Useful Information from CPA
The information expressed herein should be treated as opinion. No guarantee is given or implied that any advice on the CPA website is necessarily correct. Nor might it best suit other divers and clubs due to regional and personal differences. Diving is a risk sport. All advice herein should be validated with advice from your own diving club, governing body, or approved published material before being adopted.
Understand different diving styles and their kit demands
Several big influences in basic kit choice & config. Think what your style will be: deep diving, deco diving, long duration, instructing, nature watching, solo (let’s not kid ourselves)? Deep means need serious air supply, redundancy vital. Also for solo. If deco too, need at least a pony, consider twinset. May then need to think about wings instead of stab. Also, drysuit more critical for long hangs. Instructors should have complete redundant air for all diving. (Obviously, much more than 50m depths demands tri-mix – whole new game). If rarely deeper than 30m, never deco, always buddied, then single cylinder and octopus fine. If also rarely dive north UK or out of “season”, consider semi-dry. Long duration but never deep suggests Nitrox. Wildlife watchers & photographers might consider rebreather for duration, buoyancy stability and lack of bubbles. Need to have disciplined attitude though.
Prioritise equipment needs
Even if can afford all at once, better to get experience first to see what suits and buy as you need it. Essential kit for any diving: fins & mask, suit/hood/gloves/boots, stab, cylinder, regulator + contents gauge & octopus, weight belt, set of tables plus depth & time instruments (gauge + watch or D-timer or computer), dive knife. Dive bag pretty useful now. For non-instructed diving, also must have SMB (ideally delayed), and recommend folding flag and good torch. Other ASAP items: compass, EPIRB if you can afford it, small backup torch, goody bag (even if non-hunter – great RIB bags), second cylinder for hardboat dives. Only then worry about strobes, buzzers, lifting bags, personal flares and other more gimmicky stuff you’ll never use. If money’s tights, consider buying second hand at first & getting newer gear later. Loads of very safe used kit available.
Choose the right mask, fins and snorkel
Buy really cheap snorkel: bent pipe with a comfortable mouthpiece – as rarely used beyond pool training and easy to lose on a dive. Big range of fins. Some better propulsion than others. Saves energy when finning, but most decent fins hard to tell apart in practice. Probably pay for the name at top end. Mares Quattros good but pricey. Whacky fishtailed Force Fins reportedly good but stupid price and hard to walk on. Oceanic V-Drive, Scubatec Idea 3, & other mid-rangers seem reasonable value – £50 ish. Consider light colour fins (white, yellow, pale green, light blue etc.): more visible in poor viz. Dark & reddish colours not good. Or do like I do – use odd coloured fins (honest); buddy recognises you in a crowd. Big decision on fins is what type. Diving needs “pocket” fins for booted foot. Cheapest in long run to go straight for these. Foot fins for naked feet much cheaper for pool but no good UK diving. If can afford both, get foot fins first & keep for pool/snorkelling/tropical diving after moved onto pocket fins. If dry-suited, don’t need separate boots. Remember dry-suit boots bigger than wet boots, so if now in semi but may go to dry suit, get slightly bigger foot pocket size than needed now. Semi-drys need neoprene wet boots to use pocket fins. Comfort & fit most important. Zips & strong grippy sole very important, else much of a muchness £25-35. Mask must seal well & stick to face without strap. Get one with maximum angle of vision sideways and up/down – compare several against points on shop wall. Check tightens and releases easily. Low air-volume clears easily and less likely to lift off face with buoyancy. Wide angle of view helps here too as mask sits closer to face. Side windows more gimmick than useful in practice. Good mask makes a real difference to enjoyment of dive. Don’t scrimp, but forget flashy valves and nonsense like that. Sherwood Genesis/Tusa Liberator works for most people. Expect £30-45. Final tip: get a small bottle of “Divers Best” mask defogger (or similar) – works far better than saliva, keeps maks clear whole dive – will improve both enjoyment and safety on dives for trivial cost. Bottle last ages. Best value for money accessory around in my view.
Plan great colour schemes
Or not. Get real. Most new divers start off trying to co-ordinate, but most soon end up mish-mash as bits change. Go for safety not fashion. For hoods, suits & stabs get Day-Glo yellows/oranges etc for high visibility. Don’t ape all-black techy diver types – they’re all pose and no sense.
Choose the right diving suit
Think carefully here. Worrying trend toward novices going straight into dry suits. Mostly for image reasons, not common sense. Don’t underestimate semi-drys. Modern ones very warm and comfortable for most English diving. Dry suits do score in: post-dive warmth; comfort for multi-day trips; and adjustable insulation levels. Big down side is extra buoyancy control to think about & can be seriously dangerous if not operated properly at all times (see “Dive safely in a drysuit”). Also: at least 3 times the price of semis; need regular replacement of seals & expensive zips; can leak (wet drysuit far nastier than wet semi!); can rip and stop the diving; easy to overheat before dives; less control over fins; bubbles of air slosh around as attitude changes; feel isolated from environment Semis are: zero buoyancy problem, cheap to buy, robust, maintenance free, easy to wear, just as warm underwater on most dives, more liberating feeling to dive in get the message? So, seriously consider whether drysuit needed. Fair reasons: diving lots Jan – Mar, north UK, polluted water, or long deco. If not sure, go for semi at first (maybe even 2nd hand), with thick waterproof coat (road worker ones great) & good hat, for afterwards in boat. If after a season you do decide on dry, won’t lose much on selling semi – or can keep it too for liberated diving in peak season. Or may never need dry – in which case, saved a packet.
Choose the right BCD
Two fashionable types. Stab Jackets and Wings (though “old-fashioned” ABLJ still has some advantages: highly buoyant; true life vest keeping head out of water well in emergency). Wings give more movement freedom at front & locate centre of buoyancy nearer centre of weight (especially with twin cylinders) – helps reduce unwanted body roll. Down side is difficult to make sure they hold face out of water on surface. Also no pockets at front to put stuff in. Many have built in weights – caution – must be secure but easy to ditch in emergency. Must also be easy to slip off and hand to RIB crew else you’ll be hated for making them haul in heavy kit. Can get ‘conventional’ design wings like stabs without pockets. Techie style ones can have steel back plates and elasticated bags that stay out of way until inflated, but overkill for casual sport diving. Stabs still a good option if standard cylinder used – most better than wings at keeping head back on surface as more buoyancy at front. Two main types: separate bladder and single skin. Separate bladder allows repair if gashed. Single skin more likely to need junking. Depends on diving style. Wreckers advised to go for bladder. If mostly into tropical holidays, single skin cheaper, lighter and more compact for travel. Can also get ‘soft’ backpacks in some: even better for holiday packing. If planning on long or rough diving career, go for high denier bladder type. Buddy range still very popular in UK as practical, indestructible, reliable and with awesomely good after sales care from AP Valves. Other big names (Mares, Scubapro, Oceanic) maybe not as robust but good in most ways. Thin, feeble down market ones (Seapeks et al) only good for stop gaps or light use.
Choose the right air supplies
How to choose between single cylinder + octopus, or main + pony set-up, or twins; and is better having two smaller mains (one per dive) or one big one for both? As always, depends on diving. If never do deco and always buddied, single cylinder + octopus is ok. If instructing, doing deco dives, or likely to run main cylinder to 50 bar a lot, go for main + pony set-up. (Tip: pony bags tedious – “G-Snaps” are brackets jubilee clipped to main cylinder & pony. Allows pony to be fitted & removed in a couple of seconds. Great for swapping cylinders after first dive. Costly though). If tend to do two decent dives (e.g. first 35m/20 mins, second at 25m/20 mins), will need two cylinders like 12 litre 232 bar. If no deco first dives, always do shallow splodge on second dive and not heavy breather, may be alright on one 15 litre 232 bar for both dives – 12 litre fine if have pony too, but care without. If doing deep (40m plus) dives and/or into serious deco, best to go for twins. Twin 7 litres manifolded with full cross-over theoretically very good, but may need new cylinder(s) for second dive – lots of pricey kit. Twin 12 litre 232 bar or 10 litre 300 bar would do deep first dive safely with enough left over most times for safe, decent second dive too. Big downside is huge weight and bulk. Not fun and unpopular with other divers on boat. For sort of diving done by this club, recommend two separate 12 litre 232 bar cylinders and pony where needed. Could start with one 12 and an octopus, then buy second 12 (maybe 2nd hand). If moving onto pony later, then just need new 1st stage and move octopus across to pony rig. If will not need pony for a long time, may be worth thinking about type of octopus that goes in-line with BCD inflate hose. One less hose to clutter rig, but would need to buy full regulator if ever go to pony then. When choosing & fitting octopus or pony regulator, have choice of left-hand hose to make easy for buddy to use, or right hand for use by you. Suggest latter. In panic situation, buddy more likely to just grab 2nd stage from your mouth than go by the book; so you need octopus/pony reg easy for you to cut over to. Also can reconfigure right hand octopus as main if need be, whereas left-hand octopus only any good for buddy air.
Choose the right regulator
Have to be doing extreme diving to see much practical difference in regs frankly. Very simple and very reliable bits of gear. Easy to pay too much for name, gimmicks and performance overkill. All first stages will cope with two divers sharing and breathing heavily at up to 50m. Don’t need any more. Biggest risk is 1st stage freeze rather than air supply. Can reduce risk of this with environmental sealing but puts servicing costs up and only a problem below 4-5 degree Celsius normally. Second stage similar. Most work very well. Some smaller & lighter: better ergonomics. Some have adjustable resistance knob: can be useful in currents or for use as octopus (better here to fit anti-free-flow valve though), but well adjusted 2nd stage should cope with most situations anyway. Recommend getting simple, no nonsense low-to middle price reg at first, then if diving starts demanding more performance you probably should be getting a pony anyway, so use old reg for that. Don’t pay extra for “Nitrox ready” regs – sales gimmick. Can use standard air reg for up to 40% Nitrox anyway.
Choose the right cylinders
Once size/number decided (see “Choose the right air supplies”), options include steel or aluminium, 232 bar or 300 bar, standard diameter or stumpy. Steel generally best these days. Aluminium corrosion free, but much thicker walled. Perversely, makes them heavier than good steel ones. Worse, because also bulkier makes them more buoyant too. Result is they’re heavier to cart around but you still need just as much lead on weight belt. Max working pressure of 232 bar is adequate for most needs. Can go to 300 bar. Advantage is that can use smaller Water Capacity cylinder for same volume of free air (e.g. 12.5 litre 232 bar = 2900 litres free air, but only 10 litres at 300 bar = 3000 litres free air: 100 litres more). Down side is that 300 bar 10 litre about as heavy as 232 bar 12.5 litre (can probably take a bit of lead off though). Air fills usually more expensive to 300 bar too. Also, need high pressure 1st stage fitting: should be DIN not A-clamp international. Not a problem unless swapping between fitting types – e.g. to borrow other cylinders etc. Have to buy expensive adapters then. Also can’t decant into mini-cylinder unless also getting DIN fitting on BCD (pricey option). Shorter, fatter “stumpy” or “stubby” 12 litre cylinders popular now. Good in that tend to be less buoyant for capacity/weight, easier to carry, more stable when stood up, less likely to pitch you face forward when floating, and fit within length of back to stop valve hitting back of head. Down sides are that fatter cylinders cause a bit more drag in water, and – depending where BCD cam band fitted – sometimes high off seat-height so can’t take weight off shoulders when sitting kitted for long periods. On balance though, probably more pros than cons.
Choose the right dive computer
Lots of choice. Very dive style dependent. If money tight and never do deco dives, just about ok to go for no deco PDC (Personal Diving Computer). However, can be stressful if ever go into deco accidentally. Though it says you have to stop and what depth, no idea how long left before can surface safely – just have to wait until told to go up. Not nice if low on air too. Generally, much better to go for deco PDC even if don’t intend to do deco diving. Consider too if Nitrox on the cards within next couple of years or so. If so, better to get Nitrox PDC now and use it at 21% O2 (air) until going on to Nitrox. If no chance, or will be three or more years at least, maybe get slightly cheaper air PDC now, then trade up to latest model later. Air integrated has major safety benefit. Not only warns of air consumption problems, but good ones like Uwatec Aladin also use consumption rate to assess workload. This makes big difference to Nitrogen uptake and thus tissue saturation for given dive profile. PDC increases deco obligation in this case – much less risk of DCI (DeCompression Illness). Air integrated expensive though. Also a problem if sender unit fails as lose contents gauge entirely! If always relaxed dives and never short of air, fine without it. Just allow extra deco and/or less BT if workload ever high. If a regular deep deco-dive port hole chiseller, strongly recommended. If money not a problem, nice to have a Personal Computer interface add-on too. Lets you download dive profiles and details into electronic logbook on PC. Very nice toy but if money tight spend it on something more useful/safety related.
Choose the right torch
Huge range. Small penlight style up to mega-pricey cave diver ones. Good idea to get small torch early on anyway as makes big difference on gloomy dives. One good example is Underwater Kinetics Mini-Q40 – around £14. Popular, as: small, simple, very bright beam and good battery life on alkalines (also comes with straps to allow attachment to mask strap so beam always where head pointing. Beware using this as can dazzle other divers when you look at them. Avoid using this way on night dives. Also, can make some mask seals leak a bit). Even if get bigger torch later, can still use small torch as backup (vital on night dives). Bigger torches often rechargeable. Strongly recommended if can afford them (most well over £100, some several hundred!). Disposable batteries have shorter life. Worse, only know for sure how long beam will last with new batteries. May need to throw part-used ones away to be sure of light on long dive. Rechargeables can be topped up so always have max life at no extra cost. High initial cost pays back well if using a torch a lot. Can get non-rechargeable torch and then use rechargeable batteries. Cheaper option and better than disposables, but standard rechargeable batteries give less time than the ones with rechargeable torches. Also make torch light and annoyingly floaty. Big powerful torch makes dive more enjoyable. Even in good light, helps see marine life under shady rocks and in any conditions, brings out true colours. Worth spending money to get a good one. Make sure it’s always attached to kit (even in use) as easy and expensive to lose.
Choose the right accessories
Stacks of stuff you could buy. Much of it little real use for normal dives, so get safety related kit first. Essential accessories are of course: watch (for normal dives, waste of money spending more than £30 or so on basic watch but make sure at least 100m (if cheap) and ideally 200m water resist); knife (don’t need a commando machete, just small, sharp, with monofilament groove and saw edge – you’ll probably never use it in anger); neoprene gloves if suffer cold hands, thin tough ‘wrecking’ gloves if not. Top priorities should then be: foldy flag & simple whistle – cheap and damned effective. Delayed SMBs great but reel £40 and bag £15-30. Pony cylinder rig can be life saver in some situation. As well as making dives much more enjoyable, good torch helps buddy find you if lost and good surface location aid in poor light (see “Choose the right torch”). EPIRB a great idea but maybe £160 or more. Pathfinder reel essential if going into any sort of hole. Goody bags a boon for shellfish or trophies and make good RIB bags. Think about getting D-Timer too. If can’t afford computer, will be much more useful than watch and depth gauge; if got a computer, good idea to have D-Timer as backup in case computer fails – then still have safe ascent rate guide. After that, gets gimmicky. Lifting bag great in theory but unless diving 50m + wrecks, rare to find anything worth lifting in south UK; don’t bother until you start missing one. LP hose powered underwater horns, hammerheads and screechers only any good to get attention, but little practical use most times as can’t tell sound direction – won’t help anyone find you underwater. Tank pingers (bead on elastic round tank) much cheaper and good enough. Above water, simple cheap whistle can be just as good. Strobes not bad for surface location aid in poor light, but otherwise little use. Can only help locate lost buddy a bit further away than without: flash soon lost in poor viz. Not much good for night dives as torches visible anyway and strobe can easily spoil buddy’s night vision – better fitted to SMB to give surface cover, though Cyalume stick probably just as good. Personal flares only good for 20 or so dives before replacing, so very expensive and need other surface location aids after use. General point: accessories easily lost unless attached, so recommend using good cords/lanyards and clips for all accessories. Quik-lock clips (like the plastic bayonet clips that you get on everything now) work well and have range of methods for fitting to accessories.