By James Lapenta
This month’s column is about that new gear that many of you may have received for the recent holidays. Gifts from friends and family or from yourself. Your basic Open Water instruction should have emphasized the importance of knowing the gear you dive with. Hopefully, at the end of your pool training, before you went to open water, you knew where most of the items were by feel. You didn’t have to think to find your inflator, spg, or an item clipped to a d ring or in a pocket.
What many divers face after the completion of their open water training is the decision to buy gear beyond your mask, snorkel, fins, and boots. While some will actually go ahead and buy a full set of gear, others will piece together their kit over time. Neither of these approaches is wrong. While the one who buys a full set may actually train with it in their open water class, they do run the risk of purchasing equipment that is no longer suited to them down the road. A vast number of divers have paperweights in the form of knives, retractors, pistol grip lights, noisemakers, etc. that someone talked them into buying when they didn’t know better.
The diver who buys their kit piece by piece over time often gets what they need when they need it. However, they usually end up with gear made by different manufacturers from different suppliers. This is not a bad thing as long as critical items like the regulator components are all from the same brand. Having the 1st stage from one mfg and two second stages from others can make servicing a problem. Items like BC’s, fins, wetsuits, etc. are not necessary to have from one brand.
Both divers are fine putting together their kit the way they do. As long as they know how to use it and care for it. This brings us back to the gifts. Unless you played gifter to yourself or gave others a very detailed list, you run the risk of getting something that may or may not be useful. Finding that out may be as simple as looking at it and saying “this is not going in the water with me” or you may need to try it.
The latter is the most beneficial way of deciding and not hurting the feelings of the giver. “Of course, I tried your left handed fin strap tensioner, and it works great, but my instructor has very strict rules for class so I’ll save it for special occasion dives!” Another addition to the paperweight collection.
Trying the new gear for some may be challenging depending on where you are. Not all shops have pools to try gear, and many will not allow you to come in with stuff bought elsewhere even if it was a gift. They’ll lie and say their insurance doesn’t allow it, but the real reason is they are mad it wasn’t bought from them.
Some divers have access to community pools in schools, universities, or community centers like the YMCA. Others have their own backyard pools where they walk out the door and jump in. I know one who has a nice little 20-foot deep lake on his property. He often cools off after work in it.
One thing I want to emphasize in this article is while it’s important to familiarize yourself with new gear I want you to do so safely. That needs to be the overriding concern when adding a new piece to your SCUBA configuration. Small items that is no big deal can become one if they interfere with something else. Adding a small knife to your BC inflator can seem insignificant. Until you take it out and go to put it back in and puncture the corrugated hose or the LP inflator hose. That can result in a bad situation.
There is a mount now that allows you to add a GoPro style camera to your second stage. To me, that’s just begging to have someone come up who is out of air and grab it from your mouth and not be able to hit the purge button. A stupid idea if there ever was one. Another is the full-face snorkel mask that one can now attach the second stage to. You can’t equalize reliably, but the ads say you can dive down with them. Or the numerous Kickstarter programs for crazy stuff that come up all the time on social media. Even some established manufacturers put out devices that make one wonder if the people designing these have ever even seen water.
No matter what it is, you need to familiarize yourself with it in a way that doesn’t put you at more risk than diving itself does. So, a few simple tips to do that.
1. Read the documentation that comes with it! If it comes with it, there’s probably a warning you should heed.
2. Give it a dry run on the surface unless there is some good reason not to. A HID light should not be operated out of the water. They get hot enough to start a fire!
3. Do the in-water testing in a controlled environment, like a pool. Don’t go out and dive the Andrea Doria with the gear you’ve never used before.
4. Have someone else with you! In the water is best but at poolside works as well. They can call EMS if necessary.
5. Think about where, when, and how you will use it and where the best place to stow it is. Then keep it there every dive unless there is a good reason not to.
6. Let your dive buddies know you’ve added it and why. Also, let them know where it’s located in case they need to get at if you’re incapacitated.
7. Ask yourself “Does this solve an equipment issue I have, or do I just like having it in case I need it?” Either is a good reason. If the only reason you take it is that it was a gift, it may not be wise to have something else to worry about.
8. Use the item enough so that it becomes instinctual.
9. Keep the receipt. Just in case.
These few simple tips will help you to make use or decide if that gift was a good idea and keep you safe while figuring it out. For more gear advice get a copy of my book “SCUBA: A Practical Guide to Advanced Level Diving on Amazon.