Alternate Air Source: Rules And Recommendations

Alternate Air Source: Rules And Recommendations
– Lasse Kristensen

As a diver you need the octopus. And I don’t mean that 8-legged ocean creature. I mean your alternate air source; in other words your second regulator or your backup.

The octopus works the same way your primary regulator does.

If your primary regulator fails your alternate air source is there for you. And if your diving buddy would need to share air it’s there for him too.

An alternate air source is often easy to distinguish because it is bright neon pink, orange, yellow, or green. This is usually secured within the area of your chin and the bottom of your rib cage, preferably on the right side of your body.

Let’s take a look at alternate air source rules and recommendations:

Basic Rules

Besides being brightly colored and easy to get to between your neck and ribcage there are 3 different kinds of alternative air sources. Which one you pick as a diver is totally up to you.

  • Octopus – A regulator basically the same as your primary regulator but marked with a bright color.
  • Octo-inflator – A regulator second stage attached to your low-pressure inflator. You switch over to this while your buddy gets your primary regulator in case of an emergency.
  • Pony Bottle – A 0.8-3 liter small bottle with a second stage regulator attached for breathing. This may be used by you or your dive buddy, but keep in mind it only contains a few minutes of air.

Here’s a complete guide on Scuba Regulators And How To Choose One.

Always know your buddy’s equipment

Before you dive you need to know:

  • What air source you have
  • What source your buddy has too! You need to know each other’s alternative air sources system and how they work.

Here are 5 Questions To Ask Your Dive Insta-Buddy.

The best time to check the different systems is when you do a buddy check. Check how they work, decide what to do in case you need to use it, and make sure both of your alternative air sources completely work, without question.

Buddies check each other’s gear before entering
Buddies check each other’s gear before entering
Photo by: David Mckee

How To Store Your Alternate Air Source

Divers have their own way of storing their alternative air source. Some secure it on a bungee cord underneath their chin. Some divers tuck the hose on one of their shoulders and let the regulator hanging for easy access.

There are many different items you can buy to hang your alternative air source on the BCD for quick and easy usage.

Things to keep in mind when attaching your alternative air source:

  • Know where it is at all times
  • Easily accessed without too much hand usage
  • Do not let it drag in the silt
  • Remains unmoved in its holder
  • If diving in the dark, make sure your diving partner knows where yours is located

Alternate Air Source or Donating the Primary Regulator

Some divers also prefer donating their primary regulator in emergency situations.

Two basic reasons for this:

  1. The buddy knows exactly where the regulator is in the other diver’s mouth and they will feel confident that the regulator works.
  2. This is also less tense for the diver. This way they can easily pick up their alternate air source.
Dive guide and diver sharing one air source
Dive guide and diver sharing one air source
Photo by: Torben Lonne –

Reasons against Donating the Regulator from the Mouth

Some divers oppose donating the regulator from the mouth.

Reasons being:

  • Both divers will be without air for at least a few seconds.
  • A buddy that is new to diving has been trained to take the regulator from your mouth in case theirs fail. If you haven’t been trained the same way you may panic. In this case, the situation could end up worse.

The majority of experienced divers agree on using the regulator from the mouth technique if their buddy is without air. But when divers are being trained, they should always learn to offer the alternate air source.

A female diver offering her secondary air source
A female diver offering her secondary air source
Photo by: Mark Doherty

This way, you can dive wherever and with whoever you want and have peace of mind that everyone is on the same page. If you’re not sure, speak to your buddy about what you 2 as a diving team would do in case they run out of air.

Here’s more on Safer Diving: Situational Awareness.

All in all, you must always make sure you know where your alternate air source is and that it is in excellent working condition. Make sure your alternate air source is highly visible and doesn’t get in the way of any of your movements or the ocean floor that you are diving in.

Tell us your story! Have you ever needed to use your buddy’s alternate air source?  What happened and what did you guys do?


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