Gear Guides & Tips

Tips on investing in your first SCUBA diving gear

Tips on investing in your first SCUBA diving gear March 20, 20152 Comments

Regulator, Octopus & SPG

One of the reasons why people are reluctant to get into SCUBA diving is the cost of the equipment. This was one of my fears and it kept me at bay from even doing an intro dive for more than 10 years, knowing that I am a gadget freak and get overly excited (read maxed out credit cards) when purchasing gear! True enough, after doing my intro dive I had to go to the next level and become certified and of course, have my own gear. While all dive shops will have gear for hire, serious divers need to eventually invest on their own equipment, not only for vanity or hygienic purposes, but more importantly, for safety reasons. Also, having your own gear means being more comfortable under water and feeling confident about its condition and capability. Clearly, having your own SCUBA diving gear is also an investment – an investment in your safety, confidence and comfort.

Here is a list of essential equipment and a brief explanation of what they are and the price range:

  1. Regulator – this is your breathing apparatus. Its the thing that you stick into your mouth and you bite (gently) on for dear life, giving air as you go deeper into the dense underwater environment. It’s divided into the first stage, the end that attaches to your tank, and the second stage, the thing you suck on. What this thing does is control and reduce the pressure of the air coming from the tank (3,000 psi) to ambient pressure (150 psi) so as not to damage our lungs. The second stage delivers air on-demand, meaning it releases air when we inhale and closes when we stop. The first stage is also where all the other hoses are attached for your octopus, BCD and gauges for depth and remaining air supply. Prices for 1st and 2nd stage setup would set you back from $150 to about $1,000 depending on brand, model and setup.
  2. Octopus – this is another second stage attached to the same first stage as your regulator. It acts as an alternate air source for a buddy, gone are the days you have to breathe alternately from the same air source,  or in case your primary air source gets busted during the dive. The octopus is normally identified with a different color hose or the octopus itself is a different color – usually yellow for better visibility underwater. Octopuses are slightly cheaper, starting at about $80 to about $500.
  3. BCD – stands for Buoyancy Control Device or sometimes called Buoyancy Compensators, vest, BC, jacket, or wings – is a vest-like piece of SCUBA diving gear with a bladder that can be filled with air to adjust your buoyancy underwater. This lets you float on the surface when fully inflated, descend or hover at will as you control the release of air. The BC is also where your tank is attached. There are two categories for BC’s – the jacket type and the back-inflate type. The jacket type looks very much like a vest with pockets on the side and bladder extending to the side of the jacket. The back-inflate, usually has no pockets and has the bladder located at the back only. Choice normally depends on experience. I started off with the jacket-type as most divers would and now using a back-inflate. I find the back-inflated BCs offer more freedom underwater especially for underwater photography. Using the back-inflate though requires knowledge and awareness of your balance to manipulate your body underwater. BC’s will set you back from $300 to about $1,000.
  4. Mask – allows you to see underwater by creating an air pocket around your eyes and nose. The nose is included to enable you to adjust pressure as you go deeper (equalize). The lenses are made of tempered glass and straps and seals are from silicon. Masks will set you back from $60 to $250.
  5. Fins – your primary propulsion device underwater, uses the power of your legs and extends its surface area coverage to allow movement. Arms are not normally used for movement underwater as these have tendencies to counter the propulsion and become unproductive use of energy and air – probably explains why fish don’t have arms! Prices for fins range from $50 to $800.
  6. Snorkel and Booties – snorkels are used as alternative to your regulator when on the surface. Its an alternate breathing device used on the water surface to save on air or if ever you don’t have air anymore. Booties are required if you are using adjustable strap fins to prevent injuries that may arise from friction between your skin and fin materials (rubber straps and hard plastic). Snorkels range from $10 to 100 and you can pick up booties from $30 to $150.
  7. Dive Computers – this is probably the most expensive item you will have in your basic set of SCUBA diving gear. Dive computers are wristwatch-type computers and very useful in planning your dives and monitoring your actual dives. It also stores data about your dive profiles. Dive computer features vary depending on brand and model. The basic one will measure your depth, bottom time, water temperature and create logs. The more sophisticated models have compass, uploading of dive logs to PC, alarms, and other advance features. Price ranges from $300 to thousands of dollars.

With the range of cost you can actually put your SCUBA diving gear together for $600 to $3,000 depending on your preferences, brand of the equipment, model and technology. Of course you get what you pay for and you need to be vigilant in understanding each unit item and what the brands offer. For more information on how to choose the right item you may go to the PADI website here.

But you don’t have to pay full price on even top of the line items. Here are some tips on how to save:

  1. Your dive instructors and dive masters get preferred rates in dive shops. It’s good to be friends with them to the point that you can name-drop in the dive shops or they can even call the shops when you need to purchase. I’ve saved around 30% on my new Aqualung Zuma back-inflate BCDs bought in December 2012 this way. Hey, the friendship has to be genuine though and you should also return the favor by being a true friend.
  2. Watch out for sales. There are mid-year and Christmas specials and some items go on sale with as much as 50% off. This is especially true if there are new products or models being launched – the previous models go down in price dramatically. Become members of dive shop mailing lists or friends list on Facebook to get updated information on sales and discounts.
  3. Buy them in packages. Some dive shops will give you a regulator package at a discounted rate of at least 5% off. Again, get to know your dive shops and find out their specialties – equipment or brand being carried.
  4. You don’t have to buy everything in one go. I put together my gear in 6 months’ time starting with the mask and snorkel, regulator set, BCD, computer, then fins. I watch out for sale and even browsed online for international sources. Beware of items that have various sizes though when buying online.
  5. Some friends also sell second-hand or pre-loved items and some of them may still be in good condition. SCUBA diving gear is quite durable and these are real investments. Provided that they are well maintained, you might be able to get up to 80% off on some name-brands especially from friends, or friends of friends upgrading or moving overseas. There are also some divers. like me, who have the compulsion and will find all the excuses in the world to upgrade as soon as a new model comes out. This means that some of our stuff are still quite new and with warranty remaining.

Do you have tips or questions in buying SCUBA diving gear? Send me a reply below and I will try to answer you in the most non-technical language.