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.