History

How it all began.  A short history of diving.

For centuries people have held their breath and swam underwater.  The exploits of a Greek sponge diver called Scyllis over 2,500 years ago are well documented.  During a war with Persia, Scyllis sabotaged the Persian boats by cutting them loose from their moorings.  He remained undetected by using a hollow reed as a snorkel. Until humans found a way to breathe underwater, however, each dive was necessarily short and frantic.

From that time on the question on all aquanauts minds was “How can I stay under water longer?” Breathing through a hollow reed allows the body to be submerged, but it must have become apparent right away that reeds more than two feet long do not work well; difficulty inhaling against water pressure effectively limits snorkel length.

In the 16th century people began to use diving bells supplied with air from the surface, this was the first effective means of staying under water for any length of time.

In 16th century England and France, full diving suits made of leather were used to depths of 60 feet.  The first diving suits allowed the divers to be mobile underwater.   Soon helmets were made of metal to withstand even greater water pressure and divers went deeper. By the 1830s the surface-supplied air helmet was perfected well enough to allow extensive salvage work.

A couple of hundred years later scientists became interested in the effects of water pressure on the body. Studies helped define safe limits for compressed air diving. At the same time, improvements in technology – compressed air pumps, carbon dioxide scrubbers, regulators, etc., – made it possible for people to stay under water for long periods.

The breakthrough that finally led to scuba diving as we know it today was the invention of the ‘Aqualung’ in the early 1940s by two Frenchmen – Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan.  By adapting a car regulator to automatically provide air at the slightest intake of breath and attaching it to a mouthpiece, air hose and compressed air tanks they opened up the undersea world to all.  Immediately there was a great demand for this new invention – everywhere that is except the USA.  In 1950 the American distributor told Cousteau that the market was now saturated. . . they had shipped a total of 10 Aqualungs to the U.S.

All that had changed by the late 50s.  The ‘Sea Hunt’ TV series, with Lloyd Bridges as an underwater adventurer was hugely popular and thousands of people a year were now taking up the sport.

At this time there were no country or worldwide standards for dive training and diving accidents were continuing to rise incrementally.  YMCA were the first to begin offering standardised courses in 1959, NAUI followed in 1960 and PADI in 1966.

Safety was now a primary concern but it wasn’t until 1980 that the Divers Alert Network (DAN) was founded at Duke University, USA as a non-profit organization to promote safe diving.

By 1993, the 50th anniversary of the invention of modern scuba diving, PADI had become the largest of the worldwide training agencies, certifying over 500,000 new divers worldwide.

The new millennium, by 2000, more people than ever are holidaying abroad and choosing to include diving with their beach holiday.  This, coupled with technological advances continue to make diving safer and more affordable truly make diving a sport for all.

Back to articles