WHEN I GOT AN EMAIL FROM ONE BEN A MAZIN telling me that every diver should be equipped with JetBoots, I thought it was a spoof message from Paul Merton with his on-going jet-pack joke, and that Diver had finally made it to be guest-publication on Have I Got News For You! But Ben is American, did not think his own name to be anything remarkable (he pronounces it as you would the last two syllables of 'magazine') and he certainly was not joking. He arranged to show me his product at our office in Teddington, on his way to a Red Sea diving trip. I decided to take the precaution of briefing the blonde not to laugh openly at him, such was my expectation of this preposterous idea. Instead, I have to report that I was so impressed by the quality of the construction and the general high level of engineering of the JetBoots that, before Ben left, I was gagging to try them. I returned the favour to Ben a few weeks later, when passing through his home town of Los Angeles on my way further south. I had a day to spare and arranged to try his JetBoots in the pool of the Sheraton Four Points Hotel near the airport. The management were very accommodating. The pool was large at around 30m, though certainly not Olympic size. We decided to let me loose in it with the JetBoots early in the morning, when there was no danger of collision with any other swimmer. The JetBoots came equipped with a big 25V ni-mh 15 amp/hour battery-pack which was mounted onto the steel backplate of the wing BC. This powers the two drive units via a control switch which you wear on a belt around your waist. As I wore no more than a lightweight wetsuit top, I needed no lead as ballast, and in fact had to put a lot of air into the BC to counteract the negative buoyancy of the battery pack, which looked very much as if it might have come from Custom Divers. The drive units are brushless motors, each fitted with small propellers in cowlings. They are manufactured from anodised aluminium and carbon-fibre. Each one straps to a leg below the knee, and the cables with wet-connections are routed through straps at the thigh to keep everything neat. Out of the water, complete with scuba cylinder, I felt fairly loaded up. I dropped into the water and tried finning a length of the pool submerged first before attempting to use the power. So far so good. You need fins either way to steer and it is nice to know that the option of finning home is there in the event of a technical failure, even in a pool. Then I tried turning the power on. There is a green light on the power controller, if you can see it past your other equipment. This indicates that the electronics have recognised the command, and the propellers begin slowly to turn. The power switch progressively allows the user to add more revs. It is continuously variable. And then I was off. It's amazing how small a swimming-pool can become when you are doing three or four knots. I quickly had to learn how to turn, and those turns needed to be tight. I began to think we needed either a bigger pool or a smaller diver. I soon improvised and made more use of the space by accomplishing figures of eight. I was grateful for the wetsuit top, which saved me from grazed elbows when I occasionally took the corners too wide. I found I needed to keep my legs together and bend my body in an arc to get the fastest turns, and after a few tentative laps sticking out one leg to less effect, I got the hang of it. Zoom, zoom, zoom! I shot around that pool, which seemed to get smaller and smaller as I got faster and faster. I never really knew how fast I went but I would have loved to have tried the JetBoots out in the sea with a Pete McCarthy underwater speedometer. In the event, Ben was reluctant to allow me to leave the country with what is a very expensive item of kit. The great thing was that there was absolutely no effort involved on my part. No aching wrists, no wake turbulence, no bulk associated with a big diver propulsion vehicle, and no danger of any diver finning past me, as there is with the less expensive DPVs on the market. The feeling was the same as going up in a high-speed lift. Our legs are used to taking that sort of strain. The advantage for a photographer is obvious, in that both hands are left free. That is a major difference between JetBoots and any DPV. I can imagine all sorts of applications for a pair of JetBoots and a camera in places such as Cocos Island or the passes of French Polynesia. How long will the batteries give you before needing a 4-6 hour recharge? For a typical 90kg male diver I am told you can expect 35 to 45 minutesÃ• hurtling at full speed. Remember, at full speed you can go a long way in that time. If you needed more, you would simply buy a second battery pack and change it over as necessary during the dive with the aid of the wet-connections provided. The whole outfit weighs 10kg and delivers up to 18kg of thrust. An Apollo AV-1 weighs in at 18kg. I am told a Farallon DPV weighs 36kg and gives only slightly more thrust. Not only that but, stripped down and packed, the JetBoots will fit in an overhead locker on any airliner. The only problem I can foresee is that someone, not the user, might stick their fingers into the props while they are spinning. I was glad that no-one ventured into that swimming-pool while I was occupying it. Would JetBoots suit the British technical diver? The ni-mh battery technology gives good duration at low temperatures, and much better than the equivalent lead-acid battery. JetBoots do not thrust cold water over any part of the diver. Subject to the battery-pack spec, JetBoots are good for use to 100m of depth, so I would say: 'Yes.' The cost is comparable to a Farallon DPV. MST JetBoots cost US $3500 (around (£2100).
The battery-pack and controller for the JetBoots is worn at the waist
+ Lightweight + Bags of thrust + Easy and relaxing to use + Beautifully engineered
- An expensive toy if you don't need it - What about one for your buddy?