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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Glad Ron is alive!
by: Nic

Ron- your tale is absolutly bonkers, I'm very glad you and your kid are alright! Sounds like you should both get scuba certified, since you love diving so much. You deserve to do it safely!

To everyone who posted here- thank you for the info. When you google "scuba hookah system", the results are pages after pages of sites trying to ether sell you one, or articles by the manufacturers stating how safe the systems are. Glad to hear some actual stories of the hazards.

Thank you!

Hooka problems
by: Anonymous

Fascinating tale and shows you are at least honest to share your stupidity in the multiple areas you experienced.

NO, NEVER learn life endangering hobbies without a real expert.

Never listen to even -so-called or self-proclaimed experts to not add in a safety factor in this dive or series of dives. Better to have more safety devices or equipment than one too little.

If you have not done a course since your experiences I URGE you to do so at your earliest convenience and ensure ANY dive buddy has at least your level of knowledge from a reputable dive company--PADI or SSI. THIS MUST INCLUDE YOUR SON--who can be your equal in this hobby and your safety reminder if you get too cocky again.

You risked your own life-- but how would you feel now if he was a vegetable or blind--or dead!

Diving is not a self learning experience.
There are hundreds of things your scuba teachers can and will teach you and the study books are overflowing with life saving tips and knowledge vital to learn.

Diving in shallow pools and rivers does not make you expert in the laws of physics-but those laws WILL act upon you as soon as your head is under water and every meter down.

Hookah diving is subject to the same laws--but DAN Drs and others informed me since about the fact that the equipment must be selected for the type of diving--- whether Wreck diving, deep diving, drift diving, commercial diving or Hookah.

There is so much to learn. I have done at least a dozen courses now and still feel inadequate--- experience is gained with the hundreds of dives you will do--but there should never be experiences like you and I suffered.

Knowledgeable divers would call us Cowboys waiting to kill somebody who trusts us.

I learned my lesson and leave my ego at my front door--not on the dive boat or at the bottom of a dive.

Thanks for your comments and your humility in admitting to your foolishness over and over. Very cringeworthy for all readers but worse for me knowing I did it too!


Hookah hic ups
by: Ron

I wish I had found your threads before or right after I bought my hookah system. I went out diving in 8ft with a hookah system under the guidance of your 'A' typical redneck (1st of numerous mistakes) he taught me All I would ever need to know. Stuff like, 'hold your breath when ascending'.

When I bought mine from Airsupply I called several times with questions as I had no diving experience or knowledge. I was told it was basically elementary, intuitive and safest way to dive. No training nesscary. My son and I dive regularly in the Tennessee river.
Visibility is extremely low, 2 foot on a good day. We googled some info on diving and learned NOT to hold breath but best knowledge was still limited to a one long second per foot ascent with no knowledge on why. The 'why' of things is about as important as the knowledge. In my experience.

We went through several bad learning curves and now I realize after reading some of these threads how stupid/lucky we have been. First problem ever encountered was the machine turning off. We heard the silence and knew the machine cut off. We were not together but this is how we each acted. I began a one second accent but holding my breath for about 4 to 5 feet. I remembered there was supposed to be a few breaths left in the hose and was going to count them. After accessing about 4 feet I took a breath, after another 4 I tried another breath and there was only vacuum.

Having no breath left I accended immediately to find my son had just surfaced ahead of me. He, upon hearing the machine turn off also remembered that there were a few breaths left in the hose and also wanted to count them. He continued to breath normally while accended (still to fast) and breathed out 5 breaths in a matter of moments sucking out ALL of the air from both lines.

I called the airsupply people and tried to order a couple pony bottles in case that ever happened again but was talked out of it. "The air goes bad over time and you. Ever know if your carrying good air and you don't want to pay such a high price as these cost. Just keep a better eye on the gas."

The next problem encountered was a kinked hose. We side by side when my air just stopped. I could still hear the machine. It didn't taper out it just was gone. One breath was normal and the next was vacume.

I motioned to my son that my regulator went out and we accended slowly using just his but part way up my regulator started bubbling and when I put it in my mouth it was working fine. We went up and. He led everything and you could see a mark on the hose where it had linked so we knew what happened.

After that the hose continued to kink about once every two dives. It was during this time I became a bit sloppy with my accents as I was coming up faster and faster but never noticing any suffering for it. My son too was not taking as long to come up anymore but he would often get a headache during or after a dive and we speculated coming up to fast was the cause. I have another son who doesn't dive but swims like a fish and regularly swims to bottom around 12-15 ft and back up for years without problems.

The next major event (now about 4 months into diving from the purchase). We had bought full face manta masks and no longer used a regulator in our mouth. Instead the regulator attaches to the mask at the mouth port. The whole face stays dry and there's nothing in your mouth which is so nice.

There is a cooling black hoses that is the first 10 feet of hose which must stay submerged to cool the air before it reaches the long yellow hose. We had been working at the full reach of our hoses for about 45 minutes in about 25 feet of no visibility. Didn't even know we had become separated.

Suddenly in the blackness my face mask collapsed onto my face. When I say collapsed the lens were touching my eyeballs (it had instantly sucked the contacts from my eyes) my entire face had full contact with the mask, it hurt bad. I mean it was painful the amount of pressure that had seized my whole face.

Instant confusion. Totally blind. Sincere panic. I reached for my son with one hand while I don't even know what the other hand was doing to my mask but my face hurt bad and there was no son to be reached. More panic. The seconds lasted so so long. Maybe 5 now had gone by but I was aware of 5 minutes worth of details.

I forced myself to just stop everything and think. That worked. Literally concentrated through a palatable panic. Now I grabbed my weight buckle and decided to hell with accend rules as I felt the mask was doing damage to my face and I could no longer hold my breath but instead the air had been forcfully pulled out of my lungs and a horrible pain filled my chest which at 52 I thought it was a heart attack. ( I cry now just to put it to paper).

When I hit the surface swimming furiously I tore the mask from my face, which I had desperately been trying to do all the way up. I was aware that I wasn't drowning but was severely suffercating. That's the only thing anymore that I was aware of. Even as the mask came off only 2 things I can recall. One, and best of the best, was my sons voice somewhere back behind me. It was panicked and painful sound and he was ?screaming? maybe, we never really recalled.

The other and kind of my last thought as I might have lost some conscience was that I had gone pitch black blind. Then something yanked me right back down and I don't remember anything except a rather hard impact against the bottom of the river. I was no longer aware of anything that had happened. It was like I was waking up to discover I had just hit the bottom of the river with no dive equipment other than a weight belt.

I couldn't help the breath of water I took there was so much nothing/vacume in my chest. I started flailing my arms and legs and was jerking around with no control like a seizure for a second and I was very aware that I had/was drowned. At that same moment my hand landed on the release buckle of my ??weight belt?? I thought I had shucked in the beginning.

I released it but I really don't know if I was thinking all this stuff or just deduced it all later. My son who was hanging onto the side of the boat vomiting water when I came up the second time said I came up as a black man in appearance and Jesus ran across the water to the shore some 40 feet away where I collapsed into I don't know what.

Convulsions, seizures. Something that took control of my muscles for the next several minutes. What had happened was this. The connection at the black and yellow hose which is supposed to stay submerged, had been lifted from the water by my son and I pulling it too hard as we tried to reach to far out.

After an unknown time out of water it heated the hose so hot it slipped the coupling off. The open end of the hose now attached to nothing immediately submerged and all the air from a combined 190ft of hose immediately seeped from the top creating a suction so strong I easily could've seen it ripping our tongues out if they had only fitted through that little slot in the mask. Both of our faces had a bruised hickey covering the entire face, we both had bleeding on the end of our tongue. My vision was back as of me convulsing on the shore and don't know when exactly as I wasn't aware of being blind the second time I surfaced. I had numerous broken vessels on my face skin surface and my son had a few also. Both our lips stayed blue for about 2-3 days.

One more scare to throw in before I end this horrible tale. We ordered the pony bottles from airsupply. Again he tried to talk me out of it but I never told h what happened just that I was going to order them either from him or someone else. They arrived and it didn't say if they were full or not but I assumed they would not be shipped full.

They had instructions which said to test the bottle before each dive by depressing the trigger. When I hit the trigger it had air. We only dove twice more before storing everything for the winter. We were going to let the air out of the pony bottles for the winter only to discover they had no air. I called airsupply who told me the bottles were shipped with a vacume. WTF

If you are not already a diver and know what to search for exactly concerning how to dive, then you are probably like me reading a bunch of opinions and non-experienced instructions. I can't say I learned a whole lot specifically reading through these threads but I learned perhaps the most important thing I needed to learn. I learned that I needed to go to dive class and learn about diving from professional divers and I learned how bad a father I have been.

BEWARE. Hookah systems are considered safe enough not to need training. That's dead wrong and will get you dead.

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 bottlešŸ˜Š

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