Regulator Free Flows

Regulator Free Flows

Stay Safe, be prepared and ready to prevent and just in case manage a Free Flowing Regulator

What is Cold Water?

Stoney Cove - December 2010 Surface -9 Degrees, Water +9 Degrees

EU norm considers cold water diving to be when the temperature of the water is equal to or drops below 6 degrees C, so whilst our inland water sites stay reasonably warm for most of the year, the water temperature can drop sharply during the winter months. Even during the summer months, deeper parts of our inland lakes can still be relatively cold. 

Regulators perform differently in cold water diving compared to temperate water - the aim is to do everything that you can to prevent the regulator freezing which, in turn, causes a free flow effect.

Pressure variations in gases generate temperature variations - as most divers are aware, gases heat up during compression (filling a cylinder rapidly) and cool down during expansion (emptying a cylinder rapidly). This has an effect on the regulator 1st stage - the higher the pressure in the cylinder, the more effect it has. The cooling down effect of the 1st stage will be increased when the regulator is working on a 300-bar cylinder. 

By following simple guidelines, the risk of free flows can be minimised substantially

How to minimise the risk of free flows the next time you dive in cold water?

  • To limit freezing risks, a lower pressure cylinder is recommended for cold water. The higher the pressure, the higher the risk!
  • Use regulators designed specifically for cold water diving! These regulators are often either environmentally sealed or use a special 'heat sink' that uses the cold water to 'warm' the 1st stage which limits the formation of ice. Look for regulators that meet the EN250 standard for cold water performance - all of our school equipment meet this standard.
  • Have your regulators serviced regularly YES really, they are your life support system look after them and they will look after you!
  • Avoid breathing from the 2nd stage out of the water when the air temperature is low. The aim is to minimise the cooling effect of the air and the diver's breath by not 'overworking' the 1st stage - Giant stride into the water or walk -in entry and take the first breath when the regulator is in the water
  • When deploying a surface marker buoy use your exhaled air or a cylinder crack bottle DSMB and not your regulator.
  • Get air fills from a reputable source - the drier the compressed air, the lower the freezing risk!  Dive Rutland's is checked regularly for purity and is very dry! - our test certificate is displayed for all to see.
  • Avoid the cooling effect of fast air flows caused by using the purge button or breathing heavily.
  • A cool 1st stage can be warmed by the surrounding water - remember that the air will generally always be colder than the water, even during the winter months. Maximise the warming effect of the water.
  • The greater the amount of exposed metal, the greater the warming effect of the water can be maximised - pull back hose protectors on metal hose ends. This also helps to extend the life of your hoses as it stops debris and water trapped against metal fittings from causing corrosion.
  • Inflate BCDs and wings slowly - preferably during the exhalation phase to 'unload' the 1st stage.
  • If you have a 2nd stage with a breathing resistance adjustment, remember to always have the adjuster set to minimum when it is not being breathed from.  Our school regulators do, so we ask and remind you to adjust to the 'minus' position.
  • For further advice on cold water diving specific to the equipment you use, consult with us here at Dive Rutland or any qualified service technician or the equipment manufacturer.

Why do Regulator Free Flows Occur?

It is important to understand why free flows occur and how to handle them should they occur. Regulator 2nd stages essentially act as pressure relief valves - they are designed to do this. Normally in temperate diving, if an adjustable 2nd stage purge button hits the water or is even lightly touched when it is set to maximum but not being breathed from, it can go into free flow. 

To stop this sort of free flow, put a thumb or finger over the 2nd stage mouthpiece to break the flow of air and then - if the 2nd stage offers such a facility - set the breathing resistance level to minimum. If this doesn't stop the freeflow, get your buddy to close and reopen the valve. 

Regulators - when set up correctly as per manufacturer's procedures - are designed to easily give the diver air to breathe. A 1st stage freeze will cause the mechanism to free open within the 1st stage which will cause a 2nd stage free flow (remember it's a pressure relief valve!). Follow your training and ABORT THE DIVE

If the cause of the freeflow is thought to be a 1st stage problem, the regulator will still not work properly even on dry land and in a warm environment. Also, try to identify where the free flow came from - was it a 2nd stage or your Autoair or BCD/wing inflator.

Want to learn more about Diving Regulators have a read of our Features of a Regulator 

Pre-Dive Planning for free flow regulators

Every dive should involve a plan, so add the potential for a Free Flowing Regulator into that plan.

  • Practice free flow regulator drills and the use of redundant air supplies. The use of a redundant air supply such as a pony bottle and regulator, or an additional first and second stage mounted onto a Y-valve should provide reliable source of additional breathing gas when a free flow occurs.
  • Equipment - Ensure all alternate air source systems are in plain view and conspicuously marked allowing access at all times.
  • Equipment - Ensure you use cold water rate regulators.
  • Dive Practise - you may consider restricting yourself to diving at depths from which you are certain you are able to make a free ascent or with enough air and time to breath of your free-flowing regulator
  • Dive Briefing - ensure you discuss the in water procedures and techniques that should be used when dealing with this situation and clearly agree with your buddy on the action to take in each case. ​​

In-water response to a free flowing regulator

When a regulator suddenly goes into free flow it can be very startling as there is a sudden roar of bubbles and visibility is reduced. The main strategy is to: 

  • Remain calm Stop - Think - Act
  • Breathe from the free flowing regulator - remember your training.
  • In a controlled manner abort the dive and surface with your buddy 
  • Once on the surface, establish positive buoyancy 

If it is a while since you practised skills including free flowing regulator then come and take part in a ReActivate or skills review session



Dive Rutland Version 1.00 April 2015 / 2.01 April 2021 / 2.00 April 2020