How to Gear up your Scuba Kit Quickly, Easily and Efficiently?
Posted by Rutger Thole
How often have you seen someone dance around in circles trying to grip their wetsuit zipper or even spotted people walking into the water like frogs because they already have their fins on, or seen their masks fly off into the air as they tried to put it on?
All of this is a complete waste of time and an unnecessary one at that. If you know how to gear up quickly, easily and efficiently, you will have far more time to enjoy diving as well.
Organizing Your Scuba Gear
Always make sure that your scuba gear is organized. If everything is in its place, you will be able to get things on much quicker as well, as you won’t have to waste time trying to find your belongings.
Not just that, you will always be aware of the condition your gear is in, enabling you to replace it as and when necessary.
Make sure, of course, that you look after your gear, drying it off before storing it and keeping it somewhere dry and safe from the elements.
Bring a Plastic Carrier Bag
How hard is it to get your hands and feet into a wetsuit? Although once on, they are incredibly comfortable, getting the suit on can be an absolute nightmare.
Interestingly, a simple plastic bag can help you with this. It goes without saying this plastic bag should be stowed away properly so it will not end up in the water. Have you ever heard of the great pacific garbage patch?
You may be tempted to use lotions to make your skin more slippery, but this can actually be damaging to your suit whereas a plastic bag does not.
Simple put it over your hand, feet, or whatever it is that you are trying to get through and you will notice it slips on and fits like a glove straight away.
Always Help Your Fellow Divers
If you see that someone else is struggling or looks like they don’t know what to do, go help them out. Just share your knowledge, including the above two points, and you will make sure they can enjoy their time a lot better as well.
Remember that scuba diving is something that you do together, which is why it operates according to a buddy system.
You are not competing to be in the water first or to have your gear on first. If you have any knowledge you can impart on less experienced divers, then make sure you do so.
This will also show them that divers look after each other and that it is ok to ask questions.
Scuba diving is fun and should be a relaxing hobby. This means that there is no time or energy to waste by things such as struggling to get your gear on.
Look, But Please Don’t Touch
Seeing marine life in its natural environment is one of things that attracts people to scuba diving. Unfortunately, some divers seem to have forgotten the section of their PADI Open Water class where the instructor taught them not to touch or hassle marine life. As a gentle reminder, here are some of the consequences of not being kind to underwater creatures.
Curiosity killed the coral. Coral is beautiful, but resist the urge to touch it. When you touch coral it will be harmful to it and can even kill it. A human touch is like a poison and its results may not show until months later.
Watch where you swim! Your fins can create a small wave that will disrupt the layers of sediment below. This reduces coral’s photosynthetic abilities and washes away small animals, which increases their chances of predation. Breaking off just a small piece of coral can do damage that will not repair itself within your lifetime.
Remember to secure all of your dive equipment. If something touches a fish it can remove their protective coatings, leaving them vulnerable to diseases.
Puffer fish are particularly susceptible to harm by humans. Some divers choose to agitate the fish in order to make it puff up. To create this effect, the fish fill themselves up with water or air and “puff-up” their prickly bodies. Sadly, they only have a small number of puffs in their life because it’s hard on their internal systems to inflate regularly. Repeated puffs can significantly shorten the poor fish’s life.
Don’t feed the fish. Many fish are unable to digest human food, which causes them internal damage that can end their life. Remember, no one likes food poisoning.
9 Reasons Why Regulators Leak
by John Francis
|Common Regulator Leaks.
The leak - First stage.
Where - From orifices and seams in the first stage housing.
Looks like - Anything from an occasional bubble to a constant small stream.
The problem - Wear and tear, or misadjustment of the internal parts during overhaul.
The fix - Requires a technician.
Abort the dive? - Judgment call. It's not likely to get worse quickly, and an occasional bubble might be tolerable for the day. If leakage increases, head for the surface.
The leak - Sherwood first stage bleed.
Where - From a single orifice of a Sherwood first stage.
Looks like - A steady stream of very tiny bubbles.
The problem - None. The bleed is intentional, a design feature of the dry piston-type first stage.
The fix - Put your wrench away. Please!
Abort the dive? - Read my lips: there's nothing wrong. The air loss, by the way, is minuscule—less than one breath in an hour.
The leak - Regulator yoke.
Where - Between the tank valve and the high-pressure valve seat at the yoke.
Looks like - Anything from an occasional bubble to a constant stream.
Sounds like - Bubbling from almost-flat soft drink to a boiling kettle.
The problem - The O-ring is dirty, cracked, worn, dry or the wrong size. Or the seat is nicked or dirty. Or the yoke is loose or not positioned correctly. Some DIN-to-yoke adapters make alignment of the yoke difficult.
The fix - Remove the O-ring, clean and inspect the seat. Replace the O-ring with a new one, coated with just enough silicone to make it supple, not greasy. Tighten the yoke by hand, but firmly. No luck? Try a different tank.
Abort the dive? - Judgment call if the leak is very small, but it's better to return to the surface and replace the O-ring.
The leak - Tank O-ring.
Where - Between the tank valve and the high-pressure valve seat at the regulator yoke.
Looks like - Other divers leap backward like they've seen a cobra.
Sounds like - A Boeing 727 on thrust reversers.
The problem - This usually happens when you first turn on the air, if you haven't tightened the yoke enough. With the seat loose, pressure forces the O-ring to squeeze through the gap and tear, causing a loud escape of air. Another cause is using the wrong-size O-ring.
The fix - A new O-ring and a stronger hand on the yoke screw.
Abort the dive? - Only until you calm down.
The leak - Hose O-rings.
Where - At either end of any hose, between hose end fitting and whatever it screws into (first stage, second stage, BC inflator, SPG, etc.).
Looks like - Anything from isolated bubbles to a constant stream.
Sounds like - Nothing, or a faint hiss.
The problem - The O-ring is dirty, cracked, worn, etc., as above. A leak immediately after an overhaul probably means the tech has not tightened the hose enough. If very loose, the O-ring can blow out with sound effects as above.
The fix - Also as above. Where there is a swivel on the hose, be sure to separate between the swivel nut and the next nut, not between the two nuts and the SPG or second stage. How much to tighten the hose? One ungh on a short wrench.
Abort the dive? - If it's the high-pressure hose to the SPG, it will be a small leak. As long as it doesn't seem to affect the gauge, you can probably continue the dive. The high-pressure hose leak looks dramatic but involves very little air—the orifices are tiny. A low-pressure hose actually leaks more air, but you will still have time to return to the surface calmly and deal with it.
The leak - Worn hose.
Where - Anywhere on any hose, but usually near the first-stage end fitting.
Looks like - A tiny bubble, or chain of tiny bubbles on the surface of the hose. Or a steady stream of bubbles.
Sounds like - Maybe nothing, maybe the fizz of ginger ale.
The problem - The inner, woven layer of the hose has developed a weak area, usually through constant flexing. Air leaks to the outer, scuff-protecting layer of the hose, which has a chain of tiny relief holes along its length. That's where the bubbles come out.
The fix - Replace the hose. High-pressure and low-pressure hoses are not interchangeable, nor are low-pressure regulator and inflator hoses, though the industry is moving in that direction.
Abort the dive? - As with hose O-rings: The high-pressure hose is a judgment call, depending on how serious the leak is. Surface to replace a low-pressure hose.
The leak - Second stage, due to excess intermediate pressure.
Where - From second stage exhaust.
Looks like - Anything from a bubble every few seconds to a constant stream.
Sounds like - Anything from a slow "glub, glub, glub," to a pot at full boil.
The problem - Several possibilities, same symptoms: (1) first stage out of adjustment and delivering too much pressure; (2) second stage "cracking pressure" too low.
The fix - Dial back the second stage adjustment (if you have one) for more breathing resistance until the leak goes away. If you have to dial it back again and again as the dive continues, this is a sign of first-stage problems. By the way, flipping the minimum/maximum or venturi switch will have no effect. Have your reg serviced at the first opportunity.
Abort the dive? - if you can keep the leaking under control by adjusting the second stage. But if the problem is getting worse, head for the surface.
The leak - Second stage, leaking valve seat.
Where - From second stage exhaust.
Looks like - Same as excess pressure leak, above.
Sounds like - Same as excess pressure leak, above.
The problem - Sand, grit or corrosion under the second stage valve seat prevents it from sealing.
The fix - Swirl the second stage through the water while working the purge (tank pressure must be on). The sand or grit may be washed out. Back on the boat, you may be able to remove the purge cover for better cleaning. Just be absolutely sure to put all parts back in the same order. If it's a corroded seat, only a technician can make the repair.
Abort the dive? - Swirling may reduce the leak to manageable proportions. Otherwise, make a calm, normal ascent; air is not disappearing as fast as it sounds (though watch your SPG).
The leak - SPG spool.
Where - Between the swivel fitting and the body of the submersible pressure gauge.
Looks like - Anything from a steady stream of bubbles to a constant fizz.
Sounds like - Anything from a boiling tea kettle to a roaring jet engine.
The problem - The spool is the hollow stud on which the swivel mechanism mounts. Banging and dragging the SPG can bend or break the spool, or distort its O-rings.
The fix - Requires some technical knowledge, but take heart: many dive boat captains, resort operators and dive shop folks can do it.
Abort the dive? - As with all high-pressure hose leaks, it looks and sounds worse than it is because the pressure is high but the volume is low. As long as the SPG is reading correctly it is a judgment call.
Diving With Less Than 20/20 Vision
By Jessica Vyvyan-Robinson
For those whose eyesight requires corrective measures, the prospect of diving — a primarily visual pastime — can be a little daunting. Proper diver safety also relies on keeping a keen eye on your buddy, your location and your gauges. But a lack of 20/20 vision is by no means a barrier to diving, as there are many options available to facilitate participation despite all manner of sight issues. Many people with mild vision impairment don’t need to take any corrective action, as objects in water are naturally magnified by 33 percent. But if corrective measures are needed, there are several methods of compensating for sight problems underwater, making for safer, more enjoyable dives.
One of the simplest ways to deal with poor eyesight is to wear contact lenses, just as you would on land. Certain precautions should be taken to minimize eye irritation and to prevent losing the contacts, but generally, diving with contacts is a safe and hassle-free solution. The Diver’s Alert Network (DAN) recommends using soft contact lenses for scuba rather than hard or gas-permeable ones, however, because increased pressure may cause hard lenses to suction to the eye, causing pain or discomfort. Hard lenses typically dry wearers’ eyes out more, too, resulting in redness and irritation upon surfacing. Most importantly, soft lenses allow the nitrogen absorbed by the eye while diving to escape; hard lenses do not. Bubbles can form between the hard lens and the eye, causing blurred vision, which effectively negates the purpose of wearing the contacts in the first place.
Wearing contact lenses underwater also means keeping the eyes closed when performing any skills that require the flooding or removal of the mask. If you are enrolling in a scuba course, be sure to tell your instructor if you wear contacts so that he or she will allow you to keep your eyes closed during skills, and to wear a mask during surface water skills or swim tests. Similarly, if you’re using vision-correcting equipment, from contacts to prescription masks, make sure to alert your buddy: if you should lose your mask underwater, they need to know that they’ll need to help you find it. In terms of comfort, even soft contact lens wearers often report some dryness as a result of diving; it’s a good idea to bring lubricating drops with you to the site for use before and after diving. Rinsing lenses in fresh saline solution between dives can also minimize irritation from residual salt water; divers should consider using disposable contacts for live-aboard trips so that they can use fresh ones each day.
There are alternatives to wearing contacts while diving for those who are squeamish about using them or simply prefer not to. Depending on the severity and type of eyesight issues, the lenses of some stock masks can be quickly and easily replaced with pre-made corrective lenses. For those with astigmatism or other, more extreme vision impairment, pre-made lenses may not work sufficiently. Custom-made prescription masks are also an option, wherein a mask is made specifically to your requirements. Those who opt for prescription masks should consider purchasing two customized masks in case of loss or damage to one of them, as it can be exceptionally hard to find a replacement in many of the world’s remote dive destinations.
The most permanent alternative is corrective eye surgery, but it is imperative to consult an ophthalmologist before your first dive, after surgery, in order to respect the healing period. If not properly observed, the effects of pressure and trapped gas on an unhealed incision could be incredibly painful.
The final option, particularly for those who require bifocals, is adhesive magnifying patches, which are applied to a stock mask lens and can be purchased at most large dive equipment stores or an optician’s office.
For most people, however, contact lenses are the simplest choice for correcting eyesight while diving. They are cost-effective, and divers are able to wear them both while kitting up and during the dive. Whatever your preference, there are plentiful corrective options available to ensure that everyone can experience the beauty and wonder of the underwater world.
How To Make Your Air Last While Scuba Diving
By Thomas Gronfeldt
For many divers, available air dictates the length of the dive more than any other factor. Now is the time to learn how make your air last longer for longer dives.
Your dive ends when your bottom time runs out — at least theoretically. For many divers, though, the dive ends when one or more divers run low on air. The easiest way for many of us to extend our dives is to focus on air consumption. These tips will help you get the most out of your tank.
It’s simple physics: the larger your profile in the water, the more energy, and thus air, you’ll consume. Consider the difference between a bulky semi-truck and a streamlined sports car. In the water, you’ll want to be a sports car. Go over your gear setup and make sure everything is tucked away neatly, creating the smallest possible in-water profile.
2. Leave things behind
A number of divers seem to dive with the saying “it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it” in mind. They bring so much stuff on each dive that it seems like they’re carrying their entire gear bag. Often, they think it’s easier to just clip everything to their BCD than to assess their gear before each dive to determine what they’ll need. There’s some merit to this, but bringing too much gear weighs you down and increases your profile in the water. So bring the things you need and leave behind the things you don’t. And don’t forget to square it all away neatly.
3. Slow down
Diving is the lazy man’s sport, someone once told me, and there’s much truth to that. Diving is not swimming, and you’re not really supposed to get your heart rate up. So slow down — and not just underwater. Get into a relaxed mindset even before you get to the dive site; when you start gearing up, don’t rush. Don’t linger on the dive deck unnecessarily, of course, but go about things in a deliberate, calm manner. Swim calmly and slowly underwater. The more you rush and fidget, the more air you’ll consume.
4. Breathe deeply
Note the difference between deep breaths and big breaths. When you tell people to breathe deeply, many people will forcefully inhale, filling their lungs to the brink. A deep breath should be just that, but it doesn’t have to be a big breath. To learn to breathe deeply, lie down on a firm surface, like a yoga mat or a firm mattress. Put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Now breathe, but try to breathe in such a way that only the hand on your stomach moves. This way, you’re filling up the bottom of your lungs, rather than the top, which is what happens when only your chest moves. A deep-belly breath replenishes the air in your entire respiratory system, rather than just part of it, as when you breathe from the top of your lungs.
5. Swim shallow
An easy way to extend your dive time is to take full advantage of the traditional multi-level dive profile by starting your dive deep and moving to increasingly shallow water. Here, we consume less air, so simply moving shallower reduces your air consumption drastically, and with that, extends your dive time. If you’re the air hog of a group, you can, to some extent, offset this by placing yourself slightly shallower in the water column than the other divers. And just by making a habit of ending your dive in the shallows, you’ll ensure that any dive you do can be extended quite a bit.
6. Dive more
One easy way to improve your air consumption is quite simply to dive more. Most of the above pieces of advice require some practice, so diving a lot will definitely help you master them. Diving more also helps you become more comfortable in the water, which, in turn, helps a lot when it comes to conserving air.
By Shelley Collett
Everyone hates it, right? It’s why you see so many people holding their noses before they jump into the water. One of the biggest problem skills I’ve seen as an instructor is breathing without a mask underwater. Some people handle it fine, but others have extreme, nearly insurmountable difficulty with it. After a couple of difficult sessions with some student divers, I decided to try to learn how to teach the skill better. I needed a better way to impart knowledge instead of just saying, “Just don’t let the water in!” without really knowing how to tell them not to let the water in. I really didn’t understand why or how I was keeping the water out myself. I just did it! I always have. I was never a nose-holder.
After some research, I thought I’d share here. I realize there are a lot of experienced divers here, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anyone who has issues with this. And, I’m sure we also have some newer divers reading who perhaps barely made it through that skill in the hopes that they would never, ever have to do it again. I’m sorry to say to those individuals... you probably will have to deal with it again. Masks flood, they get knocked off. It happens and you should be prepared for it and be confident that you’ll be okay with it.
While I’m sure you’ve noticed people jumping in while holding their noses, have you noticed all the people not doing it? What do they know that you don’t? Some double top secret dolphin technique? Nah,they just know how to control their body to keep the water from entering too far into their nose. There’s no way to prevent water from getting into your nose proper, but you can stop it from ending up down your throat and choking you. (But if you do know a double top secret dolphin technique, please let me know!)
There are a couple of things that help you keep from inhaling water through your nose in the situation we’re talking about: Soft palate control and Epiglottis control. The two things work in tandem, so it can be difficult to distinguish which is which. I’m hoping the exercises below will help with that.
Testing soft palate control
Put on your mask without the strap around your head and suck in through your nose to try to keep the mask on. If your mask fits correctly, this shouldn’t be a problem. (This is how most folks “try on” masks before buying them anyway) While you’ve got the mask ‘stuck’ to your face, start breathing normally through your mouth and keep the mask on your face. Tilt your head down a bit so that you know the mask isn’t just balancing on your face.
If you can do this for a bit, then you have what it takes to breath without a mask on; you have soft palate control. You just need to get over the psychological aspect of breathing with water on your nose.
If the mask immediately drops off of your face, then you don’t have very good soft palate control at all and you should learn and practice it.
Epiglottis and soft palate control
Now a new test. While exhaling through your mouth, cover your mouth with your hand to prevent air from escaping. Did your cheeks puff up? They should have! And, you should not be exhaling through your nose. That’s soft palate control.
While still trying to exhale, move your hand away. If you immediately exhale through your mouth, you used soft palate control. If you paused before exhaling through your mouth, that was your epiglottis. Either is okay, we’re just trying to get you to understand your own body at this point and how things work and feel.
Now we’re going to try alternating a bit. Take a breath, exhale through your mouth, then cover your mouth and switch to exhale through your nose. Did you feel a little nudge or jolt above and at the back of your tongue? That was your soft palate opening to let the air out of your nose.
Maybe you felt a little jolt closer to your lower neck or chest. If so, that’s your epiglottis.
Alternate now between exhaling through your nose and trying to exhale through your covered mouth. Do you feel that control? Remember it. That’s how you keep water out too!
Practice makes perfect if you’re having difficulty with this. I don’t think I can stress enough how important it is as a diver to be comfortable with water on your nose. Comfortable to the point that you’re not going to panic and bolt to the surface, at least. Practice in a tub, pool, hot tub, even the shower. (you could flood your mask in the shower, stand with it flooded and just breathe through your mouth) Practice it a little every time you dive until you are comfortable with it. It will make you a more confident diver and a safer diver.
Guidelines For Post-Dive Equipment Care
By Jessica Vyvyan-Robinson
If you own scuba equipment, knowing how to properly take care of it after a dive is crucial. Not only does good post-dive maintenance increase the lifespan of expensive equipment, but it also minimizes the risk of gear-related issues the next time you dive. Our equipment is our lifeline underwater, so keeping it in working order is of paramount importance. Basic rules apply to the post-dive maintenance of all scuba gear, including rinsing items thoroughly with fresh water after a dive, and allowing them to dry completely before being packed away. Dive gear should never be left in direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time, as sunlight can degrade, crack or fade materials, including neoprene and rubber. Specific considerations relate to particular pieces of equipment, most of which are listed below.
Like the rest of your scuba equipment, your regulator needs to be rinsed in fresh water at the end of the day’s diving. Make sure that no water enters the regulator’s first stage, as it’s internal components are susceptible to damage when exposed to moisture —allowing them to get wet will most likely result in an expensive trip to an equipment technician. Before rinsing, replace and securely fasten your regulator’s dust cap, first ensuring that the dust cap itself is dry. You can do this by using compressed air from your cylinder to blast excess water from the dust cap before fastening it in place, but that method’s not without detractors.
Instead of leaving your first stage to soak in fresh water, rinse it thoroughly under the tap; this will safeguard against water seeping past the dust cap. Alternatively, you can fully submerge your regulator if the first stage is still attached to a pressurized cylinder, which will prevent any water from entering the system. Do not press the purge button on either your primary second stage or your octopus while you are washing your regulator, as this will also allow water to enter the first stage. If you have hose protectors, make sure that you rinse underneath them during the cleaning process; similarly, move your low-pressure inflator connector back and forth to remove any salt, grit or sand. This way, even the least visible parts of your regulator will be kept corrosion free, and will continue to perform as they should. Once you have finished rinsing your regulator, hang it up and allow it to dry completely before packing it away.
When it comes to washing your BCD, it’s hugely important to remember the inside after having thoroughly rinsed the exterior. During a dive, salt water leaks into the BCD through the dump valves and the low-pressure inflator, and must be drained out during your post-dive maintenance routine. To do this, use a hose to flush fresh water into the BCD’s bladder via the low-pressure inflator, making sure to hold down the deflate button as you do so. Allow the water to flow into the BCD until it is approximately one quarter full, and then orally inflate it. This will allow the water to easily circulate around the inside of the BCD. Then, shake it to make sure that the water reaches every part of the jacket before allowing the water to drain through the dump valves, simultaneously rinsing them too. You can repeat this process several times before inflating the BCD partially and storing it. Ideally, you should keep your BCD hung up in a cool, dry place; the partial inflation will prevent the insides of the BCD from sticking together.
Wetsuit, booties, hoods and gloves
All of these items should be washed both on the inside and on the outside. It’s a good idea to use soap or disinfectant to eliminate any odors, but make sure that you buy one that’s appropriate for use on neoprene. Wetsuit soap is readily available at most dive centers or equipment stores; rinse it off with more fresh water once used. After cleaning your wetsuit and other neoprene items, hang them up to dry completely before packing them away. If you don’t, mildew and other bacteria will develop, degrading the quality of your equipment and causing it to smell. The best way to store a wetsuit is to hang it up, preferably on a purpose-built wetsuit hanger. Do not use wire hangers, as they will crease and mark your suit — the wider the hanger, the better. For transporting your suit or for storing it for short periods of time roll it rather than folding it. Folds can cause creases in the neoprene that may not come out, and make the suit uncomfortable to wear. It is also a good idea to lubricate the zips on your wetsuit or booties, ideally with zipper wax specifically made for this purpose.
Many divers overlook their cylinders when it comes to post-dive care, but they also need to be rinsed with fresh water. This prevents salt buildup and consequent corrosion, and also displaces grit and sand from around the tank valve; if left, these particles can make it difficult to turn your air on and off. You should never put a cylinder into storage either emptied or filled completely. When empty, the absence of pressure can make it easy for contaminants to enter the cylinder; if stored too full they can eventually crack over time. They should be stored lying horizontally, or in a secured upright position to prevent them from falling and becoming damaged.
Mask, fins and snorkel
Your soft gear is easily maintained; like everything else, it must be rinsed in fresh water, dried and put away carefully. Your mask should be packed in a hard case to protect the lenses from scratches and the mask itself from possible impact. Make sure that any other items that you store with your mask (e.g. dive computer, compass) do not bend, squish or deform the silicone; otherwise, your mask’s shape could be altered causing it to leak or become uncomfortable. Similarly, save the plastic inserts that come with your fins when you buy them, and replace during storage to retain the shape of your fins’ foot pockets. Do not store your fins by balancing them on their tips, as this can also cause distortion and diminished performance. Instead, keep them lying flat, or hung by the strap on a wide peg.
Each of your dive accessories has unique care requirements. Underwater cameras, for example, have a lengthy post-dive care regime. They must be left to soak for as long as possible in fresh water, to allow all salt to dissolve from the housing. You should gently work all of the housing’s moving parts to dislodge any salt, grit or sand stuck beneath them. Once you are satisfied that the housing is salt-free, you must dry it completely before opening it to remove your camera. You should remove your batteries and memory card from the camera, and make sure to wipe clean and lubricate all O-rings. Do not store your housing with the main body O-ring in place, as the constant pressure will eventually change the shape of the O-ring and reduce its ability to create a sufficient seal. Instead, remove the O-ring carefully, clean it and store it with the rest of your equipment in a sealed plastic bag. Strobes and underwater torches should be treated similarly — wash, dry, remove batteries, then clean and lubricate all O-ring.
When washing your dive computer, make sure to depress all the buttons while holding the computer underwater in order to flush salt deposits from beneath them. Rinsed and dry dive knives thoroughly, then apply a thin coating of silicone grease to the blade before storage to prevent rusting. All other diving equipment, including signal marker buoys, compasses, whistles and octopus attachments should be rinsed at the same time as the rest of your gear, and stored appropriately.
No matter how diligently you take care of your equipment, make sure to fully check and test your gear before use to ensure that it’s in full working order. Above all, remember that by properly looking after your dive equipment, you are allowing it to continue looking after you.
The Pros and Cons of Owing Your Own Equipment
Most divers will, at some point, have to decide whether or not to invest in their own gear; for many, the list of pros and cons can become convoluted and confusing. Dive centers, teaching organizations and retail outlets constantly extoll the value of owning one’s own equipment, but it’s sometimes difficult to know how much of their zeal has to do with improving your dive experiences versus making a profit. This article aims to explore the ins and outs of owning gear from an unbiased perspective, so that those thinking about purchasing their first mask, BCD or set of regulators can make an informed decision.
Divers considering purchasing equipment should ask themselves several questions first, including the extent of their commitment to the sport, how often they plan to go diving and whether the majority of their dives will take place at home or on vacation. A full set of gear can be expensive, and perhaps not worth the investment for someone who intends to dive only once or twice a year. However, for those who dive frequently, the costs of purchasing gear pale in comparison with the cumulative costs of repetitive equipment rental. When it comes to dive equipment, it is easy to spend huge amounts of money, but it’s also possible to buy a basic set of reliable, fully functional gear for a reasonable price. A basic set includes a mask, snorkel, fins, exposure suit, regulator and BCD, and the price for a set of mid-range equipment should total at around $1,000 to $1,500, not including a computer. If cared for properly, scuba gear can last for many years; therefore, if daily rental prices for basic scuba gear average between $25 and $60 depending on location, frequent divers can easily recoup the money spent on purchasing equipment. Additionally, the cost can be spread out — instead of buying a full set of gear all at once, start with the essentials (mask, fins, snorkel, exposure suit), and work up to the higher range items (BCD, regulators and dive computer).
Another cost of owning one’s own equipment comes into play for those who primarily dive abroad. Although luggage allowances for long haul or transatlantic flights tend to be a little more forgiving, the normal weight restriction for hold luggage is around 50 pounds, depending on the airline. An average set of dive gear will use up most of that allowance, forcing travelers to pay overweight or excess luggage fees. There are workarounds, including packing heavier items like regulators in carry-on bags and choosing airlines that offer allowances for sports equipment, but increasingly tight regulations mean that even these measures can incur additional costs. Traveling divers must weigh these additional costs against paying rental fees and reliance on unfamiliar foreign equipment, and decide which is the lesser of two evils for them personally. Some scuba manufacturers have come out with lightweight gear meant for dive travel, which can eliminate excess luggage fees. Those who opt for these models, however, should be aware that they are often only suitable for diving in tropical climates and may not be compatible with the more taxing conditions of colder, rougher seas.
Safety and Peace of Mind
Although the financial aspect of buying gear is the first concern for many divers, there are other, equally important factors to consider, including personal comfort, safety, health and convenience. Two of the biggest advantages of owning your own gear are fit and familiarity; when you buy gear, you know that it fits your shape and size, and you know exactly how it works. Often, those who rent gear have to put up with ill-fitting equipment that can seriously hinder their comfort. A mask that’s the wrong size can leak; a wetsuit that is too loose leads to rapid heat loss; a BCD that’s too small may not have sufficient lift to allow for positive buoyancy on the surface. In extreme cases, these issues not only lead to reduced enjoyment, but can also compromise a diver’s safety, particularly in the event that a diver’s movement is restricted such that he can no longer effectively perform skills. Unfamiliarity with dive gear can also be dangerous thanks to the subtle differences between different styles and brands. Knowing exactly where your dump valves are located on your BCD or how to dump your integrated weights could be the difference between diverting and exacerbating a disaster.
By owning and becoming familiar with your own gear, dealing quickly and effectively with an equipment-related emergency becomes like second nature. Similarly, good fit allows for maximum comfort and capability underwater, allowing you to focus on activities like photography or fish ID rather than gear adjustment. The peace of mind and enhanced safety you’ll feel when using your own gear is a main reason for doing so. When you rent, particularly abroad, you have no idea how the gear has been maintained, whether it has been recently serviced, whether the dive center in question has items available in your size, or who has used it before you. Uncertainties are eliminated when using your own gear, which offers heightened confidence in an environment where your safety depends largely upon your equipment. Additionally, in a sport where divers routinely spit in their masks, urinate in their wetsuits and cough through their regulators, being the first and only person to use your gear is a matter of personal hygiene.
Of course, owning your own gear involves some work that renting gear does not. Instead of emerging from the ocean and having your equipment washed, taken apart and packed away for you, you’re responsible for the day-to-day care and long-term maintenance of your gear. As well as rinsing your equipment thoroughly with fresh water after each dive, and packing, transporting and storing it in a way that will increase its longevity, you must also get your BCD and regulators serviced annually. Cylinders must be inspected visually and hydrostatically, and dive computer batteries must be changed manually or sent in to a technician for replacement after a specific amount of time or dives. Each of these inspections or services costs money, as do repairs after any damages occur. You’ll also need to allocate storage space for your equipment in your home, making gear ownership a commitment in more ways than one. However, many divers find that the time, money and effort that they put into maintaining their gear works as a good incentive to go diving more often, thereby getting the maximum use out of their investment.
Too Old To Dive?
Whether or not scuba diving has a retirement age is the source of much debate, as is the question of whether one can ever be too old to start diving. According to the Diver’s Alert Network (DAN), older divers are defined as those over the age of 50, and in recent decades, these older divers have constituted an increasingly large percentage of the global dive community. Two main factors are responsible: First, those divers who took up scuba in the first flush of its popularity 30 to 40 years ago have aged, and second, today’s older generation is typically wealthier and more active than ever before, and is adopting diving as the pastime of their golden years. I recently conducted a Discover Scuba course for a 70-year-old woman, whose other high-adrenaline goals for her 70th year included bungee jumping and sky-diving. She was enraptured by the underwater world and surfaced determined to pursue her scuba career, a goal that she was easily physically and mentally capable of attaining; indeed, she was one of the most fearless and competent first-time divers I’ve ever encountered.
Seniors who wish to continue diving, having started in their youth, may be safer than many younger divers, precisely because of their experience. Over the years, they will have encountered and learned how to deal with a wide range of problems and scenarios that younger divers have yet to encounter. For these divers, the only potential limitations on a future of diving are physical or mental age-related problems that could hinder underwater safety. Regular medical check-ups ensure a sufficient level of diving fitness, but a medical professional should immediately evaluate symptoms like chest pains, shortness of breath or blurred vision. Similar advice applies to those seniors wanting to take up diving — as long as the student in question has no existing medical conditions that could pose problems in the water, there is no reason not to take the plunge.
Dive courses are designed with a wide spectrum of prospective students in mind, regardless of age, weight, gender or disability. With age comes a higher risk of heart and lung issues, and, like all divers, older students must answer a medical questionnaire before being deemed fit to enroll in a course. These forms have specific sections for mature divers; the PADI Medical Statement, for example, asks those over 45 years old to answer questions regarding cholesterol levels, familial history of heart attack and lifestyle habits.
Whatever your age, acknowledging any of the pre-existing medical conditions detailed on these forms means that you cannot learn to dive without a physician’s written consent; conversely, upon passing the medical questionnaire, you are considered fit to dive no matter how old you are. Similarly, the swim tests that are a component of any entry-level course are designed to establish satisfactory physical fitness. Completing them indicates that an individual (whether they are 19 or 90) is capable of diving.
Many of the reasons experts once advised against diving at an advanced age have since been disproved. For example, doctors previously thought that the general decline of the lungs over time would make older divers less able to cope with pressure changes and breathing compressed air. Particularly, scientists hypothesized that elderly lungs would retain dangerous levels of carbon dioxide. However, studies conducted by Duke University Medical Center showed that older divers did not retain levels of gas that were significantly higher than those in younger test subjects. Many of the problems that once affected senior divers can now be mitigated, too; while age typically slows metabolism and creates susceptibility to hypothermia as a result, this problem can easily be solved with a thicker exposure-protection suit. Similarly, poor vision can be corrected with contact lenses or prescription masks. In fact, diving is increasingly becoming accepted as a healthy form of exercise for seniors, thanks to its low impact and the relief of painful joints granted by the weightlessness of water.
That being said, it is vitally important that all divers, but particularly older ones, maintain responsibility for their own physical fitness. Being fit at the time of certification is one thing, but for new and experienced divers alike, a lapse in physical ability is a danger not only to their own safety but to their buddy’s as well. General health tends to decrease over time, with the heart, lungs and muscles bearing the brunt of the aging process. Blood vessels become stiffer, causing increased blood pressure and a thickened heart muscle. Lungs lose their elasticity, which helps explain why dive theory teaches us that age can heighten the risk of decompression illness. Additionally, while previous heart problems, paralysis or serious surgery do not necessarily preclude a person from diving, those who have suffered such conditions must seek medical advice before enrolling in a course, and should be aware that some medication is not compatible with diving. A recent study that investigated global diving deaths found that 45 percent of fatal accidents in divers over the age of 40 were caused by cardiac problems; in many cases, the victim had been controlling a preexisting condition with medication. Obviously, any decrease in mental capacity that affects a person’s cognitive abilities also renders diving unsafe.
Ultimately, although age carries with it potential health implications that may affect a person’s ability to dive, no one rule applies to all situations. As long as a person is physically fit enough to pass the standard swim tests and medical questionnaires requested of all students, they are capable of learning to dive. Equally, as long as a person maintains the required level of fitness and goes regularly for health check-ups, there is no reason why they should not continue to dive for as long as they wish to do so.
If further proof is needed, we need look no further than the most famous diver of all time — Jacques Cousteau continued to dive until his death at the ripe old age of 87. Age affects everyone differently, which is why when it comes to diving, age really is just a number.
5 reasons why Nudibranchs aren’t boring
For some reason, Nudibranchs – also known as sea slugs – are often associated with being boring. Maybe that’s due to their land counterparts, the slug, but more than likely it’s because divers just don’t know enough about these incredible creatures.
Credit: Sami Awed Ali (2012)
Here are just five reasons why nudibranchs deserve extra appreciation:
1. There are over 3,000 species
Every new nudibranch you see on a dive will be a completely different experience. That’s because there are over 3,000 species of nudibranchs and there are still more being discovered today. Nudibranchs can be seen in a wide variety of colours, shapes and sizes, and are found in both cold and warm waters across the world.
2. Nudibranchs are toxic
Divers don’t have to worry about nudibranchs being poisonous, but predators do. Since they lack any protective shell, nudibranchs send warning signals that let other animals know they might be toxic to help keep enemies at bay.
3. They change colour based on their diet
Nudibranchs are carnivores and eat other small animals such as hydroids, sponges, anemones and barnacles. But, what makes the nudibranch unusual is that they often adopt the colour of their prey, leaving them looking brilliant, colourful and perfect for photos!
4. Nudibranchs are hermaphrodites
Although they don’t usually self-reproduce, nudibranchs possess both female and reproductive organs. This means that any nudibranch can mate with any other nudibranch of the same species, rather than being limited to male or female partners only – a nifty trait which makes it easier for them to reproduce.
5. They leave a slimy trail
As nudibranchs move across the ocean floor with their foot, they leave a trail of slime behind. This slime trail actually serves a clever purpose – it communicates messages to other nudibranchs, such as where to find a mate or that danger is nearby.
As you can see, nudibranchs are far from boring. In fact, they’re really quite interesting!