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Replica Dive Helmet










Jose Berrios possess with his
replica of Simon Lakes dive


"Once the helmet was on I just started walking the negative buoyancy kept you on the bottom and you felt like captain Nemo or Buzz Aldren on the moon." --Jose





Scale model on display at the
Royal Navy Submarine Museum
See: more photos

"My diving suit really should have been preserved in a museum if only as an example of what can be done when one has to do it. I hammered iron into the form of an open helmet, into the front of which I fastened a dead-light, from an old yacht, and covered the whole, except for the dead-light-with painted canvas as far down as my chest.

In order to overcome the positive buoyancy of the body I tied sash-weights to my legs, and hoped that this would permit me to walk around on the bottom. No circus clown ever looked any funnier. Bart Champion laughed himself into stitches when I tried the suit on."  --Simon Lake



20000 Leagues Under the Sea

Home submarine builder Jose
and his sub, Oshiri.

Build Your Own Dive Helmet

If you've seen Disney's 20000 Leagues Under the Sea,  you probable wanted your own dive helmet.  So build one! Jose Berrios will show you how to do this with fiberglass. 

Warning:  This can kill you!  Before you try breathing compressed air under water you should know that it is possible to die by simply breathing compressed air at just 3 feet below the surface and then holding you breath as you surface.  Take a scuba diving class before you test your dive helmet.






(1) Plastic bucket cut to size.

(2) Now for a rounded top.

(3) ...that jack-o-lantern will do.

(4) Perfect!

(5) Cut a view port opening.

(6) Test for fit.

(7) Angle the view port down
for better visibility.

(8) One size fits all.

(9) Mika is a  happy diver.

(10) Leave the view port solid
until the fiberglass work is done.

(11) Add papier-mâché to
smooth out the shape.

(12) Cutting into 2 pieces so it
can be removed.

(13) Visor removed

(14) Visor piece of the helmet

(15) Visor in place.

(16) The main body of the
helmet can be removed from the
fiberglass casting and then the

(17) Spray paint goes on next. It
will reduce the amount of  PVA
mold release agent required.

(18) A coat of PVA mold
release agent is sprayed on.





(22) Two layers of aluminum
foil are next.

(23) Aluminum foil is held in
place with masking tape.

(24) Air line entry port and the
air vent ports are 1/2" PCV 90's

(25) A stick of wood is cut to
fit inside the PVC fitting.

(26) A thin wood base cut from
paneling or thin plywood.

(27) The PVC fitting can slip
the wood base that will hold it in

(28) The stick is glued to the
plywood base.

(29) The wooden mount for the
PVC is covered with aluminum.

(30) The PVC fitting will fit over
the mount and aluminum foil.

(31) A little hot glue is used to
help hold the fitting in place.

(32) The mount with the PVC
fitting is added to the helmet

(33) One low for exhaust and
one high for the air supply line.

(34) Polyester fiberglass and
glass mat laid out and ready.

(35) Work outdoors with lots of
plastic drop cloths.

(36) Cloth can be cut with utility
scissors and laid in place before
the resin is added.

(37) When everything is ready
the resin is mixed.

(38) An old paint brush is used
to apply and spread the resin.

(39) Additional layers of cloth
and resin are added as needed.

(40) The fiberglass can be cut
later so don't worry about the

(41) When the resin has cured
the mold is pulled out.

(42) Both pieces of the mold
removed with little damage so
they can be used again.

(43) The foil remains stuck to the
inside of the helmet.



(45) A jig saw can be used to
trim the edges and cut the
opening for the view port.


(47) A heavy paint goes on next

(48) ..to seal any pin holes.




(52) Air supply line attached.

(53) Cutting the acrylic view
port stock.

(54) Multiple careful passes on
the table saw make it round.

(55) Bolts hole the Plexiglas
port in place.

(56) Where Simon probably
used tar to seal glass. Jose used
black silicon calk and Plexiglas..

(57) Maya helping out.


(58) Back and front plates for
the weights are attached.

(59) 36 pounds of angle iron
for weights.

(60) Lead will be used after the
trial test.

(61) Filling with water to test for
leaks and balance.




(65) Fitting canvas to cover to
the helmet as Simon did.


(67) Cutting to shape.


(68) Ready for paint which was
Simon's way of making his
helmet waterproof.

(69) ...and painted. A check
valve on the air supply line
prevents the helmet from flooding
if the air flow stops.

(70) The air supply hose connects to a water spigot so
the air flow can be regulated.

(71) The bottom of skirt gets a
red coat of paint and the
fiberglass plate behind it is drill
for mounting the weights.

(72) Temporary weights and an
garden hose for the air supply
are connected.

(73) Suspending the helmet
makes it easier to get in and out.

(74) Might not be what Jules
Vern imagined but really close to
what Simon Lake built.

(75) Air flowing across the view
port will prevent the fogging, but
she is good to go.



(78) All set for a test dive.

(80) A motorcycle intercom
system will allow the diver to
talk to the crew in the submarine.
...more to come.  

Step by Step

The helmet will be constructed from fiberglass that is laid over a mold of the helmet, so the first step is to build a mold of the helmet from items you have around.















The form cut into 2 separate pieces, the main body of the helmet and the visor over the face.

When the fiberglass hardens the main body portions will be removed first and the the visor portion can be pulled out. In this way the mold can be removed without destroying it and then used again to make another helmet.




The helmet form or mold is now completed and ready to be covered with fiberglass in the next step. It will first be covered in two layers of aluminum foil which will allow it to pull away from the mold once the fiberglass has cured. PVC elbows will be installed for the air line and air exhaust port. 





















































































































Above: Static Testing

Right: Jose testing it for the first time in a shallow pool.

Adjust the air flow...

...and down he goes.

Spent time cleaning the pool.

Time for a deeper pool!

A little dish soap to prevent fogging and its ready to go.

Air is supplied by an oil-less compressor.

The helmet only weights about 5
pounds underwater.

...it weights about 46 pounds out of the water.

"Once the helmet was on I just started walking the negative buoyancy kept you on the bottom and you felt like captain Nemo or Buzz Aldren on the moon." --Jose

Dive Helmet Test Report

Saturday 4/10/2010
Unmanned Static Test      Dive site: Hot Tub
Temperate: 75 degrees.    Duration: ~6 hours

The helmet was hooked up to an air supply and placed in a hot tub. As currently configured the helmet weighs a total of 45 1/2 lbs dry. In the water the helmet is about 10-15 lbs negative (estimation) . A small air leak was coming around one of the screws securing the dead light was fixed with a small bit of plumber's putty. Air flow was added by opening the facet slightly. The helmet remained submerged for ~6 hours.

Conclusion: Everything worked fine. The helmet is ready for manned test. A standard garden water hose can easily take the 130psi that was used for air from an oilless electric air compressor. The faucet valve give you very fine control over air flow, .it works great.

Dive #1    Dive site: Backyard pool    Depth 4 1/2 feet
Temperate: 70 degrees.    Duration: ~15 minutes

Before the dive I spread a small amount of dish soap on the dead light on the helmet to prevent fogging. When I got in the water I placed the helmet over my head. This is hard I had to put the helmet on the pool ladder to get it on. Once on I adjusted the air flow. The one way valve rattles loudly but it works. You can see and reach the faucet easily (that works well) after playing with the faucet for several minutes I was very happy with its operation. To go underwater I bent my knees and submerged. For the next 15 minutes I cradled around, picked up stuff on the bottom, cleaned the pool and looked around. As you breath water rises and falls in the helmet this changes the weight. At one point I shut off the air and was able to take about 5 breaths before the air seemed so get stale. As I was diving I found that I had my hand in the faucet constantly making tinny adjustment to the air flow. Towards the end of the dive I had worked the connector for the air out of the helmet. I pushed it back in underwater without any problem the helmet filled to about 1/3 full of water before I could restore the air flow. After the dive I removed the helmet in the water. This was much easier then putting it on.

Sunday 4/11/2010
Dive site: Small swimming pool.    Depth: Max 7 1/2 feet
Temperate: below 70 degrees.

Dive #2       Diver: Jose Berrios    Duration ~20 minutes

Getting into the helmet is much easier with help. When one person holds up the helmet and lowers I on the diver there is no problems. Once the helmet was on I just started walking the negative buoyancy kept you on the bottom and you felt like captain Nemo or Buzz Aldren on the moon. The helmet "felt" safe. It was fun. Conclusion: Very different from scuba, The helmet gives you a false sense of safety. THIS IS NOT SAFE. Be careful you are walking around on the bottom.

Dive #3    Diver: Clay Laughlin    Duration ~30 minutes

This dive came off without a hitch, It was easy and fun. When can we take it out in the gulf? This would be great for hunting lobsters!

Dive #4    Diver: Noah Laughlin (age 7)     Duration ~5 min.

Noah was assisted by Clay Laughlin, but Noah is a veteran submariner who has us on many dives. This dive came off without a hitch, after the dive he looked at us like it was no big deal. "Can I do that again?" Noah will have a fine adventurous life ahead of him.

What a blast I think you'll love it!   --Jose

Home Build Dive Helmets and Air Supplies from the Past




























































Thanks to Mike Holt, submarine enthusiast and Argonaut Jr. historian for collecting and supplying the articles above.

Greg Cotton offers an article that demonstrates how home make diving equipment is sometime very helpful for breaking laws.



www.divingheritage.com - Diving Heritage
www.thehds.com -- The Historical Diving Society