the reg you were breathing through expects a boost in supply pressure.

It's actually quite dangerous doing what you did without proper training and knowledge as if the system isn't configured properly you run the risk of breathing problems and if the system failed up top, there is a suction effect up the hose from the diver and unless there is a one way valve in the hose, a scuba reg fails in the wrong direction and your tongue could be sucked up the hose out of your mouth. SSI INSTRUCTOR

Turns out this answer proved correct.

So, in conclusion. A little knowledge is dangerous. A lot of knowledge can be lethal. A little confidence is good and too much >> stupid.

If it aint broken or in need of servicing by a fully trained person-leave it alone.

Did you note I had little trouble at shallow dives but once I went past a certain (unknown point) I became aware of problems that began when I decided to change things (my regulator) and probably past the second atmosphere of 10 meters.

I have since Goggled up Hookah versus Scuba regulators and need you to be alerted to a related problem for those at my limited dive experience of only 150 dives.

There are dive sites where forums share knowledge, which has, in the past, been very helpful-but regarding this subject there are mixed messages being promoted. Some say that there is no need to worry about which regulator is needed, whilst other sites say that the springs need to be changed out by experts for the air-pressure etc.

The point is that so-called experts (like myself!) are guiding others into the potential danger I found myself in. Beware. Get real expert advise, not self appointed experts.

Am I glad i have DAN Insurance for this proves how easy I might have needed it.

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hookah setups are quite tecnical
by: Anonymous

A normal scuba second stage reg works at 14 bar hookah regs are low pressure there are different ratings on low pressure regs they range from 3-10 bar 3 bar low pressure regs are designed for 12v powerdive/third lung units and diving to shallow depths were the working pressue and flow is not needed. I dive 16-20 on a hookah regularly and we have a honda 6hp motor with an abac compressor the working pressure of our system is 12bar the flow is 30cuf per min the pressure relief the hookah you were diving off is set to 8.5 bar dumping to atmosphere while all divers are down via the pressure relief valve on the hookah.our regs are low pressure rated at 9 bar. a 3 bar reg on a 9 bar hookah system is extremely dangerous 1. if the hookah cuts out your not going to know cause you have drained the line pressure down to 3 bar on a 9 bar rated reg the breathing will get restriced . Its a sign 2. If someone spits a mouthpeice and it floats on the t peice the air dumps at the surface and stops supplying the second diver. These systems require training. I could rant on more but i come up from 17 metres without air 5 min before a nondecompression limit on a hookah the emergency ascention was good but when i got to the surface i gulped for air and started heading straight to the bottom again (no bcd)i dropped the weightbelt but it got tangled in my knife hoslter worst 3min of my life !ended up in emergency if you have to drop a weightbelt unclip and hold it well away! Takecare stay safe! Lot to hookah diving !we run second air sipplies now 16 cf pony bottle😊

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