SeaScooter Dolphin
You might hate finning. Its too much work! But dont think that getting a diver propulsion unit (DPV) is the answer to this problem. Not unless youve got someone always waiting in the water with it ready for you to use.
Thats because anything that weighs enough to equal the amount of water it displaces is bound to be heavy, and a big battery invariably weighs a lot. The man who delivered the SeaScooter Dolphin to my penthouse suite at Eaton Towers one sweaty summers day can vouch for that. It weighs more than 25kg. We decided that I should try it out at nearby Wraysbury Dive Centres lake.
So having charged the unit for the requisite six hours, I persuaded our managing editor Steve to carry it from the car to the waters edge for me. Well, I always insist on being well-rested before a dive!
The Dolphin is typically American in its design and engineering. Its big and brash, and unsophisticated or even crude. A large wet battery is contained in the main plastic housing and this powers an electric motor that turns a propeller in a cage below it. The back-plate is removed to get to the battery and ballast and this shuts tight on a thick neoprene gasket with the aid of four cam-catches.
The diver is towed by means of two grip-handles, one of which has a simple on/off trigger. Three lights tell you the state of charge of the battery.
The advantage of a lake is its finite dimensions. This would be important if the battery went down. A long walk with a dead DPV is preferable to a long swim with one.
There was another reason for first trying the Dolphin in a lake. A well-known diving travel agent, trying another make of DPV in the Bahamas and finding that it would not switch off, simply let it go, to wander forever in the infinite ocean. I bet the owners were impressed!
You can make the Dolphin neutrally buoyant by adding packets of lead shot to the nose section. This is not something that is readily done. You have to remove the battery first, so after that you tend to leave the lead in place. So the Dolphin is a lump. The question was, would it be fun
In the water our example proved a little nose-light. In other words, it proved quite an effort to point it downwards to get extra depth.
On the other hand, it was easy to climb. This could have been adjusted by adding more weight to the nose section, but as it was perfectly neutrally buoyant as it was, I decided not to adjust for this. Also, it seemed sensible to me to have to struggle to go down, since this added a built-in safety effect.
Steve and I enjoyed cruising around the lake together. There seemed enough power to tow both of us, even if our progress was more stately than spectacularly fast. When I used it alone, Steve was able to fin alongside me without much effort so I suppose the most speed I made was about half a knot.
Then we realised that we were producing a veritable vapour trail behind us. This was because the thrust from the propeller was having the same effect on the silty clay bottom as a Kenwood Chef would have on a Readymix cake-mix.
Our guilt at ruining the viz for other divers was tempered by the need to get the test done, so we constantly re-routed to an undisturbed part of the lake.
The handles felt as if they flexed and this did not boost my confidence that the unit was unbreakable. I also thought that they were positioned a little too far towards the back of the unit for comfort.
Riding solo, I was able to stretch my arms out in front and brace the wings of the unit on top of my forearms. Two-up, I really had to be careful how I pointed it so that we went in the right direction.
I could have done with a depth gauge mounted on the unit. In low viz its hard to know where you are relative to the surface. I suppose it would be too much to ask for a compensated compass too
So we had a fun morning, but I cant say it was without effort. The work of finning was transferred to my wrists, so I still got tired.
I thought that if I had to journey from the edge of the lake to a work site in the middle each day, it would have been worth having. However, as a toy it represents another thing to need charging, to flood or to go wrong, and it was another large and heavy item that needed loading into the car afterwards. With that in mind, as a divers toy its probably more hassle than its worth.
The SeaScooter Dolphin costs£995.
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  • Divernet Divernet
    + Low-tech simplicity
    + Saves on finning

    - Hard on the arms
    - Heavy to lug around out of the water
    - Fairly slow