During one of my dives yesterday I found that water was steadily streaming in from one of the glands on my Ikelite housing. It all started when I noticed I could not depress the shutter button with the shutter lever. Shortly after that, the lever came off of the housing allowing water to leak into the underwater housing. Fortunately, I was only in about 30′ of water when it happened.
As I mentioned before in about 30′ of water the shutter lever stopped working. Later, the lever came off. The first thing you should consider when your housing starts to leak is how terminating your dive will improve your chances of saving your camera. In my case, with such a low depth I made the decision to safely head for the surface. The key word here is *safely*. No piece of equipment is worth more than your safety.
Another thing you should do is turn off the camera and tilt the housing so less saltwater hits the electronics. Be sure to inform the boat crew that you have a flooded housing and inform them how to handle the camera while onboard.
Ditch the Batteries
Once the camera is on the boat, GET THE BATTERIES OUT! Saltwater is conductive. With the sensitive nature of your electronics, power and saltwater are a bad mix. Also make sure you don’t have a small battery in the camera to hold its memory. Mine had a little disk battery that I removed as well.
Save the Images
Even if your camera is toast (let’s hope that it isn’t) you can still save the images on your memory card. Remove the card immediately and put it in a safe place. As with the electronics in the camera, saltwater will ruin your SD or Compact Flash card.
Dunk It in Freshwater
If your camera is completely saturated in saltwater, you will need to get the salt out. What dissolves salt? That’s right, water. Once I got back to the dock, I put the camera in a bath of freshwater. While this seems counter-intuitive, it is your best hope to try and salvage your gear. I let my camera soak for several hours. While soaking it, I dunked, swished, and swirreld it around.
Dry it Out
Place your camera in a cardboard box and point a hairdryer at the camera. With the hairdryer on medium heat, the cardboard box will help dry your camera evenly. Keep the camera in the box until it is completely dry. I rotated my camera every half-hour to help with the drying process. Just make sure you keep your battery compartment and any other door open on your camera to allow for full circulation of air.
So we were able to displace the salt in the camera, now you need to displace remaining moisture. Isopropyl alcohol is just the thing you need. I completely submerged the camera in 91% isopropyl alcohol for two hours in order to remove the trace amounts of water from the electronics. The great thing about alcohol is that it is quick drying and do not harm the internal electronics.
Dry it Again
Just as before, dry the camera for several hours with a hairdryer. After all initial signs of moisture have been removed, resist the temptation of putting batteries back in the camera. Place your camera in a well ventilated area overnight.
Good News, Bad News
After following all those steps there was some good and bad news. The good news is that the camera worked! The camera powered on but the shutter would not open. To force it open I had to set the shutter speed to remain open for five seconds. While it was open, I forcibly smacked, shook and hammered the camera until the shutter opened. Another issue I had was that the lens still had salt on it. While I don’t recommend it, I opened the lens and cleaned it with a microfiber cloth. Unfortunately, I could not clean the inside of the inner element so some spots can still be seen in my test shots.
While these steps worked for me, I would not suggest it to the faint of heart. I made a decision after draining the salt water out of the housing that the camera was toast. Only then did I commit to doing these above steps.