Whether you are a new diver buying your first set of gear or an experienced diver purchasing an updated piece of equipment, it is important to learn about that new gear. The same is true if you are renting gear on a trip. It is best practice to become familiar with the gear before diving with it in open water.
The new gear orientation begins before you make the purchase. Ask yourself the following questions to help with making the proper gear selection: Will this gear fit my dive objectives? Does it have the features I want? Is it appropriate for my dive conditions? Am I trained (or getting trained) to use this equipment? And, most important, does it fit properly?
Speak with your instructor, the dive store staff and other divers you trust to help answer those questions. Remember that what works for your friend or the store employee may not necessarily be the right equipment for you. One brand and style of buoyancy compensator may fit and work for your buddy but not fit well on you. Try on equipment, and try different styles to find what works best for you.
Some stores have demo models of various equipment that you can try in their pool or even in open water. That is the best way to determine if a particular piece of gear will work for you.
After purchasing or renting your equipment, it is important to become familiar with it. Try the gear in confined water (a pool) before doing more arduous dives in open water. If a confined-water location is not available, do a dive (or several dives if needed) in shallow water at an easy site with which you are familiar. Thoroughly learn your gear before you do deeper, longer or more challenging dives.
Use your new gear to practice emergency skills such as regulator recovery, air sharing, shared-air ascents, equipment removal and replacement, weight-system removal and replacement, and emergency swimming ascent. Practice together so your buddy can become familiar with your new equipment as well. It may take extra time to learn some gear or configurations, so take what time you need.
Regulator. Make sure the mouthpiece is comfortable. Almost any mouthpiece is comfortable for a few seconds, so ask if the store will let you put the mouthpiece (while attached to the second stage) in your mouth and leave it there for several minutes. If it’s still comfortable, it’s probably a good fit. Mouthpieces are generally inexpensive, however, and easily swapped if the stock mouthpiece isn’t comfortable for you.
The choice of a piston or diaphragm regulator is personal preference; either type is satisfactory. One factor divers often overlook is the water temperature. Is the regulator rated for the water temperatures where you will be diving? Cold water is more of a concern than warm water. Be sure your regulator can handle colder temperatures if you will be diving in those conditions.
If you purchase an older regulator, ensure you will be able to have your regulator serviced by a qualified technician per the manufacturer’s recommendations and that necessary parts will be available.
Buoyancy compensator (BC). There is an age-old argument about which BC configuration is best: jacket, back inflate or backplate and wing. Jacket style, which is the most common type of BC, functions differently from a back-inflate model. Consider the features of the BC. How many exhaust valves does it have? Where are they located? Are they easily accessible? How many D-rings and pockets does it have? Is the weight integrated, and if so, what is the release mechanism? Most important, does it fit well? When trying it on, see how the BC feels while wearing it with a cylinder attached — the fit will be different when weighted.
Fins. Divers have many choices when selecting fins: full foot, open heel, full blade, vented blade, split fins, short fins, freediving fins, fins with hinge points, fins without hinge points, soft fins, stiff fins, regular straps, spring straps and even bungee cords. Some people use a short-stroke flutter kick, while others may have a wide stroke when they flutter kick. Some prefer to whip (frog) kick, which is essential for certain types of diving, such as cave and wreck penetration. Other divers switch how they kick depending on the conditions and their fatigue level. Regardless of what fin technique you use, you need the correct fin for your kicking style. The only way to figure out what fin is best for you is to get in the water and try on as many fins as you can until you find the fin that best matches your kicking style and dive needs.
Exposure protection. Whether you are diving in a dive skin, a wetsuit, a semi-dry suit or a drysuit, the most important factor is fit followed by the correct insulation for your dive conditions. Be sure to try on the suit before purchase or be fitted by qualified store personnel. The proper fit could save your life, especially when diving in a drysuit.
Only you know what dive gear will have the proper fit, style and function for your needs. Before you dive in open water — especially at difficult sites, conditions and depths — take the time to orient yourself to your new gear.
© Alert Diver — Q1 2020