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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Diving Helmet History

At Sub SeaSystems, we’re proud of the history and innovation that allows just about anyone to explore underwater. Our Sea TREK helmets are utilized in treks across the world and in the fun and funky Clear Lounges in Cozumel and Kuwait. Hundreds of thousands of people each year don a Sea TREK helmet and head into a new and exciting adventure!

But, our helmets were not the first utilized by daring thrill seekers. For centuries, many iterations of the diving helmet were used around the world!

Halley Diving Bell

Edmond Halley created the first-known diving helmet in the late 17th century. The bell-shaped helmet drew air from a larger bell, which was dropped into the ocean. Air trapped inside this larger bell was fed to the diver through a tube. However, the air supply needed to be replenished with air in barrels sent from the surface and juggled by the diver, making it difficult to remain underwater. A few other attempts to create a suitable diving helmet were made throughout the 17th century, with mixed results, including one design that utilized an airtight wooden barrel.

Brothers Charles and John Deane produced the first successful diving helmet in the 1820s. The initial purpose for the helmet was actually not for underwater use, but for firemen to utilize in smoke-filled areas. This helmet, made of copper, had an attached, flexible collar and long leather hose. The hose supplied air via bellows. A short pipe allowed breathed air to escape. The original patent for this design was sold to a British engineer, Augustus Siebe. However, the brothers did not give up on their product. In 1828, they produced another version of the helmet and remarketed it as a “diving suit” for underwater salvage workers. In 1834, Charles used his diving helmet and suit in a successful attempt to recover items from a shipwreck.

Siebe's Diving Helmet

Meanwhile, Augustus Siebe produced his own design; a helmet fitted to a full-length watertight diving suit. The unique feature to this equipment was a valve in the helmet. The closed diving suit was connected to an air pump on the surface. This version is considered to be the very first functional suit.

Fast forward to the 1900’s, where diving suits and helmets took a “futuristic” turn. Aluminum, which was quickly recognized for its superior properties, began to appear in diving suit and helmet designs. In 1911, Chester E. Macduffee created a 550lb diving suit that was successfully used at a depth of 213 feet. The suit was not watertight, however, and required a water pump to remove water from the leg sections.

The 550 lbs. Macduffee aluminum alloy suit 1911 (courtesy, Reddit)

Free-flowing Air
Production started on the Desco “air hat” in 1968 and production on this model continues today. The Desco is a metal free-flow helmet, with a simplistic design, making it popular for shallow-water operations and hazardous materials diving. The Desco is secured to the diver by means of a "jock strap" which runs between the legs, and its buoyancy can be fine-tuned by adjusting intake and exhaust valves.

DESCO Commercial Diving Helmet
The Sea TREK helmet, developed by Sub Sea Systems in 1998, was the first helmet in history to use lighter weight, modern materials such as fiberglass, acrylic and stainless steel. Like the Desco helmet, Sea TREK also uses free-flow air supply and is intended for shallow water use. Unlike previous helmets, however, the Sea TREK helmet features a look and design never before seen; it has sleek lines, a glistening white finish, acrylic lens, and overall futuristic aesthetic. It’s friendly and approachable – which was the company’s strategy as it targets the consumer tourism market, especially families, kids, non-divers and non-swimmers. 

Sea TREK helmet
Sea TREK continues to be the world leader in recreational helmet diving. The helmets are now injection molded out of a nearly indestructible material, and components such as the lens, seal, air input mechanism, and air flow calibration continue to evolve with the latest technology. The Sea TREK guided touring program is offered on 5 continents, 25+ countries, at more than 50 destinations… and holds the record for introducing the highest number of non-divers and non-swimmers to the magic of walking and breathing underwater!

Interested in discovering more about the history of diving helmets and other underwater equipment? Check out the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada, Florida.

And, check out the “Deane” diving helmet from 1828 – on display for the public for the first time in history at the DivingMuseum in Hampshire, UK. 

Want to don your own helmet and take a TREK underwater? Check out our Sea TREK locations here! Or visit a Clear Lounge and enjoy family-friendly, underwater activities!

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