Handling Regulator Free Flows at Depths [video]

As impressive and meticulously designed as they are, regulators  can sometimes malfunction and go into free flow.

Free flow occurs when regulator fails and the downstream valve in the second stage sticks wide open resulting in the continuous delivery of gas.

An article written my Marcus Knight highlights the issues associated with regulator free-flows.  Naturally, as he points out and it goes without saying, prevention is always the best method of dealing with potential regulator free flow issues.

Because the most likely causes of regulator free flow are a lack of proper maintenance and improper use patterns,  the possible occurrence of this free-flow issue can be greatly reduced.  Have you regulator serviced regularly  as suggested by its manufacturer. Do not skimp on this required service.

Cold water conditions are also considered one of the major contributors to regulator free flow malfunctions at depth. That being said, surprisingly regulators can freeze under the right conditions at temperatures of 50 degrees Fahrenheit, as detailed in this study titled “Scuba Regulator Freezing Chilling Facts & Risks Associated with Cold Water Diving” by Mike Ward.  Manufacturers produced cold-water rated regulators that are designed and tested to function properly when exposed to these more extreme conditions. Therefore, it is important to consider using the “right tool for the job” as step #1.

If in the unlikely event that you experience free flowing regulator beneath the surface Marcus makes the following recommendations in his article.

  1. Breathe

    As in any critical situation, stay calm and stop, think, breathe, and act. Both PADI and SSI teach the technique for breathing from a free-flowing regulator in their core Open Water Diver training for this very reason.Think back to your basic training and consider the key steps:

* Tilt the mouthpiece of the regulator’s second stage so that it’s partially in your mouth, gripped on the right side of your mouth as normal, left side resting on your lips just outside of your mouth.

* Angle your head or lean to the right. This allows you a clearer vision past the bubbles and helps you locate your buddy. It also means that (on a standard recreational scuba system) you’re correctly positioned to sweep and recover your regulator if the bubbles jolt it out of your hand.

* Keep your mouth slightly open and sip cautious breaths from the free- flowing air bubbling next to your mouth, using your tongue as a splash guard if necessary.

If you’ve been diving in suitably close formation, you should have ample time to locate your buddy. You can share air as you learned in your basic training and abort the dive before the situation becomes critical.

  1. Bail out 

    Many divers take a redundant air source, such as a stage-bottle or pony-bottle on more challenging or deeper dives. Having an additional, separate tank and regulator offers a solution to the free-flowing regulator situation that doesn’t necessitate immediately locating your buddy. Carrying a clipped-on stage-bottle or having a pony-bottle banded to your tank means you can solve the immediate issue independently. Simply swap to the back-up tank and then decide what to do next.

  2. Isolate 

    The ultimate solution to ensure a large gas reserve, redundancy and time to deal with your free-flowing regulator would be to use a double-tank twin-set. A twin-tank, twin-regulator set up with a manifold all

Read Marcus’ full article for more detail here on Scubadiverlife.com


Video Demonstration of  free flow regulator breathing.

Images Source: YouTube Clips

See next page below for a video presentation of the mechanics of regulator free flow.

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