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Comms device aquaSketch Minno Scrolling Slate

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archive – Diver TestsComms device aquaSketch Minno Scrolling Slate

COMMUNICATION UNDER WATER can be limited, to say the least. To get their messages across to each other, some divers deviate from the limited array of standard signals and end up gesticulating wildly, using signs that probably translate into some extraterrestrial language.
Misunderstandings are inevitable, and in some extreme cases could compromise safety.
What’s needed is a foolproof method of communication, one that leaves the recipient in no doubt about the intended meaning.
Most divers understand the written word (assuming that they speak the same language), and words can be applied to lo-tec plastic slates with a standard pencil.
This works OK, but slates offer limited space, so for someone like me with a lot to say, it’s the equivalent of a gag.
My regular buddies are likely to be holding their heads in their hands right now, because I’ve been sent a scrolling slate with 5ft of waterproof media on which to write – plus a pencil. It’s the aquaSketch Minno, and I’ve been scribbling away to my heart’s content.

The Design
This device was the brainchild of an illustrator from New York who was looking for a way to draw images while diving.
He came up with a compact scrolling notebook claimed to combine the durability of
a slate with the versatility of paper.
The writing surface is textured vellum made from a plasticised cotton material used for architectural drafting. The medium is waterproof and opaque. Rolled into a scroll, the vellum is mounted on twin rollers within the aquaSketch’s polycarbonate body.
A flat backplate forms a solid writing surface. Made from a phosphorescent material that glows after exposure to an external light source, it creates a backlight through the opaque vellum. A plastic-coated solid graphite pencil is integrated into the writing system using a short length of latex tubing, with a keeper in the base to keep it housed until needed.
The blank vellum roll is supplied in a 1.5m length. It’s printable using standard inkjet printers with waterproof inks, so colour fish ID charts, dive-site maps, deco schedules and dive checklist can be permanently printed and loaded into the rollers.
The aquaSketch is 13.5 x 8.5 x 3cm deep with a writing area of 9 x 5.5cm and weighs in at 150g. It is mounted using a wide, adjustable, Velcro-fastening wrist-strap.

In Use
The unit sat on my left arm, leaving my dominant hand to do the writing. The Velcro strap held everything securely in place and was easy to re-adjust at depth when my exposure suit had compressed, although I did feel it would have been better had the strap been elasticated to make this adjustment automatic, especially on ascent.
The graphite pencil provided dark text and drawings that were very easy to distinguish against the light-coloured scroll. However, I found that the soft-grade pencil tip became blunt quite quickly when scribbling away on the vellum’s textured surface.
Once I’d filled a section with text and used it to bore my buddy to tears, it was a simple operation to twist the rollers to move along a section and add more.
With the length of the scroll this could be done so often that I could easily have left him without the will to live.
Or, of course, he could have given me the universally recognised (and, in my case, too often seen) V-sign and simply finned away.
Apart from writing or drawing to communicate, I found lots of other uses for the slate. I even used a permanent marker-pen to apply runtime and bail-out tables as back-up, in the unlikely event that my dive-computer failed.
I also recorded camera and strobe settings for easy reference, and I added a tabulated checklist of pre-dive equipment and safety checks. The phosphorescent backplate was a nice touch, making this scrolling slate suitable for dusk and night dives, where holding a torch while writing is an impossible task.

Conclusion
When I first spied the aquaSketch Minno, I thought it was a gimmick, something to add to that ever growing pile of dive-kit that looks set to rock my world, only to be found after a few dives to be about as useful as a chocolate teapot.
Instead, I’ve found this clever but simple device extremely useful. Its size and weight means that it takes up next to no room, and can easily be placed in a BC or drysuit pocket until needed.
Once out of the water, a plastic eraser or damp cloth will remove all the graphite text, leaving the vellum looking like new.
If, like me, you enjoy verbal communications and interaction with your dive-buddy, this little gem will be like removing the gag formed as soon as you put a regulator in your mouth.
But do bear in mind that not all dive partners may see it the same way.

SPECS
PRICE: £32
AVAILABLE COLOURS: Black, green & white, pink & white
MATERIALS: Polycarbonate body, plasticised cotton vellum
PAPER LENGTH: 1.5m
SIZE: 13.5 x 8.5 x 3cm
WEIGHT: 150g
CONTACT: www.aquasketch.co.uk
DIVER GUIDE 9/10

See more safety equipment in Divernet Showcase

Appeared in DIVER May 2016

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