The SCUBA Gear Conundrum – When What & Why


Every new diver faces a SCUBA Gear conundrum at some point or the other. Most authorities advise the traditional approach of buying a Mask, Snorkel and Fins first. I advise another approach which will not only save you your hard earned money but also make you a better diver.


The SCUBA Gear Conundrum simplified

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re either considering SCUBA classes or planning to dive deeper into the sport. Luckily for me, I decided against buying any SCUBA Gear for until after I had clocked a few dives under my belt. While many dive operators/shops encourage their customers to purchase the basic set of a mask, snorkel and fins at the outset, I think that in doing so, one ends up spending their hard earned money rather unwisely.

Traditional Approach

Most traditional approaches mentioned on other websites such as ScubaDiving.com follow the tried and tested approach of kitting out yourself with the basics first (mask, snorkel, fins, wet/drysuit – henceforth ‘MSF’) followed by the life support equipment and gear. Although the purchase of an MSF makes sense to most, I strongly feel that for an average green-horn diver, the primary priority prior to buying any kind of gear is to get comfortable underwater and exposed to as many as different kinds of gear possible.

My Way or the Why Way

To start with here’s the approach I recommend: –

Dive Watch
Wetsuit/Mask
Mask/Wetsuit
SMB
Booties & Fins
Accessories (Torch, U/W Camera, Dive Slate, Dive Watch etc.)

Dive Computer – SAFETY FIRST!

Plan your dive & dive your plan. But without a dive computer, it’s more likely that you’ll plan your dive & dive someone else’s plan. Bottom times are calculated on the basis of various factors i.e. Time, Gases used, Surface Interval etc. Unlike in the past in recreational diving, when dive tables were used to plan even multi-level dives, the dive computers have largely taken over and this role.

Consider you and your buddy (who has a dive computer) dive a plan with a planned bottom time of 20 mins as per the dive computer. However, during the dive, you end up a few minutes longer at a deeper depth than your buddy exposing you to the dangers of decompression sickness.  Ideally, your own dive computer will indicate this to you and reduce the available bottom time on hand. In the absence of one, you end up following your buddy’s dive plan thereby increasing your risk.

The dive computer also helps to carry out safety stops and surface intervals with consistency rather than depending on inputs from other divers. It will also give you an added layer of mental peace and safety.

For someone who’s just starting out with diving, I recommend that you look at an entry level dive computer which can also perform mid-level tasks. This way it won’t break your bank but still be capable of doing its job

Wetsuit/Mask

Personally, I would rather buy a wetsuit first than a mask. Two reasons for this. First, I prefer not having to depend on ill-fitting and worn out wetsuits available for rent. Having your own wetsuit will ensure a snug fit and least distractions. In colder waters, the significance of having a well-fitting suit can’t be over-emphasized especially as it could save you from DCS/hypothermia.

Second, the mask is a very important piece of gear simply because it largely dictates whether you’ll spend your bottom time enjoying the beauties of nature or if you’ll be busy trying to keep a leaking mask ‘Dry’. Therefore, I strongly recommend that buying a mask be put off until later. Paradox much? Yes, because by virtue of buying a mask later you’ll have to opportunity to try out a variety of masks and figure out which style/fit suits you best. In this process, you will occasionally encounter flimsy masks, but this will just make you a competent/better diver.

So it makes more sense to have a good experience of various brands/fits and make a sound purchase rather than buying the best looking/costliest piece on Day One – without trial and then repenting for the next year or two.

SMB –> Booties & Fins

As mentioned above, safety can’t be overlooked and is the most under-rated skill in every adventure sport/it’s commensurate commercial/military industry (such as diving, aviation, high-performance racing etc.). A Surface Marker Buoy will inform vessels of your presence underwater – very helpful in not becoming mince-meat by a boat prop or being in the wash of a huge ship. An SMB will also allow your boat captain to position the boat in a safe manner so that you can quickly climb back in after the safety/deco stop. Finally, in the worst case scenarios, if ever your boat happens to leave you adrift at sea, the SMB could increase your chances of detection.

One might argue that with safety in mind, the SMB should be purchased before/immediately after the Dive Computer. However, using and deploying an SMB can be very fatal and it is a skill which requires practice. Trying to do so on you initial dives could lead to entanglement and avoidable injury. It is also likely that when starting out, you & your buddy will be accompanied by a DM or more experienced divers – who will have the equipment and skill set to deploy the SMB safely.

Then come the fins + booties. Just as with the Mask, by this time you would have recognised your compatibility with different brands and types of Fins. This would allow you to make an informed decision rather than relying on first impressions. Putting off this equipment for purchase later will also allow you to buy fins for advanced divers – which are stiffer and have a greater lateral surface area – important for hover finning techniques.

Accessories!

Unless you have very generous friends or family who gift you these, you should put it off for later. Heck, even if they buy it for you, don’t use it on your dives until you reach a level of ease underwater. Lugging an u/w camera with strobes or even torches would increase your task loading. This could pose a danger to your safety.

My suggestion would be to hone your buoyancy and diving skills first. After doing that you can slowly make the shift and accessorize yourself.

In Diving – Old is Usually Gold (Because it’s already Battle Hardy)

I have practised the path I have preached, except for a dive watch which I received as a part of my previous profession. I hope that if not guide you at least this article has been able to evoke your thinking in which gear you will purchase first.

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