Buying Kit

Below is some guidance for new entrants about selecting SCUBA Diving Equipment....

(There are a also couple of more extensive guides in the Documents sections of our Members-only website.)

The safe approach

For an Instructor, kit buying is one of the hardest areas to make any recommendations, and an area in which we all try to be objective without incorporating too much of our own personal preferences and prejudices.

Our normal approach is to suggest that you complete the Ocean Diver lecture on Diving Equipment (OT2) and thoroughly read the sections on equipment in The Diving Manual before going near a Dive Shop.

The next recommended step is to take an experienced instructor on a tour of dive shops with you. I would recommend that you visit at least three shops in order to view a suitable range of equipment.

While the shop staff can tell you all about specific pieces of equipment, your instructor can bring to bear personal experience and feedback from others to give a wider context, and can advise on fitting etc, and talk about a wide range of common errors people make when buying gear for the first time (including obvious ones like buying a set of fins before buying the drysuit / boots that will have to fit in them!).

What to buy when

Unless you have bottomless pockets, you are going to have to spread the cost of your equipment over a period of time. However, there are good arguments for getting a lot of it up front, and just putting it all on a credit card.

In an ideal world, with no financial constraints, this is when I would recommend purchase of equipment.

  • Mask, Fins, Snorkel - as early as possible, but attend OT2 first
  • BC, Regulator, Console - as soon afterwards as you can afford
  • Cylinder - before the end of pool training
  • Drysuit, Weightbelt, Hood, Gloves - at about the end of pool training
  • Depth Gauge and Watch / Computer - before first open water dive
  • Reels, SMBs, Torches, Goody Bags, Compass - as needed by the training programme

Getting it right first time.

I'm saddened sometimes at the rate at which divers seem to change their kit, but it's an inevitable fact that as your diving develops you recognise that a particular piece of equipment no longer suits you, or has some usability flaw that you didn't realise until you became more experienced. Luckily, many of these problems can be avoided by taking an experienced diver with you on your kit-buying exercises. Do not expect dive shops to point out these things to you.

I've been diving for 17 years now, and am still using my original regulator, cylinders, BC, dry-suit and undersuit, torch, reel, and SMB (all regularly and properly serviced of course!). Naturally, I have bought other things since (more cylinders, 2 other BC's, 5 other regulators) but all to address a particular need, not because what I bought in the first place was wrong.

The only thing I did get wrong at the beginning was fins - I got what is still one of the most popular, the Mares Plana Avanti, and they were totally wrong for me, and much too big a blade area. I kept spraining my ankles just finning, and got rid of them pretty fast! After a period using the Mares Power Plana (with two inches hacksawed off the end), I now use Force Fins which are a bit like Marmite - you either love them or you hate them.

Diving Shops

These are commercial organisations whose primary objective is to make money (out of you). They have a number of conflicting priorities, which in the main seem to include sourcing from a supplier that will give them a sensible profit margin, and at the same time supply goods that are "fit for purpose" and don't give them too many headaches with recalls / design defects / etc. Their supplier needs to be able to deliver ordered goods in popular sizes from stock, with minimal delivery times.

This is quite a set of demands, as the UK Diving Wholesale operation has had, in the past, a pretty poor customer service record. Many of the major manufacturers import via agents rather than their own distribution networks, and it is understood that these agents can vary from OK to dire. You will find many dive shops that do not deal with certain product lines because their history of retailer support has been so poor. Perversely, many of these same companies excel in their level of support to the end customer (you and I)!.

So beware of "recommendations" from dive shops. Most will take your circumstances, desires, and budgets into account, but you can absolutely guarantee that the equipment that is recommended to you is something that is stocked in their particular dive shop. I have never heard of a shop recommending a piece of equipment that they do not stock or cannot order!

Consequently, I'm fairly skeptical of some of the recommendations I hear from some shop staff.

One last thing to consider however, is equipment servicing. This is a major income stream for most dive shops, and it really is convenient for your local shop to be able to service the equipment that you've got when you want it done.

Having said which, you may wish to note that

  • many shops cheerfully service a wide range of equipment that they don't sell, and
  • many people in the CRABBSAC won't use dive shops for servicing, and will send the equipment back to the manufacturers when it needs doing.

Quality

Diving equipment now is of a general good quality and within reason, you get what you pay for. A 600 regulator is going to be superior to a 150 regulator (but may not be 4 times as superior!).

Most critical SCUBA equipment will come with a CE marking, which indicates a device fulfills requirements for sale in the European Union. In the case of scuba regulators, the CE standard is "EN 250". However, this is not a indicator of quality, or necessarily performance. If equipment is not CE marked, then ask why, but don't read anything into it if it is.

Dive magazines are constantly reviewing new diving equipment, and it's worth reading their reviews, especially the comparative ones when available. If the piece of equipment that you're interested doesn't appear in a review or test, don't read anything into that - they can't test everything! Have a look at ...

The leading brands

In the computer industry, there used to be a saying that "Nobody ever got sacked for buying IBM". In the same way, there are a number of very well established global and UK brands which you can have a lot of confidence in. They are (of course, only in my opinion) ...

Global

  • Scubapro / Uwatec
  • Mares
  • Spiro / Aqualung
  • Oceanic
  • Cressi-Sub
  • Poseidon
  • Suunto
  • Seaquest
  • Tusa

UK

  • Buddy / AP Valves
  • Apeks
  • Northern Diver
  • O'Three
  • Weezle

Some of these are for specific types of equipment (e.g. Weezle just do undersuits for drysuits). There are others of course.

The BSAC South-East website has a series of links to equipment manufacturers at http://www.bsac-se.org.uk/Links.htm#4

Prices

Dive shops will generally, and quite reasonably quote retail prices to you, but you should be aware that the diving equipment market is pretty much dealing in commodity items, and that strong price competition does exist.

A number of shops openly advertise retail prices, and this is a fairly good place to start. Have a look at

Again, the BSAC-SE website has a list of "local" dive shops, many of which have websites,
at http://www.bsac-se.org.uk/Suppliers.htm

Most shops will offer discounts of 10-15% from retail as standard, and especially if you are purchasing multiple items together.

There are also a great number of online stores, which generally stock the more popular items at very competitive prices. If you know what you want, then these are the places to look - but it is considered a bit unsporting to go to a local dive shop, use their stock and advice to select the item you want, and then purchase it elsewhere.

Online stores can be found at

Lastly there are the Dive Shows, one in London in March, and the other at the NEC in Birmingham in November this year. Many dive shops and manufacturers attend and there is a wealth of equipment available at rock-bottom prices. Worthwhile if you've got a reasonable shopping list, and it's convenient to wait until the show to buy things. Some dive shops that aren't prepared to spend the money to exhibit at the show offer additional discounts during the shows to try and attract divers to buy from them rather than going to the show!

Survey

I conducted a brief equipment survey around the branch in 2003, and these are the (sparse) results. This is really to give you an idea of what other people use. You will see a wide variety in some categories, and some very popular items in others.

(+) indicates a very positive recommendation
(-) indicates a "bad buy"
[2] indicates two responses for that particular item

Buoyancy Compensators:

  • Buddy Tekwing
  • Buddy Explorer
  • Buddy Commando TD (+) [3]
  • Buddy Slimline (+)
  • Buddy Trimix Wing
  • Mares Vector 1000 (+)
  • Mares Vector Platinum
  • OMS Wing
  • Scubapro Master Jacket
  • Seaquest Explorer Pro
  • Seaquest Eva
  • Seaquest Other [2]

Regulators

  • Apeks TX40 (+) [5]
  • Apeks TX50 (+) [3]
  • Mares V16 Orbiter
  • Oceanic
  • Oceanic Alpha 7
  • Oceanic Delta 3
  • Poseidon Cyklon
  • Poseidon Jetstream
  • Scubapro G250
  • Scubapro M5
  • Scubapro R190
  • Scubapro S600
  • Spiro Arctic (+) [3]

Octopus

  • Apeks TX100
  • Apeks TX40 [7]
  • Mares Axis
  • Oceanic Alpha 7
  • Scubapro R380
  • Spiro [3]

Contents / Console

  • Apeks (+) [3]
  • Aqualung
  • Oceanic [3]
  • Scubapro
  • Suunto [2]
  • US Divers
  • Uwatec [2]
  • Uwatec Digital

Masks

  • Cressi
  • Mares (+) [2]
  • Mares ESA (+)
  • Oceanic [2]
  • Saekodive
  • Technisub Ventura
  • Tusa
  • Tusa Hyperdry
  • Tusa Splendive
  • Unidive [2]

Fins

  • Divex Jetfins (+)
  • Force Fins (+)
  • Mares Plana Avanti Quattro (+) and (-) [4]
  • Mares Power Plana (+)
  • Saekodive
  • Scubapro Twin Jet [2]
  • Scubapro Twin Speed (+) [2]
  • Technisub Idea 3 (-) [2]
  • US Divers Compro

Computers

  • Aladin Pro (obsolete)
  • Aladin Pro Ultra
  • Aladin Air X
  • Aladin Air Z O2
  • Suunto Solution [3] (obsolete)
  • Suunto Solution Nitrox [2] (obsolete)
  • Suunto Vyper [2]
  • Uwatec Dive Timer [2] (for use with tables, not a computer)

Drysuits

  • Aquion Pro (+) [2] (obsolete ?)
  • DUI CF200X
  • ND Vortex [2]
  • Oceanic Flex 2000 [3]
  • Otter cordura
  • ROHO

Undersuits

  • DUI 200g
  • Weezle (+) [2]
  • Pertex
  • UGGI

Weightbelts

  • Beaver Harness
  • Bowstone Harness [2]
  • Bowstone Shot Belt [3]
  • Traditional belt & weights [3]
  • Oceanic pouch belt

Torches

  • Ikelite (-) [2]
  • Metalsub Umbilical
  • Pelican Supersabre
  • Princeton Tec 40
  • UK D4 / D4R / D400R [7]
  • UK Mini Q40 [2]
  • UK SL6 (+)

"Technical" vs "Recreational" diving

This does need consideration.

"Recreational" or "Sports" diving is generally understood to be diving on open circuit scuba to a maximum depth of 30-40 metres with no decompression. BS-AC goes beyond this in its standard qualifications to include open circuit scuba to a maximum depth of 50 metres with decompression.

"Technical Diving" is generally understood to include diving in the 35-70m range, using different gas mixes (Nitrox and Trimix), with extended decompression.

In general, these two types use different equipment configurations, although there is no reason why "technical" equipment cannot be used for "recreational" diving.

So, if you intend to do "technical" diving in the future, then you may be best advised to start buying "technical" kit in the first place. If not, then the normal common-or-garden SCUBA equipment will be quite adequate.

If it's any guide, then only two of us in CRABBSAC are properly set up to do "technical" diving, and we don't do it regularly anyway, and not with the club.

Having said that, here are two equipment guides that have a bit of a bias towards technical equipment, but are worthwhile reads nevertheless.