10 Must-Have Scuba Accessories

Every Diver knows the basic scuba dive gear and will at the barest minimum, own their own wet suite, snorkel, fins, mask and compensator. But there are plenty of dive accessories that can make any divers’ underwater life a little bit easier. Below is our list of the ten “must-have” pieces of dive gear or dive accessories.

 

1. A Dry Suit for cold water diving – Dry suits keep divers warm in a unique way. Unlike wets suit as the name implies a Dry Suit uses air, not water trapped within the suit for insulation. Completely sealed, it allows you to wear clothes, even street clothes underneath it. A dry suit is a must have for any cold weather diving.

2. A Gear Bag – If you are doing any kind of traveling with your gear, a scuba gear bag is absolutely a necessity. It is a small investment that helps you keep all your expensive gear safe and secure while in transport.

3. A Dive Knife – A dive knife is an indispensable diving tool. Notice that it’s mentioned as “Tool” NOT weapon – a dive knife is not there to protect you from sharks or other creatures of the deep, but it can save your life if you become tangled up in netting or monofilament lines.

4. A Dive Computer – Scuba diving computers eliminate the need for dive tables to calculate depth time and decompression needs. Dive computers are revolutionizing diving and have been one of the greatest innovations to diver safety since the invention ofthe aqualung. Dive computers can be no bigger than an ordinary dive watch.

5A Regulator – While many casual divers will rent regulators along with tanks, but if you are going to do a significant amount of dives throughout the year, it is best to own your own regulator. This way proper maintenance and functionality can be assured. With your regulator literally your lifeline underwater, this just makes good sense.

6. Dive Watch – If you are not going the more sophisticated route of a wrist dive computer, a dive watch is absolutely necessary for monitoring bottom time (plus most of them look darn good on your wrist!).

7. Under Water Camera -There was a time when a list such as this would recommend an underwater housing for your surface camera, but the cost of good underwater cameras both digital and traditional have come down so much in the last few years that anyone can get into underwater photography with a camera specifically made for it.

8. Booties, Mitts & Hood – If you are going to be doing any diving in cold water, these accessories are required. As on land, underwater you lose most of your body heat through your head and extremities.

9. A “Multi-tool” – the next generation “Swiss Army Knife” is a must-have for remote fixes and adjustments to dive gear. Leatherman (http://www.leatherman.com/) makes a great one, and there are others specifically made with the fittings and wrench sizes most common on dive gear.

10. Ties and Retractors – make it easier to carry additional dive gear like lights, cave reels, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scuba Diving in Hawaii

Hawaii is known for its hula dancing, pineapples, and majestic volcanoes. The Islands of Hawaii also have some of the best waters for scuba diving in the South Pacific and arguably, the world. The Hawaiian Islands actually consist of 132 islands, though “mainlanders” generally only think of the eight main islands, Ni’ihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, Kahoolawe and Hawaii. These fabled islands are a paradise for divers – being surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and located over 2400 miles from the nearest continent has created a unique underwater environment, in fact over 25% of all marine species in the world call Hawaii home.

 

For divers of all skill levels the four most visited islands are Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii, with each Island sporting its own undersea riches and unique dive locations. Lanai, Molokai and Ni’ihau are frequented a little less often by Scuba Divers – while they offer some unique dives and encounters with marine life, they are generally recommended for intermediate to advanced divers.  Sheltered from trade winds by mountains, which create visibility to 100 feet Hawaii, itself “The Big Island” has some wonderful dive sites. Oahu features a variety of dive sites that range from offshore lava formations and grottoes to plane and shipwrecks, many that are the home to large schools of colorful fish and green sea turtles. For the best in underwater lava formations divers recommend Lanai where the scuba dive sites are known for their lava formations which not only house a large variety of marine life but as the sunshine plays off of them through the clear waters, make for some amazing lighting effects. Swim through otherworldly lava formations from archways and ridges to tunnels and pinnacles. Night diving is especially interesting in Hawaii. There is a night dive with the nocturnal feeding Manta Rays off the coast of Kona that has been rated by the New York Times as one of the Top 10 Scuba Diving experiences in the world. These non-aggressive docile rays “fly” under water on bat-like wings, some with a span of 8-10 feet. These gentle giants will swoop and glide, often grazing divers who hover transfixed at this underwater ballet.

 

If you’re like many divers, you’ve dreamed of swimming with dolphins in their natural habitat. A Scuba experience not to miss when diving in Hawaii is to snorkel or dive with dolphins. There are a number of dive shops/excursions that offer this life-altering event. These tour operators know exactly where the dolphins live and play, and specialize in taking small groups of lucky adventurers out to frolic with these playful sea mammals every day. Once in the midst of a pod of dolphins, you’ll be able to swim with these majestic creatures, as well as take in views of some other fascinating sea life.

 

Like many exotic or tropical destinations, when you are not cavorting with dolphins or dancing with Mantas, there is much for the Scuba Diver to do in Hawaii, no matter what Island you are visiting. You can visit a luau, go to the world’s most active volcano or just kick back and relax on some of the nicest, most secluded beaches you are likely to find anywhere.

 

 

Scuba Diving in the Florida Keys

From Key West to Key Largo, the Florida Keys span 110 miles and are a tropical wonderland and paradise for Scuba divers which you can visit without ever having to leave the United States.

The Florida Keys is the third largest barrier reef in the world, and the only living coral reef in the United States. Starting with John Pennekamp State Park in the upper keys, down on through Islamorada and into Key West, the Florida Keys offer some of the best Scuba Diving sites and experiences in the world.  Key Largo, the first key, has been called the Scuba Diving Capital of the World, and with good reason. Here you will find John Pennekamp State Park, and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary – a 2800-square mile protected sanctuary for coral and dozens of aquatic creatures. The Sanctuary is divided up into six distinct dive sites, each with its own special attractions to scuba divers.

 

Benwood Wreck – A casualty of World War II, This shipwreck is now home to huge schools of grunt and porkfish and is a good shallow wreck for all levels of divers.

 

The Speigle Grove – a 500 Ft Vessel, intentionally sunk in 2002

 

The Stature of Christ Abyss – a 9-Foot Stature resting just below the surface nestled among coral formations

 

The Elbow – Another popular area reef, it features several historic shipwrecks, as well as the excitement of getting up close to curious and friendly moray eels and barracuda.

 

Molasses Reef- a popular coral reef, brimming with sea life

 

Bibb and Duane - These twin 327-foot US Coast Guard cutters were sunk intentionally about a quarter mile apart in about 120 feet of water to be dive attractions in 1987 and now are virtually cloaked in colorful coral and large schools of Barracudas can be commonly seen around the wreck.

 

Next on our Scuba tour of the Florida Keys we come to Islamorada. Known more for its sport fishing then diving, Islamorada, like all of the keys still abounds with some great dive sites and views of marine life. The best-known dive site in Islamorada is Alligator Reef, don’t worry it’s named for a ship that went aground there in the 1800’s not the predatory reptile. The half-mile long reef system is home to hard and soft corals, sponges and many species of tropical fish, and can be enjoyed by snorkelers and beginner scuba divers. The unusually named Hens and Chickens Reef is a popular dive location with scuba diver from all over the world. This patch reef contains giant coral heads that create caves and holes that often rise from the sea floor very close to the water’s surface, allowing even snorkelers to explore them.  Under water photographers call Davis Reef in Islamorada the most picturesque reef in all of the Keys. Continuing South, Marathon and Big Pine Key also sport some wonderful and diverse dive sites until we arrive at what some believe is the best Scuba Diving in the world – Key West.

Key West offers recreational scuba divers anything and everything they imagined Scuba to be when getting certified. Divers find the best place for an adventure in Key West is Sand Key Lighthouse Reef. This ten-mile reef system has several species of coral formations at varying depths, making it appealing to snorkelers and divers of all skill levels. Cavern and Cave divers will love Ten Fathom Ledge with its caves and dramatic overhangs that provide shelter for all kinds of marine life, including lobsters and grouper. For wreck divers while the world famous Atocha is off limits to visiting divers you can dive in some of the same waters as this amazing treasure find on several other wrecks.

The Florida Keys just have so much to offer the underwater explorer. Hundreds of species of tropical fish and other marine life frolic among the coral reefs and wreck spots for your scuba diving pleasure. Most dive sites are a short boat ride from the shores of the islands and there are dozens of highly professional dive operators who make the keys their home who are ready to make any dive trip to the Florida Keys unforgettable.

 

Where Can I Learn to Scuba Dive?

There are many dive shops and schools that offer Scuba Diving Instruction. There are even scuba trips and scuba vacations that come compete with scuba certification and training. While modern day Scuba diving is safe most of the times, it is still a sport or hobby that includes risks and requires proper training. Thus, before enrolling into a training or certification program, you need to learn the basic criteria for choosing one.

 

1.) Make sure that the dive shop, school or course is affiliated with one of the major Scuba training organizations.

PADI (www.padi.com) and NAUI (www.naui.com) are the two most recognized training organizations. With a variety of dive courses and scuba training programs out there, your goal should be to find one that is reliable, respectable, honest and will offer you a thorough and yet positive certification experience.

 

2.) Like when shopping for anything else, if something seems like a bargain when compared to the costs of its competitors – it may not be a good one.

Some less then scrupulous dive shops will bait customers with very low prices that do not include the costs of equipment rentals, training materials, books or fees for open water certification dives. Make sure you know what is included in the price and select a scuba diving class that offers a comprehensive yet good value package. Ask for references – any quality scuba dive operation will gladly provide them for you.

 

3.) Do not settle for generic letters hanging on a wall, or yellowed in a book. Insist on recent references from recently certified students who you can contact either via phone or e-mail – if they will not provide such information – move on.

 

4.) Get as much background as you can on the instructor who will be taking your course.

Note the following details about your instructor and validate qualifications:

  • What is his/her level of certification?
  • How long have they been an instructor?
  • How many classes have they taught?
  • What other certification or accreditations does the instructor hold in terms of first aid or life saving techniques?

 

There is a lot of turnover in dive shops especially during summer months when there are many new hires with little real world experience. Insist on an instructor with at least one year of experience who has certified at least 25 students. Incidentally PADI insists that all of its Dive Instructors are also certified in CPR and Rescue Diving. The best instructors will hold not only Dive Master Instructor credentials but also multiple certifications in First Aid and Advanced Life Saving techniques.

 

5.) As much as possible, try to select a class where you will be taught by only a single instructor.

This is so you do not have to be exposed to different personalities or teaching techniques, which can be confusing. Find out how they handle the academics of Scuba training. Not all Scuba diving is field-work, class instruction ,especially things like how to read and understand dive tables, are so important they may just save your life.

 

6.) A note about equipment

It is a good idea to select a scuba training class where the students will be learning on the exact same scuba gear that the instructors are using. This just makes it easier to learn. Imagine learning to drive with an instructor who is driving an Indy Racer, while you are sitting in a Hyundai. And also any honest and reputable dive shop will offer you a significant student discount on the future purchase or rental of dive gear if you have gone through their certification program.

 

 

Scuba Diving Safety

Despite what your life insurance company may think Scuba Diving is actually a very fun and safe hobby. Obviously safety starts with training and certification. But beyond that the principal rule of dive safety once you have become a certified Scuba Diver, is if you will pardon the pun – don’t get in over your head. Like with many so-called high risk or extreme sports, the biggest mistake divers make that gets them in trouble, is not knowing their own limitations.

 

Good Health 

Of course even before getting certified, Dive Safety begins with being in good health. If you have never scuba dived and think you may have a health condition, that could be a problem. It would be the safest idea to have a complete physical conditioning before taking a scuba certification class. Then once certified, understand the limits of your capabilities. Do not dive under dangerous environments and conditions that you have not been trained to dive in. Caverns, caves and wreck diving all require specialized skills. It is all too easy to become trapped and run out of air in one of these places if you do not know what you are doing.

 

Grab Your Buddy

Important: Never dive alone – always dive with a buddy. Let people know when and where you will be diving, and when you are expected to return.

 

Gear Safety

If you own your own Scuba equipment, make sure it is maintained regularly and well checked. If you are renting dive gear, make sure everything works and fits properly before going for a dive. If something does not seem right, make sure you ask or inform the Dive Shop or Dive Master (if you are on a group dive).

 

Protect Your Skin

Sunscreen is also very important. Many people do not realize how easily sunlight penetrates water, especially in some of the most crystal clear waters that are ideal for scuba diving. If you are not wearing a wet suit, be sure to wear waterproof sun block of at least SPF 15.

 

Weather Check

Know the weather conditions and the weather forecast where you are diving. Storms can change the diving conditions in certain areas dramatically. And remember: water conducts electricity. You are not safe from a lighting strike just by being below the surface while Scuba diving.

 

Avoid the drugs and alcohol

And while it may seem apparently obvious: do not scuba dive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This includes certain prescription and non-prescription medications. If you are on any medication, ask your doctor before diving.

 

Temperature Check

The water is not your body’s natural environment and you can be exposed to different conditions while you are underwater. It is important that you know the signs and symptoms of and proper first aid for heat stroke or heat exhaustion if you are diving in hot weather. Similarly of hypothermia if you are ice diving or diving in cold weather.

 

Get Yourself Trained

Speaking of first aid, if you are not Rescue Diver Certified, it is probably a good idea to get basic first aid and CPR training if you plan on being an avid diver, or dive with someone who has such certifications. When you are in trouble in a dive situation, communications can be critical. You can invest hundreds of dollars in fancy communications gear, or knowing the basic Scuba hand signals can save your life.

 

Scuba is an activity that does have certain risks. However going in with the understanding that you are “out of your element” and practicing a little common sense is your best way to dive safely and enjoy all the fun and excitement of one of the greatest recreational activities on the planet.

 

Children and Scuba Diving

 

Scuba Diving can be great fun for the entire family. Children as young as 8 years old can be certified on some level, and those 12 – 15 can receive many of the same certifications as adults. Scuba Diving is a great way to teach your children about the world around them and gain a greater appreciation for the environment and protecting the natural world.

Of course anyone even children, can enjoy their first foray below the surface by snorkeling or “skin diving” Most people, including the little ones, can snorkel quite well the first time out.

A great way to introduce kids to Scuba who may not be old enough to get out in the open water just yet is through PADI’s, (www.padi.com) Seal Team program. This fun and action packed program for 8-10 year olds teaches introductory to basic scuba skills in a pool through a series of exciting “Aquamissions”, where the kids get to role play and become certified as “Aqua Mission Specialists” while learning real Scuba skills. A similar program is the Scuba Rangers, created in 1999 by Scuba Schools International. Like PADI’s program the Scuba Rangers (www.scubarangers.com) were developed to give younger children access to the world of Scuba, and build scuba skills and self esteem in a pool environment. Older children, 10 – 12 year olds, can receive a Junior Open Water Certification, which will allow them to dive with a certified adult to a depth of 40 ft. Upon their 15th Birthday kids holding Junior Open Water Certification can convert it to an Open Water Certification. The top dive agencies have recommended these age parameters because scuba diving and dive medicine professionals agree that children under the age of 14 do not posses the emotional maturity to deal with potential dive emergencies. This can lead to panic and a rapid accent – one of the most common reasons for dive injuries. Experts agree these “intermediate” activities are safe and fun alternatives for younger children and provide the preliminary skills and confidence that will make them better and more resourceful divers when they are old enough for full blown Scuba certifications. Scuba has become so popular among teens and children that many parents seek out and send their kids to Scuba Summer camps. These camps offer great opportunities for young scuba enthusiasts and budding Marine Scientists alike to learn and have hands on experiences in the marine environment. A scuba summer camp can be a wonderful experience for your child, and are found in some of the best dive locations and aquatic habitats in the world from The Florida Keys to the Amazon.

Introducing your children to the underwater world either through snorkeling, scuba diving or both is great way to share family experiences, build confidence, and grow a greater appreciation and understanding of the world around us and your child’s place in it.

The Live-aboard Scuba Experience

You are a diver, right? You love to spend your time in and on the water. You have saved up all year and looked forward to that vacation. So why then go to a resort, and then slip out to your dive boat – after all you are not here to play golf or lounge around the pool – you are here to Scuba Dive. So why not book a Live-aboard Dive vacation?

As the name itself implies, a Live-aboard is exactly that – you live on board the vessel for the length of the dive trip. There are many good reasons to choose a live-aboard dive vacation, not the least of which is that you get to dive almost as much as you can and are physically capable of.

Unlike on a typical dive vacation, you can dive 3-4 or even more times a day, depending on your own capabilities and the location. More importantly, you are free to go where you want on a Live-aboard. The best captains of Live-aboard dive boats know how to find and get to the best sites. While on some live-aboard’s a diver may be close to “roughing-it” where diving is priority and accommodations are comfortable but nothing special, there are those Live-aboard’s that not only give you access to great diving, but then also treat you like the owner of your own luxury yacht – featuring luxury cabins and an executive chef to prepare state-of-the-art meals.

Most of the top Dive locations, Australia, Phuket,The Caribbean and the Florida Keys offer many well-known vessels and Live-aboard choices. A typical Live-aboard dive trip is 5 days to a week and would go something like this: wake up, grab your breakfast, go to a the briefing on what the days dive activities will be, walk to the back of the boat, grab your buddy and you’re ready to dive – just like that. Done diving? Then resurface, back on the boat for a hot shower, maybe a quick snack while the boat moves on to another dive site, and you’re back in again. This will go on through Lunch & Dinner, where dives will be scheduled (appropriate to decompression limits of course).

There are many reasons to choose a live-aboard dive vacation over a road trip. Not only do you get to experience the beauty of a variety of dive spots, but also as part of the itinerary on a live-aboard the crew may choose to spend an entire day at a single dive site. Being able to dive the same site at different depths and different times of day is a fascinating experience.  Different fish and marine life have different schedules making even a you are familiar with, a completely alien place at night, or even at dawn. To see how the underwater world changes over the cycle of a day is simply amazing.

 

Live-aboards offer a fascinating and exciting alternative to land-based trips. But like any dive vacation, do your research and know what you are booking – and choose a Live-aboard that best suits your preferences, stamina and interests, who knows, you may never take a land-based trip again.

 

Scuba is Evolving Both Technologically and Philosophically

Scuba as a recreational sport is really still in its early stages. Since the Aqualung first came available in the ‘50’s, diving did not really catch on until the 60’s; it reached its heyday in the 80’s, and experienced a technological boom in the 90’s. Much has changed since the early days, mostly for the better, and since dive certifications are for life, what you learned during your original open water training or even during a recent refresher course may have changed.

I for one received my Advanced Open Water Diver Certification over 20 years ago, and have been quite surprised at some of the new information and new practices that I have discovered while researching these articles. Like most divers I learned to “go deep” first. In other words to on any given dive descend to the lowest planned depth, and then gradually work your way upward, and also to plan the deepest dives in your day first. The rationale here was that the shallow depths will provide decompression for the deep dives that came before. But this year while the practice is still recommended – it is no longer a rule. The main reason is a technological advance – the Dive Computer. Dive computers take the guesswork out of nitrogen exposure, and are infinitely more accurate than using dive tables. More about Dive Computers, they are probably one of the single greatest advances in diving in the last ten years, and a must have dive accessory. Like with any piece of digital technology as the price of Dive Computers continue to drop, dive experts expect them to become mandatory equipment, soon rendering dive tables obsolete.

One of the other technological advances that have resulted in a philosophical change in a traditional training technique is the introduction of small bottles of emergency air such as “Spare air” and Pony bottles that have caused the industry to re-think Buddy Breathing. Dive instructors have always known that Buddy Breathing was a risky proposition; actually endangering the lives of both divers when one ran out of air. The introduction of the Octopus and now “Spare Air” has Buddy Breathing no longer being taught by the major Dive Organizations. If you or your buddy is out of air and neither is carrying a backup it is now recommended you make an Emergency Swimming Accent, rapidly swimming to the surface while exhaling. In fact I was surprised to learn that “The Buddy System” itself which was the “cardinal rule” when I learned to dive, isn’t that big of a deal anymore, with the new gear that is making scuba diving safer and safer, single diving is becoming a much more common practice.

Another fundamental change in Diving has been the overall change in age requirements. While there are still differences among the major certifying organizations, all have dropped their minimal age requirements, and have added some “entry level” programs for young children like Scuba Rangers and The SEAL Team program. This has been mainly to increase accessibility and raise interest in the sport to a new generation and to appeal to the “old generation” of Boomers who want to take their kids with them and get them into a hobby they have loved their entire lives. There is also an increased reciprocity among dive organizations, bordering on Universal Certifications. With the notable exception of PADI, you can now take classroom training with one dive organization, and then choose a resort for you dive trip based on their 5 star restaurant and Grilled Mahi-Mahi instead of being forced to go to a resort that is affiliated with the same organization for your Open Water Dives.