A common question from new divers is "What gear do I need to buy, and how much will it cost me?"
The easy answer is: "If you stick with the sport, you will eventually need to buy almost everything!" However, the order and necessity with which you need to buy your gear is the issue at hand.
Another common question is "Can I rent scuba equipment?"
Aside from the basic gear required to begin your training, the sport of scuba has a lot of other pieces of equpiment that you will aquire as you become involved in the sport. Some of this equipment can be rented some must be bought - like your mask, snorkel and fins.
There are many pros and cons to own your own gear and they vary, however the best reason to own your own equipment is that you are always ready to go diving. You don't have to scramble to get to a dive shop to rent anything and you will get to dive more often because of it.
Rental Item: Yes, wetsuits are commonly available for rent.
Pros / Cons of Ownership: There is an old saying that there are two types of divers ... the ones that pee in the wetsuit and the ones that lie about it. Rental wetsuits almost definitely have had someone marinating in their own urine at one time or another, so having your own is a nice perk. Having your own wetsuit also tends to mean you have a suit that fits you better rather than choosing the best fit of what is available in the rental fleet.
Cost: Wetsuits come if several types and several thicknesses. In Ontario, you tend to require a 7mm, wetsuit while in the tropics you can get away with a 3mm or less. A decent 7mm wetsuit will start at $200 and go up from there.
Rental Item: Yes, drysuits are available for rent in many dive shops.
Pros / Cons of Ownership: Renting a drysuit is not very cost effective, and is often only done during a drysuit course (before you have purchased your own) or if you are trying out a suit before you buy that style or brand. Drysuits require special training before you should dive in the open water with one. Once you have purchased a drysuit, you must maintain the neck and wrist seals as well as the zipper to ensure that it does not become a wetsuit!
Cost: Entry level drysuits start around $900 and can cost as much as $3000.
Buoyancy Compensator Vest (BCD):
The air bladder covers both the divers back and wraps around the sides of the diver. This style slightly more stability on the surface, but can be uncomfortable if over inflated.
A Back Inflate BCD has the air bladder strickly behind the diver. This offers better control of the divers trim and is typically more comfortable. If the BCD has too much air in the bladder on the surface it tends to push the diver forward in the water.
Back-Plate and Wing:
A BP/W is a very simple harness that is similar to a back inflation BCD. They typically do not have any pockets or weight integration, though some manufacturers have pockets that may be added. The back-plate is a steel or aluminum plate that is used to mount the scuba tank or tanks (doubles).
Rental Item: BCD's are standard rental equipment in all dive shops.
Pros / Cons of Ownership: There are MANY different BCD's available on the market and they offer a wide variety of features. Most notibly is a feature called integrated weights. Some BCD's have built in pockets with quick releases to store your weight allowing you to transfer some or all of your weight off your belt and into your BCD. BCD's do require periodic maintenance to ensure proper inflation / deflation and emergency dumps. Renting several different BCD's is a good way to help decide which is right for you.
Cost: BCD's can be purchased as low as $250 and as high as $800.
First Stage: Connects directly to your tank valve and has both high and intermediate pressure outlets.
Second Stage: Connects to the intermediate pressure ports on your first stage and steps the pressure down to ambient for the diver to breathe. These are your mouthpieces.
Rental Item: Regulators are standard rental equipment in any dive shop.
Pros / Cons of Ownership: Your regulators require constant care and should be serviced annually to ensure they are in a safe and working condition. Annual service can run anywhere from $50 to $100.
Cost: An average set of 'regs' will include a first stage, two second stages and a submersible pressure guage (SPG) starting at around $500 and can run up to $2000.
Rental Item: Many dive shops will also rent a dive computer.
Pros / Cons of Ownership: Having a dive computer - while not mandatory for diving - will increase your bottom time and your enjoyment of diving. Many log your dives and can be connected to a computer to print out your dives for your log book. They are available in simple forms and some even have integrated air pressure.
Cost: A simple computer starts at about $200 and more advanced computers will cost $1000 - $2000.
Rental Item: Absolutely every dive shop rents tanks.
Pros / Cons of Ownership: Tanks require both annual and quinquennial (every 5 years) maintenance. Tanks are the heaviest and most bulky item, so many divers will rent them from a shop close to the dive site to limit the need to transport them. Tanks are best purchased in matching pairs - this limits the need to adjust your weight between dives and most trips are atleast two dives. The more tanks you have, the more difficult it becomes to manage their annual servicing.
Cost: An aluminum tank will cost you around $200 while a steel tank (which comes in variety of sizes) will cost between $300 - $600 each.
For a details discussion on scuba tanks read Scuba Tanks - Steel Vs. Aluminum ....
Other Standard Kit:
Gloves: Can be sometimes be rented, but are a low cost item that is usually owned. ($30 - $50)
Hood: Can be sometimes be rented, but is usually owned. ($40 - $80)
Knife: Usually not a rental item. Expensive knives are easily lost. Spend less and buy two ... ($30 - $150)
Compass: Sometimes included as part of the console on the 'regs' available as a wrist mount unit also. ($50 -$70)
SMB: A Surface Marker Buoy is a safety device that every dive should have. This in not a rental item. ($40 -$100)
Lift Bag: Used to lift heavy items from the bottom. They require some practice and are typically not a rental item. ($50 and up)
Pony Bottle: A secondary - redundant air source - requires a second set of 'regs' and some training. Often can be rented. ($200+)
Flashlight: Every diver should have atleast a small light for use on any dive. A larger light for night dives can be rented. ($100 - $1500)
Camera: Often a rental item, many divers like to bring a camera on every dive. A low cost digital camera with an underwater housing starts at about $500
The hierarchy of buying your own scuba gear (what to buy first):
- Mask, Snorkel and Fins
- Environmental Protection (your wetsuit, boots, gloves and hood)
- Cutting Tool
- Life Support (your regulators)
- Dive Computer
- Surface Marker Buoy (SMB)
Some equipment, like a drysuit or a pony bottle, even a liftbag require special training and or practice before you use them during a dive. Talk to an instructor and learn the do and dont's before using any new piece of equipment.
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A common question from new divers is "What gear do I need to buy and how much will it cost me?"
The easy answer is: "For basic gear, you need to buy everything!" However, the order and necessity with which you need to buy your gear is the issue at hand.
When you are preparing to learn to scuba dive, virtually every course will require that you supply your own basic gear. Mask, snorkel and fins. Most will also require that you supply your own weight belt and 6 to 8 lbs of lead for the pool. Here at the Canadian Sub-Aqua Club we require that you supply all of your own of the aforementioned items.
There are two primary concerns when you are choosing a mask for the purpose of scuba diving. Does it fit correctly and is it safe?
A mask should be comfortable and should not leak. To fit your mask correctly, place the mask in position and without using the back strap, enhale through your nose. This should suction the mask to your face and it should stay on your face without using your hands. If you cannot get a suction, or you feel wisps of air coming in around an edge, then this mask is not for you. If air comes in, so will water and nothing spoils a dive like having to constantly clear your mask.
Your mask may have anywhere from one single front lense, to two side by side front lenses and they may even have side lenses that offer a different peripheral view. The number of lenses is not overly important but any lense on a scuba mask MUST be 'TEMPERED GLASS'. Plastic lenses that can be found in some cheap masks wil crack under the pressure of scuba diving and may penetrate your eye.
The skirt of the mask may come in rubber, but most are made from silicone these days. You want to avoid masks that have plastic or vinyl skirts, they will not fit correctly and will constantly leak. Masks may also come is a variety of colours. The colour of your mask is strictly personal preference and has little bearing on performance.
A good mask can cost anywhere from $40 - $100.
A snorkel is the least used piece of equipment when you are diving, however it is often used on the surface swim to and from the morring line or descent line. A snorkel that is 'dry' or 'semi-dry' is nice when there are waves that you need to swim through, but a good old J style snorkel can work fine aswell.
A snorkel can cost you from $25 - $50.
Scuba fins come in two basic types - full foot and open foot.
Full foot fins are designed for use in the pool or for snorkel in warmer tropical waters. The are fit to your foot size and offer NO thermal protection.
Open foot fins are designed to be worn with a dive boot and can be uncomfortable when worn without a dive boot. They offer an open foot pocket and an adjustable strap at the back. Diving anywhere in Canada you will require an Open Foot pocket style fin. Before purchasing your fins, you may want to purchase your dive boots and bring them with you to try on your fins and ensure a good fit.
Fins come in a wide variety of colours, styles, and functions. A good fin should be rigid and may or may not be 'split'. Spring straps are always a nice addition to a new pair of fins.
Fins that are improperly fit can cause cramping, blistering and may even come off in the water. Always ensure that your gear is properly fit for you!
Fins will cost your anywhere from $75 - $200.
There are two types of weightbelt. A nylon belt designed for solid lead weights and a pocketed belt designed for soft lead weights. Both are acceptible for scuba diving. A weightbelt with pockets is often more comfortable and easier to change the weights out. Hard weights tend to be slightly less expensive.
A nylon weightbelt with a buckle will cost around $20 while a pocket belt will cost around $35. Lead sells for about $4.00 per pound.
This article is continued in Part Two - Scuba Gear and discusses environmental protection, life-support, and other goodies.
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