Now that you know what it takes to get your PADI open water certification card, lets go over the essential scuba equipment you’ll be using. Most of this equipment can either be rented or purchased from a pro shop. I’ll go over the key features of each piece of scuba equipment and what to look for when purchasing.
Without the mask, the rest of your dive gear is pointless. You can have loads of fun swimming with a mask alone, but without a mask to keep your vision clear, sights will be blurry and unfocused. The mask makes a dive worthwhile, so its worth investing in a high quality one.
The mask should be made of a tempered-glass lens plate. This safety feature will protect your eyes should the lens shatter when under pressure. It should fit properly. The mask should seal to your face when you try to inhale through your nose. Masks can also be designed to accommodate those that wear eyeglasses. Most shops won’t rent out masks, so this should be one of your first purchases. A good pair will run between $80-$100.
The snorkel is a tube that allows you to breathe when swimming on the surface. Using a snorkel conserves the air in your tank, allowing you to enjoy a longer dive or breathe on the surface when you’re out of air. Snorkels should be about 17 inches long, have a large bore for easier breathing, and fit close to your head. Snorkels, like masks, aren’t normally rented, so they too must be purchased. They are normally around $20.
Fins make maneuvering through the water a breeze. Without fins, most divers would not be able to move very far. Fins come in a few different styles. There are the adjustable strap, which allow you to wear wetsuit boots, and full-foot fins, which fit right onto a bear foot. Adjustable strap fins are by far more popular since wetsuit boots help keep feet warm. Fins can be made of rubber or plastic, and come in many different designs. The most common are the webbed fins and split-V fins. The webbed fins are similar to a fish fin, where as the split-V have a split down the middle. This split provides more propulsion when kicking. Fins, the final piece of equipment shops normally don’t rent, are between $150-200.
The Buoyancy Control Device (BCD)
The buoyancy control device, commonly referred to as the BCD, is an air bladder that can be deflated or inflated, depending on your buoyancy needs. When you need to ascend a few feet or float on top, you can inflate the BCD with air. When you need to sink, deflate.
Since most BCD’s are very similar to one another, comfort and fit are the only factors you should be concerned with when renting/purchasing. Some models have weight integrated systems, while others require you to wear a weight belt. (Most people float, so extra weight is required to make somebody sink) A BCD will cost about $500. However, they can easily be rented from a SCUBA shop.
The SCUBA Tank
The tank holds compressed air under high pressure. A fully filled tank contains about 3000 PSI of pressure when fully filled and are very volatile if handled carelessly. I have seen a mishandled tank blow its top off, and its not pretty. The tank smashed through a brick wall and kept going. SCUBA tanks are also high maintenance pieces of equipment, requiring yearly safety inspections. For these reasons, I suggest purchasing an air tank last, if at all. Instead, opt to rent one, even if you have all the other gear.
The regulator attaches to the air tank and is the mouth piece that allows you to breathe underwater. They are simple devices that release air into your mouth when you inhale and stop releasing air when you stop inhaling. Regulators come in pairs, one for you and an emergency regulator in case your diving buddies regulator malfunctions or his tank runs out of air. Unlike a SCUBA tank, regulators are a recommended purchase to a diving enthusiast.
Diving gauges and computers are vital to orient yourself when submerged. A typical divers gauge setup includes a compass, an air tank pressure gauge to tell you how much air you have left, and a submersible pressure gauge that tells you how deep you are. Gauges can be rented, but would be a worthwhile purchase.
Wetsuits help keep your body warm when submerged. Wetsuits come in different thicknesses, ranging from 3mm short suits to 15 mm full body wetsuits to drysuits. The thicker the suit, the warmer you’ll be when diving. The thickness you’ll want depends on your cold tolerance, the temperature of the water you’ll be diving in, and whether you’re diving in freshwater or saltwater. Drysuits are meant for high altitude diving and require special training to properly use. Price varies, depending on the thickness of the suit.
I would recommend holding off on making purchases on scuba equipment other than the mask, fins, snorkel, and possibly a wetsuit until you know diving is a sport you’ll keep on doing. So lets move on to the type of water you’ll be diving in.