The other day I woke up and got ready to go scuba diving for the first time in probably a year or so. You know the shoemaker with the bad shoes? Well for me, having a dive center meant I never went diving... mainly because I could. So now, without a dive center, I have been bitten with the scuba bug again!
The night before, I gathered most of my equipment together which had spread to various parts of the house: Mask, snorkel, fins, BCD, weight pockets (found somewhere deep in my bodega), mask defog (I couldn't find the SeaGold which is great, and had some no name brand Sea Quick which was useless as I discovered on the first dive), charged my GoPro Hero3, charged the amphibious surface camera (in case there are whale sharks), and my regulator I'd get in the morning.
I have some good expensive equipment and some good cheap equipment. Dive gear doesn't have to be expensive to work well. I'll tell what I have and give you a few tips on what to look for when buying each piece of equipment. I only know what I know, and I am no expert, I'm just a consumer with a lot more experience with equipment than the average diver. One normally doesn't get to try too out many different pieces of scuba equipment, because when you find something you like, you stick with it instead of having to get used to something new. Since most divers dive about once a year at most, getting used to new gear adds stress to your dive vacation, and can seriously affect the enjoyment of your dive as you get accustomed to the new gear.
Price. I feel that your dollars are better spent on your regulator, then your BCD, wetsuit, then the rest. A no name-brand will suffice for most things, but I would not skimp on your regulator. You will end up spending most of your equipment dollars on your regulator, but spend the extra dollars by going with a tried and true name-brand equipment manufacturer - Atomic, ScubaPro, Mares, Oceanic, Agualung, Sherwood (I'm sure I forgot some). I've had a ScubaPro and Atomic regulators, and we used Sherwood Bruts in the dive shop. When I give a price range, it is to indicate the minimum you could spend to get a reasonable piece of equipment. There are cheaper ones available but they would be unusable for diving.
Style. To many, scuba diving is also about fashion. Although I think people look funny in wet suits. I personally like to have matching equipment, and most divers I see go with the standard and timeless, black or blue.
One tip: You should never try out new equipment on a boat dive. Test out new equipment first in a pool or on shore. If you really want to take it out on the boat without testing it first, bring your old one or a backup just in case. You would hate to lose a dive because of faulty or uncomfortable equipment.
Silicone versus Rubber: For both mask and snorkel, there are options of choosing Silicone or Rubber. Silicone is most likely more expensive, it's softer and more comfortable. Rubber is cheaper, stiffer, but more durable. I suggest you buy a silicone mask and snorkel. I have yet to find a comfortable rubber skirt or mouthpiece.
Mask. Form and fit. Prices range from $25-$250 online.
There are a few types of masks:
We have an average of two masks per person in this house. We all use the same size mask (the purple one on the right). My kids have used this style of mask since they were about 4 years old. Although the mask sat very large on their face, it was still usable. We have all the masks pictured above and then some...
Every person has a different face structure. There are different masks to fit different faces. When looking for a new mask, try the mask on, suck in air with your nose and try to pull the mask off your face. If the mask seals properly, it should make a "PLUCK!" sound when pulled off. Make sure you feel no pressure on the bridge of your nose, or anywhere else. The mask skirt (the squishy part that touches your face) should be soft and pliable.
Silicone is my preference as it is soft and supple. Wearing something something on your face for an extended period of time, with increased pressure underwater, means you want more than anything, a comfortable, well-fitting mask. Things to watch for is whether the skirt is soft. Cheaper masks are often stiff and hard. Keep in mind that if the skirt is not soft, it will feel like it's cutting into your face after a couple of dives as your skin will become more sensitive when it is waterlogged.
ScubaMax is a low cost name-brand with little history in the dive business. However, they have cheap equipment and expensive equipment. I'm happy with everything I have purchased in the past for both personal use and for the dive center.
We used their fins, masks and snorkels in the dive center for rental. This meant they were used a lot! And they weathered well.
Volume. The air space inside the mask is called the volume. The bigger the space, the more volume. You do not want a low volume mask as the pressure increase as you dive deeper will be felt more quickly and will require you to equalize your mask often to prevent discomfort. It will feel like someone is pushing the mask onto your face.
Single Lens: My husband uses the mask on the far left. It is made by ScubaMax. It has a black silicone skirt with a single lens. I decided to dive with his mask for some reason. It's very comfortable, however it started to bother me a bit just under my nose, by the end of the second dive. It kept fogging up every second, but that's because I used the no name mask drops.
A single lens mask is good for those who have a nose with a large bridge. In the picture above, with the two masks on the right, the piece in the middle can put pressure on those with large noses, or bridges. Pressure on this area will increase as you dive deeper, possibly becoming painful.
Notice the black skirt with the two masks on the left? Some people prefer masks with a black skirt .The black prevents light from coming in the sides causing reflections and interference.
Dual lens: An example of this style of mask is the purple mask pictured above. This is probably the most common and inexpensive type of mask. I have this pretty purple mask with a matching purple snorkel. Unfortunately, the sun and salt water have bleached the snorkel into a fuschia, so I can't dive with it anymore, as the colors clash. Joking.
Frameless: These masks have a skirt which holds the lenses as well, replacing the hard mask form. I have not tried one of these, but imagine it would be comfortable? Anyone care to comment?
Panoramic: I also have a mask like this yellow one, often referred to as a panoramic mask because it allows you to see more.I find the light coming in from the sides can be a little distracting. However, it's more likely that you'll see that eagle ray swimming by out of your peripheral, than someone with a black skirted mask.
Purge: This type of mask has an outlet similar to the bottom of a purge snorkel that lets you expel the water from your mask, simply by blowing out your nose. I don't like these masks at all because the purge area is hard, and it makes it difficult to squeeze your nose to equalize.
Optical or Corrective: Other things to consider are prescription masks if you use glasses, and not contact lenses. You can get a custom-made mask for your prescription. Just go into your local dive center and order what you need.
Being over forty, I need a bi-focal mask. I can no longer see the wee things, as they are all blurry. You can get the lenses integrated into the mask, or buy stick-ons that you put on the mask yourself. I am going for the bifocal integrated lenses. In the meantime, I'm going to get me a nice magnifying glass which works perfectly well.
Mirrored or Color Correcting: The cool looking black and mirrored red lens mask pictured at the top, in the middle, replaces the red color for your dive. Remember in your dive course, how colors disappear as you dive deeper? The color correcting masks put the color back in your dive. However, it may cause problems when trying to view your camera screen underwater due to its tint combined with the anti-reflective coating on your camera screen. Also the mirrored mask prevents people from seeing your eyes underwater which can hinder underwater communication. So if you're buddy is an anxious diver, this might not be the mask for you, but I think it looks cool!
Camera Integrated Mask. I almost forgot about my Liquid Image HD camera integrated mask. It looks quite silly, I know, but it is really useful for filming video underwater. What makes it nice, is you press record, and you don't miss the experience of what you're viewing. Who wants to fiddle with their camera when seeing whale sharks, dolphins, or other amazing creatures. Simply press the record button and off you go!
The downfall of this design is if you have a regulator that expels bubbles too close to your face, the bubbles can interfere with your filming. It has a camera function as well. The stills are almost impossible to clearly capture due to HD and your movement underwater. But more on underwater cameras in an upcoming blog post...
There are full face masks, which in my opinion, are just ridiculous for warm water diving, not to mention bulky and impractical.
There is very little difference between a name brand scuba manufacturer's mask, and a cheaper brand like ScubaMax. I would go the economical route.
Masks can drastically range in price, however there is very little difference between a name brand scuba manufacturer's mask, and a cheaper brand like ScubaMax. I would go the economical route, but not the cheapest.
Snorkels. Prices range from $20-$70 online.
Snorkels are for surface swimming. If you are diving on a boat, you may surface from the boat and have no air left to swim back to the boat. Swimming on the surface with scuba equipment on is not easy, nor comfortable. The best way to do it if you do not have a snorkel is to turn your back to the boat and kick towards the boat. When scuba diving, the snorkel is actually considered a pi
Normally hand-in-hand with diving destinations, is snorkeling. Although I would rather dive any day!
There are purge snorkels, and non-purge snorkels. Purge snorkels have an outlet at the bottom of the snorkel so you don't have to force the water out the top. This makes clearing water from your snorkel much easier. The old-fashioned snorkels require a very forceful breath to shoot the water out the top. I would only purchase a purge snorkel.
The new thing is a dry snorkel, or a semi-dry snorkel. Dry snorkels claim to not let a drop of water into your snorkel. I haven't tried one of those, but I imagine that would be cool, especially for the anxious or less comfortable snorkelers.
There are a lot of gimmicks with snorkels. Folding snorkels (to put in your BCD pocket during the dive), snorkels with balls on the top to prevent water from entering from above, dry, wet, etc. A folding snorkel is cool because I hate the drag underwater of wearing my snorkel when scuba diving, and it easily gets caught in my hair! The main thing is that they have a comfortable mouthpiece.
One teensy weensy preference I have is the little clip for the snorkel. Most fasteners are a pain in the butt to attach the snorkel to the mask. There are quick release clips. These are awesome when you have long hair, children, when you dive, and then you snorkel, and you remove and replace the snorkel often. I can't live without a quick release clip.
Prices range drastically, but same thing, I'd go economical and comfortable. There is not much difference between them, save for some gimmicks.
Fins. Comfort and stiffness. Prices range from $20-$260 online.
There are mainly two types of fins. Closed, and open-heeled fins categorized into Paddle fins and Split fins.
The fins on the left are paddle (because they look like oars) and they are closed fins because the back part of the fin encloses your foot.
The fins in the middle are open-heeled split fins. And the fins on the right are open-heeled, paddle fins.
Because of the beautiful temperatures here in Utila (about 27-28 degree water year-round), you don't need boots to keep your tootsies warm, so a closed fin will do.
Open-heeled fins are usually more expensive, and you'll need to buy the boots too. However, they are more versatile in that they can be used in almost all environments, whereas closed heel fins cannot. The straps are adjustable for the perfect fit. Most manufacturers do not make large sized closed heel fins (Size 13+), so this is likely your only option... although some people say "with feet that big, who needs fins?"
I am a minimalist. The less equipment I need to remember, the better. The lighter the equipment, the better. And the smaller, the better. I am small, so keep that in mind for my requirements on fins. The bigger you are, the stronger your fins need to be to propel you through the water. As happens with a dive center, I have about 7 pairs of fins, with booties, without, split, closed, open, you name it!
Pictured above, on the left, I have the yellow AquaLung fins. I like them because they are light and stiff.
I have the TUSA Xpert Zoom fins which are extremely heavy and extremely stiff with re-inforced sides. You can also see the fancy design which is a split-fin. This is supposed to reduce resistance and increase propulsion having a split in the middle mimicking a fish tail. I think they look pretty neat!
The fins on the right, are Blades. I bought these when required to purchase my own equipment for my Open Water Course in Toronto in about 1990. I still have them, but they give me cramps in my feet. Probably because they are too tight.
I also have a black pair of ScubaMax fins, which I use as well. They are light and stiff enough.
You want a relatively stiff pair of fins to propel you through the water. The diving conditions where you scuba dive will dictate your fin requirements. I dive so slowly and there are no strong currents here in Utila, so almost any fin will do. You'll want a stiffer pair for stronger currents.
I'm happy with all the fins I have. I use the TUSA ones the least just because they are very heavy. It probably means they will last the longest. My Blades still look brand-new after 24 years!
Open-heeled fins require booties. Booties are nice when you're doing shore diving and need to walk over rocks,etc. You'll also need booties when diving in cold water to keep your feet warm. I don't like to use them here because it's one more thing I have to put on, or remember to bring.
There are some strange looking fins out there with different designs, but they all do the same thing. Some just look cooler than others. Feel free to correct me however, as I don't have any crazy fins like the two pictured on the left.
Fit. You don't want any pressure points on your feet. All my fins are comfortable except for my Blades, which were purchased with no scuba knowledge or experience. They are sized incorrectly and therefore uncomfortable. Your toes should not stick out the end holes of a closed heel fin.
Unless you need a great fin for diving currents, are an advanced diver, need to have something trendy, I would go with an economical, stiff, comfortable fin.
So that's it for now.
I hope it helps? I'd appreciate any comments from those who LOVE their scuba or snorkel equipment. I only know what I know!
Stay tuned for Part Two soon: Regulators and Buoyancy Control Devices (or BCDs) and Wetsuits!
Until then, blub blub blub!
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