Glowstick – A Diver’s Illuminating Companion


The glowstick, a small tube containing either a single-use chemical substance that produces light or a battery-powered LED bulb, is a versatile and essential tool for scuba divers. This compact, portable, and reliable light source has numerous applications in the underwater world, ranging from increasing visibility and safety to enhancing communication and exploration. This entry will delve into the history, design, and various uses of glowsticks in scuba diving, highlighting their importance to the sport and the diving community.

History and Evolution

Glowsticks were first patented in the 1960s by Dr. Edwin A. Chandross, a chemist at Bell Labs, who was researching chemiluminescent compounds. These compounds emit light when mixed, producing the characteristic glow of glowsticks. Initially developed for military and emergency services, glowsticks quickly gained popularity in various fields, including scuba diving. In the early years, chemical-based glowsticks were primarily used by divers, but with advancements in technology, the battery-powered LED glowsticks emerged as a more sustainable and eco-friendly alternative.

Design and Functionality

Glowsticks come in two main types: chemiluminescent and LED. Both serve the purpose of providing light underwater, but their designs and functionalities differ.

  1. Chemiluminescent Glowsticks: These glowsticks consist of a flexible plastic tube containing two separate compartments. One compartment holds a hydrogen peroxide solution, while the other contains a mixture of a phenyl oxalate ester and a fluorescent dye. When the tube is bent and the inner barrier is broken, the two solutions mix, triggering a chemical reaction that produces light. The intensity and duration of the glow depend on the specific chemicals used and the temperature of the water. Generally, chemiluminescent glowsticks last for several hours and are available in various colors.
  2. LED Glowsticks: These glowsticks house a small LED bulb powered by batteries. They are encased in a durable, waterproof plastic or metal casing, ensuring their functionality at various depths. LED glowsticks offer different modes, such as steady, flashing, or strobe, which can be controlled by a button or switch. Compared to chemiluminescent glowsticks, LED versions are reusable, have a longer lifespan, and provide brighter illumination.

Applications in Scuba Diving

Glowsticks play a vital role in underwater safety, communication, and exploration. Here are some of their primary uses in scuba diving:

  1. Safety and Visibility: Attaching a glowstick to a diver’s gear or tank can significantly increase visibility in low-light conditions, making it easier for dive buddies and instructors to keep track of one another. This is particularly important during night dives or when exploring dark areas such as wrecks and caves.
  2. Emergency Signaling: In case of an emergency, a flashing or strobing glowstick can act as a distress signal, alerting others to a diver’s location and need for assistance.
  3. Navigation: Glowsticks can be used to mark entry and exit points, anchor lines, or underwater landmarks, helping divers navigate their surroundings and avoid disorientation.
  4. Wildlife Interaction: Certain colors of glowsticks, such as blue or green, can attract marine life, providing divers with unique opportunities to observe and interact with underwater creatures. On the other hand, some divers use red glowsticks to minimize disturbance to wildlife, as many marine animals are less sensitive to red light.
  5. Underwater Photography and Videography: Glowsticks can be used as supplementary lighting sources in underwater photography and videography, enhancing image quality and allowing for creative lighting effects.

Environmental Considerations

While chemiluminescent glowsticks are disposable and designed for single-use, it is crucial to dispose of them

properly to minimize their environmental impact. Some divers opt for LED glowsticks as a more sustainable choice, as they are reusable and do not generate chemical waste. When using any type of glowstick, divers should be mindful of their surroundings and ensure that they do not accidentally harm marine life or disturb delicate ecosystems.

In recent years, biodegradable chemiluminescent glowsticks have been developed to reduce their environmental footprint. These glowsticks use eco-friendly materials that break down naturally over time, reducing the amount of plastic waste generated by their use. Nevertheless, proper disposal remains essential, as even biodegradable materials can take time to decompose and may still pose risks to marine life if ingested or entangled.

Guidelines for Glowstick Use in Scuba Diving

To ensure the safe and effective use of glowsticks in scuba diving, divers should follow these guidelines:

  1. Choose the appropriate type of glowstick: Consider the specific diving conditions and personal preferences when selecting between chemiluminescent and LED glowsticks. For example, an LED glowstick with a strobe function may be ideal for emergency signaling, while a chemiluminescent glowstick might be preferred for a single night dive.
  2. Test the glowstick before diving: Ensure the glowstick is functioning correctly before entering the water. For chemiluminescent glowsticks, ensure the inner barrier is intact, and for LED glowsticks, check that the batteries are charged and the bulb is working.
  3. Attach the glowstick securely: Use clips, straps, or bands to fasten the glowstick to the diver’s gear, tank, or wrist, ensuring it does not interfere with diving equipment or become entangled with marine life.
  4. Follow local regulations: Some diving locations may have specific rules or guidelines regarding the use of glowsticks or other light sources. Always adhere to local regulations to protect marine ecosystems and ensure the safety of all divers.
  5. Practice responsible disposal: After use, dispose of chemiluminescent glowsticks in designated waste containers onshore or bring them back to the surface for proper disposal. For LED glowsticks, remove the batteries and recycle them according to local regulations.


Glowsticks have become an indispensable tool for scuba divers, offering a reliable and versatile source of light for various underwater activities. With their numerous applications in safety, communication, and exploration, glowsticks contribute to the overall diving experience and help create unforgettable memories. By choosing the right type of glowstick and using it responsibly, divers can continue to enjoy the benefits of this illuminating companion while minimizing their environmental impact.