By Gil Zeimer, reprinted courtesy of Alert Diver
Most of us don’t even think twice about upgrading our computers, our software, our cell phones, our wardrobe, our cars, or perhaps even our homes every two to 10 years. But when did you last consider upgrading your essential dive gear? Our equipment allows us to breathe, stay neutrally buoyant and explore underwater. Maybe it’s time you seriously considered replacing some or all of it.
If you’re a weekend diver, you most likely review your equipment periodically and make the necessary purchases. But if youâ’re a recreational/vacation diver like me, follow my lead. Have the most important equipment – your mask, regulator and buoyancy compensation device (BCD) – checked out by a qualified technician at your local dive shop before each dive trip. This will help you mitigate problems, minimize risk, and ensure hours of underwater enjoyment. Assess your gear head to toe. First, I recommend you spread your gear out on your floor or bed, and assess it all with fresh eyes: ie, concern yourself first about safety, not what it would cost to replace certain equipment. After all, when your life depends on it, a new regulator or BCD is a worthy investment.
Starting at your head and working your way to your feet, look at your gear and ask yourself these questions:
1) Does your mask still fit?
Is the glass intact? I bought my first mask in the mid-1980s. With my myopia prescription lenses glued into the mask by an optometrist, it was my first major equipment purchase. Because I never use contact lenses, the mask still worked fine over the years. But I always wanted a mask with a nifty built-in purge valve to make clearing it easier. So I just bought a new mask with my most recent prescription because my eyes have changed quite a bit over nearly 20 years.
Today, you can choose from over 100 colourful masks. Some offer patented technology with colour-correcting lenses so you see colours more truly in the deep. Some provide a flatter, smaller, low-volume viewing area. Some have a wider view with an accompanying higher volume and more drag in the water.
But the secret to a mask is the fit. Every face is different. What your dive buddy or spouse uses may not work for you. So if your mask is older, is the silicon perimeter too stiff to still fit your face properly? That’s the key to better underwater vision.
2) Is your snorkel causing jaw problems?
When I started diving, most of the gear was basic black. I’ve upgraded my original black snorkel several times and now use a bright blue one. But I didn’t get it for the colour. It actually has several features I prefer, including a softer mouthpiece, a flexible lower section to fit my mouth and lessen jaw fatigue, and a purge valve to make clearing water much easier.
You can spend a lot of dollars for a cool, state-of-the-art snorkel. If you dive most of the time and rarely use the snorkel, save money and keep the one you have now, or buy the lower cost model. But if you snorkel as much as you dive, upgrade to a better one. It’s well worth it.
3) How well does your regulator work?
Does it frequently free flow? My mid-priced regulator and second stage are both about 15 years old. But I’ve been proactive with their care since I first bought them. Both my stages draw air well in shallow water and at over 33 metres. I have the o-rings cleaned and lubricated professionally before each dive trip, then bench tested to ensure they operate within the manufacturer’s specs with no leaks. I’ve also had regulator hoses replaced when they start to look shabby. My mouthpiece is comfortable. There are no air leaks, excessive free flows or disproportionate water intake. So I see no need to upgrade my breathing apparatus now – but they’re next on my list.
4) Are your dive tables off the map?
Some of us were trained on the US Navy dive tables. The acceptance of dive computers has made checking your repetitive dive group as easy as pushing a button or two. So if you’re sketchy about adhering to the dive tables, take a refresher course with a dive shop. The same advice applies to using a computer… especially if you’ve never used one before.
5) Does your computer compute properly?
I just got a new computer so it hasn’t even been wet yet. It will soon. Until then, I’ll ensure the battery is fresh when I use it. I’ll test it in a pool before I dive in the ocean so I’m familiar with the readings. I’ll rely on it to measure nitrogen saturation and track my bottom time. If your computer is not working properly, you should have a technician check it over. It could just be a weak battery, or it could be a major problem. The newer computers are smaller, better, and probably cheaper than the one you may already have. Again, with a piece of equipment this critical, don’t worry about saving a few dollars by diving with faulty equipment. A replacement could help save your life.
6) Does your BC provide adequate lift? Is it too tight under your arms?
My buoyancy compensator, another Day-Glo orange relic from my early diving days, worked just fine. Though it helped me be seen by my dive buddies and divemasters in almost any visibility, it was rather unsightly. A few years ago, I replaced mine with one of the more streamlined, ergonomic and fashionable designs now available. I liked the external pockets of the new BCs. The pockets hold a dive light or gloves. I also bought the BC for its integrated weight belt system which was much easier to deal with than my old weight belt with its compartments for lead weights. This new BC provides me with adequate lift and buoyancy. It fits me comfortably and snugly around my arms, chest and stomach, without pinching if I were to gain some weight. And I like the easy-use Velcro strap for attaching a tank.
7) Are your gloves handy? Should you give your booties the boot?
I wear gloves in both warm and cold water to prevent stings from fire coral, scrapes from rocks or urchins, and general protection to my prune-like digits after an hour in the deep. Once any pair of gloves has a hole, they’re history and I buy another pair. On the lower extremities, I’ve switched over the years from pull-on booties to zippered ones because they’re so much easier to get into and out of. Again, if yours are threadbare, I’d upgrade. It’s no fun having your toes or heels mangled by your fins. (That took weeks to heal.)
8) Is your exposure suit warm enough?
Does it provide the warmth and protection it once did? Because I work at home, I have more wetsuits than dress-up suits – including my tux. Currently, my 1/8-inch (3mm) wetsuit is in good shape, provides a bit of warmth, and has a plush lining that’s easy to peel off. I have a few dive skins that are fine right now, too. When the knees and elbows got stretched too thin on older skins, I’ve replaced them.
My quarter-inch (5mm) wetsuit doesn’t fit as well as it should – or used to. I thought at first that it had shrunk in the cold waters. In reality, my stomach expanded a few inches over the last two decades. I’m not going to upgrade this suit because, by preference, I don’t dive in cold water any more. Just call me a ‘warm water wuss’. Seriously, an ill-fitting wet or drysuit can be hazardous to your health. You often hear stories of injuries, even deaths, from borrowed suits that impaired movement: they were too small, so they cut off circulation in the neck area, causing underwater distress, heart failure, and more. Fit is critical. If your suit is too tight around the neck, across the chest, or under the arms, it’s time to move up one size.
9) Are your fins too soft? Or too stiff?
My latest fins are a few years old. They’re longer, stiffer, more colourful, and actually much lighter than my original jet black pair, which probably weighed five pounds (2.3 kg) each. I also have a pair of shorter fins I use for snorkelling in warm water locales. I don’t have a pair of the new ultra-efficient split fins, which are so popular now. I prefer my regular paddle fins, especially when I’m trying to remain still for underwater photography. If your fins have lost their stiffness, no longer fit your booties, or are otherwise not doing the job, it’s probably time to buy a new pair.
10) Have you checked your tanks lately?
Tanks and cylinders can receive lots of abuse, especially on shore dives. They can get banged against rocks by the surge, and even show wear and tear if they’re not sealed properly when you transport them. As you visually inspect your BC, regulator, mask, fins and exposure suit, be sure to look over your tank for possible dents and leaks before each dive. In New Zealand tanks are required to be visually inspected annually and hydro teted every two years.
11) Is you first aid kit second-rate?
Adhesive strips… check. Extra mask straps… check. Oxygen cylinder… check. Backup regulator… check. These and other items should be part of your First Aid Kit.
12) Did your field repair kit pass inspection?
The bottom line: Spend a little. Live a lot. If there’s one thing to remember about upgrading your equipment, it’s this. When in doubt about whether to replace essential. gear or not, just play it safe.