Hydroplane Safety Diver
Being a hydroplane safety diver is tons of fun! I've now done it over two weekends, and I must say the entire day puts a smile on my face!
The thing you don't think about, assuming you're like me, is before you can run an unlimited 200+ mph hydroplane like we're all used to seeing at Seafair... you have to start smaller (& often much younger). There are a ton of different hydroplane categories, and heats, and for most of them.... you don't need to be on alert, in your dive gear, and on the rescue boat. Most of the smaller classes of hydroplanes, the driver sits on or lays on the boat. So in the event of an accident, they are thrown off.... and skip along the top of the water to safety.
You're there for the fastest classes of hydroplanes that have enclosed canopies. For those races, in the event of an accident, the driver could become "trapped" in the canopy and need your assistance to escape.
What's your job?
Your job is to help the driver get out safely, in the event of an accident. That means you want to review what it takes to get a driver out of the cockpit, you're going to:
Kill the engine (clearly labeled outside the hydro)
Open the canopy (most of the hydroplanes I've seen have a very clearly labeled "canopy release" lever, latch, etc.)
Help the driver remove the steering wheel (it's attached, so it won't get lost)
Help the driver with their five-point harness
When they're ready to remove their helmet with the onboard air supply (usually a little 13 cu ft pony bottle mounted behind the canopy), you give them a regulator to breathe from.
In the smaller classes of enclosed hydros, the engine is in the back, and makes it tail heavy. So you're likely dealing with a hydro sticking straight up in the water, and you're not really underwater at all. You may in fact be standing on the hydro.
For the largest boats, like the unlimited boats you've seen at Seafair, they could be flipped... in which case you'll be working upside down under the boat to free the driver. So you'll want to be weighted to get down a bit... but not like for a typical scuba dive.
What gear do you need?
The first time I showed up with all my normal scuba gear, BCD, steel 100, wetsuit, even including a light... and then another safety diver showed up and helped me understand how little time I'll be spending in the water. So I adjusted my gear.
I now wear:
If it's going to be warm, I tend to wear shorts & a t-shirt. I bring a shortie 3mm wetsuit in case I get cold... but haven't worn it since that first day.
My sidemount harness (or just a backplate and wing), something to minimize volume on the rescue boat
a 40 cu ft "deco" / bailout bottle with two regs on it (one for me, one for the driver) I'm told some other rescue divers use even smaller tanks like a 19cu ft. I just don't have an easy way to mount that on my sidemount harness yet.
mask, fins, sunscreen
I bring it all in a mesh bag to bring on to the boat
Before an enclosed canopy race starts, I gear fully up, and I'm standing during the race with my mask clipped off, but at the ready.
They also practice with the drivers in the pool once or twice a year in the off season, to prepare them for in water resuce.
Who races hydros?
This is a great example video of one of the younger hydroplane racers I got to watch over the two weekends so far. Many of them race in a bunch of different classes, with differnt boats & motors, and enjoy themselves all day!
Resources & Links to our local hydroplane groups: