Wreck diving comes in several forms. It can be categorized as diving sunken boats, ships or downed aircraft. Divers can find wrecks in many bodies of waters, from rivers to lakes and at sea. Wrecks become great habitats for a variety of marine life, offering good protection from predators. Wreck also make for wonderful places to capture good marine life video, or to line up shots which tell a story of a vessels demise. But wreck diving can come with unforeseen hazards to the uneducated diver.

TBM Avenger Kendall Raine
Photo by John Walker of Kendall Raine looking thru the cockpit of a TBM Avenger aircraft near San Diego Ca.

Wreck diving can be some of the highest risk diving that divers do. This form of diving often requires divers to descend into deep waters. Thats because deeper waters generally provides better preservation for wrecks than turbulent shallow waters. The problem is that the deeper we dive, the greater volume of gas we will breathed. It also means that a greater amount of soluble gases that will absorb into our bodies tissues until it equilibrates with the ambient water pressure. These various gases will need to be eliminated properly in order to prevent hyperbaric trauma's such as the "BENDS". And each of these different gases, such as Nitrogen, Helium and Oxygen have very different solubility, retention and metabolic properties which require quit a balancing act to decompress from.

To carry more gas means that we need to wear more equipment. Not only does this become heavier and cumbersome, it create a whole new aspect of overall equipment management. The greater this management becomes the less a diver is able to pay attention to other important factors. This is were proper dive training and a bunch of "real life" experience matters. Training can be acquired through real technical dive training agencies such as UTDi, also known as Unified Team Diving International.
Bronze UB88 suveneir
Other hazards of wreck diving can include getting lost inside of a wreck, possibly due to the loss of all light and or visibility. Hazards might also include the loss of gas supply, entanglements and cutting or piercing ones self with a shard of rusty metal, glass or even wire. Wreck diving with the wrong buddy is equally hazardous. Good cognitive judgement is imperative. Because incidents typically envelope, a dive buddy who has a problem will often draw their buddy into it. If you are properly prepared, the turn out should be OK. If not, the entire team is a great risk.

Kendall Raine KABC News interview
Kendall Raine giving a news interview with Lisa Bartley after we completed a dive on the ex-german submarine UB88.

Other than diving the exterior of a well striped, shallow water wreck, wreck diving can become equipment intense. Proper training with a balanced equipment configuration, proper breathing gases and sincere team ethics are necessary to minimize to risks associated with diving these environments. Physical fitness is also important. Not only because we often carry in excess of 200 lb. of gear, but decompression strategies do not factor in poor physical conditions. Poor blood perfusion and lower lung volumes combined with higher work loads will elevated CO2 levels in the blood.

Carbon Dioxide is often an overlooks problem that divers face. CO2 causes elevated acidosis in body tissues, including blood and creates a gamete of secondary problems such as diaeresis, edema, dehydration and increased levels of reactive oxygen species which can predispose a diver to a hyperoxic seizure.

Ray Arntz, John Walker and Mike Penski
Ray Arntz and Mike Penski assisting John Walker for a mixed gas dive.

I've been very fortunate to have had many opportunities to dive some cool wrecks, from the iron clad, USS Monitor, to submarines like the USS Tarpon and UB88. I have also been able to descend on several casualties of war and quit a few airplanes to boot. I have to give credit to the researchers such as Gary Fabian who find such submerged objects. Locating wrecks is no easy task. Wreck "hunting" requires tons of dedication. It requires money, patients and a desire that few possess.

Famed researcher Gary Fabian
Gary Fabian is one of the most accomplished researchers in finding missing aircraft and shipwrecks in Southern California. I am honored to one of the few that Gary has enlisted to dive and document his discoveries.

side scan sonar image Belmont shipwreck
Wreck research often required tool such as side scanning sonar. Above is a three dimensional side scan image of a shipwreck near Los Angeles, California.

UB88 submarine conning tower
Photo by Kendall Raine of the conning tower on the submarine UB88 near Los Angeles, Ca. Sank in 1921, this wreck is in phenomenal shape.

In October of 2008, I was fortunate to be part of a research team who discovered a B-36 aircraft in the ocean several miles off San Diego California. We used side scan sonar and a drop camera to identify our target. On Aug 5th 1952, this plane lost one of six engine during flight. The engine fell off and the right hand wing caught fire. Another engine became lose and the plane eventually crashed into the sea. Two out of the eight crew members perished. Dave Franks heroically gave his life to save the others.

Two months after locating the B-36, Kendall and I donned our gear and jumped in. The plane was scattered all over the place. Other than the landing gear and some sighting blisters very little of the wreck was recognizable to us. Twisted metal and wire was everywhere. Much of what we had seen needed to be analyzed using the camera footage on the days following the dive.

B-36 main landing gear
Main landing gear from a B-36D first dove on scuba in December of 2008


Disclaimer:
This site is NOT intended to teach anyone how they should dive. It is simply reflecting on what I have done and continue to do and is my opinion only. Proper dive training should be gained before attempting anything involving the use of a Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA).