10 Top Tips For Buying New Gear
Whether you're looking to make your first purchase or adding to your already bulging dive bag, there are pitfalls that any diver can fall in to. Mark 'Crowley' Russell gives us some of his top tips on what to look out for when you're buying new gear
Buy in Person
Most scuba diving equipment is best purchased from a dive shop. Sizing and comfort are especially important for suits, boots, fins and BCDs, and sizes vary between manufacturers. Wetsuit sizing, for example, is more about height than chest size, and BCDs are designed with exposure suit thickness in mind, hence an XL-sized BCD may be much too big for somebody who wears an XL-sized t-shirt but dives in a 3mm shorty. Shops are more likely to have a resident, brand-approved service technician for regulators and computers, which means that although the up-front cost of a purchase may be slightly greater than over the Internet, it will most likely save you money in the long run. Also, you can't pop into an Internet shop for tea and biscuits.
The best tip for buying anything is to put it on and go diving with it, although clearly, this is not always an option, but it's always worth asking if you can borrow or rent gear from a buddy, dive shop or resort to try it out. For similar reasons, inexperienced divers wanting to make their first purchase might want to start by looking at similar gear to that which they used during training. As you progress through your dive career, the experience and understanding you gain will aid in the decision-making process.
There are plenty of resources to assist with buying dive equipment, including your local dive shop, club, school or buddies, and plenty of Internet groups – such as Divers Forum on Facebook – where people can ask questions and get a fair and balanced opinion. Pushy salespeople and opinionated posters exist in the diving world just like they do everywhere else, but by and large, the dive community will give you the best advice they can based on their current level of knowledge and experience. Steer clear of people who try to tell you that there is only one product that you should consider - people are different and have different requirements and there is no single solution for choosing the dive gear that is best for you.
Buy What You Can Afford
One of the most commonly given tips for many equipment purchases is to buy the best equipment that you can afford, based on your needs. It's not as straightforward as it sounds as 'most expensive' does not always mean 'best for your needs'. Consider where and when you'll be diving, and look ahead to the future. If you think you might enter the realms of cold-water or tech-diving, for example, then investing in regulator and dive computer that fulfil those needs will save you having to make a second purchase further down the road.
Fit comes first - everything else is secondary. Make sure you perform the 'suction test' by placing the mask on your face without the strap and inhaling through your nose. If it sticks, and you can't breathe, excellent. To help make a choice between single or double lenses, high or low profile masks, clear or black skirts, put the mask on and walk around the shop floor. You'll never quite know for sure until you get it underwater, but it might help to make your decision
The first decision is whether to buy full-foot fins or open-heel fins with boots. Almost all dive professionals will recommend the latter. It's essential that you try them on wearing booties of a size and thickness that you are most likely to wear when you're diving. Foot pockets fit a range of foot sizes and by-and-large they will take an equivalent sized 'standard' boot, but if you're on the borderline between fin sizes then which boot you wear may make the difference between whether or not you need size M or size L, for example. Not all fins suit all kicking styles and all environments, especially some of the funky 'advanced' designs. If in doubt, you can't really go wrong with a bog-standard paddle fin.
Bungees and spring straps are increasingly commonplace – they make donning and doffing the fins easier than the traditional strap and buckle – but you do need to check that the combination of fin, boot and bungee fits properly
Trying on suits in a dive shop is a horrible, sweaty affair but five minutes of discomfort to check the fit, is better than jumping off a dive boat and realising that the icy trickle of water down the back of your neck is never going to go away. To use the old cliché, a suit should fit like a second skin, but without impairing your breathing. Material thickness is important both in terms of thermal protection and also travel weight, but the former is more important than the latter. Advances in material technology mean that some thinner suits will be lighter in weight but still provide warmth. If you're not certain, however, a good 'multi-purpose' option is a 5mm long suit, and hoods are an extremely useful accessory.
At what temperature drysuits become essential varies between divers, location, and frequency of diving. Thick, layered wetsuits or semi-drys may be sufficent even for some single-digit temperature water, but not for very long. If you learned to dive in a drysuit then the same style of suit would be a good first purchase, but if you trained in warm water then you really need an orientation (at the very least) to drysuit diving, a little experience, and a good long chat with the dive shop before making a decision.
Buoyancy compensators are the most variable piece of dive gear in terms of both form and function. Variants over the standard 'jacket' are increasingly commonplace in the recreational dive world, with many divers opting for the backplate/wing configuration preferred by technical divers.'Hybrids' are a cross between the two. Side pockets, integrated weights, D-rings and straps vary between 'essential', 'useful' and 'not required', depending on what type of diving you'll be doing.
Correct sizing and fit is the most important consideration. As mentioned previously, sizing varies between manufacturers, and you may find that as a diver, you wear a BCD that is a size or two smaller than your t-shirt. Don't forget that you will need to allow some room in the fitting for the thickness of suit you are most likely to dive in.
Most recreational divers will have used a jacket-style BCD during training, which is a good place to start if you're unsure. Integrated weight systems are almost the default setting for many jackets, but they still give divers the option of using a weight belt if they prefer. Experience and training over and above entry-level will help you to determine how different configurations may be suited to your diving.
Although regulators are the most complex pieces of dive equipment, they all do the same thing – with one important exception, which is their suitablility for cold-water diving. If you're going to be diving in water colder than 10°C, make sure you buy a regulator with the requisite thermal protection such as an environmental seal or appropriately insulated components. Buying a brand that you can have serviced locally will save you headaches in the long-run.
For more information, an explanation of the components and tips for buying, check out DIVE's 2018 regulator round-up from our spring print edition.
Computers provide another huge range of options which can be simplified into: type of diving, air-integration, budget, and style. For recreational diving, almost any entry-level offering will suffice. They are designed to provide all the essential dive information in an easy-to-read format, all current models can be used with nitrox, and they are at the lower end of the budget. Tech divers require a lot more information, which may be confusing and potentially dangerous to the untrained diver. There are, however, some excellent computers on the market which are customisable to the diver's training so that the technical settings can be added or removed as necessary, great options for divers who plan to expand their dive horizons over time.
Air-integrated computers, which read the tank pressure either through a wireless transmitter connected to the regulator first stage, or console-mounted computers connected directly to the tank via the high-pressure hose. They provide convenience and a lot more detail in terms of overall dive planning, but battery or computer failure renders them unusable, which means no diving unless they can be fixed, or an analogue SPG is available as backup.
Some divers prefer console-mounted computers, most prefer the more popular wrist-mounted versions. Bigger budgets will buy more features, functionality and sleeker styling.
There are plenty of accessories available, and what you choose to carry depends largely on the type of diving you are doing, and where you choose to do it. All divers should carry a delayed surface marker buoy (DSMB), preferably with a reel and - very importantly - learn how to use it. Cutting tools and whistles may be life-savers in an emergency, and many divers like to carry slates to write on for improved underwater communication. For recreational night diving, a small hand-held torch (and backup) is usually more than sufficient, but technical exploration will, of course, require more serious illumination.Dive experience and training will guide a diver's choice, but SMBs, cutting tools and whistles should be bought as standard.