Understand ‘lifetime costs’
Initial price only part of kit costs. Think about wear & tear and depreciation. Decide if you’ll kit it until it’s scrap or upgrade later. If so, resale value better with tough well respected brands rather than “fashionable” ones. Allow for servicing needs. BCDs and regulators should be serviced fairly frequently. Can cost a lot for exotic foreign kit. Buying UK made kit can have advantages. For BCDs particularly, AP Valves (Buddy) service is second to none: lightning turn-round, highly professional, fairly priced, and no quibble about failures – often even outside warranty period. Apeks valves have respectable reputation these days too. Non-UK kit may be fine for some makes though. Before buying foreign kit, see how many dealers there are and see if can find other divers with same kit to see how long/expensive servicing is. When looking at drysuits, don’t forget that seals need replacing typically every 2-3 years. Zips expensive to replace and may last from 2-5 years depending on care and use. Beware when going Nitrox as some rip-off shops insist on yearly cylinder testing for Nitrox fills and charge a fortune for O2 cleaning, blasting, stickers & testing Nitrox cylinders. Bit of a game. O2 clean regs can be just as bad. Note that IANTD say standard air kit can be used for up to 40% Nitrox as long as cylinders filled by continuous blending. Find a shop with continuous blend fills or at least sensible approach to cylinders before committing to Nitrox else will cost you a bomb.
Find second hand equipment
New divers often fall into three camps. First lot try it on hired/borrowed kit, decide not for them & give up. Second get hooked immediately buy own kit and use it till it drops apart. Third lot are best – jiff-boy types who love the latest toys, do things in fads for a year then move on to next hobby (jet skis, snowboarding, motorbikes…). They spend a fortune on all the best gear, do ten dives, then sell it second hand for half the price they paid or less. Lots of these types around. Track them down and save a packet. Look in “Freeads” type papers, place want-ads yourself. Keep ear to ground among friends. Some dive shops do second hand kit but probably not such good value. Also look out for serious divers who are upgrading. Can be good buys there too. Look on the World Wide Web: useful sites include:
Loot at www.ebay.co.uk
UK Diving www.ukdiving.co.uk
Get kit given to you
Be brazen here. Spend some time making a prioritised kit list with prices and pass out to friends & relatives (co-ordinate it like a wedding list) so they can get you what you want for Christmas, birthdays, graduation, passing driving tests etc. Don’t forget to hint about using the list as reward for passing diving qualifications too!
Get discounts at dive shops
Dive shops often give discounts if you ask. Rarely offer one if you don’t! Negotiate. Ring round for prices and use that to bring price down at local shop. Easier to get bigger discounts if buying more kit. Buy several big items at once if you can and negotiate harder. Get several friends together and do a “bulk buy” deal. Be prepared to walk out of shop if you don’t get sort of discount you can get elsewhere – often results in “oh alright then” anyway, and if not go elsewhere (or buy mail order). If hard to get price down, often easier to get extra item of kit thrown in – cheaper for shop than discount and just as good for you. Try the “need a knife – if I buy a reg too now, will you throw knife in?” approach. Good suppliers to ring for low price reference or mail order are:
Buy equipment from dive shows
Dilemma. Get lowest prices by far at shows. On other hand, bad news buying from dive shows in principle. Big suppliers make small margins on huge volumes and saturate market. Rest of year sales slow for all so everyday items high margin. If money tight, reign in the conscience and buy from shows to get more kit for budget. If you’ve plenty of cash, more ethical to just buy from dive shops normally. Mike’s Waterfront Warehouse (www.mww.co.uk) is taking a stand on this. At show times, MWW don’t go along but will offer “show prices” for a couple of weeks around that time. Good policy worthy of support.
Borrow/hire equipment short term
Club has stabs, regs, cylinders for hire at small fee (currently £5 a day for stab/reg and £2 for cylinder use – airfill at own expense). Hire this as needed at first until own kit built up. Don’t be afraid to ask other divers if you can borrow their kit if they’re not diving when you are. Some not happy to do that but many ok about it. Second cylinders good to borrow as always spare ones around. Obviously, have to think about possibility of damage/loss. Goes without saying that borrowed kit must be replaced/made good in this case. Consider insurance. Also, return all loaned/hired kit thoroughly washed and in same condition you borrowed it or better. Dive shops hire kit out too. More choice and worth it if club/friends not got what you need, but more expensive.
Sell off of unwanted kit
As you do more diving, kit needs change. Will want to upgrade some stuff. Often old kit just sits in cupboards unused. Sell it to other divers: helps them and gives you more cash for upgrades. Put ad on club notice board, place ads in “FreeAds” type papers, mail ad to web sites (see “… Find second hand equipment”).