Air Supply

Depending on technology to breathe is sketchy, particularly when that technology is not all that dependable. While diving in the Aucilla River, our crew relied on surface supplied air, run off a Brownie Third Lung hookah. We dug it out of the dive locker at the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research where it had been moldering since last summer. It was almost entirely dependable – almost. Thankfully it came with spare parts.

The hookah hose descending to the excavation. - 2011 © Douglas Inglis

In theory the “Brownie’s Third Lung Diving hookah systems allow multiple divers the freedom to dive without the encumbrance of traditional scuba gear.” We were not much into theory when it comes to dive safety, so we always wore a BC with a tank and spare octo. Each diver has a long hose with a regulator, breathing compressed air from a gas engine floating at the surface. Between the spare tank and the long, easy-to-tangle hose, we felt pretty well encumbered underwater. Because we shared hookah regs, we stored them in Listerine between rotations. Yuck.

Dan, on barge duty, watches a diver ascend. - 2011 © Douglas Inglis

We were only between 15 and 20 feet deep. The dive barge was positioned directly over the site – this increased the probability of tangling dramatically. The 2 x 3 meter metal frame (ingeniously designed by Jim Dunbar) over the excavation was a constant hindrance for the hookah – the hose would wrap around it as you moved around the unit. With two people working in a very cramped space, it was almost impossible to prevent hoses wrapping around each other.

We had a safety diver on the barge at all times. Their job was to make sure the Brownie did not run out of gas or oil, wind and untangle the breathing hoses as diver’s required, and watch for gators. Every so often, the Brownie would give up. I would calmly switch over to the octopus bungeed to my neck and slowly ascend to the surface where I would yell at whoever was on the barge.

We were able to dive hours at a time, and Brownie saved us hundreds if not thousands of dollars in tank fill fees. However, it was not a hassle free system. We kept breaking pull cords. I got somewhat efficient at removing the housing and winding on new ones. The plastic tub that the Brownie sits in makes it a frustrating process. It is difficult to get your finger in tight places to retrieve dropped bolts and sockets. I also had to replace a pressure release valve in the field. Thankfully, some industrious overseer had purchased gobs of spare parts incase Brownie’s Marine Group ever went bottoms up.

Doug fixing the Brownie. Again. - 2011 © Douglas Inglis

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Categories: Aucilla River, SCUBA

Author:Doug Inglis:

I study the archaeology of seaborne exploration and contact. I am passionate about public history and outreach, and write about nautical archaeology at

One Comment on “Air Supply”

  1. February 27, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

    Is there current research being carried out at the Aucilla? I worked on the project back in 1995-1997, and was surprised to see your post as I’d thought the project was over.

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