By Paul Wagenseller, Co-owner of Scuba Professionals of Arizona
After diving recreational limits, some divers crave something more – diving in the depths below recreational diving limits of 130 feet, so called Extended Range Diving. This takes extensive training and diving experience and is not for the faint of heart diver. I’m going to shed some light on this by explaining the difference between standard “balloon quality” helium versus what divers need – USP breathing helium.
Some people think that a standard cylinder of “Air” can be used to dive these depths. In fact, standard “Air” is not what technically trained, extended range divers use. They dive with mixtures of either Nitrox or Tri-Mix (a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen and helium). Each of these gases command respect, in fact some dives you have to stop for decompression obligations for EACH gas. Qualified Extended Range Divers spend a lot of training on the dive planning portion let alone the actual diving itself!
The most expensive part of filling a Tri-Mix cylinder is the helium. The cost to a dive store is based on the availability and expensive cost of breathing quality helium. The price a gas company pays for helium is subject to change and sometimes after a dive store has ordered helium they charge much more than originally quoted! We assume that all helium is processed the same way, but in fact there are many different ways to produce helium:
- Helium produced for balloon-use is not necessarily pure helium (it may have neon and other trace gases mixed within it). This could prove fatal for a diver!
- Some helium supplies take liquid helium and break it down into storage bottles in a gas form. Now the cleanliness of the storage bottles and how the bottles are handled is the big issue. Oxygen-compatible helium requires an extremely clean storage bottle and has to be handled and transferred very carefully not to contaminate the gases.
- Many of the gases are imported from another state. You have no idea how the helium was produced let alone the quality of the gas.
Some divers try to obtain helium at non-traditional facilities to help them save money. This is where the expertise and knowledge of your local dive store comes into play. Blending gases is an intricate art and takes a lot of training. Diving is a great sport! Getting to know your local dive store and divers is critical!
Scuba Schools International, SSI, created the diver diamond for a reason – SAFETY! Through proper knowledge, skills, equipment and experience even technical, extended range divers can safely explore inner space!