THE GEAR BAG
This page discusses features and benefits of most of the Scuba gear that you will use and some items you may be interested in when you continue your Scuba education.
Wetsuits: These creative little items have had quite a few major advancements since their invention. They all basically try to do the same thing, that is keep you warm while allowing you the freedom of movement needed for diving. The quality of the neoprene and the fit are probably the two most important factors when selecting a wetsuit. Look for a quality gluing and stitching process and pre-formed arms and legs. A well designed zipper and seal will also make your diving experience more pleasant. Don't skimp here because the difference between a quality suit and a not-so-quality suit is the difference between being warm and comfortable for 100/200 dives or not-so-warm and comfy for 100/200 dives. Cost per dive, about $2.00 to $3.00. NOTE: Take good care of your investment by rinsing/soaking your wetsuit in a tub of warm fresh water as soon as you can and it will give you many hours of warm comfortable diving pleasure.
Dry suits: These can get a little expensive, but if cold water diving or long dives in deep temperate waters is your thing, then get ready to step-up to the plate. There are several different types on the market and they range from thick neoprene dry suits, to tri-laminate types, to crushed neoprene. With all but the thick neoprene type, you will wear some sort of undergarment to insulate you from the cold. These suits take a certain amount of special care just like any part of your dive equipment. Cost per dive can be much higher then with a wet suit, but if being dry except for your face and head, then a dry suit might be for you. There are some special techniques in dry suit diving, so it's highly recommended that you get special training before you purchase and dive your dry suit.
Exposure suite accessories: These include gloves, hood or hooded vest and booties. Gloves come in many forms from lite weight tropical to 7mm mittens worn by ice divers. The neoprene gloves with Kevlar on the fingers and palm may be the best cost-per-dive choice. When choosing a hood or a hooded vest, make sure it fits snugly but not too tight. If you plan to wear a hooded vest, decide if you plan to wear it underneath or on the outside of your wet suit. If you plan to wear it on the outside, consider buying it one size larger than your wet suit. If you wear a hood, make sure it is not too tight around the neck when it is tucked in and your wet suit is zipped up. Booties should fit snug but not cramp your toes. A good zipper will make getting in and out easier. If you plan to do beach or shore diving, look for booties that have a strong flat sole for walking on rocks and sand.
Fins: There are three basic styles of dive fins, Paddle technology, Hinge technology and the Split Fin technology. The paddle fins are still the most common and work well although some of the stiffer ones require strong leg muscles. Look for a more flexible blade. Hinge fins work on the design concept of "snap". As the diver reaches the end of his/her kick, the fin "snaps" and gives an extra boost to the kick. They tend to kick easier then paddle fins. The Split fin is the newest design and is referred to as "propeller technology". They tend to be the easiest to kick and are becoming very popular. When trying on fins, have your booties on so you can choose the right size foot pocket in the fin.
Masks: The most important aspect of the dive mask is FIT. The rest is personal preference. Don't even look at price here because the difference between cheap and expensive is not very much. A mask that fits well will give you years of leak-free diving. There is nothing more annoying then a mask that leaks. Consider adding a neoprene mask strap cover. They come in different colors and it makes identifying your mask easer. For those of you that wear reading glasses, you can have "gauge readers" installed in your mask (see "Cool Stuff" page).
Snorkels and Keepers: You will find that the lighter the snorkel, the better. A snorkel with a big, heavy dry valve on top will tend to make the snorkel twist back or forward and can cause your mask to leak. Consider a liteweight one with a small dry valve or a simple tube snorkel with a purge valve. The ones with the flexible tube for the mouthpiece is best for SCUBA because you have your regulator in most of the time. A "J" snorkel without a flexible tube is a good choice for skin diving. The keeper ( the device that attaches the snorkel to the mask) supplied with some snorkels is not adequate. For about a dollar each, you can get two silicone two hole (or figure "8") snorkel keepers. One for your snorkel and one for your save-a-dive kit.
BCDs: Buoyancy Compensating Device or BCD. There are a couple of choices here. Weight Integrated or Non-Weight Integrated and Jacket style or Back Inflation. Take your time when shopping for this item. Determine what style you like and the features you will need as you continue your scuba education. Buy a BCD now that will meet your demands for the future. Some of the new design BCD's are using Clips instead of Velcro to hold the weight pouches in. The Manufacturers are now making a number of BCD's just for the ladies. These will usually fit better then the ones designed for the guys. This is another item that requires thorough rinsing in fresh water after every dive. Important items to consider: Stainless steel D-rings and built-in retractors.
Knifes/Dive Tools: The trend is going to smaller, more versatile knifes sometimes referred to as BC knifes. Blunt or pointed tip, it's your preference. Shears and dive tools are also becoming popular. Look for quality stainless steel and rinse it in fresh water after every dive. Dry and spray the blade or tool with W-D 40 (W-D 40 stands for water displacement experiment #40) Honest!
U/W Lights: The two types of lights are primary and secondary or backup. A primary light is usually larger, more powerful and designed for long burn time. Look for one that is neutral in buoyancy, that way if you drop it, it won't sink like a stone (see misc. gadgets). A backup light is smaller and a little less powerful although some small lights are very bright. Check out all the lights in your local dive store. If you plan to dive at night, you will need one of each.
Regulators: There are two parts to the regulator system, the first stage, which mounts to the tank valve, and the second stage, which you breath from. There are a lot of models and styles to choose from. Look for a light weight, good breathing regulator. An adjustable flow control is a popular feature. Keep the dust cap on when not in use and rinse it in fresh water after every dive. If you beach dive, you may want to get your reg. serviced more often then recommended. One grain of sand can cause a reg. to free flow.
Dive Computers: Dive Computers give you real time information about your dive such as depth, bottom time, temperature, nitrogen loading and ascent rate just to name a few. Some are "one button control" design while some are more complicated and have more buttons and features. They all will log your dives so you can scroll back later and write the info. in your dive log. Some of the computers will let you download your dives to your PC or MAC and print out your dive in graph form with all the info. you would hand write in your log book. This is one of the new forms of logging your dives.
DATA acquisition system: This is like a computer without the real time screen. These log all the info. during the dive. When you get home, set the data logger on the docking station and download your dive, view it, and then print it out for your log if you choose. These DO NOT take the place of real time screen dive computers or depth gauges and timing devices, but if you do not have a dive computer that has a PC, PALM or MAC interface system, then one of these inexpensive systems may be for you. They are small and fit into your BC pocket or clip onto a D-ring. See "Cool Stuff"page.
Gear Bags: Your gear bag has to be large enough to hold all your gear when you go diving. Consider buying one larger then you currently need in case you acquire more gear. Look for good strong wheels and a strong adjustable handle system. A good quality bag will last a long time if you take care if it. Rinse your gear bag in fresh water after every dive just like your dive gear and lube the zipper(s) with a lite spray of silicone.
Misc. Gadgets: Retractors will keep things like that expensive computer console from dragging in the sand or bouncing off the reef. This can damage our fragile marine environment. During a daytime dive you can put a small dive light on a lite weight retractor. This will keep it close and if you drop the light, it will retract and you will always know where it is. Clips can be used for things like slates, goodie bags, primary lights and even cameras. They are inexpensive and handy to have in your save-a-dive kit. If you use an Alternate Air Source (Octopus or Octo) you will want to have an Octo holder. This small device attaches to your BCD and holds your Octo up close and in easy reach. It also keeps the Octo from dangling where it can get damaged or entangled. The Octo should NOT be on a retractor but be attached with a ring or clip directly to the BCD.
Save-a-Dive kit: This is one of the most inexpensive items in your gear bag and it can literally "save a dive". Tank o-rings, zip ties, a mask strap, two fin straps.......... The list goes on. Whatever you think you may need. Check out some of the kits your local dive shop stocks. They usually have most of the items you will need or you can build up your own kit.
In Summary: All scuba gear should be rinsed in fresh water after every dive. The information contained on this page is not intended to nor should be your sole source of information when shopping for, purchasing or maintaining any of the items herein mentioned or referred to. There are risks involved with any sport and scuba is no different, but with proper training and equipment maintenance, you can minimize that risk.
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