What you don’t know about scuba RECALLS…

You would think that the words “Due to Drowning Hazard” found in most scuba product recall notices would grip a diver’s attention, and provoke them into immediate action when they realize that their gear has been recalled with a serious defect. But NO! Most of the divers we interviewed admitted to the fantasy it was unlikely that their XYZ product was one that would fail and put them at risk. I’ve been one of those divers even after “I should have known better.”

It’s not just divers with their heads in the sand when it comes to recall notices. Studies of CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) recall effectiveness show that “good response” to recall may yield only a dismal 10% of recalled products ever being returned. That sets up a fair chance that one or more of the products in your scuba kit has been recalled. Here is just one list of scuba recalls from Undercurrent (recall list).

Why the apathy?

Perhaps an equally common recall phrase, something akin to “a small production run …” or “… a small percentage of the x thousand” gives divers false comfort. Most consumers do not understand that these numbers are the tip of the iceberg that triggered the recall.

There also seems to be a fantasy culture of trust regarding dive manufacturers which is not found in other sports.” The thinking goes something like, “a scuba manufacturer would never put my life at risk to save money.” They are business just like others. Some of these decisions could be made at the top of a muli-brand international corporate conglomerate or holding company. Additionally, many scuba products or their parts come from China, the home of “quality fade.” When dangerous issue are found, a few dive manufactures have been unable to avoid the seduction of minimization to save money. This minimization was evident in at least one case we reported on where the manufacturer downplayed the issue so they would not be forced to expand the recall to other countries.

Contrary to the “probably-not-mine” fantasy, we have been amazed at how easy it is to find divers with products that failed exactly as predicted by the recall. In one case we found that every single Dive Rite OPV spring we checked in the recall date range was bad enough to fail. Likewise we found a high percentage of the recalled (and not replaced) Miflex HP hoses failing. Even more compelling is the recent case of the original Atomic Aquatics Cobalt dive computer where the some products that were deemed “safe” (in that they did not need any corrective servicing) only to catastrophically fail at a later date. These experiences give confidence in urging divers to PAY ATTENTION and then stay tuned for future updates. These manufacturers are offering you a free replacement or repair which may save your life. Don’t pass it up.

A RECALL REDUX TALE – ATOMIC AQUATICS COBALT

We gave Atomic Aquatics (AAs parent is Huish Outdoors) Cobalt OLED dive computer an editors’ choice award for its brilliant, easy to read screen and ease of use. We still think this hose-air-integrated computer is the best in class. The current model (Cobalt 2) is even better. But good products sometimes need to be recalled to keep divers safe.

When Atomic Aquatics learned the high-pressure connection stem was not quite seated properly in some computers, they responded responsibly with a recall. In these cases high pressure air could leak into the body of the computer and, “poof”, it pops into pieces. Most often this happens when you pressurize the tank pre-dive. But it could happen underwater. We have did hear of at least one reported case of in water failure.

Before you gasp, you should know that divers who have had a computer or SPG blow underwater say that, while exciting, it is not the disaster you may think. The airway is very tiny and rate of CFM leaking should leave plenty of time to get to the surface.

The recall procedure adopted by AA was logically thought out. They would have trained dealers look at the computers in the recall range and determine by the exposed stem if that unit needed corrective servicing.

An AA staff member deemed one of our Atomic personal computers needed servicing and the other did not. Because I was one of those dumb, semi-doubting divers I thought “we’ll send it for service after one more dive.”  Sure enough on the last pre-dive check before the planned ship date the computer went poof and ended up in pieces on the garage floor.

We discussed the recall ‘check-first plan’ with one the designers of the Cobalt. When he explained the issue in detail, it made logical sense that there should be no problems if the stem was not already protruding to the point indicated in the recall. This plan seemed good for all involved. You could take your computer to your local dive shop and possibly keep diving with it if it passed the simple check. It also saved time and money for dive shops and the manufacture. But…

Then we saw a friend’s picture of his Cobalt in pieces on Facebook. Sadly, this occurred while on a week-long dive trip to Curacao. I gulped because I knew immediately there was a glitch in the logical recall check-first plan. I had witnesses his computer being evaluated by an Atomic Aquatics staff. Even more, the computer owner reported that he also had the computer checked by a staff member at his local dive shop. This computer had supposedly passed the recall check by two different trained evaluators and it still exploded.

We checked with three AA reliable sources to ask about other units that had been checked but still failed. While the number of units reported varied, they all agreed they were seeing some units that still failed and needed servicing after being cleared by evaluators.

In any case, AA management said they wanted to be sure that no divers were put at risk and they would change the policy. After some discussion they agreed to drop the local dive shop checks and just have Cobalt owners send computers (which were in the date range) to AA for corrective service. They have since informed dealers to “please discontinue the dealer level inspection process. The factory inspection process will include dis-assembly, routine service and upgrades to the current firmware version.

To be clear, from the beginning all Cobalt computers sent to AA were serviced. The servicing is robust and includes sealing the connection to assure no high pressure air can enter the unit. If you are one of the many divers that have a Cobalt (first generation) dive computer that has never been checked or was checked and cleared, you should stop using it and contact Atomic Aquatics (CPSC recall notice).

We still heartily recommend and trust the Cobalt dive computers as well other Atomic Aquatics products. Good companies have good products that need to be recalled. It happens. The Cobalt story above is meant as a parable on why you should follow-up on the recall even after you had your equipment checked or service.

Moral of the story

What we hope is that you take away these points from this article:

  • Much of your dive equipment is protecting your life.
  • Do not count on your dive retailer to inform you of a recall.
  • Subscribe to a dive news source and watch for recalls in the dive news and PAY ATTENTION.
  • If you own recalled gear, don’t wonder if yours is going to fail. STOP USING IT and return it for servicing.
  • After the recall, periodically follow-up with the company (via the website and Scuba Board) to make sure there have been no changes as illustrated above.
  • Even if you do not own that recalled equipment, post the recalls on Facebook and forums and tell your dive buddies. You may save a fellow diver’s life.