Dealing with a Regulator Free Flow – What to Do?

Last Updated: November 30, 2023

It is inevitable you will experience a free flow at least once in your diving adventures. It is important, therefore, to learn how to address the problem once it arises.

Your ability to avoid or avert the free flow problem before or when it happens will determine your safety in the water. This minor malfunction may graduate into a crisis if not handled properly.

Read on to learn how to prevent or manage a free-flowing regulator.

What Do You Do if Your Regulator Starts Free-Flowing?

what if your regulator free flows

Use the techniques below to avert a regulator free flow problem.

1. Breathe through it

If you experience a free flow, you can breathe through it for a while. However, the technique may only be comfortable if one’s familiar with it.

Learning the skills is crucial as it may help you during a free-flow if you do not have an alternative air source. Practice using the tongue as a splash guard while drawing air through the mouth.

2. Bailout

Most divers carry an alternate air source, such as a pony bottle or stage bottle. The additional air source is a safe backup in the event of a free flow.

The alternative source is an efficient solution you may turn to without reaching out to your buddies for support. You simply swap from the malfunctioning equipment to the backup source.

3. Isolate

Have a twin regulator on a twin tank to ensure you have an adequate gas reserve if you experience a free flow. The extra tank will help you to identify and isolate the malfunctioning regulator.

You can then close the link between the two tanks to use the functioning regulator.

4. Use your buddy’s octopus

If you do not have an alternative air source to bail you out if the regulator fails, ask for help. Request to use the alternative tank from a buddy to avoid losing air while in the water.

What if Your Regulator Free Flows at Depth?

Most scuba diving regulators are reliable, but a unique situation may cause one to free-flow. What do you do if the regulator malfunctions and free flows while at depth?

You may use the measures below to take charge of the situation:

1. Stay calm

Even though the mishap may be alarming, remain calm. It is not an emergency but may spiral into one if you panic and make hasty decisions. Do not rush to exit from the water.

2. Assess the situation

Check the severity of the situation to know the next cause of action. Situational awareness is extremely important during such times. It enables you to make calculated decisions for your own safety.

3. Use your bail out

If you have a bail-out or stage bottle this is the time to use it. While at it, be sure to assess the situation around you so you can ascend to safety as soon as possible. Consider aborting the dive with your buddy if necessary.

Generally, free-flowing regulators are rarely ever a concern for most divers. However, should this happen, it is imperative to consider how you react to the situation so you can avoid accidents that typically come with uncontrolled ascents.

Breathing from a Free-Flowing Scuba Regulator

The good news is that it is possible to catch a few precious breaths even from a free-flowing regulator. That said, it is a technique one needs to get used to – it also takes some practice. Ideally you should practice it in a safe place so you can get an actual feel of it in a controlled environment.

Use the following steps to breathe through a free-flowing regulator:

  1. Have the regulator’s second stage mouthpiece partially in your mouth.
  2. Lean on the right with the head at an angle. You will have a clear vision of your buddies.
  3. Carefully draw in air from the free-flow air bubbling near the mouth. If need be, use the tongue as a splash guard.
  4. Continue breathing from the free flow until you can leave the water or use a buddy’s air.

Other than the techniques above, it is always advisable to carry a second tank so you can seamlessly switch to your bail-out gas. If this option is not available, turn to your buddy for help first and if possible, arrange for a safe, controlled ascend.

Preventing a Free-Flowing Regulator

Modern scuba diving regulators are reliable and unlikely to malfunction while in use. Regardless, there may be exceptions that you should prevent from happening.

Use the following techniques to avoid a free-flow problem when in water.

1. Clean and service the regulator

Cleaning the regulator after every use will remove any dirt or stuff that may get stuck inside. Store the clean regulator in a debris-free environment.

Diving equipment has a service and maintenance schedule which you should follow. Regular and consistent service will identify and fix any problems preventing any malfunctions.

2. Use appropriate gear

Use your gear in an appropriate environment that may not hamper the performance. Test the efficiency of the gear in shallow waters before using it for diving. Extreme temperatures may affect the gear.

Diving in cold areas may affect the regulator due to the sudden drop in temperatures in icy water. Be cautious with fresh water as it causes free flows more than salty water.

3. Dive with a buddy

Plan your diving trip with a mate to support each other if any need arises. You will have an alternate source of air and support in case of an emergency during the adventure.


Though modern regulators are high-tech and efficient, you may experience a regulator-free flow during your diving career. Know how to prevent and manage the problem if it is encountered.

Some preventative measures may include; learning and practicing how to breathe through a free flow, having a reserve air source and diving with companions.

You will enjoy the diving exploit if you are prepared for any eventualities such as a free flowing regulator.

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