Connect with us


Have Breather, Will Travel – Tips from the Pros

As hundreds of rebreather professionals prepare to head to Malta for the three-day industry and scientific symposium, Rebreather Forum 4, we thought it timely to offer some tips from the experts on traveling with your rebreather. InDEPTH managing editor Ashley Stewart talks to the pros and explains what you need to know and what’s consider best practices. So, break out your breather and start packing.



By Ashley Stewart. Header image: Explorers Pete Mesley, Richie Kohler and three other CCR divers sporting 51 cases and bags of equipment in route to conduct a recent Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) project in Micronesia. Photo courtesy of Richie Kohler.

🎶 Pre-dive clicklist: Coming Into Los Angeles by Arlo Guthrie 🎶 

Traveling with a closed circuit rebreather is not a straightforward task. Just like traveling for open-circuit diving, you’ll need to find a destination that supports what you have in mind, figure out which pieces of equipment you need to bring, how to transport them safely, what you can rent or borrow at your destination.

Except now the diving and equipment is more complex, and the stakes are higher if you lose, break, or forget anything because you’re less likely to be able to track down a replacement, not to mention having problem with airport and custom agents. CCR travel takes far more advanced planning.

Whether you’re a new rebreather diver traveling with your unit for the first time, or a practiced CCR traveler telling yourself there’s got to be a better way, you may be asking: What are the important considerations for a diving destination? What luggage should I use? What do I check and what do I carry on? What spares do I need to bring? 

As hundreds of rebreather professionals head to Malta for the industry conference Rebreather Forum 4, InDEPTH asked expert CCR travelers about the basics.

Start With Your Destination

All in a day’s work for Jill Heinerth. Photo courtesy of J. Heinerth.
Graham Blackmore

One of the biggest considerations for rebreather travel is finding a dive shop capable of supporting CCR-length bottom times, exposures, and equipment, said Graham Blackmore, an instructor evaluator who teaches Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) capstone rebreather class.

Select your destination keeping in mind the unique equipment needs of your CCR—and be adaptable.

Becky Kagan-Schott

“Something I always tell newer CCR divers is that you need to learn to be flexible,” Emmy-winning underwater photographer and CCR instructor Becky Kagan Schott said. “Ask the destination site what they have and confirm it. If they have only a certain size tank, you may have to make adjustments. If they don’t have the valve you, need you should bring valves.”

One consideration is carbon dioxide absorbent, or sorb. Sofnolime, the most commonly used sorb, is often difficult to acquire at many destinations. You may find you have to travel with your own sorb, in which case renowned cave explorer, filmmaker, author and instructor Jill Heinerth recommends attaching a Material Safety Data Sheet to the container. Check airlines for specific regulations regarding sorb.

Confirm the destination not only has the tanks you need, but the valves. Lola-style manifolds, like those used in the GUE configuration of the JJ-CCR, can be hard to find, and you may have to bring your own. AL40s are typically easy to track down, but be aware these may have different neck threads than in your home country.

Renting the rack or frame of a CCR is worth asking about to save some baggage space, but traveling with your own is generally straightforward and doesn’t add too much weight, experts agreed.

A GUE configured JJ-CCR packs neatly in a suitcase and a bag. Photo by Kees Beemster Leverenz.

Which luggage is best?

Now you know what you’re bringing. To which luggage should you trust your CCR? Just like everything in CCR travel, the answer depends on the unit. Some units—like Dive Rite’s 7.7kg /17 lbs Optima Chestmount aka the CHO2PTIMA, which is able to fit in a small carry-on roller case—are intended for easy travel. 

The beauty of the 7.7kg CHO2PTIMA. Photo courtesy of Bryan Bashor

Schott’s Megalodon CCR, for example, weighs 38 pounds and is designed to fit in carry-on luggage. For others, the consensus among most experts polled by InDEPTH was to use a hardshell suitcase instead of a Pelican case. 

Most of the experts agreed Pelican cases are unnecessarily heavy and expensive, aren’t built to go into cars and vans such as taxis in remote destinations, and attract unwanted attention. “It looks like something important and expensive is inside, and this can make it a target for thieves,” Blackmore said.

If you aren’t scared away by excess baggage fees or a perceived higher risk of theft, stick with the Pelican Air. Schott—who travels with her Divesoft Liberty Sidemount unit in a Pelican Air case—tries to keep it inconspicuous. “I prefer something that won’t draw too much attention,” she said. “I don’t put fragile or stickers on the case to indicate what’s in it.“

Fathom Dive Systems founder Charlie Roberson packs his entire rebreather, plus spares and travel tools, in a Pelican Air 1615 with a Trek Pak divider at just under 50 pounds. “I’ve travelled to Palau, California, Bonaire, and Mexico many times without any damage or loss,” Roberson said. “The Pelican case, which has wheels, is so easy to handle I’m considering replacing my XL North Face duffel with another for the rest of my gear.”

“Anything with wheels is going to work if the frame fits inside,” instructor evaluator and CCR instructor Guy Shockey said, who noted the Pelican Air 1607 as an option. 


Pete Mesley

Pete Mesley—who teaches rebreathers and runs CCR trips through his company Lust4Rust—suggests bringing “anything that will save your trip if you lost it or broke it.”

The experts generally agreed the most important spares to bring when traveling with a CCR are spare cell, tear aid (or spare counterlungs), batteries, and O-rings.

Schott likes to dive with others on similar units and brings spares as a group. In addition to the basics above, Schott brings service tools for her bailout-valve, a manual add valve, a spare handset and heads-up display (HUD).

Shockey decides what to bring based on how remote the destination is. “I usually carry a full set of tools and spare parts as per the document in GUE materials,” Shockey said. He brings exact size wrenches and Torx and Allen wrenches rather than full kits to save room, plus spare overpressure valves for first-stages. 

Mesley’s packing!
Discretely packed CCR & dive gear. Photo courtesy of Becky Kagan Schott

To Check Or Not To Check

The biggest travel-related debate among CCR divers appears to be what to check and what to carry on, which, like all considerations, depends on the type of rebreather.

“I always check my breather, as I have so much expensive camera gear that needs to go carry-on,” Heinerth said. “Honestly, rebreathers are robust if packed well—especially a JJ.”

Kirill Egorov

Cave explorer and CCR instructor Kirill Egorov brings the head of his JJ-CCR, the most important and expensive component, in his carry on. He packs the unit by removing the stand and handle from the canister so it will fit in any bag, and checks it along with the scrubber, regulators, and counterlungs with the T-pieces—fittings that connect the loop and counterlungs—removed. 

Guy Shockey

Shockey carries on the head, counterlungs, and loop. “I have opened several brand new JJ’s in their original shipping and found holes in the counter lung,” he said. He also occasionally removes the stand after seeing a few break the Delrin base on the actual canister when it dropped (a $250 replacement). Shockey also suggests taking the head out of carry-on luggage through security because it shows up as a black blob on the X-ray machine. “Easier to calm them down at the beginning than trying to do damage control,” he said.

Mesley travels with his assembled JJ-CCR unit in checked baggage and said he’s never damaged his gear despite averaging as many as 50 flights with his rebreather this way prior to the pandemic. “When I travel, I keep the unit as fully intact as possible,” Mesley said, with the exception of removing the mouthpiece/bailout valve hose assembly and packing the T-pieces with soft material. The idea is to prevent the counterlungs from being punctured or crushed by the T-pieces.

Blackmore checks his JJ-CCR with the head attached to the canister. 

“It is important to hold the shape of the canister,” Blackmore said. “It’s very easy to bend the canister without the head in place.”

It’s important to keep your head about you. Divesoft’s head case makes it easy.

Educate Customs Agents

Regardless of what luggage you use or in which part of the plane your rebreather travels, you’ll have to contend with Customs agents who have likely never come across such a machine. You may want to consider leaving information for Customs agents to expedite immigration checks.

Heinerth and Schott both include a laminated sheet in baggage explaining a rebreather. Heinerth’s letter is attached below. She also includes a page in large font stating, “Fragile. Life Support. Safe for Airline Transport,” and handwrites a note to the Customs agent with her seat number and phone number. 

Schott includes similar notes in her CCR and camera bags. The note indicates the unit is rebreather used for scuba diving, and that it is life-support equipment. She also includes a photo of what the unit looks like assembled and a phone number and email address. Divesoft offers a similar “Liberty Passport” PDF for its users.

The Bottom Line

Experts agreed the keys to successfully traveling with your CCR are to start planning long in advance to arrange what you need, be flexible, and prepare to pay up for excess baggage to ensure you have what you need for the trip.

“When you travel to these amazing destinations, the cheapest part of this whole trip will be the excess baggage charges, so just focus on what you need to take, pack it up safely, weigh it beforehand and pre-plan your excess bill,” Mesley said. “Then you dive with what you are comfortable with, your holiday is fun and, if you have a few issues with your gear, you have the parts to repair it, and get back to your diving.”


Into the Planet: CCR Notice to Border Personnel

Into The Planet: More Tips for Traveling with Rebreathers

Becky Kagan Schott: Traveling With A Megalodon

Becky Kagan Schott: Traveling with Liberty Sidemount

Divesoft: How To Travel With A Rebreather

Divesoft: Liberty Passport (CCR travel papers)

InDepth Managing Editor Ashley Stewart is a Seattle-based journalist and tech diver. Ashley started diving with Global Underwater Explorers and writing for InDepth in 2021. She is a GUE Tech 2 and CCR1 diver and on her way to becoming an instructor. In her day job, Ashley is an investigative journalist reporting on technology companies. She can be reached at:


The Aftermath Of Love: Don Shirley and Dave Shaw

Our young Italian poet-explorer Andrea Murdoch Alpini makes a pilgrimage to visit cave explorer Don Shirley at the legendary Bushmansgat cave in South Africa. In addition to guiding the author through the cave, Shirley and Alpini dive into history and the memories of the tragic loss in 2005 of Shirley’s dive buddy David Shaw, who died while trying to recover the body of a lost diver at 270 m/882 ft. The story features Alpini’s short documentary, “Komati Springs: The Aftermath of Love.”




Text by Andrea Murdock Alpini

Inside the Black Box of Boesmansgat’s dive archive (Dave Shaw memorabilia)

🎶 Pre-dive clicklist: Where is My Mind by Pixies🎶

South Africa, Komati Springs.

On October 28, 2004, two cave divers and long-time friends, Don Shirley and David Shaw, planned a dive at Boesmansgat (also known in English as “Bushman’s Hole”) a deep, submerged freshwater cave (or sinkhole) in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. Dave dove to 280 meters, touched the bottom and started exploring. At that time, Shaw had recently broken four records at one time: depth on a rebreather, depth in a cave on a rebreather, depth at altitude on a rebreather, and depth running a line. While on the dive at Boesmansgat, he found a body that had been there for nearly ten years, 20-year-old diver Deon Dreyer. 

After obtaining permission to retrieve the body from Dreyer’s parents, the two friends returned three months later. They enrolled eight support rebreather divers (all of whom were close to Don) and Gordon Hiles, a cameraman from Cape Town, who filmed the entire process—from the preparation on the surface to the operation at the bottom of the cave. The surface marshal was Verna van Schaik, who held the women’s world record for depth at the time. Little did they know that Dave would not come back from his 333rd dive, one that he himself recorded with an underwater camera. 

Researchers have determined that while attempting the retrieval, Dave ran into physical difficulties with the lines from the body bag and the wires from the light head. The physical effort of trying to free himself led to his death for what is believed to be respiratory insufficiency (see video below). Don Shirley nearly died as well, and apparently was left with permanent damage that has impaired his balance. 

Nearly 20 years later, our own Andrea Murdock Alpini visits Don and has this to say: 

Dave and Don before a dive.

February 2023—I arrive at the mine owned by cave expert and pioneer of deep diving, Don Shirley. The place is fantastic—the wild nature, the warm water, and the dives are amazing. Every day I spend at least 230 minutes underwater, filming the mines and what is left of man’s influence in this beautiful and God-forgotten corner of Africa. Every day I have time to talk, plan dives, and prepare the blends together with Don Shirley. 

The following is a part of the story that links Don Shirley to South Africa. Stories and places intertwine between Komati Springs, Boesmansgat (or “Bushman’s Hole”) and then the fatal dive with his friend Dave Shaw. 

Monkeys arrive on time every 12 hours. They showed up last night at about 5:00. They came down from the trees in large groups. They start playing, throwing themselves from one branch to another, chasing each other. Mothers hug their little ones. Some of them play with oxygen cylinders, the smaller ones instead with methane gas tanks, the ones we use for cooking. We are surrounded by gas blenders of all kinds. 

A herdsman’s hat rests on the workbench. Two hands with delicate, thin skin take adapters, cylinders, and whips.They open and close taps. Notebooks report all the consumption for each charge, strictly written in liters with the utmost precision. Impressions: An Amaranth t-shirt, an unmistakable logo, that of the IANTD. A pair of jeans and then some boots. He has a slight physique, he is lean and athletic with a beard that is white now, and a few days’ old. 

While he works carefully, I do not disturb him, for I know well that when mixing, one is not to be interrupted, at least this is so for anyone who loves precision. Then, when he’s done, we have time to talk a little bit together.

Don Shirley with the author planning a dive at Komati Springs

We sit at his desk and then go to the board to plan the dive in the mine.

Don shows me the map of the first level. He explains some important facts to me, then his hands pull out a second sheet with the plan redesigned from memory of the second level at 24 m/70 ft deep. “This is the guitar level,” he says. 

At first I don’t understand. He chuckles. I look at the shape he drew and, yes, that floor plan is a cross between a Fender Stratocaster and a Picasso guitar. Anyway, it’s a guitar, no doubt.

We begin planning the dive together. It’s exciting to hear him talk; he speaks in a soft, elegant tone, and it moves me. I look at his index finger moving. I listen to his words, but I also look at his eyes. 

He gives me some advice but also tells me, “This mine is more similar to a cave. I have left it as it is. I want people to explore it and not follow any lines.”

Freedom of thought, plurality of choices. Acceptance of risk, inclusion of the other in what belongs to you. It’s clear that Don’s vision of diving is uncommon. Freedom is beautiful, but it is the most dangerous thing there is, if mishandled. 

An old map of Komati’s mine site

The next day, we have an appointment at 7 o’clock at the lake. Before diving this morning, we saw where the “Tunnel of Love” originates on the surface, a curious gallery which I came across underwater. There are two parts of the mine that survived the destruction of the mining facility after its closure. One of these is the tunnel where we are going, the other part is perched in the middle of the mountain.

Don explains that the tunnel is now frequented by the wild animals who go to drink there, so we follow their trail. The water has flooded everything up to just a few meters below the surface of the bush. Don cuts the underbrush that makes the path difficult. He wears his faithful herdsman’s hat and never takes it off. The ground begins to tilt slightly, a good sign that we are about to arrive. A series of stones suggest that here the path has been paved. “It was covered in wood,” Don explains.

The path that started from the building where the miners lived is now demolished. Following it, we arrive at what was called “The Tunnel of Love.”

The tunnel that was the mine’s main entry point. Narrow and difficult, the tunnel led to level one—now underwater at a depth of 18 m/60 ft.

We turn on the headlamps and enter. A small colony of bats flaps its wings upon our arrival. The water touches our boots. Some roots filter from the rock and stretch to the resurgence. The scenery is evocative.

The author and Marco Setti in the end of their explorations at Komati Springs

Don kneels, peering at the water, and something. He looks at the water and something changes within him. Something has changed in our shared dialogue.

It’s as if Don takes on another language as he speaks. He always looks straight ahead. His vocabulary changes, and with it his tone of voice. We talk about politics, economics, the future of Komati Springs, the origin of the name of the place, the history of the mine, but we never mention two topics: diving and Dave Shaw.

Don’s a real caveman. I know that those who love caves are not ordinary people. We who do are a little bit mad to do what we do and love, but he’s different. He is comfortable here; he has found his dimension.

I remember asking him a question when we were inside the Tunnel of Love, breaking one of the long silences: “What thoughts are going through your mind?” He seemed to have reached a meditative state, a kind of catharsis. He replied, “I am just relaxing. This is a peaceful place. “

Around nine o’clock, we travel again to the lake, leaving the dry caves behind. 

Exploring a tunnel in the flooded mine.

The first dive lasted 135 minutes, the second 95 minutes. Once the equipment is set up, I return to the cottage to dry everything and recharge the cylinders.

Don’s hands this time are again without gloves. Before we start mixing, we walk into his office.The walls are lined with articles he has published over the years. 

He shows me the medals for valor he got when he was on duty in the British Army. When we return to a small corridor that acts as a barrier, my eyes fall on two photographs. “Is that Dave?” I ask. “That’s him. We were here in Komati,” Don tells me. “You see? This is his hat,” and he points to what is on his head.

The pond above the mine and wild nature who surrounds Komati. A real wild South Africa scenario.

The Consequences of Love

These are the consequences of love, I think. A friendship that transcends time, life, but also death.

It’s time to prepare the blends for tomorrow. As the oxygen pumps out, Don asks me, “Have you ever seen our Boesmasgat’s diving slates?” Obviously, I had never seen the decompression tables of that famous and tragic dive to 280 m/920 ft depth at 1,600 meters (nearly 5,000 feet) altitude.

“Hang on a sec.” Don picks up a small black box with a yellow label and brings it to me. He opens it. “These are the original dive charts. These are mine; these are Dave’s.” The box also contains the famous blackboard with the inscription, (“DAVE NOT COMING BACK”) from the documentary, as well as a pair of underwater gloves used in that dive, and then the heirloom of his CCR computer that broke due to excessive hydrostatic pressure.

He exits the room. He leaves me with those emotionally charged objects in my hands. I can’t see them any differently. They obviously have historical value; but, for me, the human sense prevails. I look at the decompression tables, touch the gloves, and think about the hands that wore them, that read the various whiteboards, and I imagine the scenes of that time.

Early days of explorations at Komati Springs, Don Shirley with Dave Shown and their team 
Don Shirley wearing Dave’s old hat while scouting out the Tunnel of Love

I place everything back in the box. I hand it to Don as I would hand him a precious urn. In part, it is one. I find it hard to express myself in that moment. He understands why.

At this point I ask him, “What was the true meaning of that extreme dive that Dave wanted to do? Why did he do it?”

“He just wanted to explore the bottom of that cave,” Don said. “Wherever Dave went, he wanted to get to the bottom. That’s how we’ve always done it together. So that’s what we did here at the mine.” 

Don then tells me a series of details and information about that place, about the geological stratification of the cave; he talks a little about the owner of the land where the famous sinkhole is located, and finally he talks about many other aspects of their failed dive. I promised to keep it to myself, and I will do so, forever.

Such is a connection that endures over time.


Wikipedia: Dave Shaw

YouTube: Diver Records Doom | Last Moments-Dave Shaw

Wikipedia: Dave Not Coming Back (2020) A critically acclaimed film that centers on diver Dave Shaw’s death while attempting to recover the body of Deon Dreyer from the submerged Boesmansgat cave in 2005.

Shock Ya: Don Shirley Fondly Remembers Scuba Diving with David Shaw in Dave Not Coming Back Exclusive Clip

Outside: Raising the Dead (2005) by Tim Zimmerman

Other stories by the prolific Andrea Alpini Murdock:

InDEPTH: Finessing the Grande Dame of the Abyss

InDEPTH: Hal Watts: Plan Your Dive

InDEPTH: I See A Darkness: A Descent Into Germany’s Felicitas MineInDEPTH: Stefano Carletti: The Man Who Immortalized The Wreck of the Andrea Doria

Andrea Murdock Alpini is a TDI and PSAI technical trimix and advanced wreck-overhead instructor based in Italy. He is fascinated by deep wrecks, historical research, decompression studies, caves, filming, and writing. He holds a Master’s degree in Architecture and an MBA in Economics for The Arts. Andrea is also the founder of PHY Diving Equipment. His life revolves around teaching open circuit scuba diving, conducting expeditions, developing gear, and writing essays about his philosophy of wreck and cave diving. He published his first book, Deep Blue: storie di relitti e luoghi insoliti (2018) and IMMERSIONI SELVAGGE, published in the Fall of 2022.

Continue Reading

Thank You to Our Sponsors

  • Fathom


Education, Conservation, and Exploration articles for the diving obsessed. Subscribe to our monthly blog and get our latest stories and content delivered to your inbox every Thursday.

Latest Features