Purchasing Our First Scooters and NSS-CDS Cave DPV Class: Part 1

Our New (used) Scooters! Halcyon EXP, made by SUEX.

Tina and I took GUE DPV 1 May 2018,  which certified us to use a scooter in open water but not in an overhead environment. That being said, we have less interest in scootering in open water than we have in caves for now. So  the real goal  even back in May, was to get cave DPV certified in the near future.   GUE DPV 1 was a great class to get us familiar with scooters and I highly recommend this as your first step if you are considering any DPV diving. We learned a ton of stuff,  including:  how to choose an appropriate scooter for your type of diving,  care and feeding, handling them under water,  and how to do the standard GUE safety procedures like gas sharing on a scooter, and team positioning. All of these things apply directly to cave as well as open water.  Of course this class  helped us become more educated when it came time to getting our own scooters.  After DPV 1, I began casually looking for a really good deal for a pair of scooters.  I wanted both of us to have the same thing,  so that we would be familiar with each others equipment.  But I wasn’t in a rush,  and didn’t have a timeline necessarily for when I would actually buy something. I figured within the next two years we would have them, but for now, we didn’t really “need” a scooter.

For the type of diving we will be doing, we would eventually need a scooter that will have enough thrust to move us through high flow caves with doubles, stages, towing another scooter and other gear. We also needed to have the range (i.e. battery life) to safely carry us into the cave and out. After taking DPV 1, deciding on a budget,  and doing some research, I  pretty much made up my mind and on getting either a  pair of used Suex Xj 37’s,  or the Suex XK1,  if I could find them in good shape.  Tina and I tried the xj37  in DPV 1, and both loved it. It’s fast, nimble, and doesn’t weigh a ton, plus it has the thrust and range that would work just fine for us.  I also had a chance to use the Suex XK1 during class, which I found to be just a tad faster and a good bit more torquey than the Xj37, but not as nimble. Tina didn’t get a chance to use the XK1 at all.  The XK1 is considered an exploration scooter and it’s mainly geared towards long  range dives where you are loaded down with a good bit of gear.  The XK1 is a great scooter and it was my second choice if we couldn’t find the XJoy 37.  Yes the XK1 is considered the “Top of the line” Suex, but it wasn’t my first choice,  because of the size and torque difference.

Removing old stickers and adding some personalization to the new scooters.

Like a car or motorcycle,  buying a used scooter is a bigger risk of course.  They are complex machines that have batteries, motors, seals and other components that go bad.  The older the scooter, the more risk of there being something wrong with it, that will cost you lots of money to fix. The biggest cost driver is the battery.  To replace a battery, you are looking at close to $2000.  If you can buy new then that’s great, but we couldn’t imagine doing that this year.  A new scooter will set you back as much as $7000-$8000 a piece, which is why I’ll reiterate the need to take DPV 1 or similar before buying one, so that you know what to look for.  The last thing I wanted was to get something that isn’t useful or has issues and be stuck with a big repair bill. It’s the same as buying a car.  “Buy it nice or buy it twice” has been my motto when shopping for quite some time. So we waited because I couldn’t justify the need, more than just wanting them.

Meanwhile we have been doing some surface support for Karst Underwater Research (KUR) , one of the exploration teams exploring the Florida caves,  since March 2018.  We didn’t do any in water support diving because we didn’t have Tech 1 at the time (and they had more qualified divers to do that).   Then shortly after  we completed Tech 1,  we had an opportunity to do support with another exploration team called the Woodville Karst Planes Project (WKPP). With these new opportunities,   Tina and I had a few discussions on our direction over the next year or two. We felt that the time was right to start getting proficient with scooters, so that we could be more useful to the teams.

I finally had my excuse, and the time had come for me to get serious about looking for our own scooters.  I actually didn’t expect to find anything right  away so my idea was to  look starting now and by next year this time, we would have found a couple of nice ones.  Since my plan was to get two of the same,  I figured this would take a while to put together. The second part of my plan was to get Cave DPV certified once we found a matching pair,  so that we could get regular practice with them and build that skillset.

I guess the timing was right,  because I asked around and within a week or so, found a lead on a few used,  but in good shape Halcyon EXP’s (Identical to the XK1) for sale.  The price was too good to pass up and just like that, we had a pair of Halcyon Exp’s (XK) sitting in  our garage.  However, first and foremost, I made sure the batteries  were in good shape prior to buying them.  Both had a recent burn test and were showing approximately 90% battery life left.  The one that I claimed as mine, was  born in 2013 and the one that Tina claimed was a 2014.   The shaft seals were both just done at Halcyon which made me feel even better.

I’ll admit,  I  was hesitant about buying an XK,  because this scooter wasn’t my first choice from a practical needs standpoint,  at our current skill level.  But in the long run it should be a better choice if we continue to do more and more complex diving.  Another big reason that makes sense is that  this is the same scooter that the teams are mostly using, so being familiar with it is a big plus. Secondly it goes back to when I used to ride motorcycles.   My dad always told me that it’s better to have more ass (more power) on the road as long as you respect it (which is why I had a fast as hell crotch rocket in my twenties and managed not to kill myself on it). When compared to the XJ37,  the XK1’s has more range, more power, and more torque.  For a new DPV diver, these aren’t necessarily a good thing,  but  as long as the scooter is respected, it will be a great scooter for many years to come.

Checking the trim and buoyancy of the scooter at little river

Now that we had scooters, it was time for Cave DPV. I’ll be honest, I have been looking forward to Cave DPV for a while.  And we decided to take the class with Dan Patterson through the NSS-CDS (National Speleological Society-Cave Diving Section) We have always heard Great things about  Dan’s  DPV class and we verbally committed to his class months ago.  Not to mention that Dan is a really great dude and we have gotten  to know him from hanging out at Extreme Exposure where he works.  The class is the CDS DPV pilot class,  and it’s not GUE.  We also really wanted to get a class outside of GUE to get a perspective on how different organizations operate.  Not that we didn’t want to take the GUE DPV class, but it was a good opportunity to see things from a different angle. And truth be told, we just wanted to take Dans class because we heard such good things about it. So the class was scheduled for September 28-30th 2018.

During the weeks leading up the the class, Tina and I took the scooters to littler river and checked the buoyancy, and trim to make sure they were setup correctly. I adjusted some of the lead ballast and the battery position to shift the CoG around and trim them out better. Each of them needed some small adjustments but overall they were really close. Then we took the them for the first ride.  Little river recently flooded and had higher than normal water in the run,  so this was a perfect place to play in open water. We planned on going up and down the run which is about 150 yards long and about 70 yards wide, with a maximum depth of 10 feet.  One thing about the Xk1 scooter that is different from the Xjoy37,  is that it has a two stage trigger.  The “cruise” position of the trigger will run the motor at whatever speed you have set at based on a selector knob.  The “passing gear” position with the trigger all the way back,  is full speed.

After balancing and trimming was competed, we get into the water and set the scooters on approximately 2 out of 10 on the speed dial.  We planned on going nice and slow at first.  I take off and Tina sets hers on the same speed  and she takes off behind me, but she zooms past me like a bat out of hell. I look at her funny and hammer down on my scooter to catch her. So much for going slow, I thought.  She is zooming around, up and down the run and I’m going full speed just to keep up.  I thought that she turned up the cruising speed or maybe since she is smaller that the scooter just pulls her faster on the lower settings. She’s doing a great job handling the scooter but man is she hauling ass.

The XK 1 two stage trigger

When she finally stopped, I pulled up beside her and gave her the “chat” hand signal, and we go to the surface.  I asked her why she was going so fast. She tells me that no matter what speed she sets the scooter on, it just hauls ass.  I laughed and remembered that she never rode the XK and didn’t understand the two stage trigger. So I explained it to her and we had a good laugh about it. She was pulling the trigger down all the way instead of half way.

We resumed the dive and this time it was much better. We were able to go nice and slow, getting a feel for the scooters. We practiced speed matching turns and all the skills we learned in DPV 1, while having lots of fun. After an hours and a half, both of us felt pretty comfortable with them.  I needed to make some more adjustments to the buoyancy and trim but it was close.

Since we couldn’t take the scooters into a cave yet, we took them home and I proceeded to clean them up, fix and polish any little thing I could find that was even remotely unshiny.  Then began the wait till the 28th.

FrogKicker Stickers Applied
The battery and ballast