Recently a friend of mine did his open water course and caught the diving bug. As is usually the case he is now looking at buying his own gear and it got me thinking about all the things I’ve learnt about dive gear during my time as both a recreational and technical diver.
Diving equipment is not a cheap investment so you want to get the right gear first time. Here’s what I wish I knew when I was first purchasing diving equipment that probably would have saved me a lot of money.
A lot of this I only learned as a technical diver but it still applies to recreational diving because in the end whatever type of diving you do you want good functioning and comfortable equipment.
Keep in mind this is only my opinion, others will have different opinions, so take what you find useful and feel free to forget the rest.
These are your main life support equipment whilst you’re under the water so you want something that you can rely upon to work and work well. Good regulators are not cheap, but then what price do you put on your life? Take the hit and spend the money to get the best quality regulators you can.
In my opinion Apeks is by far the best brand of regulator you can buy. It is also the most popular brand for deep technical and cave divers, and for a very good reason; they work and they are reliable. Others may give you another opinion as to what is the best brand of regulator but Apeks have a good track record, and they work. Enough said.
Get a DIN valve on your first stage regulator, not a yoke valve; they are much safer. When connected to a tank the o ring of a DIN valve is completely enclosed and the o ring will either seal, or it will not. And if it does not the lack of a seal will be immediately evident, unlike with yoke valves which may, and often do, have a slow leak. Also once the DIN valve has been pressurised it is virtually impossible for it to be disconnected from the tank as the pressure on the threads of the valve keep it locked in; this is not so with a yoke valve which can possibly be dislodged from the tank through mishandling.
Some dive centres still only supply tanks that can only be used with a yoke valve. If you will be frequenting one of these centres you can get an adaptor for your DIN valve so it can be used with a yoke connection. While this will negate the benefits for using a DIN valve at least you will still be able to dive.
Shop around for a good, well-fitting mask. Literally try on hundreds if that’s what it take to find one that fits you well. An ill-fitting mask can make diving uncomfortable so take the time to try out many options.
A couple of things to be aware of as you are trying on masks:
· Make sure the edge of the mask skirt makes a seal around your face. Place just the mask on your face (don’t put the strap around your head) and inhale through your nose. If it is the right shape a seal should form and you’ll feel the mask stick to your face.
· Two places that ill-fitting mask generally affect are the point on your forehead between your eyes and under your nose, on that bit of skin between your nostrils and right where it connects to you upper lip. You should not be able to feel a proper fitting mask on either of these two places.
· Masks with a black skirt will cut the glare coming in at the side of your eyes and make it more comfortable diving in both bright (open water) and dark (caves, wrecks) environments.
· The first thing to do once you’ve bought your mask is to replace the rubber strap that it comes with with a neoprene strap. This is particularly important for anyone who has hair that is longer than about 1 inch. The rubber straps have a habit of catching on your hair and making it difficult to put on and take off your mask (not to mention painfully tangling in longer hair). Neoprene mask straps are much more user friendly and comfortable to wear during a dive.
If you have the chance before you purchase your own BCD, try out a wing style BCD, as opposed to the standard jacket style you would have used on your open water course. They generally come with a harness and crotch strap that you can adjust to fit you perfectly; this is particularly important if you have a non-standard body shape.
I always had issues when I was diving with a jacket BCD; they would never fit correctly and would always ride up under my arms during a dive so that I was constantly having to adjust it. Then on my first technical dives I was given a wing and harness to dive with and it changed my world. With a more generous range of adjustment on not only the shoulder straps but the waist strap also and the addition of the crotch strap meant that the BCD no longer shifted position on my body during a dive. Comfort at last.
And lastly, with a wing BCD all the air is on your back making it much easier to maintain good, horizontal trim; this is one of the most important skills you can have as a diver.
These days a dive computer is almost a standard piece of every diver’s kit. They are generally very user friendly and make it easy to keep track of your depth, time and no decompression limits. Wrist-mounted computers are preferable as they are much easier to see during a dive as opposed to the modular computers that are mounted with you pressure gauge; it’s much easier to find your wrist during a dive than it is to find even the best placed gauge hanging off your BCD.
There are so many computer options these days that I’m not going to even go through the possibilities but I will say to carefully look at the features in any dive computer you are looking to buy. Go for a computer that has too many features for your diving right now; go for options like nitrox diving and gas switching options. This will give you a computer that is suitable for your diving for many years to come as you increase your experience and do more courses. All computers are somewhat expensive, so you want one that you will be able to use for a good long while.
This may be the tech diver in me coming out but I will definitively say ‘buy jet fins’. The standard jet fin design was first made back in the 1960’s and is still almost exclusively used by technical divers around the world for a very simple reason – they offer the best propulsion and allow a diver to utilise different finning techniques like frog kicking and back kicking.
Several different scuba equipment companies now offer a version of jet fins so they are relatively easy to find. The heel straps that come with the fins will either be rubber or steel springs, the spring option is preferable as it is longer lasting and will stand tougher use than the rubber. Even if your jet fins come with the rubber strap you can purchase the spring strap separately and it is a simple matter to change them over.
You will also need to purchase booties to wear with these fins which come in very handy if ever you are diving from the shore and have to walk in your full kit to get to the water.
Depending on where you will be diving you will need the correct exposure protection to keep you comfortably warm during a dive. This may mean a full dry suit with layers of undergarments or just a t-shirt and board shorts. One cautionary note though – don’t make it a competition of who needs the least exposure protection. I've seen many guys (and yes it is usually the men) come back from a dive shivering, even in 28 degree water, because they want to dive in a t-shirt and board shorts.
Not only does it make diving uncomfortable but being too cold during a dive can be a factor in your susceptibility to decompression illness. I personally know of one diver who was in a coma for a week after becoming too cold during a dive. Lesson: don’t mess with the cold.
I get cold easily; I usually dive in water between 29 and 30 degrees but I still wear a 3 mm semi-dry wetsuit and if I'm doing more than one dive in a day I’ll wear a 3 mm hood as well. This is what I need to keep warm even though I dive with people who stay comfortably warm in the same water in nothing but a pair of board short. Wear whatever you need to so that you stay comfortable during a dive, it could save your life.
In conclusion, the best way to find what works for you in regards to your diving equipment is to actually test it out in the water. What looks good on dry land can work in surprisingly different ways once you're in the water. Keep trying new things until you find what works for you.
And the second best way to find out what works is to talk to those that have more diving experience than you, they've been through it before. So don't just take my advice, talk to every diver you can and take any information that will work for you. Just remember it's a personal thing so what works for one person may not work for anyone else. Find what works for you.