Choosing A Dive Shop

Dive shops offer essential services to the typical recreational scuba diver; who probably won’t own all their own equipment, a boat and have the certifications and/or training for unaccompanied diving. A dive shop is many things: at once it is a dive gear store, a training center, a service center, a tank filling station, a chartered boating and tour agency and often a social community center.

Finding a dive shop will be your first step toward certification and you will continue to use the services of dive shops ever after for recreational scuba diving. It is rewarding to maintain a connection and good relationship with your local dive shop.

If you are a traveling scuba diver you should find out in advance where the dive shops are in the area you are visiting. In coastal areas you will find dive shops congregating near the shore and many coastal resorts and hotels will boast a “scuba program”. Convenient though they may be you will often find the best deals and nicest service further inland.

Many ocean side and scuba vacation destinations will have more than one dive shop competing for your business. Some major tourism destinations are home to dozens of independent scuba shops. Choosing the right dive shop can mean the difference between a wonderful fun-filled experience and a disastrous disappointment. Here are some tips for choosing a dive shop:

Check out the competition. Before booking your first scuba dive, go around and visit the various shop owners. Compare prices and note the differences.

Don’t go cheap. Sometimes those cheaper prices mean you will be shoveled into a spare wet suit, crammed onto a boat and thrown in the water in groups of 10 or more. Certainly, you should compare prices between operators and don’t get swindled, but try not to let a few dollars sway your decision.

Walk away from the hard-sell. Scuba dive operators should understand you are making a cautious decision and you should not be pressured into anything. Do not accept “special deals” if you sign and pay before leaving the shop. Many dive shops will offer lower prices for multiple dives, but the price should not be part of an “all or nothing package”; instead, the operator should sell one dive at a time and offer lower prices for subsequent dives.

Look for good service. The dive operator should have no problem spending time explaining what they do, letting you try on a rented wet suit or explaining what you might see in the local water. Any scuba dive operator who dismisses your concerns is not a good choice for leading a scuba excursion.

Check the scuba gear – all of it. Take a look at the state of the scuba gear you will be renting. Is it clean? Modern? Operational? Good seals and valves? If you are concerned ask to assemble the scuba unit on shore and test it before you get on the boat. A patch on the knee of your wet suit is no big deal, but a leaky BCD or O-ring can ruin your scuba dive.

Dive in small groups. Diving in a flock is not fun. An ideal diving group is 6 divers (3 pairs of buddies), or less, with one Divemaster. Some scuba excursion operators will take 2 or 3 groups out on a boat large enough for 12 -18 passengers. This is OK as long as the groups go their separate ways.

Use your intuition. Pay attention to your gut feeling. If a dive operator makes you uncomfortable, move on.

Ask other divers. Get recommendations from people you know or go to one of the many online scuba forums and ask for recommendations.

Scuba Gear

Scuba diving gear is what makes scuba diving possible. A diver needs to know all about scuba diving gear and understand how it works in order to feel confident underwater. Part of scuba diving certification training will be devoted to learning all about scuba diving gear, how to assemble it and how to use it safely and responsibly. Unfortunately, many scuba diving certification courses do not spend much time explaining how the gear works and most importantly how to choose the right scuba diving gear. This guide will help you find and choose the scuba diving gear that is best for you.

A beginning scuba diver will need these 5 items – the bare essentials – just to begin training. Every other piece of scuba gear can be rented, but these 5 items are personal and must be fitted. Dive shops will not rent these items; they must be bought.

After diving for a while a scuba diver might want to pick up some of the other scuba diving gear for personal use. Most commonly the next item a diver will buy is their own wet suit. Wet suits come in many styles, shapes, thicknesses and sizes. It is nice to have your own wet suit to avoid the worry of renting one. You can get one which fits nicely and gives you both warmth and freedom of movement.

A novice diver might also be attracted to owning other gear such as:

Beyond the basic scuba diving equipment scuba gear comes in thousands of styles, there are gadgets galore and advanced “fancy” gear such as integrated weight systems (BCD and weights combined) and rebreathers (which recycle your exhaled breath back into the scuba system). If you have money to spend and scuba diving is your hobby you will never run out of gear to acquire.

Lastly, there are the scuba tanks. Scuba divers – unless they are radically devoted – will not own their own tanks. It is always easiest to rent them from a dive shop where they will be inspected, maintained, tested and pre-filled. Sometimes scuba enthusiasts will invest in a “pony tank”, which is a smaller, spare tank often equipped with its own regulator and gauges. If you are going to buy your own tanks there are things you must know before you make your purchase.

Dive safely!

Scuba Weights and Belts

To help offset the positive buoyancy of a scuba diver’s body, wet suit and equipment a scuba diver needs to wear weights while scuba diving. Scuba diving weights and weight belts are available in a few styles. You may want to test more than one type of scuba diving weight system, before you buy, to ensure the scuba diving weight system works best for you.

The scuba diving weight systems available include the traditional nylon weight belt with solid weights that slide on and off the belt, weight harnesses and buoyancy compensators with an integrated weight system. The actual scuba diving weights are available as solid weights or bags filled with pieces of lead shot, similar to a bean bag.

Scuba Diving Weights

The most popular scuba diving weight system is the traditional nylon belt with a metal or plastic quick release buckle. The scuba diving weights are sold separately and are most often the solid, molded style lead weight. Solid weights are available in 1 pound to 10 pounds and are either unfinished or covered in a plastic coating. The most popular style of solid, molded weights is that which are curved to fit the hip. These scuba diving weights slide on and off the weight belt and are worn lower around the hips for optimal comfort. Some scuba divers prefer the solid weights, which are small cylindrical shaped weights, often called “bullet weights”. These scuba diving weights slide on and off the weight belt as well, but can be worn closer to the waist.

If you are using a traditional weight belt you will need weight “keepers” to keep your scuba diving weights in place on your belt. As you slide your scuba diving weights onto your belt you thread a weight keeper in between each solid weight, alternating weight and keeper along the length of the belt. It is important to thread the keeper as close to the scuba diving weights as possible to ensure the weights stay in place. If you do not have weight keepers you can twist your dive belt between each weight to prevent the scuba diving weights from sliding around. If you do not add enough scuba diving weight to cover the entire length of your weight belt you must space your weight out evenly between the left and right sides of the belt to ensure your scuba diving weight is equally distributed above both of your hips.

An alternate style of scuba diving weight belt has pockets along the entire length of the belt. This type of scuba diving weight belt allows you to secure solid weights or pouches of lead shots into the pockets. Some scuba divers prefer this style of belt because the pouches of lead shots conform to the shape of your body and are more comfortable than the solid lead weights.

When donning your scuba diving weight belt always ensure your belt buckle is secured for a right-hand release. Also ensure the scuba diving weight belt is clear for ditching if you need to remove your scuba diving weight belt quickly and make sure there are no tubes or hoses caught underneath your scuba diving weight belt.

A feature of some scuba diving weight belts, which help to make them a popular weight system, is their ability to compensate for the compression of your wet suit as you descend during a dive. Scuba diving weight belts that do not compensate for compression will become loose as you descend. Scuba diving weight belts that do compensate for compression allow the belt to rotate around your waist, rather than stay in position and loosen. The buckle of your belt may end up on your back or side, but the belt will not loosen and fall off. It is always wise to periodically check your scuba diving weight belt throughout a dive to ensure it is fitting correctly.

A scuba diving weight harness system uses a belt and shoulder harness to secure the weights on your shoulders. This can help to reduce lower back pain or hip pain commonly associated with traditional weight belts. The scuba diving weight harness also secures the weights in a position that prevents them from moving around your body.

Regardless of the type of scuba diving weight belt system you choose, the weight belt must be adjustable to prevent any belt excess from interfering with your dive. The tail of your scuba diving weight belt should not be longer than approximately 6 inches; it should be long enough for you to grab with your entire hand, but not long enough to interfere with your ability to dive. If the tail of your scuba diving weight belt, after threading the weights and fastening your belt, is longer than 6 inches you need to adjust the belt to take up the excess. You can do this by folding the tail back into the buckle. It is preferable to adjust your belt and re-thread the excess, rather than to cut the excess off of the belt.

You can also choose to purchase a buoyancy compensator with an integrated weight system. This scuba diving weight system helps to keep your buoyancy compensator in place while eliminating the need to wear a separate weight belt. Many scuba divers find this to be a preferable weight system because it eliminates a piece of gear, the scuba diving weights cannot move around your body and the weight is supported by your shoulders, instead of your hips. An integrated weight system provides an emergency release system, either a ripcord or pin style release, so you can easily ditch your weights in an emergency situation. If you are unsure where your emergency release is located, or how to use it, speak with your scuba diving gear retailer and ask them to show you how to use the integrated weight system properly and safely.

Dry Suits

If you are scuba diving in colder water you may want to invest in a dry suit. They are considerably more expensive than wet suits, but the level of warmth and protection is unmatched by any other form of thermal protection. A dry suit can be made out of foam neoprene, crushed neoprene, vulcanized rubber or heavy-duty nylon. They use a combination of wrist seals, a neck seal and a waterproof zipper to keep you dry.

Most dry suits incorporate fully attached scuba booties as well. For added warmth you can wear dry-suit underwear underneath the dry suit. The underwear traps a layer of air between your skin and the water, which warms to your body temperature and helps to keep you warm. Like any thermal protection, the amount of underwear you need is based on the water temperature, your activity level during a dive and your body size. It is important for you to try different amounts of insulation to determine what you need.

Dry suits are easier to put on when compared to thick wet suits, but they do require training and practice to learn how to put them on properly and how to use them properly. Maintaining neutral buoyancy in a dry suit requires different skills than maintaining buoyancy in a wet suit. Buoyancy control is achieved using an inflator valve, which allows you to add air into the dry suit, and an exhaust valve, which allows you to release air from the dry suit. The exhaust valve is commonly found on the outside of the left bicep and it automatically releases air as you ascend. The inflator valve is similar to the power inflator on a buoyancy compensator vest. The most common location for the inflator valve on a dry suit is in the middle of your chest. This provides easy access while scuba diving and ensures your buoyancy compensator does not impede your access.

You do wear a buoyancy compensator with your dry suit as a backup surface flotation device. You should never add air to both your dry suit and buoyancy compensator at the same time. It is very difficult to control both the dry suit and buoyancy compensator at the same time and could distract you from scuba diving safely.

If you choose to use a dry suit for cold water diving, always take a specialty course regarding how to use a dry suit. Drysuits are too complex to risk figuring it out on your own.

Maintaining Dry suits

The key to keeping your dry suit clean and odor-free is its proper maintenance after each dive. These maintenance procedures will help to keep your dry suit in good shape for many years of scuba diving:

  1. Rinse your dry suit in clean, freshwater after each dive and allow it to dry thoroughly before storing. After a dive your dry suit will be covered in a salty residue and/or dirt. This must be rinsed clean to prevent the neoprene, rubber or nylon from degrading. If your dry suit is completely dry inside you do not have to rinse the inside of your suit. If the inside of the dry suit is wet, always rinse the inside as well. Your dry suit must be completely dry before storing to ensure the suit stays clean, odor-free and free of mildew or mold.
  2. Dry suit zippers should be lubricated occasionally to prevent degradation of the metal or plastic. Only use paraffin wax or beeswax to lubricate the zippers of a dry suit.
  3. Always store your wet suit rolled up in a bag and away from heat and ozone-producing machines, such as hot water heaters.
  4. Have the valves and zippers on your dry suit inspected annually by a qualified repair technician to ensure proper function.

Always consult your dry suit manual and/or scuba diving gear store about maintenance and care procedures for your dry suit.

Dive Skins

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A dive skin is a thin, one-piece body suit which will protect your skin from cuts, scrapes, abrasions, and stings which can occur while you are scuba diving. Dive skins are most commonly made out of lycra, an elastic fabric with a silky sheen. Dive skins offer almost no thermal protection and are not recommended for use alone unless you are scuba diving in very warm water. If you are diving more than once in a day, it is recommended that you wear a thin wet suit, rather than a dive skin.

Dive Skin maintenance

The key to keeping your dive skin clean and odor-free is proper maintenance after each dive. These maintenance procedures will help to keep your dive skin in good shape for many years of scuba diving.

  1. Rinse your dive skin in clean, freshwater after each dive and allow it to dry thoroughly before storing. After a dive, your dive skin will be covered in a salty residue and/or dirt. This must be rinsed clean to prevent the lycra from degrading. Your dive skin must be completely dry before storing to ensure the lycra stays clean, odor-free and free of mildew or mold.
  2. Always store your dive skin out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight will break down the lycra after years of exposure.

Periodically machine or hand-wash your dive skin with a mild detergent. A good rinse after each dive helps to keep your dive skin clean, but to ensure there is no residue or grit left on your dive skin you must properly clean it on a regular basis. Always lay flat or hang on a wide hanger to dry and never put your dive skin in the dryer. Industrial dryers can breakdown the lycra and permanently damage your dive skin.

A dive skin is a thin, one-piece body suit which will protect your skin from cuts, scrapes, abrasions, and stings which can occur while you are scuba diving. Dive skins are most commonly made out of lycra, an elastic fabric with a silky sheen. Dive skins offer almost no thermal protection and are not recommended for use alone unless you are scuba diving in very warm water. If you are diving more than once in a day, it is recommended that you wear a thin wet suit, rather than a dive skin.

Many scuba divers always wear a dive skin underneath their wet suit. Dive skins can help make getting in and out of your wet suit a little easier because the neoprene slides better along the surface of the lycra than it does against your skin

Wet Suits

Wet suits are the most popular form of thermal protection for scuba divers. They are easy to use and inexpensive. Wet suits are made from neoprene; synthetic rubber foam that is filled with thousands of tiny gas bubbles. Neoprene wet suits are available in a variety of thicknesses from 2mm-9mm. The thicker the neoprene the warmer the wet suit, although wet suits made from 5mm and 6mm neoprene are very bulky and sometimes uncomfortable to wear.

A wet suit must fit your body snugly for it to offer the best protection. Once you enter the water a thin layer of water enters your wet suit filling the space between your skin and the inner surface of the wet suit. This layer of water is then warmed to your body temperature and it helps to keep you warm throughout your dive. Some people prefer to have their wet suit custom-made for a perfect fit. If you have a wet suit custom-made you can specify the minute details regarding shape, color and extra detailing that may not be available in most off-the-rack wet suits.

Wet suits are available in many styles and colors. Some of the most popular styles of wet suit include:

  • The Full-Body Wet suit – a full one-piece wet suit which covers your entire body. These are the most commonly found wet suits as they are used in all water temperatures, in varying wet suit thicknesses.
  • The Shorty Wet suit – a one piece wet suit with short sleeves and legs which end mid-thigh. These are a preferred a wet suit for scuba diving in warmer waters.
  • The Farmer John Wet suit – a two piece wet suit, including bib-style overalls and jacket with an attached hood. These are a preferred wet suit for cold water diving, since the layering offers added protection.

There are a variety of wet suit accessories available as well, including: separate hoods, gloves, vests, jackets, step in jackets and booties, which can usually be found at any scuba gear retailer. These accessories can offer added warmth and protection to a basic wet suit and give you versatility to adjust the level of protection you need based on the location of your dive. Not all scuba diving locations will let you use all accessories! For example, in Cozumel, Mexico you are not allowed to wear scuba gloves while scuba diving to prevent divers from the temptation of touching any plant life or animal while in the water. Always check with your dive shop about which accessories you may use while scuba diving.

Wet Suit Thickness

In colder water, wear a thicker wet suit to prevent chill and hypothermia. The chart below gives average recommendations for wet suit thickness for water temperatures. The ranges overlap depending on individual body heat and comfort; some divers may be more comfortable in a lighter suit, while others may appreciate a thicker neoprene.

TemperatureSuit Thickness*
76°F – 86°F1/16″ (1.6mm) neoprene or lycra
69°F – 84°F1/8″ (3mm) neoprene
64°F – 77°F3/16″ (5mm) neoprene
49°F – 75°F1/4″ (6.5mm) neoprene
33°F – 66°F3/8″ (9.5mm) neoprene, drysuit

* based on average manufacturer recommendations

Maintaining your wet suit

The key to keeping your wet suit clean and odor-free is proper maintenance after each dive. These maintenance procedures will help to keep your wet suit in good shape for many years of scuba diving:

  1. Rinse your wet suit, inside and out, in clean, freshwater after each dive and allow it to dry thoroughly before storing. After a dive your wet suit will be covered in a salty residue and/or dirt; this must be rinsed clean to prevent the neoprene from degrading. Your wet suit must be completely dry before storing to ensure the neoprene stays clean, odor-free and free of mildew or mold.
  2. Wet suit zippers should be lubricated occasionally to prevent degradation of the metal or plastic.
  3. Always store your wet suit out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight will break down the neoprene after years of exposure.
  4. Periodically machine or hand-wash your wet suit. A good rinse after each dive helps to keep your wet suit clean, but to ensure there is no residue or grit left on your wet suit you must properly clean it on a regular basis. You can purchase a commercially prepared neoprene shampoo, zipper lubricant/desalter and neoprene sealant to thoroughly clean and seal your wet suit. A commercial shampoo and sealant are specifically manufactured to care for your neoprene and is the recommended method for proper maintenance.
  5. Always store your wet suit on a wide hanger to prevent the neoprene from cracking or becoming misshapen.
  6. Any holes in your wet suit can be fixed using commercial wet suit cement.

Scuba Suit

Wet suits and dry suits are very important when it comes to scuba diving. Your normal body temperature hovers around 98.6F (37C). If you are scuba diving in water that is cooler than your body temperature your temperature will drop. In all water, even the warmest, tropical waters, you will need thermal protection, like a wet suitdry suit or dive skin, to keep warm and to keep safe while scuba diving. The cold affects our ability to think and our physical response time slows, which can lead to an accident. Warm tropical water will begin to feel cold after prolonged scuba diving, so it is always a good idea to wear light insulation at a minimum.

When choosing thermal protection, like a wet suit or dry suit, you need to consider the following factors:

  • Water temperature
  • Your activity level during a dive
  • Your body size

You should always wear more insulation in colder water and lighter insulation in warmer water. Your level of activity can be a good indicator of how much insulation you should wear during a scuba dive. The more active you are during a dive the more heat your body generates and the warmer you remain throughout your dive. Larger scuba divers may need less insulation than smaller scuba divers and small, muscular scuba divers may need less insulation than larger scuba divers. It is important for you to try different amounts of insulation in differing water temperatures to determine what you need.

Some scuba divers need more insulation than others, regardless of activity or size. Some scuba divers can dive in tropical water wearing only a lycra body suit, commonly known as a dive skin, while others need a 2mm wet suit. Some scuba divers can dive in cold water wearing only a 6mm wet suit, while others need the protection of a dry suit. If you are scuba diving in water below 55F (12.7C), a dry suit is the warmest type of thermal insulation available.

Dive skins, wet suits and dry suits also protect your skin from cuts, scrapes, abrasions and stings which can occur while you are scuba diving. A simple brush against specific forms of coral and fish can cause painful irritations and burns on bare skin, but may not be noticeable or even occur, if your skin is protected.

Snorkles

Have you seen a whale up close and noticed how it blows water out of the blowhole on top of its head? This physical attribute allows the whale, and all other similar surface skimming ocean mammals, to keep its head in the water for extended lengths of time, while still allowing it to breathe. This allows the whale to swim more efficiently while maintaining the energy level needed for constant motion. A snorkel gives you, the scuba diver the same advantage.

Every scuba diver spends time on the surface while preparing to descend for a dive. A snorkel allows you to conserve energy by letting you keep your head in the water while swimming and enjoying the pre-dive sights without ever having to remove your head from the water.

A good rule of scuba diving is to always have something in your mouth, your snorkel or your regulator. When you are on the surface of the ocean waves can suddenly swell and overcome you, so if you do not have your snorkel or regulator in your mouth you could find yourself in a life-threatening situation. Your snorkel not only allows you to breathe in unexpected situations, while on the surface, it allows you to conserve the air in your scuba tank for the dive. Choosing the snorkel that is right for you and learning to use your snorkel correctly is one of the most important skills you can learn.

Choosing A Snorkel

Just as there are a wide variety of shapes and sizes in scuba masks there are many different types of snorkels. A basic snorkel is a simple “J” shape, with a hard inflexible barrel, plastic snorkel keeper, mouthpiece and drain chamber. A simple snorkel is just as effective as a complex snorkel, but with a complex snorkel you have more options. 

Snorkels come with a variety of features, including:

  • Flexible barrels
  • Rotating mouthpieces which allows the mouthpiece to move with you
  • Hose covers to prevent water from splashing down into your snorkel
  • Purge valves which direct water down and out of your snorkel

A snorkel must fit comfortably in your mouth, allow you to purge water out of the mouthpiece and hose quickly and help you to swim efficiently. But, the most important characteristics to remember when choosing a snorkel are its length and the diameter of its barrel.

Snorkels must not be too long or too short. If a snorkel is too long it will be difficult to breathe because the barrel will fill up with carbon dioxide. Every time you breathe out carbon dioxide through your snorkel your breath must travel up and out of the barrel of your snorkel to allow you to draw oxygen back down the barrel and into your lungs. If your snorkel is too long you will only push a percentage of the carbon dioxide up and out of the barrel during your exhale. You will need to inhale oxygen before all the carbon dioxide has been pushed out; leaving the percentage of carbon dioxide entering your bloodstream higher each time you take a breath. This cycle could lead to suffocation. If a snorkel is too short it will constantly fill with water, requiring you to constantly force the water out of your snorkel which can be very exhausting.

The inside diameter of your snorkel must be approximately three quarters of an inch or 1.9 cm. If the snorkel is thinner than .75 inches it will be difficult to breathe because there will not be enough room in the barrel for you to draw enough air into your lungs. This will cause you to breathe harder and rapidly, which could cause hyperventilation. If the barrel is thicker than .75 inches it will be too large and will be uncomfortable to use and attach to your mask

Learning to attach your snorkel to your scuba mask to make sure it is easy to grab and use is an important part of safe scuba diving practices. Snorkels are attached to the left side of your mask with a snorkel keeper. Snorkel keepers are either plastic or rubber and most use a post-hole closure. Each snorkel keeper is different and attaching your snorkel to your mask with a snorkel keeper requires practice. If you will detach your snorkel from your mask after each dive you should practice attaching your snorkel, as it can be a little tricky. Alternately, you can leave your snorkel attached to your mask if you are diving more than once in a day.

Scuba Gauges

A diver relies on scuba gauges to know three things:

1.-Depth

2.-Air Consumption

3.-Time

Depth and Time are vital for nitrogen and air management. A scuba diver needs to know how deep he has been and for how long in order to judge the necessity and length of decompression stops and to calculate residual nitrogen for repetitive dives. The time of a dive is easily tracked using a scuba diving watch and the depth is tracked using a depth gauge.

Scuba gauges are almost always sold as an integrated console. With a single console, the scuba diver has one piece of equipment, attached by a hose to the tank, which shows current depth and tank pressure. The console may be either encased in a rubber sheath called the “gauge boot” or embedded in a hard plastic shell. Sometimes the consoles are simply two dials – tank pressure and depth – embedded in a handheld device. Other consoles will integrate more than two dials: they might include a compass, timer, temperature gauge or other instrumentation. Consoles can often be disassembled and reconfigured so that the depth gauge can be replaced by a dive computer.

Even when nitrogen management is left to a dive computer air consumption is shown on a separate dial. If the diver is using a wrist-mounted computer the console may only have a tank pressure gauge.

In addition to the depth and time, the scuba diver needs to know how much air is in the scuba tank. At the beginning of the dive the diver starts between 2000 and 3000psi. The diver watches the air pressure gauge for several reasons:

  • To know how much air is left
  • To know how much time can be spent
  • To determine a good time to start ascending
  • To see if any of the equipment (BCD, regulator, hoses) are leaking
  • To see if the valves are working properly

If the valves are working properly and delivering proper air pressure the diver should be able to breathe from the regulator and the gauge will not move (except slowly, downward). If the pressure gauge dips with every breath then there is not enough pressure coming from the tank and there may be a problem with the scuba tank, valve, or hose.

Another reason to have a scuba tank pressure gauge: It is important to stop diving with air still remaining in your tank. A good recommendation is to get back on the boat with at least 100psi still in the tank. Not only does this make sense from a conservative safety point of view, but another important reason a diver should never decompress a scuba tank is that the air pressure prevents contaminants, water in particular, from getting into the tank. Water is not clean. When water gets into a scuba tank (if it is a steel tank) it causes rust, mildew, mould and bacteria to flourish inside. The scuba tank must then be sterilized, dried and refilled.

Scuba gauges are available in both metric and imperial units. If you learned to dive using imperial units (psi, cu.ft., depth in feet etc) then get yourself a gauge using those. Most American-made scuba gauges use imperial units and often those will be the ones in stock. However, if you learned to dive with metric units (meters, liters, kilopascals etc) you will be more comfortable with metric units on your scuba gauges. The unit of measurement has no effect on the quality of the device. For the manufacturer it’s only a matter of producing the same device with different scale markings. Metric scuba gauges are most common in Europe. In Canada, even though everything else is done in metric, most scuba training and gear involves imperial units.

When shopping for scuba gauges for your scuba system, look for:

  • Ergonomic grip
  • Long-term warranty
  • Luminescent indicators or backlighting options
  • Rotating / swivel mounting
  • Easy disassembly for cleaning or replacing parts

Buoyancy Compensators

Scuba BCDs (buoyancy compensation devices, or buoyancy control devices) are part of the scuba gear which gives the scuba diver control over buoyancy. A simple BCD is merely an inflatable jacket or vest and is nothing more than a fancy life jacket and will commonly be used by swimming instructors or lifeguards. However, a scuba BCD is much more than that! The scuba BCD is integrated with a harness to strap the tank on your back, pockets and straps for your gauges and octopus, it is an inflatable vest and backpack in one; it is the wearable item to which all of the other gear is secured.

Just like the divers who wear them, scuba BCDs come in many different styles. The most common BCD are the “Jacket” or “Vest” style, which is worn like an inflatable vest with buckles in the front. The vest style is distinguished by the way it wraps around your front, with side panels containing inflatable bladders. In this way, the vest resembles a typical “life vest” used by boaters. The tank straps onto the back and there are extra straps and pockets on either side to secure other gear, like the regulator hose, octopus (spare regulator), gauges and other sundry items. Another style of scuba BCD is the “Wing” style, which is conspicuously missing the side panels, and instead has conspicuous “balloons” either extending from the sides or alongside the tank support. These are intended to balance the buoyancy in the back, where the greatest weight is carried (being the tanks), and to make it easier to assume a face-down swimming position in the water.

Scuba BCDs are rated for lift capacity; the amount of weight they can keep afloat. To test lift capacity, a BCD is laid flat on the surface of the water and weights are suspended and added to the BCD until it sinks. The lift capacity of a scuba BCD is a factor you can consider when choosing a BCD to buy or rent. Due to size, body fat, muscle mass, bone density and lung capacity some people are naturally more buoyant than others. The least buoyant people will be large men with high muscle mass and low body fat. A less buoyant person (someone who you would call a “sinker”) will need a larger lift capacity from their BCD.

But remember, a scuba BCD offers variable buoyancy control. By inflating or deflating your BCD, you can adjust your buoyancy to suit your own body, weight, depth, compression and density. The only time a diver should be concerned with lift capacity is if they are a “sinker” or if they are in the habit of carrying an extra 40 pounds of camera equipment on their dive!

Just as importantly, a scuba BCD should fit properly. On the surface your BCD will fit like a jacket, not too tightly under the arms and snug across your belly. When you strap on the scuba BCD it should be a little tight, but not uncomfortable. Women should choose a BCD designed for a woman’s body, which every manufacturer produces in dozens of styles.

More expensive (and decadent) scuba BCDs are those which come with an integrated weight system; these are weighted and ballasted to render your weight belt unnecessary. Some scuba systems are so integrated that the BCD, weights and breathing system are all in one pre-assembled piece.

Whatever style of scuba BCD you choose make sure your BCD is a good one. Here are some things to consider:

  • Proper fit
  • Lift capacity
  • Good construction
  • Reachable pressure release valves
  • Comfortable, quick-release straps
  • Quick adjustment
  • Pockets with zip or Velcro closure