Get cylinders tested
Cylinder testing is a legal requirement. Won’t get a fill unless cylinder in test. Two types of test: hydraulic and visual. Law says must have hydraulic every 5 years, and visual 2? years from last hydraulic. Note: this means if you don’t use/visual-test cylinder for a while after visual was due, still need a test within 5 years of last hydraulic even if less than 2? years since visual done. To check test date, look for die-stamps on shoulder of cylinder. Will have year and month of last test. If has a “V” in it, means visually tested. If no “V” in it, test will have been hydraulic. Find stamp with latest date and apply rules above to find when test next due and what type. Now also mandatory to have a sticker to say when next due. Many testing stations around, not all associated with dive shops. Prices vary so shop around. Don’t just go on headline price – in particular, check before leaving cylinder whether they charge for a fail. Some will charge low price, others charge full price. Negotiate before you leave it for test. Make sure you insist they phone you before doing any ‘extra’ work like shot blasting inside. No way for you to prove it wasn’t needed and very easy for shops to add it to the cost as a pure scam – having to phone you may discourage them a bit. Beware when going Nitrox as many 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.
Reduce cylinder valve damage
Be sure not to drop cylinder onto valves. Lie cylinder down whenever unattended and make sure can’t roll. If cylinders carried a lot by gripping under cross-flow valve knob, can sometimes lead to bent valve shaft, thus leaks and expensive repair. Carrying on shoulder is highly dangerous if you fall, so best is to fit carry handles round cylinder neck. Comfortable & convenient to carry, stops shaft wear problem, and avoids accidental valve opening. Also, after salt-water dive, jet fresh water up back of valve knob to flush out salt, else accumulates here and eventually attacks shaft and makes threads stuff.
Wash regulators thoroughly
Most important place to remove salt from is inside second stage. No good hosing through exhaust vents for this (blocked by non-return valves), or into gaps on front housing (no way through diaphragm). Only way to get fresh water inside valve where needed is by pumping into mouthpiece. Insert hosepipe/tap and flush through and out of exhaust vents for minute or two. Shake thoroughly & dry before storage.
Prevent dry suit seals perishing
Latex seals perish easily. Main causes are skin oils, perfumed talcs, exposure to sun and leaving salty during storage. If stored for long periods, latex can weld to itself and be ruined. Good practice to thoroughly clean and coat latex before any period of storage. Wash thoroughly inside and out with mild detergent. Rinse with plenty clean water. Dry carefully then treat surfaces ideally with special silicone treatment (the Aquasure one seems good), or at least with unperfumed talc to reduce welding.
Prevent bacteria inside a BCD
BCDs always damp, often warm & soon collect organic matter – ideal for bacterial growth. Main risk is if used for breathing in drills or emergency. Can lead to lung infections. Can also deteriorate inner bag material. Always empty all sea/lake/river water out after every dive trip. Regularly flush through with clean with fresh water. Occasionally disinfect inner bag. Beware using ordinary disinfectants (including the often recommended ‘Milton’ sterilising fluid) as can discolour and stiffen some inner bag material. Safest to use manufacturer’s proprietary fluid – tiny addition to overall cost, no risk of causing problems, and ensures warranties secure.
Avoid theft of kit
Difficult to do. Luckily most UK divers an honourable bunch. Often true abroad but some places very risky. Try not to leave kit unattended in clear view. Small valuable/desirable items like computers, good torches, knifes etc. at special risk: keep these with you. Marking clearly with name/phone number will discourage casual theft slightly as increases risk of being caught in possession.
Increase chances of getting lost kit back
If unmarked kit lost on a dive (especially everyday items: small torches, knives, mundane watches, reels, goody bags, weight belts …), some divers will take trouble to place a ‘found’ ad but most will just add it to their kit bag. However, if your name and phone number marked on kit, many divers will be good about contacting you. May be that lost kit still not returned if it is marked, but almost no chance of return if it isn’t. Write on kit with permanent felt tip or enamel paint etc., and keep it touched up as writing wears. Use international style phone number (+44 (0) 171 …) in case lost abroad.
Get kit insured properly
Obvious statement, but often not done. Check what your house insurance covers: many policies include sports equipment up to certain values. Find what restrictions there are (UK use only? Limited number of days holiday cover? Maximum single item value?). Decide if acceptable and consider additional insurance if needed. Trend to bundle holiday insurance with package may cover you automatically, but check terms carefully to see.