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Da Vinci’s Scuba Gear

Although an ever-evolving world continued to fascinate the impressionable Leonardo Da Vinci, much of his creativity was fostered by his immediate surroundings. While living in Venice, the Italian city built on a bed of water, he was inspired to sketch numerous creations for water use. Perhaps the most noteworthy of all his aquatic innovations were his scuba gear designs.

Da Vinci’s Scuba GearThe Underwater Battle Approach
The city of Venice, literally immersed in the sea, was under the threat of invasion by the Turks in the late 1400’s when Da Vinci resided there. Leonardo hatched a far-fetched plan for thwarting enemy ship attacks. He recommended sending soldiers, suited in special diving suits, equipped with breathing apparatus, to slash holes in the hulls of the enemy’s boats. Prior to Da Vinci’s proposal, no one would have ever entertained the incredible idea of scuba gear.

The Venetian army was none too impressed with Da Vinci’s presentation of his radical invention, deeming it utterly outrageous. Nevertheless, the futuristic scuba diving equipment might have gone into production as a weapon of war, but the Venetian armed forces drove away the enemy before the underwater invasion could be staged.

Aspects of the Diving Suit
Leonardo’s detailed drawings depicted divers outfitted like frogmen, equipped for action on land as well as in the sea. The suits featured a regular layer of clothing, a protective facemask and goggles for underwater vision, plus an assortment of ropes and weapons.

One of Da Vinci’s original scuba gear sketches shows the divers carrying breathing tubes attached to a bell-shaped floating device for keeping the air passages above the water’s surface at all times. An alternate version shows them breathing from makeshift air bladders, which may have been the inspiration behind the later-developed oxygen supply tank. Both concepts had the soldiers carrying urine collection bottles in order to remain underwater for an extended period of time.

The actual diving suit would be manufactured out of leather, and the breathing tubes would be made from cane stems, offering flexibility in addition to durability. Being mindful of the intense pressure presented in deep waters, Leonardo connected the suit’s attachments with metal parts so as not to compromise the diver’s safety. Another handy element of the Da Vinci scuba gear was the air balloon fitted to the facemask, which could be regulated by a valve, enabling the diver to inflate or deflate the chamber to effectively surface or sink in the water.

The Lasting Merit of Da Vinci’s Concept
It would take the passing of several centuries before people began accepting the idea that oxygen-assisted underwater exploration was in fact achievable.

Da Vinci’s original air bladder concept for breathing was revisited during the 19th century by famed master of all nautical things, Jacques Cousteau. Intent on increasing his time duration beneath the sea, he expanded on Leonardo’s vision with the help of inventor Émile Gagnan. Together they devised the first aqua-lung model that at long last, would bring the fantasy of extensive deep sea exploration into reality.


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