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The need for a better reel became evident one summer weekend on one of New Jersey’s lobster wrecks, the Stolt Dagali, a tanker that sank after a collision in 1964 with the Israeli liner Shalom, which limped to port with her passengers. One diver dropped a typical reel, which free-spooled to the bottom at 130 feet/40 meters. In retrieving the line, the divers became snarled in a bird’s nest of line and kicked up enough silt to reduce the viz to zero. After freeing themselves and returning to the boat, they agreed that there had to be a better way to make a reel.

Since their inception, reels have been simple in design. A frame with a tensioning screw is mounted around a spool of line. Although simple, traditional reels can take years of diving to master to avoid the design’s inherent problems with free-spooling, free-falling, back lashing or bird nesting. Learning proper use is worse than just frustrating; it can be deadly. Manta Industries was formed soon after the Stolt Degali incident with a goal of developing a design that would change the way the diving world thinks of reels.

Features not previously incorporated would have to be build into this new reel, starting with a braking system to prevent free-falling or free-spooling. A machine shop was chosen to develop prototypes and its owner, Bob Stollen, turned out to be an active diver. Through his interest and contributions he soon became a partner and vice president of Manta Industries. Several prototypes led to the development of the Anti-Free Spool (AFS) braking system. It consists of a spring-loaded “trigger bar” held in position with custom-designed shoulder bolts to form a squeezable handle between the frame and the rotating spool. The springs are precisely tensioned to allow the spool to feed out line with a minimal amount of squeezing force, but provide enough pressure to prevent the reel from free-falling when dropped. The typical reel’s tensioning screw is replaced with a stainless steel wave washer that exerts a constant drag without the need to make continual adjustments, reducing task loading. This simple mechanism has no small and intricate parts to malfunction with use.

The unibody frame was designed to support the AFS system. Machining the frame from a single piece of ¼-inch / 6-millimeter aluminum ensures that there are no welds or rivets to loosen and weaken. Also, the wrap around frame fully encloses a gloved hand, lessening the chance of it being dropped. Aluminum alloy 50/52 was chosen for its bending, machining and corrosion-resistant characteristics.

Ultra-high molecular weight plastic was chosen for the reel, despite the difficulty in machining it from a solid bar, because it is one of the toughest materials available. Its impact resistance, even after years of exposure to saltwater and the sun’s ultraviolet rays, make this the perfect material for a dive reel. The “power-lock” notch is an innovative feature of the spool. These notches are cut into the outer circumference of the spool and securely lock the AFS system, making it ideal for search and recovery perimeter sweeps, drift diving and shooting lift bags for emergency ascents. Stainless steel hardware is used throughout the reel for its corrosion resistance.

All features are incorporated in two of Manta’s reels, the Manta Sr. and the Manta Jr. Both are offered with different lengths of braided nylon line. The Manta Sr. with 600 feet / 183 meters of No. 24 line is preferred by cave divers, while wreck divers and public safety divers prefer the model with 320 feet / 97 meters of No. 36 line. Manta Jr. line options are 250 feel / 76 meters of No. 24 line or 185 feet / 56 meters of No. 36 line.*(PLEASE NOTE) WE ONLY STOCK THE MANTA Sr. with 97meters and the MANTA Jr. 56 meters.

Manta also offers the Manta Mini, a smaller more economical reel intended for use as a backup or gap reel. In order to achieve a compact size, the AFS system was replaced with an equally innovative compression locking system. It consists of a custom-build stainless-steel knurled thumbscrew threaded through the unibody frame. When the screw is turned counterclockwise, it pulls against the lip of the spool, wedging the spool against a stainless-steel stopping nut on the inside of the frame. Except for the braking system, the Mini offers the same features as its bigger brothers, including two line-length options: 135 feet / 41 meters of No. 24 line of 100 feet / 30 meters of No. 30 line.

Improving on a design that hasn’t changed for decades is catching the attention of the diving world, including explorers who probed the Britannic (Immersed, Summer 1998), mapped Iceland’s caves (Spring 1998) or just go looking for lobsters on the Stolt Degali on a sunny summer afternoon