Home Basic Skills Basic Training: Equipment Considerations for Older Divers

Basic Training: Equipment Considerations for Older Divers

myron and jackie pose during dive vacation

By James A. Lapenta

One of the issues that will affect every diver is the aging process. No way around it. We all get older. As we age our bodies go through changes that will have an effect on diving. Even with a focus on maintaining good health, the human body simply begins to impose limits on what we can do.

Friends, Myron and Jackie on a recent dive vacation

Those limits will have an effect on just about every aspect of our diving. From getting on and off a boat, entering and exiting from shore, and to determining what sites we can now enjoy. As we age our bodies begin to send us messages that seem to be more intense and last longer. As teenagers, most of us had times when a shoulder, back, knee, or other body part was strained or injured. Much of the time it healed up and we were good to go in a day or two. Perhaps less. “Walk it off” was often the advice given by coaches in school. For many of us now, that doesn’t work so well. 

OW students Kandy and Rob setting up for next dive

Those occasional aches and pains now aren’t so much “walked off” as they are addressed by pain medication, chiropractors, massage therapists, and orthopedists. In our younger days our ego also often resulted in some of those injuries and we refused help in order to prove how tough we were. Older divers are also subject to this and may suffer the consequences of grabbing a heavy cylinder and trying to sling it on your shoulder or carry two LP 95’s at one time so that you don’t have to make two trips from the car. Making two trips with those cylinders or even switching to less bulky ones may be called for as long as the gas needs of the diver are still met.

What we use to carry our cylinders in the water may need to be changed. It could mean that, due to different exposure protection and changes to our body, a different BC may be needed. Or a different configuration. There are divers who would benefit from switching to sidemount in order to get the weight off of their back and hips. As a technical diver and instructor, I have switched almost exclusively to sidemount when using two cylinders. I don’t even own a set of doubles now. I’m no longer interested in carrying 100 + lbs. of gear up and down ladders and steps if I don’t have to. 

There is a learning curve for new sidemount divers, but it is not one that is overly complicated. A little more attention to detail and some additional gear is required. But the older diver who may be having trouble with an al80, can now sidemount a pair of 40’s and have just as much gas with built in redundancy. 

The amount of lead we need to wear may also change as our tolerance to cold changes and we need more insulation. As a result, we now have to not only carry more lead, but we need to distribute it differently as a result of the increased insulation. We may also need to carry more if there is a tendency to increase one’s own natural insulation. Instead of a weight belt or integrated weights, a combination of the two may be called for along with adding other systems to correctly position the lead we now need. Body shape changes for some divers may necessitate moving to a weight harness since the hips that used to hold up a belt are no longer as prominent.

For cold water divers, the lead, cylinders, exposure suit, etc. can add up to a significant amount of weight. Making several trips or using a wheeled carrying case can reduce the risk of injury.  There are a few wheeled duffle bags made for divers and they work well. A wheeled tool tub from a home improvement store may prove more useful to those who dive locally. They are easy to organize, can be wheeled around a site, and many are waterproof. They can be locked while the owner is in the water.

With some divers, changes in tolerance to cold may require supplementing or replacing exposure protection in order to keep doing the dives you enjoy. Warm water divers may find that the 1.5 or 3 mil is just not cutting it anymore and a 5 mil or adding a core warmer is now required. For cold water divers the 7 mil or 6.5 farmer john is now going to have to be replaced with a drysuit. All of these changes will involve adjusting to something that may restrict movement more than you are used to and may take longer to get into. This affects your overall dive plan as time in the water may be reduced if you are on someone else’s schedule, such as on a dive boat. Don’t wait until the last minute to get that zipper closed!

Other adjustments may need to involve a new mask with readers or prescription lenses. Not the end of the world, but certainly an added expense. You may need to change your fins to reduce wear and tear on the ankles, knees, and hips or adjust your kicking technique.

Lastly, one thing you may need to look at is your dive computer or tables. Not just in terms of how well you can see them, but in how you use them. Aging may result in on-gassing and off-gassing taking more of a toll on you from a physiological standpoint. One way to deal with that is to become more conservative in your dives and dive plans.

Until then, don’t despair about getting older. Use it as an opportunity to increase your knowledge and acquire new skills. Adjustments can be fun and not involve a lot of pain or expense. Aging can also help you make new young diver friends who will help you carry your gear!

About James Lapenta

James Lapenta – Scuba Instructor, Author

James Lapenta from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, a Diver, dive Instructor, Author and owner of UDM Aquatic Services has been diving since 2004.

He is a Scuba Educators Instructor # 204, SDI/TDI Instructor # 16810, CMAS 2 Star Instructor # USAF0012000204

For more on basic skills and education pick up a copy of either of my books

SCUBA: A Practical Guide for the New Diver or SCUBA: A Practical Guide to Advanced Level Training on Amazon. Dive Safe.