The world aquatic is an expansive, sensory world, which envelops scuba explorers with a spark of adventure and drive. It also has its share of challenges, many of which muddle the senses, which can lead to disaster for inattentive divers. As scuba diving has evolved over the decades, so too have practices and devices that help its practitioners explore with clarity and security. One product, DiveAlert, has been a mainstay in scuba safety for nearly three decades.
By John Tapley
DiveAlert is a small, light-weight air horn, which can quickly connect and disconnect from a diver’s power inflator and buoyancy compensator. When necessary, a scuba explorer can squeeze the device to release a small amount of air from their scuba tank: producing a loud, piercing noise, which can be heard from up to a mile away. DiveAlert comes in two types: the original, which is designed for subsurface operations, and the DiveAlertPLUS, which can emit noise from surface and subsurface environments. Both products are primarily marketed for recreational divers but have been successfully utilized by NOAA’s dive team: the largest diving government agency in the United States.
Like many innovations in the scuba world, DiveAlert was forged out of necessity. The idea germinated in 1987 when creator Dave Hancock and Seattle’s Marker Buoy Dive Club dove at Skipjack Island in the San Juan Islands, Washington. An unfortunate mistake by one diver could have been disastrous.
Hancock recalls the origins of the first DiveAlert device:
“A few of us club members had boats so we dropped some divers onto the west end of Skipjack Island. There were a couple on our boat; one was a photographer. We dropped them into the water and the photographer was able to clear her ears readily to get to bottom; the other spent a lot of time trying to clear hers in open water. Consequently, because of the currents in the area, she drifted off the dive site.
“My buddy and I were still on the boat and since we had just dropped them off, we weren’t looking for someone to come to the surface right away. We didn’t start looking for her until her dive buddy came up 45 minutes later. We queried her buddy and she said she didn’t see her during the entire dive – she was out of voice range.
“Skipjack is not a very big island: it’s really just a big
rock out there in the San Juans. We proceeded to look around the general area:
there’s so many riptides and back eddies in that area it was hard to know where
to look. We looked for about an hour, going to the other side of the island. We
found her drifting in Haro Strait.
“It was such a stressful situation, I spent several days thinking of what could have been done… what could have enabled her to get our attention. From that incident, I conceived a loud, pneumatic device that could be powered by the air in your scuba tank, and that morphed into how to attach the device to a person. I conceived a device with the same air couplings as your power inflator and pressure hose. It would snap between them and harness the air in your scuba tank to make a very loud noise: measured at about 130 to 135 decibels; being so loud, we highly recommend users dip their heads back in the water to immerse their ears.”
With a background and education in industrial design and product development, Hancock set to work on the first DiveAlert device: a product as he says, “could patent, manufacture, and distribute to divers worldwide.” Hancock incorporated the business a year after the San Juans incident and unveiled DiveAlert at the 1990 Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) show in Orlando, Florida. Out of the gate, DiveAlert received resounding accolades.
“Selling safety in any industry isn’t the easiest thing in the world but the first DEMA where we showed the product is a memory I’ll never forget. Our booth was inundated, and DiveAlert was widely regarded as the best new product of the year. We had numerous manufacturers (Aqualung, Sherwood, and SCUBAPRO) approach us for licensing or buying the business outright. Dick Bowman, president of SCUBAPRO at the time, told me it was the best new product he had seen in the scuba industry in seven years.”
During the show, Hancock met with SCUBAPRO head engineer Jim Dexter and the two formed a friendship and development partnership, which culminated in the early 2000s with the advent of the DiveAlertPLUS. This new product was developed with feedback from the original device.
“We collaborated on a combination product because so many of our customers came to us and said it was too bad they couldn’t use the product to signal underwater. Jim Dexter and I collaborated and patented a dual-function surface and sub-surface signaling product. It was extremely well received because it was our workhorse… our biggest seller to this day.”
DiveAlertPLUS evolved further to make it easier for scuba explorers and dive shops to configure and service it.
“The DiveAlertPLUS that’s on the market, the second version, is a simpler product than what Jim and I designed back then. We went from something that needed a number of specialized tools to build and service to one that needs no special tools: everything you need is there in your toolbox. That alone has made it a success above the original version.”
A diver must rely on their senses at all times in order to avoid injury or death; thanks to DiveAlert, scuba explorers can enjoy their favorite underwater locales with an added layer of security. For more information on DiveAlert, go to www.divealert.com.
Look forward to a review on DiveAlert in an upcoming edition of Scuba H2O Adventures Magazine.