By: Kevin Freeland / Dive Pros
The underwater world is breathtaking for those getting certified to SCUBA dive. The adrenaline rush is soon channeled into excitement for planning the next adventure and getting the coolest looking scuba outfit. But instead of going for broke, go for good advice.
Just finishing the Open Water Course, divers are already on their way to owning a complete set of recreational dive gear as they have usually already invested in the personal basics of the Mask, Fins, Snorkel and Boots. The parts and pieces come in a myriad of brands, colors, and styles to meet all kinds of preferences and even different kinds of diving. Gulf Coast Dive Pros SCUBA Sales Manager Kurtis Freeland lays some groundwork for getting your gear. His key advice– “It is always best to have a trained salesperson assist you with the selection process,” Freeland says. The proper gear will make for a safe and comfortable adventure. So long as you have the ten essentials, you are set to get wet.
The SCUBA mask is the diver’s window to the underwater world. All SCUBA masks come with tempered glass which is less likely to shatter. They can also be made to include corrective lenses for those with less than 20/20 vision.
Firstly, fit is important. “It takes two people to make sure both the inner and outer seals are secure to the face,” Freeland says. The points to pay attention to are the bridge of the nose, around the eyes, and the upper lip. “Remember to open your mouth when trying on a mask. You don’t scuba with your mouth closed,” reminds Freeland.
The majority of masks available have a notched face plate with a nose pocket that protrudes past the lens. The nose pocket should allow one to pinch the nose to help equalize the ears as needed.
Some masks include peripheral vision windows or purge valves. The second most important factor is comfort. Some people are more comfortable with added features, but there is a trade off. “A mask that sits close to the face will have a lower profile and a lower volume that makes it easier to clear,” Freeland says. “The extras usually add volume and added volume can make mask clearing more challenging.”
2. Snorkel ($15–$60)
Snorkels allow people to breathe at the surface without having to lift the head out of the water. A proper snorkel will have a large bore, or tube diameter, to make breathing easy. A good rule of thumb is that the diver should be able to insert their thumb down to about the first knuckle into the top of the snorkel. Barrel length is also an important factor. To short and there will be allot of water splashing into the barrel, If it is too long, it will be hard to clear when it gets flooded or you will re-breathe exhaled air.
“A simple contoured J-shaped snorkel is all you need,” Freeland says. Many SCUBA divers choose a flex snorkel. “When you release it, it falls out of the way, so you can insert your regulator. Divers who don’t have strong watermanship skills might consider a snorkel with a purge valve or even an exclusionary device that does not allow water in,” Freeland says.
3. Fins ($60–$220)
Fins allow divers to move more easily through water using the powerful leg muscles instead of the arms. Basic styles include ones with adjustable heel straps or a full foot pocket. The adjustable ones are most common and have been preferred by SCUBA divers for Power and Durability. Full foot fins are making great strides in quality and innovation and are gaining popularity again with SCUBA divers. They are more suitable for boat entries or places with sandy entrance and exit points.
Designs include paddle fins and split fins. Paddle fins are generally longer and wider, displacing water on only half the kick cycle. “These are preferred by divers who work against strong currents, occasionally need fast sprint capabilities or who may be carrying a heavy load,” Freeland says.
Newer on the market, the split fins work differently. “The diver gets momentum on both the up and the down kick,” Freeland says. But you must make shorter flutter style kicks to move the water properly. “This is more aerobically efficient,” Freeland says. “Excellent for long swims and typical recreational diving situations.” “You want a fin that matches your body style.” essentially divers with long legs have long leg muscles and can push larger, longer style fins, but a diver with shorter leg muscles can achieve optimum propulsion with a smaller blade fin.
Fins can come with detailed features like ribs, vents, and channels. They may reduce resistance and increase efficiency but are really a matter of personal preference. Remember, if you’re buying adjustable fins, have your boots with you to try them on together.
4. Cylinders ($145–$210 sizes.
Cylinder fills and cylinder rentals are inexpensive at Tsunami Gear SCUBA Centers. Divers who may want to consider investing in their own cylinders are those without ready access to a dive center, and those who dive a lot, such as SCUBA instructors.
There is annual maintenance and inspection involved with owning cylinders. The two basic styles to consider are cylinders made of aluminum and steel. Steel is more durable and less buoyant. Steel cylinders can also carry higher pressure ratings that enable a higher volume of gas to be carried in a more compact cylinder. Steel is usually quite a bit more expensive than aluminum.
5. BCDs ($400-$800)
The Buoyancy Compensator Device (BCD) has three functions. At the surface, it is inflated to act as a floatation device, allowing a diver to rest. While underwater it is deflated or partially inflated in order to control buoyancy helping the diver maintain a neutral (neither rising up or sinking down) position in the water . It is also the backpack that holds the cylinder in place.
“The most critical aspect is the life jacket capability,” Freeland says. “It has to be sufficient to support the diver and all his equipment with his head and chin above the water at the surface.”
The two popular styles today are the jacket and the back-inflation BCDs. “The jacket style helps a diver float more upright at the surface, and it is easier to surface swim,” Freeland says. But consider the trade off. “The back inflated variety is more streamlined while swimming underwater. It’s more aqua-dynamic.”
When finding the right fit, remember the BCD needs to be comfortable over various thicknesses of wetsuits. “A jacket style should come around the torso with one to two inches gap in the front. You’ve also got to be able to reach and operate all the attachments without looking. It should not ride up and down when inflated,’ Freeland adds.
Many BCDs are made with integrated weight systems. “They are convenient and more comfortable,” Freeland says. “And many of the early problems with integrated weight systems have been fixed.”
There is a down side though. In a stressful situation, such as when a diver is having difficulty attaining adequate buoyancy at the surface, they are taught to release and drop the weight belt. “Unless you practice [dumping your weights] with the integrated systems, there is a tendency to forget about them,” Freeland says.
6. Regulators ($370-$800)
The regulator is a device consisting of two separated “stages” which are both designed to “regulate” gas flow. Gas supplies are broken down in two “stages” from the supply pressure (the gas in the cylinder) to the “ambient” pressure (the pressure that surrounds the diver at the time they breathe from the mouthpiece). While there are many factors to consider when choosing a regulator system one of the most important might be it’s warranty and dealer support network. A diver will want to consider the warranty service that comes with the regulator that is often built into the price. “You want a reputable brand with outlets that can service it no matter where you go diving,” Freeland says. The warranty usually covers replacement parts, so repairs and maintenance will just involve labor fees.
Knowledgeable salespeople will be able to assist in selection of regulator style based on a diver’s diving habits, physiology and typical diving profiles. “Give the salesperson an honest self-evaluation,” Freeland advises. “And if you’re on a budget, don’t overpay.”
7. Exposure suit: wet suit and dry suit ($200)
There are two reasons to always wear protection in the water. First is to retard heat loss. Water conducts heat away from the body 20 to 25 times faster than air at the same temperature. Wet suits put a layer of insulating foam around the skin. The cells hold water that the body heats. Wetsuits are suitable for water down to about 50-degree F.
A wet suit needs to be snug. “If not, the water flushes away and the body needs to heat more,” Freeland explains. A 3-5mm suit is the most common for diving in our waters. “That will work for about 70 percent of the year,” Freeland says. Accessories like a hood can be added in cooler months. “It is most important to protect the torso, head, and back of the neck.”
Dry suits provide even more insulation by keeping the diver dry. Air conducts heat more poorly than water. Additional clothing can also be easily worn inside them. Dry suits require additional training to use.
The second reason to wear an exposure suit is to protect the diver from the environment. Minor scrapes, stings, abrasions, and even sun burn could ruin a diving adventure.
8. Boots/Gloves ($30–$50/$10–$45)
Boots and gloves are part of the diver’s exposure protection. Boots provide both physical protection from scrapes, stings and such but also provide much needed thermal protection for our feet.
The same considerations apply for hands. Holding onto anchor lines, Deco lines and climbing boat ladders require good grips and protection. Of course, wrecks, rocks and pretty much anything that is submerged in the water for very long starts to have “growth” on it. That growth is usually a critter with a sharp edge or a sting. “Early on, [inexperienced] divers will need thicker gloves, as they tend to slip more and are more likely to have to use their hands to block themselves from coming into contact with underwater obstacles.” Freeland says.
9. Gauges/instruments (Analog: $100–$200/Computers $225–$1,200)
A submersible pressure gauge (SPG) shows the gas volume in the cylinder during the dive, mandatory since you don’t want to run out of gas mid-dive. It is usually purchased with the regulator system. First, you want something from a reputable dealer. Secondly, you want something easy to read. “How much money you spend depends on the investment in the sport,” Freeland says There are many styles to choose from including high-tech dive computers.
If you do want a dive computer, it should be a well researched purchase. “The kind of computer should match the diving you do,” Freeland explains. “If you tend to have complicated dive profiles with multiple dives involving multiple depths and gases, you will want a more complex computer.” Simple or complex, a diver should look for the functions that match his or her needs.
“Learn to use it before you go diving with it,” Freeland cautions. “Don’t dive on your dive computer until you understand it completely, so you understand what’s going on.” Freeland notes divers should still back up their dives using the standard dive tables.
10. Brain (Priceless!)
“The very best dive equipment in the world will not keep a poorly skilled diver safe,” Freeland says. For example, the submersible gauge will only tell you if you’re running low on gas if you look at it. Quality training and basic swimming skills cannot be replaced with high tech equipment. “Knowledge, skills, and abilities beat equipment every time,” Freeland says. Consider moving on to Advanced Diver certification to build dive skills. Even with the most basic equipment, a knowledgeable diver can have a great dive, and a safe dive, with the essentials.
For more information
As divers gain experience, they can target their preferences when its time to update the gear. Although, taking proper care of the gear will make it last a long time. Call your local Professional Dive Center to inquire about an Equipment Specialist course for learning optimum preventive maintenance practices.
7203 West Highway 98 * Pensacola FL 32507
Phone: (850) 456-8845 * Fax: (850) 456-0025