It isn’t worth buying diving gear prior to taking your first course for a couple of reasons, firstly – there’s the (small) chance that you may not feel that diving is a sport for you after all, and secondly, you won’t have had any practical experience using different types of equipment and therefore won’t really know what suits you best. Trying on a mask in a shop is very different to wearing a mask for 30 minutes underwater.
Diving is an equipment intensive sport. Unlike jogging or soccer – where all that are needed are shorts, t-shirt, socks and the appropriate footwear, diving requires a variety of specialised equipment. It’s important that although a lot of equipment is required, it is all necessary in order to dive safely. Each item was developed to perform a specific function.
Owning your own equipment will enhance your enjoyment of the sport. Of course you will always be able to rent equipment no matter where you choose to dive, but do you really want to rely on much-used rental equipment for your personal safety and enjoyment of diving?
The best way to ensure that gear fits and is comfortable is to use your own. You will know how to operate it properly and will have looked after it responsibly. You will know the condition of your gear, where it has been, and who has been using it. That familiarity contributes to the highest level of safety, which in turn gives you peace of mind when underwater.
A basic set of equipment would include a mask, snorkel and fins. All enthusiastic snorkellers probably own this gear already. Divers who have completed their Open Water course will probably be looking to add a Regulator and Buoyancy Compensator to the basic equipment. A wrist worn Dive Computer is a very handy piece of equipment to have when diving in unfamiliar waters. Wetsuits come in all styles – some suitable for cold water diving others for warm water such as those found off Koh Chang. . Unless you know where you will be doing most of your diving a wetsuit probably isn’t a necessary purchase as dive shops will rent suits to fit the local waters. Fit and comfort , and not fashion, are the main criteria you should use when selecting gear.
You will find the process of buying dive gear is fun, adds to your knowledge of diving and also ensures that the gear you dive with does what you want it to do the way you want it to. Owning dive gear also marks you out as a serious diver and motivates you to dive more often . . . . . which can only be a good thing!
Now let’s look at each piece of kit in more detail.
The old black, rubber oval masks have long since disappeared and are now only seen in old James Bond movies and re-runs of ‘Hawaii 5-0’. Modern masks have a nose pocket which allows you to equalise the pressure in your ears as you descend and come in a variety of colours. A good fit is essential therefore when trying on a mask in a dive shop always:
Place the mask on your face without using the strap and gently inhale through your nose. The mask should seal easily on your face.
Place a regulator or snorkel mouthpiece in your mouth. Does the mask still feel comfortable?
Repeat the ‘inhale’ test with a mouthpiece in place.
Now adjust the strap and put the mask on your face. The nose pocket shouldn’t touch your nose and the watertight skirt should feel comfortable on your upper lip.
You should be OK if you select any mask in your budget that meets the criteria.
There are a vast array of snorkels to choose from. This may seem odd as all you are really buying is a curved plastic tube with a simple valve to allow for easy exhalation. You will only ever use a snorkel if you are on the surface and want to conserve the air in your tank.
Therefore, unless you plan on doing a lot of snorkelling it’s advisable to buy a cheap snorkel with a comfortable mouthpiece that also attaches easily to your mask.
If you plan to swim with the fish then you need to swim like a fish i.e. by using fins. Fins translate power from the thigh muscles into efficient movement through water, thus making it easier for you to swim underwater.
When trying on fins look for a good snug fit, if you can’t move your toes the fins are too small. Fins’ efficiency is due to their size and rigidity, a simple rule is the stronger your leg muscles the stiffer the fin you should use. Choosing a suitable pair of fins is very important, an unsuitable pair can lead to muscle cramps and ruin your diving experience.
Regulators have been perfected to the point that a high performance regulators can be found at budget prices. The regulator is the device that converts the high pressure air in your tank into ambient pressure air which is breathable. It also delivers air to the Buoyancy Compensation Device’s inflator.
Once again a comfortable mouthpiece is key in the selection process. As breathing through a regulator in a dive shop is very different to using one underwater, try different ones when diving prior to buying to give you an idea of how different makes and models perform underwater.
Buoyancy Compensation Device (BCD)
Your BCD is not only the most complex piece of dive equipment you’ll own but also one of the most important. This is a multifunction piece of kit, it allows you to carry tank with relative ease, keeps your gear in place, allows you to float on the surface but also achieve neutral buoyancy at any depth.
When buying a BCD, the correct size and fit are what to bear in mind. You’ll need to try on the BCD whilst wearing the wetsuit that you will be using to dive in. The best test of fit is to inflate the BCD until the overflow valve starts to vent i.e. until the BCD is inflated to the maximum. If you have any difficulty breathing then select another BCD. Also test all the straps & adjusters etc for ease of use. Finally, are the inflate and deflate controls clearly marked and can you easily operate them using one hand?
Wetsuits, or more accurately ‘exposure suits’ trap a thin layer of water between the suit wall and your skin which insulates your body from the effects of heat loss. A suit is required even in tropical seas, such as those off Koh Chang, as warm water can rob your body of heat over twenty times aster than air.
The thickness and type of exposure protection you need depends on the dive conditions. Your dive suit should fit your body like a glove. Don’t buy a loose fitting suit as any gaps allow water to circulate within the suit and reduce the suits ability to insulate your body.
Understanding dive tables, as your Open Water Course, will have taught you is a vital part of safe diving. Very few people enjoy mulling over rows and columns of figures but it’s something that has to be done.
A dive computer can make your life far less stressful whilst you are underwater. It’s main function is to monitor the depth you are diving at and time you are in the water and then calculate the time you can safely stay under the water i.e. your no-decompression status. This helps to extend your time underwater.