Tahoe is testing ground for water scooters | SierraSun.com

Tahoe is testing ground for water scooters

Karen McIntyre
Sierra Sun

Lauren Shearer/Sierra SunAlan Studley, Vic Erickson, Ben McGeever (pictured here) along with Janet and James Flenner (not pictured) compare underwater scooters and their manufacturers' claims of speed and battery life.

Experienced scuba divers are zipping through the West Shore’s 60-degree water this weekend holding onto underwater scooters being tested for speed and battery power.

“It’s fun, kind of like a fish just floatin’ along,” said Vic Erickson, one of three divers testing the scooters.

At Hurricane Bay, Erickson, along with divers Alan Studley and James Flenner, embarked on the first ever scientific test comparing underwater scooters and their manufacturers’ claims of speed and battery life.

The goal of the tests, sponsored by Adventure Scuba in Reno, is to develop a list of scooter models and their characteristics for consumers to use as a guide when buying this must-have toy.

Divers use scooters for several purposes. Mainly, so they can stay underwater longer and see more sites, take more pictures and film more video.

Cave explorers benefit from scooters because they can travel deeper into the caves.

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“We’ve seen some cool things that other people haven’t seen,” said Janet Flenner, sales manager for Adventure Scuba. “They’re fun to snorkel with, too.”

Flenner dives about once a week and uses a scooter 75 percent of the time. She said scooters are especially great for vacation.

“We took them to Fiji last year,” she said. “We’re taking them to Cayman Islands in the fall.”

Scooters also make dives more efficient.

“For me, this is almost better than a boat,” said Studley, who has been diving since 1974. “It’s not a geeky, goofy thing. It’s for people who are really enthused about the underwater environment.”

Scooters are also used to aid handicapped divers, investigate illegal fishing on reefs, herd whale sharks in aquariums and survey sewage spills. And, McGeever’s scooter can be seen in “Mission: Impossible III.”

James Flenner said he decided to conduct the tests to ensure that manufacturers were honest in their claims. He said some manufacturers were advertising scooters that traveled 250 feet per minute, but divers were actually getting about 160 feet per minute.

To examine the equipment, the divers are driving the scooters along a quarter-mile track 36 feet underwater and marked every 100 feet. One scooter was equipped with a camera and compass.

Data recorders on each scooter measure speed, battery life, volts, amps, watts and more. The data is downloaded on a laptop where the results can be viewed and scooters can be compared.

James Flenner said the fastest scooter drove the track in 5 minutes Thursday, the first of three days of testing.

Each diver will test each scooter. On Friday, the divers were expected to make six dives, each varying from 20 to 45 minutes.

“It’s a lot of dives and a lot of testing,” James Flenner said.

The longest battery life so far had been 1.5 hours, but the average was about 50 minutes, he said. However, that was riding the scooters from start to finish. The battery lasts much longer when the scooter is given breaks.

When the testing is completed, divers should be able to refer to the results when buying a scooter to choose the best fit for their activities.

As scooters become smaller and less unwieldy, more people are buying them, Janet Flenner said.

“You get hooked on them really fast,” she said.

Flenner said Hurricane Bay, two miles south of Sunnyside, is a great place to use a scooter because the water gets deep fast allowing divers to avoid boat traffic by staying close to shore.

“We have quite a few people in this area that have one,” she said. “It’s almost like we have a scooter gang.”

When Erickson dives in Lake Tahoe, he said he sees sunken sail boats, fish and lots of crawdads.

“A couple downed trees that are fun to play in, too” he said.

Erickson said he does not expel any energy using a scooter, and so he can enjoy the view.

The apparatus is fairly easy to use, McGeever said.

“With 5, 10 minutes of instruction, you could be zooming around having fun,” he said. “You don’t realize how much fun they are until you’ve actually been on one, and then it’s like, ‘I gotta get one of these.'”