Band Mask or Hard Hat – An Explanation of Commercial Diver Helmets


Presently, probably the most common diving helmets in use wordwide are the Kirby Morgan 27 (KM 27) and Kirby Morgan 37 (KM 37) hard helmets, or variations of them; the Kirby Morgan 17 variants are also still very common. There are currently two Kirby Morgan band mask versions which have a soft shell: the KMB 18 and KMB 28. Band masks have been used for commercial work in the past, but their use nowadays is mostly restricted to that of a rescue diver.

When to use a band mask

Band masks are good ‘swimming’ hats, and are quicker to put on, which is why, these days, they tend to get used mainly for stand-by divers and bellman roles. The KMB 18 is still currently used on the HSE Closed Bell Course for this reason, as we are essentially training experienced commercial divers to be bellmen.   We also use band masks as well as hard helmets, such as the KM17 or KM37, during the air diver training, because the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) assessment protocols require that we give our students experience in all diving helmets they’re likely to encounter during their career.

When to use a hard shell helmet

Joe Bamblett, a commercial air diver who graduated from The Underwater Centre in 2007, had this to say about the Kirby Morgan Stainless Steel 37, one of the range of hats used during our commercial air diver training: “The new KM37 SS was a pleasure to dive. It seemed to be a more comfortable fit and a big plus was the nose block not constantly in my face! It was also noticeably quieter with the newer whisker design on the exhaust.”

As stated, band masks offer no head or ear protection so have largely been phased out of most commercial diving work for that reason. However that is a generalisation based on ‘most’ large scale commercial diving operations around the world; many smaller scale jobs and ship work requiring lots of mid-water swimming and/or moving about will still probably favour lighter band masks. In general, any type of tool work usually rules out the use of any helmet not providing head, ear and provision for extra eye protection, i.e. cutting and welding visors. Ultimately, anyone carrying out a work place risk assessment in places where such things are done must always conclude that a hard shell helmet is essential.

Reclaim and Protection

For mixed gas bell work where reclaim is used you have to use a helmet. Theoretically, reclaim will work with a band mask but probably wouldn’t be that efficient. Also, the kind of external valve and pipework needed would make it impractical, not to mention pretty uncomfortable to wear.

Helmets can also be fitted with special double neck seals for connecting them to dry suits. This, together with special gloves which likewise seal onto the suit, should completely seal the diver from harmful ‘stuff’. These are used for diving in highly contaminated environments such as sewage tanks. Notice the ubiquitous Kirby Morgan diving helmet! Such equipment is also used in nuclear power station diving.

What other commercial diving helmets are in use?

There are other hard hat helmets available, such as Beat Engel, Interspiro or Heavy Metal Divers, but Kirby Morgan has just about cornered the market worldwide. Click here to see a wide range of companies who have also provided commercial diving equipment over the years.

Steve Grindrod, NDT Training Manager at the Centre, tells us that he used the Comex XLite 2, fitted with reclaim, for saturation work in the early 1990’s in the Gulf of Suez: “It wasn’t a comfortable helmet and the reclaim system had a few amusing idiosyncrasies such as flooding the hat about three hours into the dive. Very character building when your head is wedged under a pipe and you can’t get your hand to the free-flow valve.”

If you’re interested in a career in commercial diving, and would like to try diving in a Kirby Morgan hard shell helmet such as the KM37, read more about our Introduction to Commercial Diving Careers Day here.



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