The History of Scuba diving goes back to the beginning of human memory.....

The History of Scuba diving began with ancient sponge divers
The History of Scuba diving goes back through the centuries

People have been diving underwater throughout the ages, probably for as long as people have been swimming….. It may not have been Scuba but it is the beginnings of the quest throughout the history of scuba diving to be able to dive underwater and be able to breath underwater.

There are records, in some cases little more than myth, of the methods used and what was done while diving.

One mentions a Greek Warrior who escaped from his Persian captors, then created havoc amongst the Persian fleet by cutting the ships loose while submerged and breathing through a hollow reed. This is one of the first references in the history of scuba to specific attempts at breathing underwater.

I must say it sounds as though he would have no problem passing his Open Water skills having practiced with a hollow reed!

Another historical note is where Alexander the Great used a wooden barrel as a diving bell to clear the harbour at Tyre in 332 B.C.

The main reasons for people to have started diving at first would have been for food, pearl diving, sponges and shells. The desire to swim underwater for various reasons must have existed for as long as Mankind has swum. Pearl diving is still practised today in some locations in much the same way as they did in the beginnings of the history of scuba in all its various forms.

In very early times the methods used, such as hollow reeds and inflated bags of air were largely limiting, both in terms of depth as well as the time this allowed the swimmer to stay underwater.

pearl diving is still practised today in much the same way it was in ancient times
Divers, pearl diving, used a stone hooked by a rope onto the divers foot which he would then unhook when he needed to return to the surface. It is said dives of up to 40 meters would be normal!!! Surely life expectancy would have been fairly short! This method carried on being used in various parts of the world until relatively recently.

There is a scuba diving history record from the Ming Dynasty in China that divers were able to stay underwater for prolonged periods of time by way of a long curving pipe that led up above the surface of the water. This long breathing tube was strengthened by rings of tin and fastened to a watertight mask attached to the face. History of scuba whilst dominated by records in the western world was by no means isolated to that part of the world.

A lot of the development of diving, like many other advances in technology have been as a result of the demands of war and the need for salvage operations by Naval units.

development of diving bells was an important step in the history of scuba

In the 1500’s people began to use primitive diving bells which operated simply on the basis of air being trapped under the open bottomed container, from where the diver would venture out and return for short excursions until the air became un-breathable – you can imagine the potential for accidents!

As time has passed and peoples understanding of the physical requirements to undertake extended dives, as well as advances in technologies, the equipment used became more and more sophisticated.

The History of scuba made an important leap with the invention of dive suits and dive helmets In Europe in the 1500’s leather diving suits were used, combined with air from manual pumps to depths of 20 meters. This progressed over the next two hundred years until the well known steel and brass diving helmet with rubber suits were being used, for extensive dives to undertake commercial salvage underwater.

Research carried out by Paul Bert and John Scott Haldane helped explain the effects of water pressure on the human body and in turn defining the limits involved in compressed air diving. There were technological advances in terms of pumps and other equipment which allowed people to stay under water longer as well.

This was the first equipment developed which, in the History of scuba, could be called scuba

The first Scuba apparatus to be developed in scuba diving history was invented by Benoit Rouquayrol and Auguste Denayrouse, which included a diving helmet, a compressed air tank and an early rudimentary demand regulator. This is a very early version of what was later developed into modern day Scuba equipment used for modern Scuba dive sports.

The first studies of decompression sickness were reported in the 1870’s by Dr Andrew H Smith who did not report any knowledge of the effect of Nitrogen Bubbles forming in the blood. Paul Bert made this connection in 1878 and made the first proposals in scuba diving history, that treatment should be by recompression of the diver. John Scott Haldane through his research in 1908 compiled the first dive tables used to avoid the ‘bends’ as decompression sickness became known. This suits design was so succesful it is largely unchanged today

In 1917, The United States Navy began using the Mark V Diving Helmet for all of its underwater salvage work, using a largely unchanged design well into the 1980’s. In the 1930’s, Fins and masks were developed out of rubber and glass (for the masks!)

Jacques Cousteau, a significant figure in the history of scuba

When talking of the History of Scuba the name Jacques Cousteau is synonomous.

Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan made the next significant step taking the development of Scuba to the point where it became accessible to the masses. In 1943 they developed the demand regulator similar in principle to that developed by Rouquayrol-Denayrouse in the previous century.
The television programme Sea Hunt popularised scuba diving immensely attracting thousands into the sport

From this point on Scuba steadily developed in the years to follow, becoming hugely popular as a result of a television programme starring Lloyd Bridges – The Sea Hunter, this inspired thousands to take up the sport. It is amazing that a television show could have such an important role in the history of scuba.

The increase in accidents as the sport became more and more popular prompted the forming of NAUI in 1960 and PADI in 1966 to train and certify divers.

You can imagine how dangerous the sport must have been without the regulated training ensuring people knew where the dangers lay?

a collection of basic scuba equipment

By the 1970’s the equipment used, such as Buoyancy Control Devices, pressure gauges and single hose regulators became the norm as did dive computers in the 1980’s (what a relief!)

Since the 1990’s an estimated 500 000 new divers are certified every year!
It’s getting crowded down there!

For a detailed timeline of the History of Scuba diving go here!

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