As you advance as a diver, or dive professional, you may require some high-end upgrades to your current gear configuration. Below are some recommendations on how to take your gear set-up to the next level of dive professionalism:
- Dive computer
- Dive computers are quite the investment. That being said, having a computer can drastically change your diving experience. Since they log real-time data and calculate your bottom time using algorithms, you will end up with more bottom time and safety features such as built in alarms and safety stop timers.
- Dive computers come either as standalone or air integrated models. Standalone models can be mounted on a regulator console or worn on the wrist as a watch. These computers calculate dive time based on depth and time and can be quite conservative. Air integrated computers use a transmitter attached to the first stage of the regulator to read real-time air pressure data from the tank. This provides analyses of air time remaining, as well as a more accurate calculation of nitrogen absorption into the tissues. Air integrated computers, being wirelessly connected, can fail from time to time and must be monitored closely.
- Multiple gases can usually be handled by dive computers. Certain computers can handle nitrox mixes or trimix gases as well. Check the specs of the computer if you know you will need these functions.
- Most dive computers nowadays have a built in digital compass for navigation.
- Tanks are really only a smart purchase if you intend to dive a lot on your own, instead of with a diving operation, or in areas where shore dives are common. Try getting used tanks from dive shops for cheaper.
- Tanks come in two metals, steel or aluminum. Steel tanks can typically hold higher pressures of air, therefore adding bottom time. They are also extremely heavy and negatively buoyant, reducing the amount of weight required on dives. Hence steel tanks are popular in cold water diving, to offset the buoyancy of thick suits. Steel tanks do rust quite easily when not maintained properly and can lead to expensive upkeep. Aluminum tanks on the other hand are much lighter, slightly negatively buoyant when full and slightly positive when empty.
- When dealing with steel tanks, know that they come in two general varieties: high pressure and low pressure. High pressure steel tanks hold around 3500psi, working pressure, which means more air and more bottom time. Low pressure cylinders only have 2400psi working pressure and must not be over-filled. Why go low pressure? The benefits, in our opinion, do not outweight the costs. Stick with high pressure tanks if you are looking into steel.
- Dive weights are almost always provided by diving operations. Buying your own weights can have its advantages though, especially for divers trying to perfect their buoyancy and trim. Rental weights often come in an assortment of sizes and groupings. Good luck trying to stay trim when the only weights left on the boat are bulky 6-pounders! We recommend looking into having a few different sizes, so that combinations can be optimized for your diving needs. For example, if you know you need 14 lbs for your favorite type of diving, get two 3 lb weights and two 4lb weights. Spread out the weight evenly and perhaps think of having a couple double or single pound weights extra, incase you decide later to adjust the trim.
- Weights come in two forms: hard weight and shot weight. Hard weights are solid lead that have slots for placing on a weight belt. They can also be placed in integrated weight pockets. Shot weights, or soft weights, are mesh bags filled with lead pellets. These are not designed to be placed on typical weight belts, but are better designed to go into integrated weight pockets with the added comfort.
- Side-mount systems (SMS)
Side mount systems are becoming more and more popular among recreational divers. What originally started as a technical diving orientation has now lent itself quite nicely to advanced recreational settings, such as wreck, cavern, and extended diving situations. Side mount takes the tanks off of the diver’s back, leading to better horizontal trim and increased diver comfort. Having the tank valves easily accessible under the arms also increases safety in the event of catastrophic air leaks and the two-tank configuration adds redundancy. Although, proper training is required in order to safely and effectively use side mount systems.
- For divers with back problems or issues carrying heavy gear, side mount offers an ease of accessibility in certain situations. For example, divers can enter the water with all their required gear, then have their tanks handed to them where they are attached at the surface. This significantly reduces the amount of strain on the diver above water.
- Semi-closed circuit rebreathers (SCR)
SCRs have been introduced into recreational diving as a tool to extend bottom time. These machines recycle breathed air, scrubbing carbon dioxide and adding oxygen mixtures as you dive. They also come with the added benefit of minimal bubble release, which allows divers to approach wary or skittish underwater creatures more readily and is ideal for photographers. Although, proper training is required in order to safely use semi-closed circuit rebreathers.