Watch the Divecast!
What SCUBA Gear Should I Buy First?
When I first started diving the tag line around SCUBA was that it was a 'gear intensive sport'.
I honestly think that singling out SCUBA like that is a mistake. If you look at any adventure sport there is a lot of gear that you need to stay safe and get the most out of the experience.
That said... there is some gear involved and if, like most of us, you're on a budget then you have to make some decisions about what to buy first.
Let's dive in to getting the most out of your SCUBA diving dollars!
A little more information about what I covered in the divecast. Here goes...
Do I NEED to buy all my SCUBA gear at once?
I guess it would be great for the SCUBA economy if I could tell you that you needed to buy all the gear at one time in order to get certified. There used to be a SCUBA training agency that wouldn't train you unless you did. The reality is that you don't need to buy all your gear at once and there are even some really good reasons to pace your SCUBA purchases.
SHOULD I buy all my SCUBA gear at once?
Whether or no you should buy all your SCUBA gear at once is certainly debatable. There are advantages to diving your own full set of gear. You have the benefit of getting to know it from the very first day instead of switching from one setup to another as you train and travel.
You also know exactly what condition it is in and have first hand control over maintenance.
What you don't have when you start out... is experience. This means that you are completely reliant on the sales staff at the local dive shop to match your equipment needs to your diving. When you haven't been diving it may be difficult to know exactly what kind of diving you're going to enjoy.
Having said that... a good quality set of gear is hard to go wrong with.
For my part, I bought a full set of gear in 2002 when I started diving and I have always been happy that I did.
The most important decision here is the decision to stay in the sport in the way that works best for your interests, lifestyle and budget. The rest will take care of itself.
What SCUBA Gear Should I Buy First?
- Exposure Suit
- Universal Dive Log
- Dive Computer
This one is likely to be a requirement when you sign up for your first SCUBA class. It isn't just a way to get you to spend money. A good quality mask, fins and snorkel will change your SCUBA experience. You'll need a mask that fits your face properly, a snorkel with a dry valve that is easy to use and fins designed for SCUBA that will be able to comfortably propel not only you but all your gear as well.
Exposure Suit (Wet Suit)
A wet suit that is appropriate for the type of diving you expect to do is worth investing in early. They are not expensive and you can ensure a proper fit and thickness to keep you comfortable in the water. Watch the video or download the podcast version for my rant on hygiene and exposure suits :).
Universal Dive Log
There are some great reasons to maintain a dive log.
- Remember where you dove, what you saw, and what was great or needed work.
- When you begin advancing your dive training you will need to be able to show certain dives to complete specialties.
- At some point you may even want to become a dive professional in which case you will need to show your dive experience.
You're going to find a lot of variability in electronic dive logs. Most manufacturers have software that is compatible with their own computers and some app designers have tried to create more universal applications that will work with a number of computers but there isn't a universal data standard for dive computers that is widely accepted. This makes using an application on your laptop or personal computer as your only dive log challenging as you may dive a number of different computers throughout your dive career.
That's why, to this day, I still maintain a paper log and I recommend that divers find some way to 'universalize' their dive logs so they aren't dependent on one manufacturer or software platform.
Dive Computers are as much a safety item as they are a convenience and using one makes your diving safer and more enjoyable. There are many out there and choosing the right one for your diving situation is something you can do with the help of your local dive shop.
It's important to both your safety and fun that you get used to your dive computer early in your diving career so you spend less time trying to interpret it underwater and more time enjoying your dive. To make this happen I recommend making the dive computer a priority in your gear budget.
Renting a regulator is fine for common recreational SCUBA diving at depths less than 60 feet. You'll want to make sure that you are confident in the maintenance and quality of the equipment you're renting so do some research about the destination you'll be renting from. If there's any doubt, see if you can rent your gear from your local dive shop if you're going to travel for SCUBA.
It is true that the regulator (and air delivery system in general) is a critical piece of your life support underwater so as you progress in your diving you'll want to consider owning your own.
There are three circumstances where you need to consider owning your own regulator sooner.
- If you plan to dive deeper than 60 feet.
- If you plan to use Nitrox (EAN) in your SCUBA tank.
- If you're going to dive in colder water (my personal threshold is anything below 65F but check with your local dive shop).
Buoyancy Compensation Device (BCD)
Like all dive gear there are features what make choosing a BCD important to your comfort underwater and the diving situations you expect to find yourself in most frequently. However, in my experience the BCD is the easiest thing to adapt to between manufacturers and they take a lot of space in your luggage when you travel so they are a great candidate for picking up later in your dive career if you need to.
All The Things (Accessories)
If you dive long enough you're going to see someone on the boat or underwater that looks like a Christmas tree. They might be an instructor or a gear junkie (guilty on both counts). My two cents on 'all the things' is only to take what makes sense for a given dive. Everything else is a catch hazard or is one more thing you can lose on the reef.
Accessories I think are close to mandatory are:
- Line Cutter/Knife
- Surface Marker Buoy
There are a lot of additional accessories that you can find and most of them have a useful purpose on an appropriate dive. Make sure you focus your attention and budget on the core pieces of kit before you end up off in the kelp forest of accessories.
Gear Junkie's Garage
It might seem like which gear bag you choose really isn't a big deal. Maybe in the grand scheme of things it isn't as big a deal as choosing the right mask, regulator or computer but like most SCUBA buying decisions, finding the right gear bag can make your next SCUBA adventure less stressful and more organized.
The features I care about.
- Sized properly for your most common diving scenario.
- Zipper opens wide enough to put in a neatly assembly SCUBA rig.
- Dry pocket for phone & wallet etc.
- Mesh should not be easily caught on... everything.
- Shoulder straps for carrying it backpack style.
The last thing I'll throw out on that is that you need to make sure you can easily identify your bag in a pile of dive bags on the pier or on a boat so find a way to mark it in a way that is as unique and interesting as you are!
Tip of the Week
Whatever you take into the water with you make sure you have some way of attaching to your body your your dive rig.
- Keep our reefs clean and free of human debris.
- Get the most out of your SCUBA dollars by only buying gear once!
The surface interval's over...
get out there and dive!