Because rocket fuel is too expensive

July 21, 2015 3:53 pm / Category: Business , Rebreather Diving

“Because rocket fu​​el is too expensive.”

This was one of the reasons that Add Helium Staff Instructor Robert Johnson cited for his interest in rebreathers. He wanted to go where few people had gone and see something amazing. Talking about space, he said, “Look how far you would have to go before you get to anything interesting. Space is generally boring. Whereas you go out in the ocean, you never know what lies around the rock.”

On his 20th birthday, a gift from an uncle sparked his interest in the ocean: a 1963 Navy dive manual. The pictures in the back of the book of various machines grabbed his attention and held it. They explained how men with very little on their backs could go very deep for incredibly long periods of time, and that was exactly what Robert wanted and still wants to do. His goal is to reach depths of 600-700 feet


By 1990, Robert had built his first rebreather by gathering parts from home improvement stores. His passion for building his rebreather was fueled by early success, since it is the only thing he’s ever built that worked the very first time. He’d briefly attempted to design hang gliders, but this venture didn’t prove nearly as successful. Robert’s first dive with his rebreather was cautiously performed at the Goucher College pool in Maryland. Once the machine passed the pool test, he performed his next dive on New Year’s Day at Bainbridge Quarry in Pennsylvania, where there was a foot of snow on the ground. The water temperature was 44° Fahrenheit, and he toughed it out for an 80-minute solo dive. He was back at the quarry in a month for his next dive.

The explosion of the internet in the late ‘90s helped to spur Robert’s quest to build the right rebreathing machine. It gave him access to theories, designs, and formulas that had previously been hidden from the general public. He has made 30 to 40 rebreathers during his career, with 7 of them performing successfully. His goal, for each design, was to build a simple, streamlined machine. His ultimate goal is to design a rebreather that can be updated with the user’s certification level. The user would not have to toss his or her recreational machine into the closet just because he/she had moved on to technical diving. Switching from PVC, Robert is currently on his 3rd rebreather made of stainless steel, and he expects to begin his 4th redesign by this summer. His main personal goal is to reach still greater depths when using his rebreather for diving. On the USS Spiegel Grove, he used a rebreather built by his own hands to reach a depth of 145 feet. That, however, is just a scratch on the surface of the secrets lying in the deep.