What is a Diving Bell?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

A diving bell, also known as a wet bell, is an airtight chamber used for transporting divers underwater. It is open on the bottom, and suspended on a cable. The diving bell was the first type of diving chamber, and its use was first described in the fourth century BCE by Aristotle. The modern diving bell was designed in 1535 by Guglielmo de Lorena.

A diving bell might be raised and lowered by a dock crane.
A diving bell might be raised and lowered by a dock crane.

The diving bell works by being lowered straight down into the water, so that its interior remains full of air. The same principle can be observed by lowering an empty cup upside down into a larger container full of water. If a piece of paper is placed in the top of the cup before lowering it into the water, it will remain dry as long as the top of the cup is pushed straight down into the water.

The diving bell was first described by the ancient philosopher Aristotle.
The diving bell was first described by the ancient philosopher Aristotle.

Diving bells are weighted to ensure that the bottom remains level as it is lowered, and they are built heavy enough to sink even when filled with air. In addition, extra breathing air is pumped into the diving bell via tubes in the top. This helps maintain consistent air pressure within the bell, preventing water from entering, and ensuring that the air remains oxygenated.

Diving bells are raised and lowered by a cable from a crane on a ship or dock. It does not have any independent means of moving. In addition to being used as transport for divers, diving bells are also used in underwater rescue. They are typically large enough to accommodate a few people.

The concept behind the diving bell is also used in diving gear and underwater habitats. The standard diving helmet works the same way as the diving bell, allowing the inside to stay dry. The moon pool, on the other hand, is a large submersible chamber, the size of a room or two, based on the principles of the diving bell.

Moon pools are used for offshore oil drilling, for underwater exploration and research, and as an underwater habitat. In underwater habitats, moon pools are anchored to the ocean floor. Therefore, they are not mobile, but can be used for much longer periods of time than diving bells. Moon pools provide dry space in which divers and other underwater workers can become accustomed to the increased pressure of the underwater environment. The eliminated need to return to the surface helps prevent decompression sickness, or the bends, associated with ascending too quickly from deep ocean.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


Is there any modern equivalent to the diving bell? Obviously scuba technology is better than what they used a hundred years ago? But the diving bell offers you protection from underwater creatures. I would much rather go up against a shark if I was wrapped in metal.


When I was a kid I would go every summer to visit my grandparents in Maine. They had a big old house that was right next to the Atlantic ocean..

My grandfather was kind of an amateur maritime collector. He had old anchors, lots of replicas of ships, tons of fishing artifacts.

But the prize of his collection was an authentic diving bell. He had it displayed prominently in his living room and he polished it regularly. I loved to look at it when I was a kid.


@cardsfan27 - I have always been interested in those diving bell suits and even bought the video game "Bioshock" because the main character wears one of those suits.

I have always thought that those suits looked like something that should never be put in the water, due to their weight, let alone have a person put inside of them. I would think that they would be incredibly dangerous for the person inside and that someone could easily drown due to one of the many number of things that could go wrong.

Despite the dangers of this diving bell suit I have always thought that an invention or innovation such as this suit symbolized the era of the late 1800's, which saw a lot of people trying new things and creating new inventions to try and go where no one has ever gone before.


I have seen diving bells that were constructed in the 1800's and they are definitely not something that I would ever get into.

One of the most well known diving bells from that era is the diving bell suit, which is very heavy and involved having air pumped by hand into the suit itself. The problem though is something could go wrong and due to the weight of the suit someone could be trapped in the water with a bunch of tired people from pumping air trying to pull them out.

This famous type of diving bell suit made it more possible and practical for someone to move around as opposed in the past but it also made it easier for someone to drown if something were to go wrong. One tear in the suit or people getting too tired pumping air and the diver was a goner.


@Izzy78 - I think you answered your question with your last sentence. What back then before 1500 was airtight and if there were things that were airtight did people think to use them to dive? They did not have any type of plastic back then and I do not see what else there could be they could use for a diving bell.

I will say though you are not that far off in your idea. A diving bell can be made out of some type of bag. I remember seeing the film "Waterworld" and Kevin Costner took someone to the bottom of the ocean by simply keeping them in an airtight type of bag and pulled them down to the bottom. In reality this was a simple type of diving bell that could be made by about anyone. The safety aspect of it may not be up to any codes available for diving bells but the simplification of the diving bell in the movie can be replicated.


I have always thought that a diving bell was some sort of bell that divers rang when the ran out of air. Upon reading this article I can see that I was way off and it was actually something I was well aware of.

I find it interesting that the idea of the first diving bell was developed by the great philosopher Aristotle in the fourth century. I find it quite amazing that an idea such as that could be thought up that early on.

I see the first official diving bell was developed in the 1500's but I would not at all be surprised if there was one developed before that in an isolated case. All someone really needs is an airtight bag and they can put them self under water. Then again what did they have that was airtight back then?


That is a very interesting concept! I never would have guessed that anything with an opening in the bottom could remain full of air when lowered underwater.

I can see how a diving bell would be ideal for rescuing people underwater. They would most likely already be starved for oxygen, and the bell would allow them to breath air immediately, rather than having to wait until the diver takes them slowly to the surface.

I’m not big on being underwater. I panic when people try to dunk me. That’s probably why the idea of the diving bell appeals to me so much.

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