Well, as I type this here in Maryland it’s a balmy 43° out and the brisk breeze doesn’t do a lot to make you feel toastier. As I sat earlier in the week to consider what this week’s recreational review would be about my wife came in and started showing me some articles in the latest scuba diving magazine we’d received. Within a few moments I was remembering some dives in the Florida Keys and I felt warmer. I was inspired to examine my scuba diving gear and see what needs upgraded and maintained for next year. It was like a touch of summer.
First up was my bouyancy control device (BCD). My Aeris Atmos is a few years old but still very serviceable. I start with the BCD because it is the basic building platform for all your other breathing apparatus. If anything matters underwater, breathing is probably the most important (don’t you think?). Today’s BCDs are largely of integrated-weight design which means no weight belt to drop. Instead you have weights (usually lead-shot-filled-bags inside pouches inside pockets) that you can yank and drop. My wife and I have found that this design is a mixed blessing. As you don your BCD it’s easier NOT to have the weights in it. But before you start any walk to the water (or back of the boat) you want to make sure they’re in place because putting them in once you’re in the water isn’t so easy. Weight belts are a lot easier to get on in the water. Many BCDs also have an octopus backup 2nd state regulator built into the fill hose. I’m not a fan of this design although that may simply be because it didn’t exist when I first got dive certified. My first dive buddy is now an instructor and his octopus regulator is on a short elastic cord hung around his neck while his primary is on a 6′ hose that loops around him (to minimize profile and drag). Since panicked students have a tendency to grab the first regulator they see he figures he’s going to surrender his primary, dip his head and bite the octopus into his mouth. Since I’m not an instructor I just have to worry about my wife (primary dive buddy now) my octopus… or my primary and I can take my octopus if she’s that panicked.
After the BCD I had to look at my tanks. We have two aluminum 80 cubic foot tanks. The primary concern with tanks as you enter any dive season is to make sure that they are current on their visual inspections or hydro-pressure tests. Nothing sucks as bad as spending time and energy geting your tanks to a dive site just to find out that the VIP or hydro has expired and now you have to rent tanks. Most dive shops are pretty good about checking this when you take tanks in for fills though.
At the top of your tank is the first stage regulator attached to your second stage(s) by low-pressure hoses. Mine happens to be a Titan regulator set from Aqua Lung. No matter who your regulator set is made by the key is to have it inspected and/or serviced annually. I’ll never forget, on my first Advanced Open Water certification dives in a cold quarry in Pennsylvania in October, when my buddy’s regulator froze up and, all of a sudden, he was sucking NOTHING at almost 90 feet. In all probability the regulator he was using hadn’t been properly checked and serviced since February or March of that year. It turned out okay though. We had closely adhered to that rule about never being more than arm’s reach from your buddy so it was an easy grab for him to get to my octopus regulator. We stabilized and headed up. The dive instructor was impressed… and apologetic.
Of course to keep track of your air supply, depth, etc you need either a console or the more high-dollar (and increasingly more common) dive computer. Since I’m a firm believer in redundancy I like having a console with a computer as backup. My wife likes having a computer in her console and uses wrist-worn devices as backup for depth and time. The console should guarantee you two measurements at a minimum: the air pressure remaining in your tank and your depth. If a bottom timer is built in that’s all the better but a watch can suffice. In today’s dive environment, as I mentioned, computers are becoming more and more common. “Plan your dive and dive your plan” is going by the wayside as many divers simply count on their computer to tell them how long they can stay down and when they have to surface. This is not only lazy but dangerous. I encourage you to learn your tables; plan your dive; dive your plan. Computers are great for repetitive dive profiles when you’re on the boat in between morning dives or in between afternoon dives – but not for all day.
There are many dive computers available from the top-of-the-line Cochran (shown right) to the more generic wrist top type (shown left). Whichever is your choice remember those words of wisdom we can learn from our Navy divers: two is one; one is none. If you dive a computer have the appropriate backups in a console. If you find yourself at depth with no idea of how deep you are, how long you’ve been down or how much air you have left then your dive is immediately over. If you have redundant backup then you can continue to enjoy the safe remainder of your dive and figure out what went wrong with that particular piece of gear after you get dry.
A mask and fins are your next pieces of personal gear. As I have worn glasses virtually all of my adult life and don’t like diving with contacts in I have corrective lenses commercial mounted into my mask. My wife, on the other hand, LIKES diving with her contacts in (she’s never had her mask ripped off at depth like I have) so her mask isn’t as expensive. Either way you go, your mask needs to be inspected just like your tanks, regulators and other gear. Check the skirt, strap and lenses. All silicone parts are capable of wear and tear (quite literally) which may result in the mask becoming unserviceable due to leakage or a failure to mount. Shown is the Mares Samurai mask. Some more expensive and fancy masks are available, like the Oceanic Datamask which has a computer built in with a Heads Up Display under the right eye. If I had the more than $1000 to spend on it I might try it out. For now I think I’ll stick with what I have.
Next is fins. Shown here are the Aqua Lung Rocket Fins that have been so well known amongst Navy divers for years upon years. I was introduced to them a few years ago and was surprised, upon trying them out, how much thrust they provide. My wife has a pair of split fins and my older solid-blade fins made me work hard to keep up with her. Now my wife has strong legs so I used to just think that’s all it was. But after I tried out the Aqua Lung Rockets and started out-running my wife, I realized how important some of those design features can be. Fins, too, need to be maintained so double-check and replace any straps that look worn or cracked. Fins can also crack due to dry-rot if you don’t rinse and maintain them properly, so visually inspect them while you flex the fins back and forth. You don’t want them to fail and ruin a dive.
What’s left? All sorts of stuff, but wetsuits and dive knives are the last two items we’ll discuss here. “Wetsuits” also includes hoods and gloves but I have a confession to make: having been on a dive rescue team and done my share of cold water work (colder than I liked) and not being a fan of hoods, if it’s cold enough to mandate a hood then I’m not diving (unless someone’s writing me a big check). I dive for recreational purposes only now and that doesn’t involve cold water or hoods. Whatever the torso section of your wetsuit is, make sure your hood is equally insulated / thick.
That said, wetsuits function by allowing a thin layer of water in between you and the neoprene (or other composite material) where the water is warmed and your body temperature is maintained better. Bear in mind that water saps your body heat four times faster than air so getting cold is easy underwater. The ScubaPro Everflex shown is a one-piece dive suit (my preference if water temps allow the design use) with a 5mm core with 4mm extremities. Typicallly your arms and legs don’t need to stay as insulated as your core and only your hands suffer from a loss of fine dexterity in colder temps. When it comes to protecting your hands it’s a trade-off anyway. The colder the water is the thicker the gloves have to be to maintain warmth in your hands; the thicker the material the less manual dexterity you have anyway. Find the happy medium for the usual diving you do and be happy. If you need a thicker suit, determine whether you need increased warmth for your extremities or just your torso / core. My wife and I both have one-piece 5/3 suits (5mm core, 3mm extremity). We also each have 5mm shorties which cover our torso, upper arms and upper legs. If the water is going to be cold enough we wear them over the one-piece suits for a total insulated coverage that runs 10/8/3. Our forearms and calves aren’t as well insulated but we’ve not noticed a hindrance in performance yet or anything approaching hypothermia.
The last thing I’ll discuss specifically is a dive knife. While many quarries today are instituting (or have in existance) fresh water clam projects that they protect by prohibiting knives, those same quarries usually also prohibit fishing so the risk of entanglement is minimized. If you aren’t diving in such a protected environment I’d highly recommend that you NOT dive without a knife. The variety of design is pretty wide and you can find many knives to suit your need depending on:
- the length of blade you deem necessary;
- whether you want a plain edge, serrated edge, or mixed, or both
- whether you want your knife to serve as a pry tool (tip design)
- whether you want it fixed blade or folding blade
Again, remembering that “two is one, one is none” rule I carry two knives (except where a knife is prohibited of course). I have a fixed knife with a pry tip that is plain edge on one side and serrated edge on the other. The skeletal handle is coated with texturized rubber and the kydex/composite sheath is mounted directly to the shoulder strap of my BCD. My backup knife is an Assist by SpyderCo. It’s specifically designed to be used even with cold water gloves; the serrated edge serves me well; the blunt tip isn’t designed for prying but it won’t stap through any wetsuits either; and there is a whistle built into the grip for surface signaling.
Things that I haven’t listed here but that you should (hopefully) be checking / inspecting in your dive kit include:
- signaling devices
- repair kit
So set aside a little time and go get that touch of summer as you inspect your dive gear. Come February (or sooner) you’ll be happy you did as you have everything ready to go!
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