FIELD OF THE INVENTION
- BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The subject invention is generally directed to a device for storing scuba dive equipment such as fins, wetsuits, masks and the like when not in use. More particularly, the present invention relates to a portable, free-standing rack for storing dive equipment which facilitates cleaning and drying of the equipment when wet as well as storing the equipment when not in use.
Scuba diving continues to grow in popularity as a recreational sport, particularly in geographic areas in close proximity to bodies of water which support numerous species of color fish, coral and the like. Frequent divers invest significant amounts of money in purchasing the quality equipment which is necessary to participate in this activity. Less frequent or first-time divers will often rent dive equipment from dive shops or other retailers as they learn more about the sport.
Both the retailers and the frequent divers recognize that cleaning (or at least rinsing) the equipment between uses can be an essential step in extending the useful life of the equipment as well as for personal safety and hygiene purposes. This is particularly true when diving in salt water as salt crystals left by evaporating sea water can cause significant damage to the equipment and, in the worst case, cause the devices which support underwater breathing to stop functioning. Whether or not the equipment is cleaned, it is also important for personal comfort and hygiene purposes that the equipment be allowed to dry (completely if possible) between uses or before extended storage.
There exists in the prior art a number of devices for storing and holding dive equipment. For example, wall mountable structures constructed of PVC pipe and hangers such as those described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,056,693 and 4,978,043 are well known in the art. These devices, while useful, are not self-supporting but require attachment to a permanent wall, support rod or similar structure for use. They are therefore usefull only in areas where such supplemental supporting structures can be found and could damage the supplemental support structure if excessive loads are applied Further, should these devices be used to hold dive equipment during cleaning, the cleaning solution, water spray or waste effluent could damage the surrounding support structure. Other devices, such as that disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 4,729,394 or that sold under the trade name “Scubamate” are self-supporting or stand-alone structures but are not easily collapsible for storage and transportation and then quickly expandable for use. Further, devices such as that described in the '394 patent or the product sold under the trade name “Rinse Master Pro” require direct connection to a water source during use, thereby limiting the device's mobility during use. In addition, many of the existing devices are supported by multiple wheels, making them difficult to operate on sandy, uneven, or sloped surfaces.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
A need therefore exists for a free-standing, portable rack for storing and cleaning dive equipment which is sufficiently strong and stable to support standard dive equipment while being easily collapsible for storage, expandable as needed, movable during use, and adaptable to various outdoor surfaces.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
The present invention meets this need and achieves additional benefits and advantages as set forth in more detail below by providing a rack for hanging and supporting dive equipment when not in use and particularly during cleaning, drying and storage thereof. The support rack includes at least three support legs extending from a top point and a plurality of dive equipment holders attached to at least one of the supporting legs at points along its length. The support rack of the present invention provides a self-supporting and inherently stabile structure which can be easily collapsed for storage when not in use and quickly and easily expanded for use in a variety of locations. The rack is highly storable and portable in its collapsed state but is also movable in its expanded state, even with equipment supported thereon. In addition, the individually adjustable support legs promote safe operation even on rough or uneven outdoor surfaces.
FIG. 1 is a side elevational view of a first embodiment of the rack of the present invention in an expanded position.
FIG. 2 is a side elevational view of a second embodiment of the rack of the present invention in an expanded position and resting on a sloped surface.
FIG. 3 is a side elevational view of a second embodiment of the rack of the present invention in an expanded position and supporting selected pieces of common SCUBA diving equipment.
FIG. 4 is a side elevational view of the rack of FIG. 1 in a collapsed position with hangers removed.
FIG. 5 is a side elevational view of a hanger of the present invention.
FIG. 6(a) is a perspective view of the top of the rack of a first embodiment of the present invention with the rack in a collapsed position and with hangers removed.
FIG. 6(b) is a perspective view of the top of the rack of a first embodiment of the present invention with the rack in an expanded position.
FIG. 7(a) is a perspective view of the top of the rack of a second embodiment of the present invention with the rack in a collapsed position.
FIG. 7(b) is a perspective view of the top of the rack of a second embodiment of the present invention with the rack in an expanded position.
FIG. 8(a) is an exploded crossectional view of another embodiment of leg portions of the rack of the present invention.
FIG. 8(b) is a crossectional view of another embodiment of leg portions of the rack of the present invention.
FIG. 8(c) is a crossectional view of yet another embodiment of leg portions of the rack of the present invention.
FIG. 9 is a crossectional view of a preferred embodiment of leg portions of the rack of the present invention.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
FIG. 10 is a top plan view of the rack shown in FIG. 1.
As shown in FIGS. 1 through 4, the rack 10 of the present invention includes at least three support legs 15 which extend from top 20 and are movably interconnected at their upper ends 22. Preferably, the legs 15 are hinge mounted at top 20 such that rack 10 is movable between a collapsed position as shown in FIGS. 4 and a fully expanded position as shown in FIG. 1. While it is preferred that the rack is utilized for supporting dive equipment in its fully expanded state, it should be understood that the rack 10 will function in a partially expanded state if necessary, for example due to location space limitations.
In a particularly preferred embodiment shown in FIGS. 2 through 7, top 20 includes end cap 25 with at least one equipment hanger 30 extending therefrom and, most preferably, removably connected thereto via an end cap insertion pin 32 which resides in hanger aperture 34 of end cap 25. In a preferred embodiment, hanger 30 is prevented from rotating about a vertical axis through pin 32 once pin 32 is inserted into aperture 34. Desired alignment of hanger 30 may be accomplished by numerous means known to those of ordinary skill in the art, including a pin 32 and aperture 34 of other than circular cross section and various arrangements of slots or pins. In the preferred embodiment shown in FIGS. 7(a) and 7(b), upper ends 22 of support legs 15 are movably secured to end cap 25 by clevises 31, each of which are secured to a side surface 47 of end cap 25. In a second embodiment of top 20 shown in FIG. 6(a) and 6(b), upper ends 22 of support legs 15 are secured to each other and to end cap 25 by top plates 35, each of which are secured to sides 36 and 37 of adjacent support legs 15 and a side surface 47 of end cap 25 which is bordered by the adjacent sides. In either arrangement, end cap 25 abuts the upper end 22 of each support leg 15 when the rack 10 is in a fully expanded position as shown in FIGS. 1, 2, 3, 6(b), and 7(b). With this feature, the rack 10 of the present invention can easily support significant equipment loads without the need for reinforcing cross braces extending between the support legs. Such cross braces, often present in prior art structures, are preferably absent from the rack 10 of the present invention.
Support legs 15 as well as the other parts of the rack 10 of the present invention are preferably manufactured in crossectional configurations and according to specification recognized by those of ordinary skill in the art as suitable for supporting weights which are typical for wet dive equipment (excluding air tank, attachment of which to the rack of the present invention is not recommended). For example, support legs 15 may be formed as cast, molded or extruded rods, cylinders, bars of the like of hollow or solid crossection from materials such as metals, certain polymers, resin/fiber composites, wood or other materials exhibiting sufficient strength and stiffness. The choice of configuration for the support legs 15 will depend in part on the specific leg structure as discussed in more detail below.
Preferably, support legs 15 include first and second leg portions 38 and 39 which are collapsibly and expandably connected to each other at adjacent ends 40 and 41. In an embodiment shown in FIG. 8(a), adjacent portions 38 and 39 are removably connected by connector 42, for example a threaded member 44 at one end 41 of portion 39 mounted in a threaded aperture 46 at the end 40 of adjacent connected portion 38. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 8(b), adjacent portions 38 and 39 are removably connected by inserting swaged end 45 of portion 38 into an appropriately sized inner bore 43 of portion 39. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 8(c), first and second leg portions 38 and 39 are connected by a hinge 52 secured to adjacent ends 40 and 41 of portions 38 and 39. Although the leg portions 38 and 39 preferably have a round cross section in the embodiment of FIGS. 8(a) and 8(b) and a square or rectangular crossection for the embodiment of FIG. 8(c), it should be understood that any cross section could be utilized for any embodiment and that other embodiments for collapsably connecting leg portion 38 to leg portion 39 of legs 15 could be contemplated by one of ordinary sill. In a particularly preferred embodiment, leg portion 38 is telescopically extendible from leg portion 39 as shown in FIG. 9. In this embodiment, portions 38 and 39 are connected by a spring-loaded pin 63 retractably extendible from plug 65 of portion 38 through pin aperture 67 formed in portion 39. The arrangement of said pin 63, said plug 65, said aperture 67, and said leg portions 38 and 39 may be duplicated to include a third or more leg portion telescopically extendible from the second leg portion. In an even more preferred embodiment, portion 39 includes a number of pin apertures 67 spaced along its length such that the overall length of support leg 15 is selectively adjustable by changing the selected pin aperture 67 through which pin 63 extends. This arrangement is particularly preferred because it permits the extension of each support leg 15 to be individually adjusted to accommodate uneven terrain.
The rack 10 of the present invention further includes a plurality of equipment holders 70 extending from support legs 15 at spaced locations along their lengths. The location and formation of the holders are an important feature of the present invention. In the first embodiment shown in FIG. 1, holders 70 are pegs 72 from which equipment may be hung or on which equipment may be mounted. In addition to pegs, embodiments of holder 70 may include hooks, pins, loops, and spring loaded clamps. In a preferred embodiment shown in FIG. 2, holders 70 are straps 75 mounted on support legs 15 which secure the equipment to the rack 10. By way of non-limiting example, straps 75 may be a band of any elastic material such as any natural or synthetic rubber, neoprene, norprene, silicone, etc. which expands to receive and surround the equipment and hold in it place upon retraction. Alternatively, the straps 75 may include adjustable lengths of material which are wrapped around or inserted through the equipment as appropriate and connected by buckles, snap fittings or the like. In a preferred embodiment, holder 70 includes a fastener portion 76 which matches and mates with a corresponding compatible fastener member 77 located on dive equipment 80 (shown in FIG. 3 as a dive light for purposes of illustration only). By way of example, strap 75 may include a “hook” portion of a conventional “hook and loop” fastener system which, when mated with the matching “loop” portion secured to a piece of dive equipment, will provide for secure mounting of the equipment to the rack 10.
An important feature of the present invention is the stability it exhibits when supporting a load of equipment. While not wishing to be bound by any theory, it is believed that this stability at least in part is a result of the arrangement and construction of the holders 70 and hangers 30 More specifically, the holders 70 and hangers 30 are constructed and arranged such that the downward force vectors (shown as F in FIG. 2), created by the weight of equipment supported on the holders 30 and hangers 70, intersect the plane formed by the points at the bottom ends 72 of support legs 15 (shown in FIG. 10 as points A, B and C) within the area bounded by the lines joining those points (shown as triangle ABC in FIG. 10 ). In such an arrangement, forces F act to rotate leg 15 about its lower tip 16 and toward the geometric center of triangle ABC. As long as said forces F act vertically downward within an area bounded by triangle ABC, the rotation of leg 15 about lower tip 16 is prohibited by the other legs 15 attached at top 20. This inherent stability is further enhanced in the preferred embodiment show in FIG. 2 by varying the extension of the individually adjustable support legs 15 to insure that the top 20 remains positioned directly above the geometric center of triangle ABC even if the surface 11 upon which rack 10 is supported is uneven or sloped.
As the rack 10 of the present invention may receive repeated and/or prolonged exposure to environments which include high salt concentrations, detergents, heat, and solar radiation, its various parts, including support legs 15, portions 38 and 39, hangers 30, holders 70, etc. are preferably manufactured from materials which resist deterioration and degradation in such conditions. Suitable materials for parts where stiffness and strength are paramount include certain metals, certain polymers, resin/fiber composites, or wood, with aluminum being particularly preferred. Suitable materials for parts where flexibility and strength are required, for example straps 75, include a wide variety of natural or synthetic elastomers such as latex or silicone rubber, and a wide variety of natural, synthetic, or metal fibers such as cotton or nylon, with woven polypropylene being particularly preferred only because of its wide availability.
While the number and location of the holders 70 along the length of support legs 15 may vary with each support leg 15 of the rack 10, it is preferred that the number and location of holders 70 be the same for each support leg 15. Similarly, when using the rack of the present invention, it is preferred (although not necessary) that similar loads be placed on holders at similar locations on the support legs so as to more evenly distribute the overall load on the rack 10.
Although the present invention has been described in terms of its preferred embodiments, it is to be understood that various modifications that do not depart from its spirit and scope may be made. For example, the construction of the holder and hangers may be varied to more exactly match with particular pieces of dive equipment. As a further example, the preferred embodiment shown in FIG. 3 is equipped with spring clips 23 to retain the hangers 30 when the rack 10 is in its collapsed position. Also, the bottom ends of the support legs may be covered with a tip 21 of soft material or treated to protect them as well as protect the surface on which the rack stands. Further, the legs 15 may include more than two leg portions or use a locking mechanism other than the pin 63 and aperture 67 depicted in FIG. 9 to secure them in the extended position. Examples of such devices include other spring loaded pin arrangements and a variety of twist and lever lock designs already familiar to those of ordinary skill in the art. In addition, the legs may be formed in other crossectional configurations, such as from T-shaped or U-shaped members, depending on the embodiment of the leg portion utilized (if any). Lastly, it should be noted that the top 20 shown in FIGS. 5(a), 5(b), 6(a), and 6(b) may be fabricated in numerous configurations which are aesthetically different but functionally the same.