Snuba is a form of surface-supplied diving in which an underwater breathing system developed by Snuba International is used. The word Snuba is a portmanteau of "snorkel" and "scuba". The swimmer uses swimfins, a diving mask, weights, and diving regulator as in scuba diving. The air, however, instead of coming from tanks strapped to the diver's back, comes through a long hose from tanks on pontoon rafts on the surface. Snuba often serves as a form of introductory diving, in the presence of a professional, insured guide, and following a half-hour lesson (but not requiring scuba certification).
The Snuba system was devised in 1989 by California diver Michael Stafford. It was then developed and patented in 1990 by Snuba International, based in Diamond Springs, California, who own the trademark and license it as a touring program. Snuba diving is a popular guided touring activity in tropical tourist locations such as Hawaii, Thailand, the Caribbean and México.
Snuba is also popular because no prior dive experience is necessary. Participants need only to be at least eight years of age and have a basic swimming ability. Its popularity as a first timer's experience can be attributed to several factors.
- The participant tows the raft on the surface via a lightweight harness connected to the air line. This gives the customer the secure knowledge that he/she cannot descend too deep and allows them to choose the depth that they feel most comfortable with while being able to control their depth, descent and ascent rates. By utilizing the hose as a guide, combined with wearing soft weights to achieve neutral buoyancy, participants are able to descend anywhere from just under the surface to 6 metres (20 ft) deep.
- Participants are able to hold onto the raft at the surface using a lanyard that runs the length of the raft on both sides. This also allows the user to hold onto the raft while becoming comfortable breathing before beginning to descend. Being connected to the raft also provides users with a feeling of safety, comfort, and the option to hold onto the raft should they want to return to the surface.
- Compared to scuba, Snuba divers wear minimal gear. Each diver is equipped with a mask, fins, weight belt, harness and regulator. The harness holds the regulator and air line in place, allowing the diver to swim unencumbered beneath the surface. This may be compared to full scuba gear, which includes a buoyancy compensator, weights, cylinder and often more, and can weigh in excess of 27 kilograms (60 lb). Although scuba equipment is nearly weightless underwater, out of the water the weight becomes a significant factor for weaker individuals. Unfortunately for Snuba divers, in case of emergency, the Snuba diver is not provided with any emergency buoyancy system unlike a Scuba diver who has a buoyancy compensator, meaning that the Snuba diver must swim to the surface or tread water until help arrives, which could prove fatal. On the other hand, a correctly weighted snuba diver will be neutrally buoyant at all depths (no compressable dive suit), has a hose and harness to prevent sinking, can pull on the hose to surface, which is less effort than swimming, and has a raft with a grab-rope to hold onto at the surface.
In strong current, wave action, or breeze, the combination of underwater hose and surface raft can pull quite hard on a diver. Snuba is therefore best used in areas where wind, waves and current are negligible. Since all Snuba use is offered by licensed Snuba operators who operate the systems as a guided tour, the possibility of being subjected to strong current, high waves or high wind is not likely. However it is beneficial if one employee of the Snuba operator remains on the surface to monitor conditions.
Since the depth of a snuba dive is limited to about 6 metres (20 ft), decompression sickness is not likely to be a problem. However, as the snuba diver is breathing compressed air, there is still a risk of injury or death due to air embolism, which is a more severe hazard at shallow depths if a diver ascends as little as three feet without venting the expanding gas volume in the lungs. This danger is easily avoided by breathing normally and continuously while ascending. This point is thoroughly covered in Snuba pre-dive briefings, and monitored by the dive guide throughout the dive by watching for the continual release of bubbles from each diver.. According to the Snuba website, since operation started in 1989, more than 5 million dives have been conducted without injury or fatality. It is not clear if any other dives with injury or fatality have occurred, as the wording is ambiguous in this regard. The Snuba Liability Release form, releases the operators and developers of the Snuba system from any liability or responsibility for damage, injury or death due to neglect, system failure or any other reason. Yet, there are many non-official reports about inadequate training. In 2006 a woman tourist from Japan began "Sea Walking" or Snuba diving, showed a distress signal, came up a boat ladder and then fell back into the sea drowning. The case was brought to court, and the boat owner's motion for limited liability refused due to insufficient evidence. The case will be continued in court. Snuba International claims the victim was not using a Snuba system or that it was not being operated by a certified operator.
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