Have you hugged your safety sausages lately?
A safety sausage is an essential piece of dive gear and should be something every diver carries with them on ALL dives. Having a safety sausage can come in very handy and possibly help save your life. It can also be another form of insurance but none of this is valuable if you have never used it or you are not sure how you will use it when the need arises for you to use it. Most articles and information out there help explain the different types of diver safety devices and how to choose which one might be the correct choice for you but I think they are missing some vital information for you to make the correct decision.
There are 2 main types which are audible or visible. Audible would refer to something like a whistle or air horn. The air horn could be one you carry or one you would hook up to your low pressure hose that goes to the inflator for your buoyancy compensator like a Dive Alert or something similar. No matter which one you have or you may have both their operation is simple. You either blow into it or push a button to make a noise so others can hear and possible locate you and of course the louder it is the better. My choice is a very loud whistle that works while wet and only needs your air to make it work.
Visible safety devices could be a mirror or safety sausage. Mirrors are also easy and simple to use. Just face the mirror towards the sun or other bright light to reflect that light to help show others where you are. Safety sausages are also called surface marker buoy’s (SMB), scuba signaling device, surface signaling device or even a scuba tuba. No matter the name they all help do the same thing but they aren’t all equal which is what this article will be mainly about.
There are many types of safety sausages and they come in various lengths, colors, ways to inflate them and some even have a pressure relief valve so it can be used as a small lift bag. The big question is what type is good for you and how bad do you want to be seen? Some things to consider are will you be diving warm water only or both warm and cold? Will you be wearing thick or thin gloves? Do you like to bring up things like small anchors or are you just a sightseer? Will you be diving where it is flat and calm like a lake or in the ocean where there could be large swells and wind?
As far as lengths go I think this is where size does count. Most safety sausages you can find are in lengths of 3’-6’ and for diving SoCal waters I wouldn’t want anything less than 6’. Why you might ask? For the less than advanced diver you might have never seen large seas while diving at protected places like Anacapa or Catalina and you may never want to dive anything besides that and will think a 3’ tall safety sausage will be good. It could be but the one time something out of the ordinary happens you will wish you had something taller. A safety sausage isn’t just so the boat can find you but to show your position when other boaters are out having fun. If you are in large swells with wind chop it can also be hard to see a diver with a 3’ tall safety sausage. The color of your safety sausages is also very important and you should have something visible from afar. I personally like the bright orange ones.
I have personally drifted down most of the backside of Anacapa with a few others at one time and had to be picked up by the Spectre. The reason this happened was we were doing some drift diving and there was a diver who the Coast Guard was coming to pick up off the boat I was drift diving from so there was no way they could pick us up till the chopper picked up the diver and left so we drifted for about 45 minutes till the Spectre picked us up.
The construction of your safety sausage is also very important. I used what was called a Scuba Tuba for many years which basically is a 6’ tall plastic bag that you inflated by placing your safe second stage facing up under it and pushing the purge button to add air into it and they work great until you popped one but then we always carried spares while using them. Most safety sausages are made from a poly-urethane coated nylon material which is very durable and flexible and withstand the elements very well which is what I now use.
The thing I consider most important when choosing a safety sausage is how to inflate it and I think this is one of the most overlooked items when people buy a safety sausage. If you can’t inflate it what good is it going to be-none! The problem is these type of things are usually never covered in any class and you won’t know or think about it till you need to inflate it. Sort of like the very small writing on an insurance policy that you only noticed after the fact. I really like the oral inflator on my DAN safety sausage.
There are 2 main ways to inflate a safety sausage depending on how it is constructed. Most of the smaller ones only have a plastic or metal stem that you must push open with your mouth to blow air into it and when you stop pushing it with your mouth it seals the valve so the air stays inside, very similar to blowing up a beach ball or air mattress with the little flapper inside of it. The larger safety sausages usually have this method built into it along with the bottom end being completely open so you can inflate by holding your safe second stage facing up while pushing the purge valve.
For me this method works the best but takes a little getting used to because if you wait till you are on the surface and the safety sausage is laying down it is hard to get the air to go up inside of it beside now you have really defeated the purpose of having it. You need to have the bottom lower to get the air into it. When drift diving you learn how to do this just below the surface before completely surfacing because the whole idea of using a safety sausage while drift diving is to warn others you might be in there way and I would much rather have my safety sausage ran over than myself. Remember, most boaters don’t even know what a divers flag is for.
One of the other important things I would also look at first is are you a warm or cold water diver. To me this is probably the most important question that is most often overlooked because I can tell you from experience that quite a few of the safety sausages you will find can be hard to use with a cold mouth and lips and cold hands with gloves. Think about it, how many times do you come up from a dive in cold water and have a hard time just getting your gloves off? Now if that is the case how do you think you would even be able to operate the tiny inflators on some of the safety sausages? Now add some rough seas and wind to the equation and I think you get the full picture.
I have done hundreds of drift dives around Anacapa & Santa Cruz Islands and have used a number of different safety sausages having personally received cut and bleeding lips from trying to use some of the inflators to the point they weren’t very useable. You might not always be drifting in warm calm seas past the palm trees with no gloves!
Now that you have plenty of things to think about why not get your safety sausage out and get friendly with it so you will know just what to do when the time arises to use it!
Written by Ken Kollwitz