The “Rebreather”: Translate it or not?

Shortly after starting Scuba Translations and starting to delve (I will try to refrain from obvious puns as much as possible, at least in the first couple of sentences) in diving websites and literature, I ran into the first general English term that seems to bring a reluctancy to translation:

The rebreather.

This piece of equipment, most commonly used in technical or commercial diving, has yet to find a deep‑seated (first pun conceded) translation, at least in Spanish, Portuguese and some other Romance languages.

Upon researching texts written by Spanish-speaking diving enthusiasts, I noticed that in most cases, they just refer to the equipment in English. And I immediately thought: “What a shame!”

I was sure there should be other options in Spanish to name the rebreather, which is basically, in layman terms, “a gas recycler”.

See, for those who don’t know what a rebreather is, let me try to sum it up:

Contrary to the standard and widely used SCUBA system, where the equipment is set to provide the diver with an open-circuit breathing and the gas inhaled from the tank is exhaled in bubbles through the regulator, a rebreather is a closed circuit system where the equipment allows the diver to re-breathe the same gas, i.e. the diver inhales the gas, but the exhaled gas is recycled in a way that the diver can breathe it again.

The process involves separating the CO2 and adding oxygen from another tank according to the specific needs, but I won’t go into it in detail. You can go to Wikipedia for more information.

The key concept in my ad-hoc definition is the “recycling” part. But I didn’t know that yet.

Alternatives in Spanish

I knew that knowledgeable tech divers and diving professionals understood what a “rebreather” was even if they didn’t speak English. But there had to be another way. So I set on to look for those risky people who’d dared to venture outside of the lazy word borrowing.

Let’s see.

To begin with, the verb “to breathe” starts with same syllable as the prefix “re” (meaning doing something again). Hence, the literal translation “Rerespirador” was quickly out of the question. Cacophony or sounding like a stutterer being the main reasons.

And merely “respirador” wouldn’t cut it, since it leaves out the most important aspect of the re-breather: the repetition, not to mention that it’s normally used to refer to artificial respirators used in EMR.

Then, I found some interesting websites talking about “recicladores de aire” (air recycler). That was more like it! There weren’t that many hits, but I liked the idea; it conveyed most of what a rebreather is. Except for the fact that rebreathers don’t necessarily recycle air, but different types of gases (pure oxygen, nitrox, trimix, etc.).

So what about “reciclador de gases”? All-encompassing, but a bit long.

I thought, then, that simply “reciclador” could work perfectly in the context of diving. While it can mean many other things, it should be unmistaken within context.

After this Eureka moment, I decided to wander outside of Spanish and have a look at some Latin-based neighbors: French and Portuguese.

French and Portuguese recycle as well

The path had already been trodden in Spanish —which shares resemblances in a lot root-words— and it was just a matter of confirming. A walk in the waterpark.

It turns out that Portuguese is also adept to borrowing and to using just “rebreather” in most appearances. But: there were also some websites who use “Reciclador de ar” and that was all I needed to pass on to French.

While I’m not such a connoisseur of the French language, I can easily tell that “recycleur” is an equivalent for “reciclador”. And that’s how they refer to rebreathers in a very informative French website ( Also note that the website itself is called “recycleur”.

Case closed-circuit?

I’d say that, while diving with a rebreather is still not very common outside of technical or commercial diving, the non-English-speaking diving community (and us at Scuba Translations) should make an effort to promote an accurate translation of the term and try to stay away from the English borrowing, as tempting as that is.

Beware: I may recycle this topic in the near future and analyze what other languages do when it comes to re-breathing.

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