Most of us are familiar with the scene in the movie “Jaws” where a scuba tank is intentionally shot and then explodes, killing the shark. That scene gave rise to a burning question in the diver’s community. Can scuba tanks really explode like that?
There’s no need to get nervous now. That scene was just another work of spicy fiction blown out of proportion.
In reality, scuba tanks are designed to withstand high pressure and are made of sturdy materials, making them extremely difficult to damage or puncture. While there have been rare cases of scuba tank explosions, the likelihood of it happening is incredibly low.
While the chances of scuba tank explosions are indeed nominal, it’s never zero. Hold on to your flippers while we gloss over the probable reasons that can make your scuba tanks go Kaboom! and mindful tips to prevent such incidents from happening.
Table of Contents
- 1 Are Scuba Tanks Flammable?
- 2 9 Potential Reasons a Scuba Tank Can Explode
- 3 Can Scuba Tanks Explode at Extreme Depths?
- 4 Conclusion
Are Scuba Tanks Flammable?
The question being asked is technically incorrect.
Scuba tanks themselves are not flammable. It’s the highly pressurized gas mixtures inside the tank that are potentially combustible.
Most scuba tanks contain either compressed air or nitrox, a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen. While these gases are not inherently flammable, they can create a fire hazard in certain situations. For example, if the tank were to rupture or become damaged, the gas could escape and mix with other combustible materials, causing an explosion or fire.
Additionally, scuba tanks containing certain gas mixtures, such as pure oxygen or enriched air nitrox, can increase the risk of fire due to their higher oxygen content.
9 Potential Reasons a Scuba Tank Can Explode
Scuba tanks are manufactured with extreme precision and they’re rigorously inspected before being sold in the market. It’s the carelessness on our part as scuba divers that may lead to scuba tank explosions. Just being mindful of the following scenarios and preventing them from happening lowers the chances of tank explosions to almost zero.
1. Overfilling Your Tank
This is one of the most prominent reasons behind scuba tank explosions. Scuba tanks are designed to hold a certain amount of compressed air or gas mixture, and exceeding that limit can cause the tank to rupture. If you don’t want your scuba tank to explode on your face be weary of the manufacturer’s guidelines when filling your scuba tank.
Generally, a quick glance at your tank engravings will give you an idea about the maximum working pressure ratings (it’s generally in the range of 3500-3800 psi for standard tanks). To make things easier, install a responsive digital pressure gauge on your tank. General consensus is
2. Heat Exposure
Scuba tanks are generally made of steel or aluminum which are prone to absorb heat rapidly which in turn causes the gas molecules inside to expand. So if your filled scuba tank is exposed to high temperatures, such as being left in direct sunlight or stored in a hot car, the pressure inside the tank can build up and potentially cause it to explode.
Always make sure to store your filled scuba tanks in cool shady places and away from heat sources.
3. Burst Disk Failure
Burst discs are thin metallic disks that act as safety valves in high-pressure vessels, including scuba tanks. These disks are designed to rupture at a predetermined pressure, allowing the excess pressure to escape safely.
So, what can cause a burst disk to fail? One of the most common reasons is simply wear and tear. Over time, the burst disk can become weakened and eventually fail to release pressure as intended.
Another potential cause of burst disk failure is improper installation. If the burst disk is not installed correctly, it may not be able to release pressure when necessary, which can put the tank at risk of explosion. This is why it’s important to have your burst disk checked regularly and replaced if necessary.
4. Defective Valve
The most likely cause of scuba tank explosions is a defective valve. The valve is what allows air or gas to enter and exit the tank, and if it’s not working properly, it can hinder the controlled passage of air from your tank.
For instance, if the valve is stuck in the open position, vast amounts of gas will release uncontrollably from the tank, turning the valve as well as the tank into a lethal projectile. On the other hand, if the valve is stuck in the closed position, it can prevent air or gas from escaping the tank, which can also cause an explosion.
If you don’t want your scuba tanks to turn into live rockets due to valve failure, get a properly conducted scuba tank inspection and positively opt-in for a valve inspection.
Both steel tanks and aluminum tanks are susceptible to saltwater corrosion. Corrosion weakens the tank metal, making it more brittle. If the tank is exposed to high pressures at diving depths, the weakened metal can’t withstand the stress and may rupture, causing an explosion.
Although there are many corroding factors at play such as moisture buildup, exposure to chemical agents, etc, the main culprit behind the corrosion of your scuba tanks is saltwater exposure.
That’s why it’s important to rinse your tank with fresh water after every dive to remove any salt residue. You should also dry your tank thoroughly before storing it to prevent moisture from building up and accelerating corrosion.
One way to remove rust flakes is by tumbling your tank. This process involves using a special machine to rotate the tank and blast it with small, abrasive particles to remove any surface corrosion.
6. Incorrectly Installed O-Rings
One of the lesser-known reasons behind scuba tank explosions is incorrectly installed O-rings. O-rings are small, circular rubber seals that help create a tight seal between the valve and tank. This seal is necessary to prevent any gas from leaking out of the tank, which can cause an explosion.
If an O-ring is installed incorrectly, it can cause the seal to break and gas to leak out of the tank, which can lead to an explosion. This generally happens if the O-ring is not the suitable fit, if it’s damaged or worn out, or if it’s not installed properly. Always double-check that your O-rings are properly installed before using your tank.
7. Improper Handling
Improper handling of your scuba tank can cause it to rupture or explode. Dropping, slamming, or mishandling your tank can cause physical damage that weakens the tank’s structural integrity.
8. Wrong Gas Mix
Using the wrong gas mix in your scuba tank can cause it to overinflate or rupture. Scuba tanks are designed to hold specific gas mixtures, and using the wrong mix can cause the tank to fail.
For instance, if you use Enriched Air Nitrox (EAN) gas mixture in a scuba tank that previously used standard Grade E breathing gas without proper oxygen servicing, it will cause the cylinder to deflagrate until it explodes.
Moisture, oil, or debris can contaminate the gas mixture in your tank, which can lead to an explosion. Always use a clean gas source and maintain a dust free surrounding when filling up your tanks, and regularly inspect your tank’s contents for signs of contamination.
Hydrocarbon residue buildup inside your scuba tank is an issue that when ignored can become a potential cause of concern over time. Hydrocarbons are flammable compounds and can trigger a tank explosion when left unchecked.
Can Scuba Tanks Explode at Extreme Depths?
While depth pressure can cause scuba tanks to implode, it is unlikely to cause an explosion. This is because the pressure inside the tank will increase in proportion to the surrounding water pressure, and the tank will be designed to handle these pressures.
Unless the tank is damaged or if there are any other contributing factors, depth pressure would not cause scuba tanks to explode. If a scuba tank was really that fragile, scuba diving would’ve been restricted to shallow depths.
Scuba tank explosions are rare but potentially dangerous incidents that can occur if proper safety measures are not followed.
By understanding what can cause scuba tank explosions and being diligent about following safety protocols, you can significantly reduce the risk of harm while also ensuring that your scuba diving experience remains both fun and secure.