In 1942, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Émile Gagnan designed the first reliable and commercially successful open-circuit Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA), known as the Aqua-Lung. In 1945, Scott Aviation worked with the New York Fire Department to roll out the first widespread adoption of the AirPac, a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for firefighting.
Though swift water rescue techniques started to emerge in the 1970s, the mitigation of risks that threatened rescuer safety has focused on buoyancy with the development of Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs). However, even with highly buoyant PFDs, drowning can occur from aspirating as little as a teaspoon of water. The only sure way to prevent drowning is to prevent aspiration of water, and that can only be done with respiratory protection.
As SCUBA and SCBA are usually large and heavy, they are not suitable for swift water rescue. In 2022, PSI Director Dr Steve Glassey, an IPSQA Swift Water Rescue Assessor, started trials to repurpose Emergency Breathing Systems (EBS) for swift water rescue activities, which was coined “Swift Water Breathing Apparatus” or SWBA. EBS are mini-SCUBA systems used by aircrew to escape from downed aircraft in water. They are also used in sailing and other maritime situations to escape sinking or capsized vessels. However, none of the standards that govern EBS are appropriate for swift water rescue.
Dr Glassey, who is also a PADI Public Safety Diver, worked with industry experts and lawyers to develop the open-access Good Practice Guideline – Swift Water Breathing Apparatus and also created the world’s only SWBA online certification with real-time online verification for those who already hold recognized swift water rescue and diving credentials. SWBA became a registered trademark in 2023 and may only be used with permission. Using a custom-manufactured SWBA mounting system, a range of type-approved SWBA products could be fitted to a range of PFDs to operationalize the use of EBS in swift water.
Under the Good Practice Guideline – Swift Water Breathing Apparatus, operators must be certified. You can verify if a person is a certified SWBA Operator here. Certification to use SWBA under the Guide requires completion of a dive medical, verification of recognized swift water rescue technician and supervised diver credentials and passing an examination. Operating SWBA without certification may lead to serious injury or death.
Follow the links below to learn more about SWBA.