Your Gear is an Integral Part of Diving!
If you’re seriously thinking of taking up scuba diving, then the most important thing to consider before taking the plunge is the equipment you will use. After all, dive gear is what makes it possible for us to venture into the underwater world. Without it, all we have to rely on is the air in our lungs (which won’t take you very far). However, because dive gear is so vital to the sport, there are many things to consider when buying or even hiring the equipment you use. The first and foremost being comfort.
Where Will You Predominantly be Diving?
Your typical local environment conditions and topography will certainly dictate the appropriate equipment needed. Factors that may influence your choices include water temperature; entry techniques, such as boat or shore entries; and access to hire equipment.
Soft vs Hard Explained
Diving gear is generally divided into two categories, hard gear and soft gear. Soft gear includes those items where fit and comfort are most important and as a result, most divers strive to buy their own soft gear as opposed to hiring. Soft gear includes masks, snorkels, fins and wetsuits. Hard gear constitutes the more complex equipment such as the Buoyancy Compensator Device (BCD), regulators and scuba cylinder.
Functions of Each Piece of Gear
Each piece of equipment has different features and benefits to enhance your diving experience and are available in a variety of different brand options. Here is a typical list of the basic equipment that you will need for a dive:
The Buoyancy Compensator Devic’s (BCD’s) main function is to control your buoyancy underwater using an inflatable bladder which allows you to add or subtract air to give you freedom of movement underwater. A BCD also serves as a harness to secure your scuba cylinder, as well as attach an array of accessories via inbuilt pockets and D-rings. When selecting a BCD, you should consider if you prefer the jacket type BCD or the back inflation BCD. The jacket style offers all-round inflation which creates more stability at the surface and allows for ample storage space in a variety of pockets. The back inflation BCD offers a no clutter, streamlined option and its configuration often complements drysuit diving and eventually diving with multiple cylinders, as it can facilitate a larger wing and therefore lifting capacity.
The open circuit regulator allows a diver to breathe air from the scuba cylinder. Also known as a demand valve, the regulator takes high pressure air and adjusts it to the pressure surrounding you (also known as the ambient pressure), providing you with air when you inhale and expel unused air into the surrounding water upon exhalation. The components that the regulator is built from could greatly affect its performance and ease of breathing. Buying a regulator can be likened to buying a vehicle. You can go for reliable and cost effective or for sheer performance and comfort, at a price of course.
Also known as a scuba tank, the cylinder contains the high pressure breathing gas that a diver inhales with the help of a regulator. The cylinder typically consists of a valve which turns the air flow on or off and a burst disk which prevents overfilling. Cylinders are typically the final item a diver would invest in as it requires a fair amount of maintenance; it is rather difficult to travel with, especially if you are flying to your dive destination; and it is very easily attainable for hire at most dive resorts. Be mindful, regardless if you hire or purchase your own cylinder, to check whether it is made from steel or aluminium. Steel cylinders are often a more popular choice as you require less overall weight and your buoyancy is not affected at the end of a dive, when a safety stop is required and your cylinder pressure is low. Most coastal operations will opt for aluminium tanks as steel tanks are more vulnerable to corrosion.
A diving mask allows divers to see underwater, and unlike goggles, allows you to equalise the airspace within the mask as your nose is enclosed in it. Features of a mask include the silicone around the lenses which can either be clear, which allows more light in and is typically a softer seal, or black and white silicone, which prevents unnecessary light from penetrating through the mask and distracting you. This makes it a popular choice with photographers. There is also a variety of lens options, such as single or multiple, and all of these can affect your field of vision. Much like buying a pair of sunglasses, comfort and fit are key. Each diver will have to do the “slap the mask on the face and suck through your nose test” to ensure that there are no leaks and that there are no painful pressure points upon inhalation.
The snorkel typically consists of a mouthpiece and a long tube which clips onto the strap of your mask, on the side of your head. The snorkel is an extension of the diver’s airway and is a vital piece of equipment to ensure airway control, especially when swimming at the surface towards your descent point in choppy conditions.
Fins are an extension of the larger leg muscles and help us as divers to move more efficiently underwater than if we were to swim with our arms. They generally come in two different types – adjustable open heel fins and closed heeled fins. Open heel fins allow for you to adjust the size of the fin and it’s a popular choice when booties are required for extra thermal protection or walking over rough surfaces to get to an entry point. Closed heel fins fit like a shoe around the heel and are more suited for snorkelling or warm water diving. Consider ease of donning, effort required to propel yourself and the blade of the fin, be it paddle or split fin, when investing in your own pair.
Wetsuits come in a variety of styles and thicknesses. It’s major purpose is to protect you from the cold, but it also helps to prevent cuts and abrasions whilst diving over wrecks and protects you from stinging cells in the warmer water. If you know that your diving will mostly occur in colder water, it may be a good idea to invest in a drysuit, which uses insulating air to warm up the diver. Other gear that can be bought to protect from the cold include gloves and boots (or booties) and hoodies.
Hiring vs Buying
If you are uncertain about whether you are going to invest in diving long term it may be worthwhile that you hire your equipment initially. This may also you give you a chance to get a feel for what type of gear fits best and which brand options are more suited for you. Owning your own gear, on the other hand, could greatly enhance your overall diving experience, as circumstances like ill-fitting gear, leaky masks and changes in buoyancy can be avoided.
Most dive centres offer the option to rent standard gear; however, it is the responsibility of the diver to make sure that the equipment you use is in good condition.
Another important thing to consider when buying and using your dive equipment is maintenance. Always make sure that you wash your gear in fresh water after every dive, paying particular attention to replacing the dust cap on the first stage of the regulator before submerging it. There are excellent shampoos available on the market to help prolong the lifespan of your wetsuit and BCD. Avoid build-up of mould by drying equipment thoroughly and then store in a cool, dry environment, away from direct sunlight. If you decide to buy a scuba cylinder, remember that it should be inspected annually by any retail shop that is certified to do so. It is also a good idea to get your regulator serviced regularly by a reputable dive shop to ensure that everything is in working order and to keep you safe underwater.
Apart from the basic dive gear needed to get you going, there is a myriad of dive accessories and optional extras to choose from to make your dive experience that much more efficient. One of the accessories that has revolutionised diving is the dive computer, which calculates all the information you will need to plan and log your dives with, such as maximum depth reached, water temperature, elapsed bottom time and residual nitrogen levels etc. Other dive accessories include weights, dive torches, dive knives, audible and visual signalling devices and dive bags, etc.