Without the proper gear and knowledge, scuba diving can be dangerous for a beginner. This is why you should take classes to become a certified diver if you haven't done so already. Learn how to stay safe in the water with our expert advice covering buoyancy compensators, regulators, dive computers, wetsuits, and more. It's everything you need to know for a great diving experience.
Buoyancy Compensator Advice
Bladder worn by divers that provides air or releases air to establish buoyancy underwater and on the surface.
Features include valves to increase air or release pressure, a harness, a backplate, pockets, a weighting system, anchor points and emergency inflation cylinders.
Buoyancy Compensator Sizing:
Material: Buoyancy control devices (BCD's) come in two types of configurations, a single and dual bladder style BCD. 90% of the BCD's on the market are of the single bag variety. They are made from 420 denier nylon, which is both ideal for travel and highly puncture resistant. High denier nylons like 840, 1000, 1200 are heavier but, highly scratch resistant against sharp objects such as wrecks. They are ideal for the technical diver. Dual bag style BCD have the benefits of higher denier nylon with a urethane inner bladder. They need more maintenance but are sort of a hybrid between recreational and technical style BCD's
90% of all BCDs have a wraparound bladder that puts air underneath your arm which is principally designed for comfort. Wing style BCD's are directed to the more technical experienced diver and can pro-vide higher lift for twin tanks etc.
Buoyancy Compensator Integrated Weights:
One of the biggest advances in BCD design is integrating the weight system into the actual vest. By doing so you eliminate the weight belt getting lost under the vest, slipping down your legs, or having to constantly re-adjust as your wetsuit com-presses and decompresses. The weight system should have two easily releasable pouches just below the front pockets or the front waistline of the BCD. This will house the majority of the weights, however you will need to have counter balancing weights in two non-releasable pockets on the back of the BCD. This will prevent you from fighting to stay upright while on the surface. For example let's say you need 24 lbs of weight. You would put 10lbs on each side in the releasable pockets and 2lbs in each of the non-releasable pockets.
Buoyancy Compensator's Designed for Women:
What makes them different than the standard BCD's:
Reduced backpack height-taking the pressure off the spine and distributing it more evenly around the hips.
Chest area redesigned to conform to a woman's physique
No chest strap - reducing constriction in breathing
Integrated weight system prevents bruising from the weights on the hips
Buoyancy Compensator Air Integrated Inflators:
One of the most popular trends is replacing your power inflator with an Alternate Air Source Integrated Inflator. The benefits to this is twofold, one if your regulator gets knocked out of your mouth you just breathe off your alternate which is right where your inflator was, and two you eliminate that long octopus hose, all while still being able to inflator your BCD form the same device.
Buoyancy Compensator D-Rings:
D-rings or hard points are strategically placed around the vest so you can hang your spare light, writing slate, wreck reel etc.
Regulators consist of a first and second stage. They are designed to take the high tank pressure and break it down to a divers demand level.
Advances in regulator technology and materials allow for easier breathing, and less jaw fatigue.
What is the primary purpose of a regulator?
Since there is no way a diver can breathe directly off a scuba tank, they need a regulator to take that tank's high pressure, break it down and deliver air based on the divers demand.
How does a regulator work?
Generally the first stage of the regulator that attaches to the tank, takes the high pressure and breaks it down to an intermediate pressure of approximately 125-140 psi over ambient pressure. So at 33 feet it is actually giving 145psi-165psi and at 66 feet it reads 15psi higher etc. Then, the air comes out of the low pressure ports on the first stage and fills the hose line up which is connected to the second stage, where the diver's mouth-piece is located. Air is then provided on a diver demand basis. You inhale the air from the hose fills the open space in the mouthpiece and you breathe in.
What are the primary components of a regulator?
In looking at the first stage of a regulator you need to consider several factors.
Overbalanced, Balanced or Unbalanced:
Most entry level regulators are unbalanced and quite a bit less expensive, whereas the next model up is generally balanced. An overbalanced first stage considered the best performing of the three delivers an increased volume of air to the diver as their depth is increased. A balanced first stage regulator offers consistent air flow regardless of depth and tank pressure. An unbalanced regulator will become harder to breathe from as depth increases and or tank pressure decreases. The state of the art version of a first stage is to have it overbalanced. As a diver descends more air is delivered, hence making the overbalanced first stage regulators the easiest to breathe for the diver.
Piston or Diaphragm:
These are two primary types of first stages. They refer to the method of reducing tank pressure to intermediate pressure. Piston first stages have fewer moving parts but are exposed to the outside elements more. They are generally less expensive to service. Diaphragm regulators have more parts but are sealed from the environment. Of course you get the right warranty the expense of repairing is negligible down to the cost of labor only.
We all know when you take the regulator out of the bag we need to inspect the first stage filter area before we put it on the tank and vice versa. We also want to prevent getting water or other contaminates in the first stage as well. Some manufacturers have a new closure that prevents contamination of the inside of the first stage.
If you are choosing to use the HP tanks because they are smaller in size, you will need to check into the available.
Nitrox or Enriched Air Compatibility:
When diving with nitrox or enriched air, first and second stage regulators need to be cleaned and there are special materials for the activity. Some manufacturers provide the regulators nitrox or enriched air ready. Titanium regulators are not suited for any enriched air or nitrox mixes. You must take a specialty class in order to dive the enriched air nitrox mixes.
Number of Ports:
Generally there are 3-5 low pressure ports accommodating your safety second, power inflator hose and a dry suit hose if needed. Some manufacturers have first stages that all the LP ports are on a swivel, so when you turn your head the hoses follow with you. There is also one high pressure port that bypasses the regulator allowing you to read direct tank pressure at any time. Some regulators have two high pressure ports so you can put your gauge on either side or set up a backup.
How does it work?
Now you have the intermediate pressure on the second stage of 125psi to 140psi over ambient pressure which was explained earlier. As you inhale you pull the diaphragm back which moves a lever that is spring loaded and releases a rubber seat off of a cone allowing air to flow into the mouthpiece.
Because dive computers continually monitor your depth and time underwater, you generally get a more accurate reading but increased dive time and decreased surface interval between dives.
Logbook and PC integration allow you to chart your dives
Advances in dive computers allow you to monitor your depth, time and air time remaining through wireless sensors
Dive Computers: Who needs them?
A dive computer has become a vital source of information for the diver. It increases the underwater time, and reduces the surface interval between dives allowing for a more enjoyable and safer experience. Ten years ago manufacturers were making more analog gauges then computers, but times have changed and now the computer has become an essential piece of equipment for every diver. Though expensive 10 years ago, the prices today are very affordable and do the same calculations as the expensive models. Some have backlighting, audible alarms, temperature logbooks and integrate air, which all adds to the features of the dive computer. It is likened to a PC purchase.
How do dive computers work?
The DC provides a more accurate continuous status to the diver during their dive. Unlike the dive table, the dive computer is continually calculating each foot of depth and each second of time while descending and ascending, constantly debiting and crediting your bottom time. Without getting into the complicated details, the dive computer is a based on a set of data known as an algorithm. This algorithm measures 9-12(depending on algorithm model) different body tissues in your body and their limits. Examples would be bone, muscle, brain etc. Dense material like bone matter would be on one end with a slow absorption rate and the other end like the brain would have a high absorption rate. If you're interested in learning more look through the US Navy Dive Manual which explains all this in detail. They work to provide you with the data to have a save and fun dive.
Air or Nitrox
You just got certified and you are thinking you only need an air computer but you're not sure whether you should pursue the benefits of enriched air Nitrox. Fortunately, most manufacturers found it was cheaper to make the computers enriched air or nitrox ready, so that takes this feature out of the mix. On a basic entry level inexpensive computer you get the ability to switch to the benefits of enriched air or, nitrox. You must be certified to dive nitrox, but rest assured you will have the computer that benefits you right at hand when the time comes.
The biggest trend other than integrating enriched air into your dive computer, is taking a minimalist approach to your gauges. Integrating tank pressure into the computer screen is a great feature as it not only gives you your current pressure, but figures out based on your breathing rate at that time, and your nitrogen absorption limits, along with your total dive time remaining. Remember if you change your rate of breathing and/or ascend a few feet you will increase your total time remaining. This minimalist approach is achieved through a single glance at the screen of your computer.
Another big trend in minimization is taking the air integration concept one step further, hoseless wireless pressure gauge. Basically there are two parts to the gauge itself, and a small transmitter that screws into the first stage of the regulator high pressure port. You get the benefits of the air integration single glance concept without the hose! The newest full featured air integrated wireless units even can provide you the tank pressure of your buddy simultaneously. Imagine the freedom of having just two hoses, one for your regulator, and the second for your alternate air source integrated into the BCD. Therefore, there is no octopus hose and no tank pressure hose.
Wetsuits are designed for specific sports or activities. A wetsuit will protect you against water and weather conditions.
Choosing The Proper Wetsuit
Ask yourself what you will be using my wetsuit for? Examples include: scuba diving, snorkeling, water skiing, wake boarding, personal water craft, surfing, swimming.
It is important to know the water temperature and weather conditions, where you will be using the suit. Different wetsuits should be used based upon the seasons of the year. If you are not sure call some local shops that carry wetsuits and ask them.
Wetsuits come in different construction, cuts and materials. There are several different kinds of materials and sewing constructions. A wetsuit will not keep you completely dry. A small amount of water will enter through the seams, zipper, neck, arms or legs. Your body temperature will heat the thin layer of water that is trapped between your body and the material. This may take 3 to 10 minutes. depending on the construction, materials, water temperature and your body's reaction to the water.
The different types of seam construction in wetsuits are:
1. Overlock Stitch
2. Flatstitch or Flatlock
3. GBS - Glued & Blindstitched
4. GBS with seam tape
Overlock is recommended for warm water. 65 degrees Fahrenheit and up. In a full suit, the seams are stitched on the inside. From the outside you will not see any stitching. On the inside you may recognize this construction from clothing. It is commonly used on sweatshirt and T-shirt seams. Some water may seep in through these seams.
Flatstitch or Flatlock is recommended for warm water too, 62 degrees Fahrenheit and up. In a full Suit, you can recognize this seam from the outside. This stitch looks like railroad tracks. The interior and exterior seams look about the same. The interior seam construction is flat and is more comfortable against the body than the overlock stitch. Some water may seep in through these seams too.
Blindstitch is recommended for cold water. This construction is best for cold water because the seams are glued and then stitched. This seam construction looks similar to the flatstitch. It is narrower in the width than the flatstitch seam. The seams are glued and bonded together. The seams are then stitched. The thread and needle holes penetrate only the top area of the surface. Some seams are only stitched on one side. Very little water if any will seep through these seams.
Blindstitched with seam taping (fluid seal) is recommended for extremely cold water usually 50 degrees Fahrenheit and below. The seam construction is the same as above accept the inner seams are reinforced or covered with tape. Very little water if any will seep through these seams.
There are many different kinds of material. Most wetsuit manufactures will use the same materials but have different names for them. The materials have changed drastically over the last several years. The materials have become more flexible, warmer and durable. The best materials are usually found in blindstitch constructed suits. Materials come in different thickness. The thickness is measured in millimeters. Colder water requires thicker material like 7mm and 6mm. Warmer water requires less thickness like 2mm and 1mm. Most wetsuits will have a combination of millimeters. Examples include 4/3mm, 3/2mm, or 2/1mm. In a 4/3mm the thicker materials are usually placed in the torso area and the thinner material are usually placed in the arms and shoulders.
Buoyancy Compensators 101
Dive Computers 101
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