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Urination Management Considerations for Women Technical Divers

Tech diver and doctoral student, Payal Razdan, offers an in-depth review of the options available to women tech divers for handling the call of nature.

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By Payal S. Razdan

Header image by Rich Denmark

Proper hydration is an important element in the health and safety of athletes and sports enthusiasts. The ability to eliminate these fluids is equally essential in maintaining fluid balance and physical comfort. Appropriate physical protection is critical when diving for extended periods of time, both in colder temperatures and contaminated water. There are also times when professional and safety divers must remain suited when providing surface support. Drysuits offer the protection needed but require additional accessories in order to make it possible to stay in the suit for prolonged periods. 

Traditionally, external urine collection systems (eg, adult diapers/nappies and external catheter systems) are used in settings when stopping or removing protective gear is not optimal. Understanding some of the anatomical and technical considerations needed to take care of this most basic physiological function may help divers select the right device for them and manage any potential complications that may arise. 

Early Urine Management

What we now call ‘standard diving dress’ first evolved from ‘closed-dress’ (diver completely enclosed in helmet and flexible dress with hands exposed) during the 1830s. In the early 1840s, while working on the wreck of the Royal George off Portsmouth in Southern England, Augustus Siebe made gear modifications to meet divers’ needs and suggestions. This work eventually led to ‘standard-dress,’ but an option for external catheter systems did not follow until some 40 years later. In the 1930s, commercial diving systems initially held the urine in a catchment bag connected to a one-way overboard discharge valve that was opened once on the surface. Modernization eventually made it possible to void while immersed. These systems were incorporated into technical diving around the mid-90s, but were still designed exclusively for use by men. 

According to Peter Dick, editor of the International Journal of Diving History, while some women were diving during the 19th century, it was not until the early 1930s that females began coming into the sport, some by way of diving their own homemade gear. It was not until after World War II that women began to take to sports diving in larger numbers. Equipment modifications eventually evolved to include women’s needs, albeit slowly. A female-friendly version of an external urine collection device was not available until the early 2000s. Until this point, women had been limited to either holding, self-catheterization, or nappies (adult diapers).  For women divers, there are various types of external urine collection devices: portable urinals, female urination devices (FUD), nappies, and the external catheter systems; however, the latter two appear to predominate. 


Divers preparing to go under the ice at Thetford Mines, Quebec. Shows that there is nowhere to go privately. Photo by Payal Razdan.

Nappy Know-How

Nappies were the original go-to device and remain commonplace in diving. Although they seem to be underappreciated, they are easy to don. While divers may choose to rely on store-bought brands there is an incredible, almost overwhelming, variety available online.

Nappy selection can be a science. Different brands allow for varying usable capacities up to an astounding 95 oz (2.8 L) with the Dry 24/7 Max AbsorbencyTM1. “While nappies may be preferred for shorter dives, it is about the right tool for the job” said Beatrice Rivoria, marine biologist and technical instructor with Zero Emissions who prefers nappies for short dives. Contrary to what some divers might believe, brands with max absorbency could be used for extended dive times. Additional features to consider are the wet thickness (how thick the product becomes at usable capacity), wicking distance, cost per brief, dimensions, and accessibility. Like with any diving equipment, it is best to try different options when possible. Some manufacturers and retailers are willing to send samples. 

Nappies are available as either pull-on underwear style or tabbed briefs, the latter allowing you to slip out of and into a fresh nappy without the need to completely disrobe. This can be useful for instructors doing multiple dives per day, for individuals surrounded by ice and snow, for divers with no access to restrooms, for those where privacy is limited to sparse leafless bushes, and for those subjected to the buzzing gaze of a fellow diver’s drone. Women divers may also want to consider that perhaps different nappies may be needed for different types of diving. 

The major downsides include possible leaks, discomfort, increasing bulk (when wet), skin irritation, increased risk of infection, and embarrassment. Also, depending on the type of nappy—tabbed or pull-up—they may present challenges between dives because of privacy issues. Nappies may not be the optimal choice for the environmentally conscious since they are not recyclable. Disposal during remote and/or expeditionary diving may also be inconvenient. 

Leakage is generally a consequence of poor fit and/or inadequate absorbency. A healthy woman may experience a normal urge to urinate at approximately 300-400 ml and a strong need at about 400-600 ml.2 Even with the right fit, overflow can occur if the capacity of the product is inadequate for the diver’s urination needs and/or intended for light to moderate bladder leakage (e.g., such as during a sneeze) rather than sudden normal continuous flow. The risk for leaks is less likely with slow or intermittent streams, but the same could be said for all external urine collection devices. While nappies have both benefits and drawbacks, it is important to note that they may also be the only option for some divers who cannot use external catheter systems. 

External Catheter Systems

External catheter systems have three main components: the external collection device (ECD), a catheter (tubing), and a discharge or relief valve (also called the P-valve), where the urine exits (Image). The ECD is the human-catheter interface that connects the external genitalia or pubic area to the catheter. For men, the ECD is a disposable sheath that fits over the penis like a condom with an opening at the tip to allow drainage. Condom catheters come in a surprising variety of different sizes, shapes, materials, and adhesive options (e.g., self-adhesive WideBand and Freedom) depending on the medical manufacturer. The ECD for women is a reusable one-size-fits-all elongated cup-like reservoir manufactured by either She-P (Fred Devos, co-owner of Zero Gravity Dive Center originally coined the name in 2007 after seeing a prototype), or SheWee Go. 

SheWee Go

The She-P reservoir is a handmade, medical grade, hypoallergenic silicone device encircled by a flat rim that is adhered to the skin using medical grade adhesive. The material is soft, allowing the shape to be altered somewhat by the user. The newest She-P version 3.0 has evolved to include slight concave modifications to the shape of the rim from the She-P Classic. The SheWee Go is a natural gum rubber device with a rounded ridge and is secured, rather than adhered, in place with three adjustable straps. Both male and female ECDs connect to a catheter allowing urine to flow toward the P-valve attached to the drysuit’s upper leg. 

SheWee Go

The P-valve is either balanced or unbalanced. The primary difference is that balanced valves remain open during the dive, allowing the pressure inside the catheter to equalize throughout the dive; whereas unbalanced valves remain closed (except for during urination). Unbalanced valves must also be primed (pre-dive urination) to remove the air space in the catheter. The urine passes through the tube, out the valve, and away from the body. Women are often advised to use balanced P-valves. It has also been suggested that the risk of complications with a P-valve may be less with a balanced valve.

According to informal online surveys on two Facebook groups (“Girls That Tech Dive” and “Cave Diving Mermaids”), a majority of participants stated that they used a She-P either alone or with backup leakage protection (e.g., nappy, an incontinence pad, or maxi pad). A review of various online retailers also seems to indicate that the She-P is more readily accessible. Alex Vassello from Custom Divers, and creator of the SheWee Go, admits that the only way to order a SheWee Go is through Custom Divers. He also feels that limited advertising and online resources may affect its visibility in the market, especially with new divers. 

A She-P

It is unclear whether accessibility and marketing strategies are influencing popularity or if it is the effectiveness and/or convenience of the devices. These two products have never been tested by a third party, so it is unclear how these two would compare in a dive-for-dive test. Although the She-P seems to be more common, both devices have individuals who prefer one to the other, and both have their benefits and challenges. 

Vassello feels that one of the limitations of the SheWee Go is that it is less effective and more prone to leaks if used in a seated position. While Kristen Matlock has used a She-P for all terrain vehicle (ATV or side-by-side) racing in the past, she prefers a new disposable catheter system that has not hit the market yet. A number of women also mentioned that sitting in the She-P can be uncomfortable and most urinate either standing or in proper trim (horizontal body position) while diving. 

The Decision to Opt-Out

Whichever ECD was preferred, women reported that they did not use it on every dive. Depending on the goal of the dive, location, dive profile, environmental conditions, personal tolerance, and the ECD itself, the urination challenges divers had to consider varied. Becky Kagan Schott, five-time Emmy award-winning underwater director of photography, technical instructor, and owner of Liquid Productions, says her strategy involves planning dives to be short enough to eliminate the need to rely on anything, or nappies at most. “If I think the dive will run over 3 hours, or I’ll be suited up that long, I’ll decide on the diaper or She-P depending on where I’m diving,” Schott said. While she prefers to not use anything, she knows that is not always possible.

Each diver’s pre-dive urine ritual when diving without an ECD is as unique as the diver. Like many women, Lyzz Rooney, an instructor with UnderH2O and an operating room RN in Portland, urinates immediately before donning her suit if she is not applying the ECD. However, location matters, and she always dons the She-P for boat dives. “I can’t take my clothes off and dangle my bits off the side without embarrassment,” Rooney joked. Lauren Fanning, GUE instructor and marketing manager at Halcyon Diving Systems, uses her She-P for longer dives, no matter the location. But Fanning still makes sure she is appropriately hydrated and employs a ‘rule of three’ before getting into the water, urinating at least three times before the dive to ensure she can manage. She also emphasized that the ECD is an important piece of equipment for technical diving and that she “wouldn’t go into the water without a breathing device…[or] without the ability to urinate during a long dive.”  

Balanced P-valves. Photo courtesy of Halcyon Dive Systems.

Female divers were more inclined to don ECDs on longer dives or when breaks between dives were considered too short. Long dives were defined by the length of time one could wait without having to urinate (the threshold) and the decompression obligation that would be incurred. According to survey participants, the threshold ranged from approximately 90 minutes to four hours. Good urination management is especially critical since divers may want to rest on the surface following decompression diving in order to off-gas before exiting and/or lifting heavy equipment. “When I’m teaching, most of the time I don’t bother with a [She-P],” explained Marissa Eckert, a tech and rebreather instructor and co-owner at Hidden Worlds Diving. However, “I’ve done 11-hour cave dives; a diaper will not stand up that long.” Rooney, on the other hand, who has been using a She-P for about 10 years, said, “I hook up every day of instruction since I know I’ll be in a suit for six or more hours.” 

Nathalie Lasselin, cinematographer and explorer, spent two 15-hour days diving 70 km (43 mi) of the Saint Lawrence River in Québec. The Urban Water Odyssey, to bring awareness regarding water quality in Québec, involved over a year of planning, multiple sponsors, and a multi-member support team. A leak could have put an end to her carefully planned dive. After considering her options, she chose to dive with a She-P and backup. While she considered using an internally placed catheter, she was concerned about a catheter system failure, retrograde flow, and direct inoculation by cold, bacteria-filled river water. 

Nathalie Lasselin cinematographer and explorer. Photo by Nathalie Lasselin.

Lasselin faced another challenge when the back of the device became unglued, a common issue experienced by She-P Classic users. Lasselin was also using a diver propulsion vehicle (DPV) attached to a crotch strap, which meant the strap was applying “constant friction and tension at the wrong place.” Laura James, the North American representative for She-P, stated that “tight harness waist belt/crotch strap combos…can contribute to success or failure rate.” Lasselin admits that the She-P did not work 100%, but it was the only option she felt she had. Her strategy also included adding various layers including two thongs (on each side of the She-P), a nappy, and latex underwear to secure the She-P and to contain leaks.  

Extended dive times (e.g., dives greater than five hours) are likely to be beyond a diver’s threshold. Divers were also less inclined to withhold fluid intake in order to lower urine output prior to performing dives with decompression obligations. The primary concern reported was the potential impact that dehydration may have on the risk of decompression sickness. “Much of diving is about risk (uncertainty) management,” states Gareth Lock, owner, trainer and coach at Human in the System Consulting/The Human Diver. Lock feels that “divers try to limit their DCS risk by being correctly hydrated, and the use of an external catheter system allows that to be managed relatively well in male divers. Despite this, there are numerous stories of male divers not having a urination system and not hydrating properly as a consequence. For female divers, the solutions afforded to them are not the same.” 

Nappies on their own “have limitations, especially for protracted and/or decompression dives,” said Nelly Williams, technical diver and co-owner of XOC-Ha in Yucatan, Mexico. Williams opts for the P-valve on longer dives “where proper hydration is essential.” Consequently, extended dive times and/or prolonged decompression might result in greater urine output. The increased output may be problematic if a low capacity nappy is used because the volume produced might be more than it can absorb. This could potentially lead to leaks or expose the skin to urine for a prolonged period of time. 

To She-P or She-Wee?

According to Deborah Johnston, cave explorer with the Sydney University Speleological Society, motivation to use her She-P was dependent upon finding a balance between the perceived challenges and the benefits of being able to urinate during the dive. The decision to ditch or don the She-P was generally based on whether the dive time was long enough to tolerate the challenging site preparation and cleanup. She-P proper site preparation requires hair removal, removal of oil and moisture from the skin, application of an adhesive, and proper placement of the device. This still does not guarantee a leak-free dive, and the ECD or P-valve may still fail which may present a thermal risk to the diver. A majority of survey participants reported leaks, primarily from the perineum (backside). Although women used back up protection to manage leaks, they also expressed discontent with the need for the backup and the extra waste is created. Cleanup refers to the removal of adhesive residue and cleaning and storage of the ECD. “Cleaning up adhesive afterwards is my biggest complaint with a She-P,” Fanning admitted. Her frustration with the aftercare and adhesive cleanup is mirrored by many women. 


Lyzz Rooney trying to use her female urination device with a drysuit in between students open water certification dives. Photo by Jonathan Fletcher.

Ease of use and good fit were the primary reasons cinematographer and explorer Jill Heinerth has been a SheWee Go user for over six years. While she admits there is no perfect solution, she “has had better luck with the SheWee Go and feels more comfortable” with it. Heinerth also admitted that site preparation and the need to glue the She-P in place seems particularly impractical in expeditionary diving. Indeed, women reported that frustration with site preparation and cleanup, poor device fit, and the likelihood of experiencing a leak were deciding factors for choosing the SheWee Go or nappies. 

Availability can also be an issue. Gemma Thomas, an instructor located in Singapore, reported that the medical adhesive needed for the She-P was not available in that country. In addition, mature women may experience vulvovaginal atrophy as estrogen levels decline. Symptoms may include thinner, less elastic, and drier vulvar and vaginal tissues4. Changes may also occur following hormonal therapy which also makes the SheWee Go or nappies a potentially good option for some, since removing the device may lead to abrasions or tearing. One diver, who will remain anonymous, said that for her nappies were the only solution following estrogen reduction treatment for breast cancer. 

Challenges and complications

Ideally, an effective ECD should be easy to apply and use, should perform without leaking, and should keep the skin reasonably dry. A device that is simple to maintain is a plus. Most importantly, ECDs should function without causing discomfort or injury. Unfortunately, the perfect option currently does not exist. Application and leaking seem to be the greatest sources of frustration with the external catheter ECD systems, although this is hardly an issue for women only. A 2010 survey of (predominantly male) pilots flying for the U.S. Air Force U-2 Reconnaissance Squadrons reported that 60% of individuals had problems with their ECDs including poor fit, leaking, and skin damage from extended contact with urine.5 Rooney added that while she has had leaks and P-valve failures, “the boys have had their fair share of both leaks and catastrophic failures [and] have their own trust issues with their systems too.” 

That women suffer from poor fit and leakage should come as no surprise given the variation in female genital anatomy and the one-size-fits-all approach of ECDs. A quick review of biomedical literature available through PubMed returns measurements for normal female genital variation based on various factors including race, age, weight, and hormonal changes. Wendy Grossman, who has been cave diving for over 16 years, feels that not everyone understands that “not all vaginas are made equal.” Grossman wore a She-P for about 10 years before deciding to use nappies exclusively. 

It seems that female anatomical variation may be underappreciated or perhaps under-recognized by ECD producers and female consumers alike. In fact, the lack of appreciation even inspired Jamie McCartney’s 2011 wall sculpture “The Great Wall of Vagina,” a 10-panelled wall sculpture comprised of the plaster casts of genitals from 400 female volunteers. Both Vassello, creator of the SheWee Go, and Heleen DeGraw, creator of the She-P, do feel that human error plays a role in failure rates. While leakage may be due to poor adhesion caused by improper area preparation, equipment interfering with the seal, and with general challenges placing the device, the real challenge may just be that one size does not fit all.

Other concerns reported with She-P use include skin irritation/burning caused by the adhesive, which are typically due to contact between the glue and freshly shaved/waxed skin. Rooney found that “on really long days with multiple dives, I’m prone to more leaks.” Women reported discomfort from having to sit on the ECD during surface intervals. Cases of catheter squeeze, urinary tract infections, and pneumaturia has also been reported with P-valve use in both men and women.3 According to personal reports, catheter squeezes were due to accidental closure of a specific type of P-valve (balanced valve) or deliberate closure in response to a leak prior to ascent. In these cases, the pain was accompanied by bruising. 

Final considerations

While external systems provide the convenience of being able to urinate without disrobing, divers must consider the unique challenges associated with their environment. Immersion, pressure changes, and equipment restrictions can contribute to complications, particularly for women. Effective urination solutions are important not only for comfort but for functional and safety reasons as well. Divers ready to consider using an external urine collection device should talk to other divers, review available resources, and consider the possible tips and tricks available.

Tips for New Divers

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions; it may be an uncomfortable subject for some, but one that women should be free to discuss.
  • Know your body: pay attention to your fluid intake, urination needs, and how environmental conditions impact your threshold. 
  • Test your preferred external urine collection device in the shower before your dive and perhaps take it for a dry test run.
  • Choose the right tool for the job: make sure your nappy is the right size and has the correct capacity for the dive.
  • Consider adding cleansing wipes to your tool kit: use them prior to She-P placement to remove oils from the skin or after to remove adhesive residue. Wipes are also useful for managing any accidents.
  • Give yourself enough time to prep for She-P placement and to allow the glue to adhere properly.
  • Perform a pre-dive system test: once you have donned your gear, ensure your P-valve system is functioning prior to entering the water.
  • Adjust volume control: fully relaxing may cause the ECD cup to fill too fast creating some back pressure, possibly leading to leaks. 

Footnotes/References

1. XPMedical [Internet]. Adult diaper reviews; [cited 2019 July 16]; [about 3 screens].

2. Women’s Health and Education Center [Internet]. Urodynamic Assessment: Techniques; [cited 2019 July 22]; [about 7 screens].

3. Harris R. Genitourinary infection and barotrauma as complications of ‘P-valve’ use in drysuit divers. Diving Hyperb Med. 2009; 39(4): 210-12.

4. Marnach ML, Torgerson RR. Vulvovaginal Issues in Mature Women. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017; 92(3): 449-54.

5. Von Thesling GH, Coffman CB, Hundemer GL, Stuart RP. In-flight urine collection device: efficacy, maintenance, and complications in U-2 pilots. Aviat Space Environ Med. 2011; 82(2): 116-22. 


Payal is a doctoral student in kinesiology at Université Laval exploring the impact of extreme environments on physiological adaptation, human performance, and health and safety. She is also a certified technical and cave diver. Her background in public health education and training as an Emergency Medical Technician guide her efforts to develop communication, outreach, and education products that use physiological concepts to improve diving safety. 


Additional Resources:

The Divine Secrets of the She-P Sisterhood” by Michael Menduno (DIVER August, 2010) 

Divine Secrets of the She-P Sisterhood, Episode 1:  “What’s In the Kit?”

Divine Secrets of the She-P Sisterhood, Episode 2 Part 1

Divine Secrets of the She-P Sisterhood, Episode 2, Part 2

In Defense of Diapers

Education

How Deep Is Your Library?

Tech diving requires a deep body of knowledge that must be kept current. So it seemed appropriate to ask, what books should tekkies have on their shelves? To answer that question we turned to DAN’s nerdy risk mitigation coordinator cum cave diver, Christine Tamburri to suss out suitable tekkie tomes. Here is what she uncovered. Feed your head!

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by Christine Tamburri. Header image: Jon Kieren catching up on his reading at Sistema Huautla by SJ Alice Bennett. Ed. note-Special thanks to Jason Brown for suggesting the topic.

The hallmark of a “super nerd” is typically the extent of their library. For row after row, their bookshelves overflow with everything from fiction to mystery to fantasy. Variety is the secret weapon. Deep down, tekkies are also super nerds with a diving addiction so, naturally, their bookshelves should also be overflowing with nerdy scuba works. Some books are a given, like the U.S. Navy Manual (First Edition – 1905), the NOAA Diving Manual (First Edition – 1975), The Silent World by Frédéric Dumas and Jacques Cousteau (1953), and Men Beneath the Sea by Hans Hass (1975). Others are not so obvious.

After countless conversations extending into the far reaches of the night with some of the industry greats, it became obvious that only a few books were well-known by divers around the world. Several were long forgotten or never discovered in the first place, and thanks to the input of Michael Menduno, Frauke Tillmans, Roger Williams, and Ken Sallot, this comprehensive list stands ready to help every tekkie become a super nerd. Even Rick Stanton himself crashed a virtual book club meeting to give his input on which books are most captivating.  

You are invited to take a deep dive (pun intended) into an extensive list of works that all tekkies should have on their bookshelves. Of course, hours upon hours could be spent discussing book after excellent book pertaining to the Andrea Doria, Wookey Hole, the Britannic, Great Lakes shipwrecks, such as Richie Kohler’s Mystery of the Last Olympian: Titanic’s Tragic Sister Britannic etc, but there is simply not enough time in the day or room on the page. As such, this list is not all-encompassing, but it is a solid foundation. A starter set of books if you will.

Classics from Early Tech

Some books age like fine wine. The longer they sit on the bookshelf, the more iconic they become. Some of these works are highly sought after and rarely available, but all are a time capsule of an iconic period in dive history. Taking things back to the early pre-scuba skin diving days,
Last of the Blue Water Hunters by Carlos Eyles (First Edition – 1985) is an epic recount of early breath-hold divers who ventured out into blue water in search of game, and in doing so, defied ancient myths and fears, and tested themselves in the process. It speaks to books like Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson (2004) and The Last Dive by Bernie Chowdhury (2000) document important times in the progression of wreck diving. They are often referred to as a “gateway drug” for those considering the leap into technical diving. Ultimate Wreck Diving Guide by Gary Gentile (1992) takes things a step further by detailing all aspects of wreck diving and how technology has thrust it into the mainstream.

A tekkie library would not be complete without a collection dedicated to the origins of the quest to go deeper for longer. Before founding TDI in 1994, Bret Gilliam wrote two books. Deep Diving by Bret Gilliam and Robert Von Maier with John Crea and Darren Webb (1992) discusses the transition from the recreational realm into the technical world, while Mixed Gas Diving by Tom Mount and Bret Gilliam (1992) discusses almost everything that divers need to know before venturing into the world of obscure breathing gas mixes.

Some years later, Doing it Right: The Fundamentals of Better Diving  by Jarrod Jablonski (2000) was published as a guideline for the gear configuration and training philosophies of Global Underwater Explorers (GUE). This work was updated in 2021 and the title was shortened to The Fundamentals of Better Diving.

Another classic published by a seriously busy pioneer in the industry is Technical Diving from the Bottom Up by Kevin Gurr (2004). Somewhere between building some of the first mixed gas computers and three different rebreather models (Ourobouros, Sentinel, and Explorer), Gurr found time to dive deep into technical diving while covering gear configurations, physiology, gas mixes, and a variety of other topics. Of course, this category wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a work that is defined by the word “classic”…aquaCORPS Journal by Michael Menduno (First Edition – 1990)! First introduced at DEMA in 1990, aquaCORPS revolutionized the technical diving world, uniting tekkies far and wide as they discussed topics that were seen by those not in the know as being incomprehensible. It was quickly followed by Joel Silverstein’s SUB AQUA Journal (1991), Curt Bowen’s Deep Tech (1995), and Bernie Chowdhury’s Immersed (1995), which was later purchased by Diver magazine.  

Got Your Meds?

Diving is one of the few sports that changes the physiological characteristics of the body. The changes that occur upon immersion are not simple to understand, so a true tekkie will add a few diving medicine books to their shelves. Physiology and Medicine of Diving by Peter Bennett and David Elliot (First Edition – 1969) and Diving Medicine by Alfred Bove and Jefferson Davis (First Edition – 1976) are seen as “bibles” to some physicians. These works would be carried around conferences with pride, as notes were feverishly taken and sections were enthusiastically highlighted. Even Jim Bowden would read Physiology and Medicine of Diving every day as he was preparing for his attempt to dive to the bottom of Zacatón. Very few will read these cover-to-cover, but their value as reference materials is unmatched, and they are a must-have to complete any tekkie library.

As an aside, a legend was recently lost as Professor David Elliot passed away on January 18, 2022. His legacy in dive medicine will continue to live on through his published materials. 

Gasses Galore

Nitrogen, oxygen, helium, argon, hydrogen…without them, the periodic table would be incomplete, and tekkies wouldn’t be able to satisfy their ever-present urge to submerge. In fact, these gasses are so important that they deserve a category of their own! Vance Harlow is responsible for one of the most sought-after gas mixing books ever written. Oxygen Hacker’s Companion by Vance Harlow (Fourth Edition – 2002) not only details how to mix nitrox and trimix, but it also dives deep into the dangers of handling oxygen and how to mitigate the risks. Many gas blenders agree that a shrine should be built to preserve the wonders of this book forever. The book is currently out of print, however, PDF copies do exist. Seek and ye shall find!

Once gas is mixed, accurate sensors must be used and thanks to Oxygen Measurement for Divers by John Lamb (First Edition – 2016), tekkies can learn more than they ever thought possible about the history, construction, and application of oxygen sensors. This is a must-read, especially for the rebreather divers out there. For those interested in the devastating effects of oxygen toxicity, the classic
Oxygen and the Diver by Kenneth Donald (1992) should be acquired and added to their bookshelf. This historically unique work is solely dedicated to the effects of oxygen on the diver, and it details studies that would definitely be shot down by Internal Review Boards if they were presented today.

The D-Word

Decompression and the corresponding theory are the foundation of technical diving. Decompression: Decompression Sickness by Albert Bühlmann (1983) was published during the midst of extensive research to understand how and why decompression sickness manifests. Basic Decompression: Theory and Application by Bruce Wienke (First Edition – 1991) is another comprehensive work that dives into the theory of decompression and covers topics such as modeling and diving at altitude. Wienke’s work forms the basis of NAUITEC’s decompression protocols and algorithm. Both of these books are integral to tekkie bookshelves as they are classic examples of the early days of decompression research, and they provide insight into how far the industry has progressed. Warning: There is heady math in both of these texts. Get ready to channel your inner Isaac Newton.

Deeper into Diving by John Lippmann (First Edition – 1990) is another early work that focuses on the various decompression tables. Included are the U.S. Navy, Bassett, NH-L, DCIEM, and RNPL/BS tables, just to name a few. A more recent work is Deco for Divers by Mark Powell (2008). This extensive book has it all, from medicine and physiology to modern day decompression procedures, and it is a must-have for anyone even half considering the leap into technical diving. Tekkies new and experienced will learn more than their brain can hold. 

Of course, tekkies cannot talk about decompression without mentioning decompression sickness…or “The Bends”, the “Rapture of the Deep”, “Satan’s Disease” or whatever nickname sounds best. Between the Devil and the Deep by Mark Cowan and Martin Robson (2021) is available in Europe now and set to hit US bookshelves shortly and promises to deliver an inside look into what it is like to battle and fight through a DCS hit at depth. 

Deeper and Longer

Whether it be climbing Mount Everest or descending into the depths of the Mariana Trench, humans have always been on a quest to push the extremes. For tekkies, the quest has revolved around the ability to go deeper for longer. At the forefront of undersea apparatus development was Sir Robert Davis, a well-respected inventor and businessman who wrote several works, including multiple volumes of Deep Diving and Submarine Operations (Fourth Edition – 1935). This book details the secrets of working at depth, such as compressed air operations, dive tables, and emergency procedures. A complete tekkie library needs to include the most classic of classics, and this certainly falls into that category. 

A more obscure and difficult book to find is Arne Zetterström and the First Hydrox Dives by Anders Lindén (1985). As the not-so-subtle name suggests, this work is about two things…. Arne Zetterström and his adventures using hydrox (hydrogen and oxygen) to push the limits! This interesting gas mix is not a thing of the past, but an innovation for the future. With the helium shortage, hydrogen may be the solution for über-deep dives, and this is a must-read for the futuristic tekkie who wants to learn more about where technical diving may progress in the coming years.

In lieu of hydrogen, an alternative solution to the helium conundrum may be atmospheric diving suits (ADS), aka exosuits that are currently being developed by Nuytco Research, Vancouver, Canada. The history of these unique devices can be read about in Ironsuit by Gary Harris (1994). [Ed.note—Watch this space. InDepth is planning a feature story on the state of the ADS nation in a coming issue. Is there an Exosuit in your future? Find out.] Of course, old fashioned helium tends to do the trick most of the time, and tekkies can read all about one woman’s quest to become the deepest in Fatally Flawed by Verna van Schaik (2010). 

A final ode to the depths that should rest on all tekkie library shelves is Living and Working in the Sea by James Miller and Ian Koblick (1995). This book encompasses all things saturation diving, from the complete system to the operations to the science. Tekkies may understand the basics of how saturation systems function, but this work will kickstart learning and highlight how physiology, science, and industry combine to make seafloor operations possible. 

Notes from the Underground

Cave diving is not a sport of the modern day. In fact, the first known “cave dives” took place in the 1800s and early explorers used freediving techniques or surface-supplied air to wander into the underwater, underground world. Since then, pioneers of the sport have come and gone, and techniques have developed and been modified through time. A true tekkie will revere cave diving to the level that it so rightfully deserves, and a section of their library will be solely dedicated to this quirky subsect of technical diving. 

Starting things off with a history lesson, The Darkness Beckons by Martyn Farr (1980) details the history of cave diving around the world. Included are details about exploration projects at Wookey Hole (UK) and Pozo Azul (Spain), as well as recounts about record-setting dives by pioneers of the sport. A complimentary book is A Glimmering in Darkness by Graham Balcombe (2007) which discusses the origin of the Cave Diving Group (CDG) and how cave diving was a natural transition for British dry cavers on their quest to explore sump systems around Europe. 

Exploration and caves go together like helium and an empty bank account. Drawn to the Deep: The Remarkable Underwater Explorations of Wes Skiles by Julie Hauserman (2018) and
The Wakulla Springs Project by William Stone (1989) discuss exploration efforts that significantly impacted the cave diving world and shed a positive light on the sport. On the flip side, Beyond the Deep by Barbara Anne Am Ende, Monte Paulsen, and William Stone (2002) is a recount of a dark time in the sport when a deep cave exploration project at Sistema Huautla in Oaxaca, Mexico turned deadly. Super nerds will find interest in all of these works regardless of whether the ending was joyous or tragic. 

His Sheckness

Sheck Exley is often referred to as the greatest cave diver to ever live, and not without strong merits to back the claim. He was the first person to log 1000 cave dives, he was responsible for developing the fundamental rules of cave diving, and he was an explorer who mapped countless caves in North Florida. A legend was lost on April 6, 1994, when Sheck died while trying to find the bottom of Zacatón in Northeast Mexico. Luckily for us, he left behind several works that are still considered gospel by cave divers around the world. 

One of the most iconic cave diving books ever written is Basic Cave Diving: A Blueprint for Survival by Sheck Exley (First Edition – 1979). Almost every cave diver was instructed to read this book early in their training, as it gave them an in-depth look at the five basic rules of cave diving: Training, Guideline, Air, Depth, Lights. This work did go further and cover everything from anti-silting techniques to procedures for handling a “berserk diver,” but the five rules are the main takeaway for most readers. This is a staple for any tekkie library, and it is quite literally the foundation on which modern day cave diving is built. 

Sheck also wrote a few memoirs where he talked about his life, his initial training, the early days of cave exploration, and the birth of cave diving techniques and philosophies.
Caverns Measureless to Man by Sheck Exley (1994) is iconic, but difficult to find, even in the used book market. It details cave diving through the eyes of Sheck, and it tells the story of those that lost their lives on a quest to explore the underground world. Taming of the Slough by Sheck Exley (published posthumously in 2004) is slightly more specific in that it recounts the exploration at Peacock Springs. This immense cave system is an unofficial rite of passage for Florida cave divers, as its history is as vast as its passages. A tekkie library wouldn’t be complete without a section solely dedicated to the life and accomplishments of one of the greats, and only a true super nerd would dare to track down every book ever written by the legendary Sheck Exley. 

In The Loop

As more and more people dive into the world of rebreathers , it would be unfair to exclude two books written about this futuristic, bubble-less world. Amongst the countless accomplishments of Jeff Bozanic, he wrote one of the most comprehensive rebreather books available. Mastering Rebreathers by Jeff Bozanic (2002) dives deep into topics like the types of rebreathers that are available, the long-term maintenance requirements, emergency procedures, and travel considerations. Similarly, The Basics of Rebreather Diving by Jill Heinerth (2013) discusses the history of rebreather diving, while providing real-life stories of its applications in her own diving career. {Ed.note: And there is always InDepth’s “Holiday Rebreather Shopping Guide,” to view rebreathers on the market and compare their speeds and feeds, err, specs.

Safety First

All divers, especially tekkies, should be constantly learning. Whether in the water or in the library, there is always something new to discuss, practice, and understand. On that same note, every diver is also susceptible to human error, and the lessons learned from near-miss and fatal events are valuable learning tools. Under Pressure by Gareth Lock (2019) is a collection of thoughts and discussions on how human factors play a role in incidents and accidents. It also summarizes the importance of creating a “just culture’” in the dive community so that adverse events can be analyzed without judgment.

Part of this culture is creating a safe space for divers to admit their mistakes. Close Calls by Stratis Kas (2020) is a collection of harrowing stories by some of the biggest names in the dive industry as they recount an incident or series of events that nearly resulted in their injury or death. If you are a super nerd with a hectic life that doesn’t have time to read an entire book cover-to-cover in one sitting, fear not! Each story in this book will only take 5-10 minutes to read, so there is no excuse to not add this work to your tekkie library.

Another book of great value to the safety-conscious super nerd is The Six Skills and Other Discussions by Steve Lewis (2011). This book will discuss all the topics that are left out of textbooks. There is never anything wrong with bookshelves that are overflowing with materials that are focused on safety, because a super nerd is always learning. 

Get Off My Back

Sidemount, seen by some as our savior from above and seen by others as the unnecessary red-headed stepchild. Regardless of how it is viewed, sidemount is an important component of the modern dive industry, so not surprisingly, there are several books dedicated to the craft. One of the earlier books written solely about this configuration is Sidemount Profiles by Brian Kakuk and Jill Heinerth (2010). For something a little more recent, a tekkie may prefer to dive into Sidemount Diving: The Almost Comprehensive Guide by Rob Neto (Second Edition – 2020). It is no secret that sidemount is finicky and requires patience to perfect. Having access to solid reference materials can make this process slightly more enjoyable, but let’s be honest—you aren’t really a sidemount diver until you’ve spent hours upon hours making minor tweak after minor tweak into the early hours of the morning. 

Young Guns

There are several books that are new to the game, but not late to the party. These books aren’t written for the youth in the industry, nor were they written by newcomers. Simply put, they were recently published and quickly sailed to the top of the charts, as they are masterpieces printed in black and white. Starting out strong with an author who is highly influential to women in diving and those seeking to get involved in exploration projects, Jill Heinerth’s autobiography is a compelling tale about her life as a cave diver. Into the Planet by Jill Heinerth (2019) should be in every tekkie library regardless of gender, because the lessons learned and the stories portrayed are captivating and inspiring to all. 

In terms of recent events, few will compare to that of the 2018 Thailand cave rescue. If for some reason you haven’t heard about this, it will be assumed that you are living under a rock. To summarize, 12 young boys and their soccer coach were trapped in a flooded cave for 18 days and were miraculously rescued by a team of cave divers.  Several books were written about the event from the perspective of some of the divers. The Aquanaut by Rick Stanton and Karen Dealy (2021), Against All Odds by Richard “Harry” Harris and Craig Challen (2019), and Thirteen Lessons that Saved Thirteen Lives by John Volanthen (2021). All of these books retell the harrowing tale of how a group of weekend warriors happened to have the right skill set for the job because of their obscure hobby. They detail the rollercoaster of emotions that were endured and the tough decisions that were made. Every tekkie, regardless of their level of interest in cave diving, will find enjoyment, exhilaration, and inspiration in the pages of these books.

Something Fun

As mentioned early on, variety is the secret weapon to creating a solid tekkie library. Almost every work that has been discussed thus far is semi-serious in nature, so it is time to add a little fun into the mix! Dining with Divers: Tales from the Kitchen Table by David Strike and Simon Pridmore (2017) is a compilation of short stories from legends in the dive industry that conclude with their favorite home-cooked recipe. This is certainly a quirky book, but nonetheless unique. Moving on to fiction, the Mer Cavallo Mystery Series by Micki Browning is written by a diver for divers. Adrift (2017) and Beached (2018) will take readers on a rollercoaster ride that is filled with ghostly tales of the Spiegel Grove and Spanish galleon treasure. For the tekkie with diversified interests, The Jason Parker Trilogy by Dr. John Clarke has it all: undersea habitats, deep sea hydreliox diving, aliens, and even romance! All tekkies should grab a copy of Middle Waters (2014), Triangle (2017), and Atmosphere (2019), and experience the writing of a Navy diving and aviation scientist. 

A more extensive collection of novels is the Mike Scott Thriller Series by Eric Douglas. Readers will be taken from Cayman to Hollywood to Mexico as they follow Mike Scott on his diving adventures around the world. Of course, nothing ever goes to plan, so buckle up for yet another rollercoaster ride of events. The super nerds out there will be sure to stock their bookshelves with all 11 books: Cayman Cowboys (2005), Flooding Hollywood (2006), Guardians’ Keep (2008), Wreck of the Huron (2012), Heart of the Maya (2014), Return to Cayman (2015), Oil and Water (2016), The 3rd Key (2017), Turks and Chaos (2017), Water Crisis (2018), and Held Hostage (2021).

The author geeking out in the DAN library.

For SUPER Super Nerds Only

This final section deserves a disclaimer…super nerdiness lies ahead. There are a number of forums and discussions that have been held over the years that covered topics from deep sea diving to rebreathers and everything in between. All of these were presented in-person, but luckily, über passionate people exist and they took the initiative to publish everything that was discussed. A tekkie should have a proceeding or two on their bookshelf, and although there are a lot to choose from, a few stand out from the rest. A true super nerd will acquire them all.

For those wanting to learn more about deep diving and the techniques required to do it safely, Hydrogen as a Diving Gas Proceedings of the 33rd UHMS Workshop, Wilmington, NC (February 1987), Proceedings of Advanced Scientific Diving Workshop, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC (February 2006), Technical Diving Conference Proceedings, DAN, Durham, NC (January 2008), and Techniques for Diving Deeper than 1,500 Feet, UHMS, Bethesda, MD (March 1980) may be of interest.

If bubbleless diving is more your speed, Proceedings of Rebreather Forum 2.0, Diving Science and Technology, Redondo Beach, CA (September 1996) and Rebreather Forum 3.0 Proceedings, AAUS/DAN/PADI, Orlando, FL (May 2012) should definitely be added to the library. And lastly, for super super nerds with an interest in flying after diving or the nerdy science behind dive computers, the Flying After Recreational Diving Workshop Proceedings, DAN, Durham, NC (May 2002) and the Proceedings of Dive Computer Workshop, AAUS, Santa Catalina Island, CA (September 1988) are perfect reading materials before bed. A tekkie library wouldn’t be complete without at least one of these proceedings, but the more the merrier! 

Your Tekkie Library

Against All OddsMixed Gas Diving
A Glimmering in DarknessNOAA Diving Manual
aquaCORPSOxygen and the Diver
Arne Zetterstrom and the First Hydrox DivesOxygen Hacker’s Companion
Basic Cave Diving: A Blueprint for SurvivalOxygen Measurement for Divers
Basic Decompression: Theory and ApplicationPhysiology and Medicine of Diving
Between the Devil and the DeepProceedings of Advanced Scientific Diving Workshop
Beyond the DeepProceedings of Dive Computer Workshop
Caverns Measureless to ManProceedings of Rebreather Forum 2.0
Close CallsRebreather Forum 3.0 Proceedings
Deco for DiversShadow Divers
Decompression: Decompression SicknessSidemount Diving: The Almost Comprehensive Guide
Deep DivingSidemount Profiles
Deep Diving and Submarine OperationsTaming of the Slough
Deeper into DivingTechnical Diving Conference Proceedings
Dining with Divers: Tales from the Kitchen TableTechnical Diving from the Bottom Up
Diving MedicineTechniques for Diving Deeper than 1,500 Feet
Drawn to the Deep:The Remarkable Underwater
Explorations of Wes Skiles
The Aquanaut
Fatally FlawedThe Basics of Rebreather Diving
Flying After Recreational Diving Workshop ProceedingsThe Darkness Beckons
Hydrogen as a Diving Gas Proceedings of the 33rd UHMS WorkshopThe Fundamentals of Better Diving
Into the PlanetThe Jason Parker Trilogy
Ironsuit The Last Dive
Last of the Blue Water HuntersThe Silent World
Mastering RebreathersThe Six Skills and Other Discussions
Living and Working in the SeaThe Wakulla Springs Project
Men Beneath the SeaThirteen Lessons that Saved Thirteen Lives
Mer Cavallo Mystery Series: AdriftUltimate Wreck Diving Guide
Mer Cavallo Mystery Series: : BeachedUnder Pressure
Mike Scott Thriller SeriesUS Navy Manual

Christine Tamburri is the Risk Mitigation Coordinator at DAN. She began diving in 2016 and never looked back, spending weekend after weekend diving as much as possible while meeting industry leaders along the way. After graduating from Penn State University in 2020, she decided that a full-time job in the industry was her calling and she became a summer intern at DAN. Later that year, she was hired into her current role where she develops e-learning courses, assists first aid instructors worldwide, and designs risk assessment tools for dive operators and professionals. Christine is an avid cave and technical diver who spends every spare moment of her free time either cave diving or planning to go cave diving.

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