I recently had the opportunity interview Evan Bozanic, who at eleven years old became the world’s youngest person to dive in the Antarctic Circle (water temperature was 30 degrees Fahrenheit). At the age of twelve, Evan became rebreather certified while designing and building his own custom, closed circuit rebreather (CCR), for a science fair project. Now at age thirteen, Evan has dived off of four continents, and plans to be the youngest person to reach the waters off of all seven. He currently lives with his family in Fountain Valley, California. Below is the interview of Evan Bozanic (my questions and comments in bold).
Family and Influences
Where did your diving begin? What originally inspired you take this on?
I started diving when I was a couple weeks old. My dad made a makeshift diving bell and took me down. Over the years as I grew up, I watched him go off on adventures, going on dives over the weekends. I always thought it just looked like a lot of fun. I got certified when I was eleven and I’ve been diving ever since.
You probably don’t even remember that first dive do you?
[laughs] No, not at all.
Describe your father’s influence on you and your desire to dive.
I’ve wanted to dive ever since I can remember. I always saw my dad enjoying it and I wanted to experience it myself. He took me out on the boat with him a couple times, but not too often. I got to sit on the boat to be with him and watch two or three times.
Is this a family affair; is everyone involved?
My mom and younger brother dive, and my sister snorkels, but my father is definitely into diving the most. My brother went diving with great white sharks when he was seven years old. He’s nine now. My sister is seven years old, and she already really wants to dive at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
Were you along with them on those dives with the Great White Sharks?
I didn’t go there because I had already gone diving in Antarctica. That was my big trip for the next two years. My dad wanted to give my younger brother a chance to experience some of what I’d done, so he took him to Guadalupe Island to dive with Great White Sharks.
I hope they were in a cage.
Oh yeah, my brother was. Everybody was.
Building a Custom Rebreather
Background: Rebreathers enable divers to spend much more time underwater than the more commonly used “open-circuit” SCUBA equipment that most people are familiar with, while also decreasing the amount of required “decompression” time. Rebreathers allow a diver to remove carbon dioxide from their exhaled breaths and to “rebreathe” it. The benefits of Rebreathers are profound and they are being increasingly used around the globe for deep water exploration.
Most people dive for years before they upgrade to a rebreather. What was your highest SCUBA certification before you began diving a closed circuit rebreather? Did you start with it or was it something you got into after several open circuit dives?
I had my Nitrox certification for a year and then I began a science project, which I had to be rebreather certified for. Before the rebreather, my highest certification was junior advanced open water diver.
Your father told me you built your own rebreather for this science project. How did you approach the basic design and build? Where did you get the parts from?
When I got my rebreather certification I had to learn how a rebreather works, so I generally knew how to build one, from a technical standpoint. I took pieces from the rebreathers we already had and bought some parts from Titan Dive Gear. My dad helped me whenever I had any questions.
Obviously, because you’ve already built your own rebreather, studied them and have been certified, you know how thin a margin of error there is while using CCRs and that they can be very dangerous machines. What kind of safety precautions did you take when you were designing and building your own rebreather?
When we tested it, we didn’t go below 20 feet. So, if there was a problem we could always just come up. We had to make a couple of adjustments, so if I felt something was wrong we’d just take it into the pool and try to assess what that problem was and fix it.
Where did this project come from and what caused you to want to build your own rebreather? I’m a CCR diver myself, and all I did was evaluate several models prior to selecting one to purchase and be trained on; most people do not set out to build their own units.
My dad and I were spit balling ideas back and forth for the science fair, and we came up with a couple good ones. I think including the rebreather as part of my science project was his idea, but building and then diving the rebreather for the science project was my idea. The purpose of the project was to see how many more or less fish could be seen while diving using traditional, open circuit SCUBA equipment, compared to a closed circuit one [i.e., using a rebreather].
What was your methodology and conclusion?
We took a reel and attached it to one place and then attached it to another rock and went down it, counting any kelp bass we could see. We did 14-people dives and a total of 59 transects during these dives within two days. The visibility was very poor, at around 15 feet, but we still counted all the kelp bass in sight. We were lucky the visibility remained about the same, so it didn’t really sway the results one way or another as a variable. When it was over, we concluded that we saw two times more fish on rebreathers than we did on open circuit.
What was the name of the science fair or the competition?
I actually did a couple of fairs. The first fair was my school science fair, where I took second place. After that, I did the Orange County Science Fair where I got first place. The California State Science Fair was last. I took third place in that.
Congratulations, that’s very commendable. Where have you dived your rebreather since you built it? Do you still use that rebreather or do you dive with a different unit?
I’m hoping to get certified on the Titan rebreather soon, but the one I built is pretty much the only rebreather that I use.
Have you given it a name or a model number?
It’s called “The Feather” because it’s so light. The actual tanks are all carbon fiber. The harness is nylon, with no plastic or steel backplate, making it lighter. We got all the raw materials for it from SCI, a company from California.
What about your rebreather is different from the rest out there?
It uses a cartridge for the scrubber material, it has the carbon fiber tanks to make it a lot lighter, and we’re trying to use as few parts as possible so that you don’t have to replace too many parts or worry about losing small pieces. We’re going to try to reposition the counter-lungs so that it’s easier to breathe as well. Currently they’re underneath by the side of your body, beneath your arm.
Did you build most of this rebreather; how much of it was your work versus your father’s input?
Most of the ideas for how it was laid out and designed came from my end. I built the ADV [Automatic Diluent Valve] and chose the pieces to use. My dad helped me assess the problems because I didn’t know what was wrong with it all the time. He gave me tips about placement and helped me with some technical aspects of it, but I did most of it on my own. I’d say it was 75% me and 25% my dad.