Have you tried scuba diving without a mask? Or without a BCD? What about diving without a tank? Scuba diving is a sport where having a complete set of scuba gear is essential.
Scuba diving equipment can be categorized into two types:
- Skin diving equipment: Gear you can snorkel or skin dive with. This gear is mostly used to compensate for your motion and senses while underwater.
- Scuba diving equipment: Gear that allows you to breathe and stay neutrally buoyant underwater. This gear is highly technical and essential for safety.
Essential Scuba Gear: Skin Diving
Human eyes are designed to see on dry land. Although you can still see underwater with your naked eye and without a mask, your vision will be blurred. You might know something is a fish because of its distinct shape, but you cannot see the details and determine what kind of fish.
A scuba diving mask provides a dry space between your eyes and the mask lens. This makes your underwater vision crystal clear. While mask materials vary depending on the brand and manufacturer, they have one thing in common—lenses are made from tempered glass.
Every scuba diver is unique in terms of facial contour, so there’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to scuba masks. When you shop for one, put your mask on before diving and make sure it has a good fit and seal. You can do this by placing the straps in front of the lens and placing the mask against your face. Inhale, hold your breath, look down then wiggle your head. If the mask falls off, it does not fit and will be prone to leaking. If the mask stays on, you’re ready to go diving.
Problems with mask fogging? Please read our article on how to keep your mask from fogging.
Many scuba diver deem snorkels to be unneccary–and they’re the first item to be left behind on the dive boat. However, a snorkel is an essential piece of equipment as it allows you to breath on the surface, conserving air in your tank. They can help you stay relaxed in choppy water or if you need to do a long swim at the surface.
A snorkel has a tube with one end pointing out of the water while the other end has a mouthpiece. Manufacturers have introduced several features (like a purge valve at the bottom and a one-way dry valve at the top). But despite these feature variations, all snorkels have one thing in common: the tube must not exceed 16 inches (40 centimeters) long to allow good airflow for breathing. The end of the snorkel exposed out of the water should have a reflective bright color for you to be highly visible at the surface.
While wearing the snorkel, attach it at the left side of your mask so that it doesn’t get tangled with your scuba regulator.
Unless your feet are webbed like a frog’s, you’ll need a pair of fins when you go scuba diving. Fins are designed for underwater motion and give you the freedom to move at your own pace.
There are two types of scuba diving fins: full foot and the open heel. Full foot fins are just like wearing shoes. Just slip your feet and you’re ready to swim and move. On the other hand, open heel fins require the use of booties that are secured with a fin strap.
Several variations and features are being introduced on the fin equipment. You can choose between long blades, short blades, vented fins and the split type. Regardless of what fin style you choose, make sure it matches your leg power. If you have a strong legs, consider the heavy short vented type of fins that convert the maximum distance in every kick you make. For divers with not-so-strong leg power, lightweight split type fins are ideal so every kick is equated to an easy and comfortable glide.
Don’t not wear fins while on dry land. Only wear and put on the fins at waist-depth water. Once the fins are worn, walk on your back until you reach deeper water and start swimming.
Scuba Diving Booties
Aside from being a complimentary piece of equipment to an open heel type of fins, scuba diving booties have several functions. First, dive booties provide warmth and prevent heat loss in your feet. It also protects your feet from sharp objects while walking on the beach or in shallow water.
Low cut and high cut are the common types of booties. Low cut booties are easy to wear but only provides protection on the part where the booties are worn. While it takes some effort to wear high cut booties, it provides maximum foot protection, especially when the booties are slid under a full wetsuit. If you are doing boat diving, doesn’t require walking at the beach or do not need a heavy foot protection, consider the comfortable thinness of aqua socks that are perfect for full foot fins and while exploring warm water dive sites.
In general, the surrounding water is colder than our body temperature. Hence, as an effect, body heat tends to escape and the rate becomes faster in cold water environments. To prevent body heat loss while scuba diving, we wear exposure suits.
There are 2 types of exposure suits: the drysuit and the wetsuit. Both types of exposure suits provide a layer of dead air space or water, which in effect, traps heat and prevents body heat loss. The dead air space in dry suits is highly pronounced making it ideal for cold water diving. Dry suits can be inflated to provide more internal air space. This means that your body will be dry, hence the name dry suit. The only thing that you would consider in wearing a dry suit is the added positive buoyancy. Don’t worry too much about this as it is easily addressed by adding weights.
On the other hand, wetsuits are designed for warm water or diving in tropical areas. While you are wet inside, wetsuits are effective in trapping body heat and protecting you against marine stingers like jellyfish and scratches from sharp objects like rocks and corals. Wetsuit thickness varies from 0.5mm (ideal for warm shallow dives) all the way up to 7mm which are commonly used in cold water, but not frigid or freezing.
If you want your wetsuit to last long, you can read our article on how to care for your wetsuit.
There is a popular myth that there are two kinds of people: floaters and sinkers. But this is not the case for scuba diving. Almost everyone is positively buoyant (a floater) when wearing a full set of scuba gear thanks to the tank and exposure suit.
Weights help sink you below the sea’s surface. Lead weights are the most popular form of weights in scuba diving. You can either wear them with a belt on the waist or place them in a weight-integrated BCD. Some lead weights are designed to be worn at the feet especially if you are wearing a dry suit.
Regardless of what style and design you choose, it’s important that the weights are evenly distributed to avoid imbalance. Every weight should have a quick release to help it be ditched in an emergency.
Scuba Diving Equipment
This scuba gear supports a diver’s breathing and buoyancy–it is not possible to scuba dive without these essential pieces of equipment.
We need air to breath and there is no available breathing air underwater. An air tank is the same air we breathe on land, only it’s compressed.
Scuba tanks are made from a thick metal, usually steel or aluminum sealed with a tank valve that also acts as an easy attachment towards the 1st stage regulator. It’s content will depend on the volume of air it can contain. We typically use an 80 cubic feet (10.2 liter) tank which is commonly used in dive shops. But you always have the option to use a higher tank volume (like the 100 cubic feet or 12.9 liter) or carry a small back up supply through pony bottles. Scuba tanks can also be filled with other gas mixtures like Nitrox and Helium.
Regardless of which tank you choose, you should take note that it requires service maintenance. All tanks should be visually inspected once a year and hydrotested every 5 years by a certified facility and a highly trained technician. Do not attempt to open your tank and service it for yourself.
Buoyancy Compensator Device (BCD) has evolved from a bulky horse-shoe type equipment we saw in the 70’s to the current simple but highly efficient jacket style. It still serves the same purpose–providing buoyancy control when you go scuba diving.
Today’s BCDs have durable internal bladders that can be inflated or deflated with just a press of a button, a padded back plate that holds and fastens the scuba tank in place and multiple pockets for storing small items. There are even BCDs that are weight integrated and may not require you to use a weight belt.
Regardless of what BCD style, model or brand you choose, make sure you give ample time in maintaining it after every dive, especially in rinsing the internal bladder. You can do this by pressing the deflator button, pouring in water halfway, fully inflating it, shaking and releasing the water. This way, you’ll prevent salt deposits from damaging your BCDs internal bladder. Also, make sure to put air in the bladder if you are storing your BCD for a long time. In this way, the bladder will not clump together when dried up.
A scuba regulator is a general term we used to describe a set of gear. A regulator is made up of hoses that connect your scuba tank to your mouth and to your BCD.
A scuba regulator is made of a 1st stage regulator (the one you attached to the tank) and a 2nd stage regulator (the one with a mouthpiece). It has 4 pressure hoses, 3 of which are low pressure hoses (2 for the second stage regulator and 1 one for BCD inflation) and 1 high pressure hose which is connected to your submersible pressure gauge or SPG. All hoses are usually black, except for the hose that goes to the alternate air source or octopus which can easily be identified and shared to your buddy in cases of a low on air or out of air situation. This hose is usually neon colored.
Typically, SPGs come in the form of a console which has other instruments like depth gauge or compass. When attached and used, regulators can create drag and sometimes dangle out which can entangle with corals or fish nets. If you want to trim down, you may consider using dive computers (options: wrist or console type) or air integrated computers which eliminates the use of an SPG, thereby getting rid of the high pressure hose.
Always place back the dust cover in the 1st stage regulator when not in use so that dust and water will not enter.
Scuba Diving Accessories
While not being a part of either skin or scuba diving equipment, scuba accessories significantly aid you in performing your dive plan. While you can still go diving without these accessories (provided that the area you are exploring has a calm, shallow and confined setting), having them will help you in performing a safe dive every single step (or should we say kick) of the way.
A scuba diving computer tells you all the essential information you need to know underwater. Your depth, time spent underwater, and monitors your safety stops and surface intervals. Some dive computers connect to your scuba tank, inputting how much air you have left for your dive.
A scuba diving computer logs your dives and allows you to look through the data at a later point. Many scuba divers make this one of their first scuba gear purchases, as it’s easy to travel with and isn’t always available for rent at dive shops.
While diving, you’ll need to determine your bottom time and stay within the limits to avoid diving-related ailments such as decompression sickness. Time underwater can be monitored with the use of a dive watch. While there are many dive watch choices, your pick should have at least a rotating bezel, luminous markings and the most important is the water resistance at least 200 meters (660 feet). While you are not going that deep, 200 meters is usually the water resistance rating a dive watch should have.
When diving, the rotating bezel plays a big part. At the start of your descent, set the 0-mark of the bezel right at the spot where the minute hand is (not the hour hand nor the second hand). After that, do not rotate the bezel and go on with your dive. At the end of the dive, you can determine your underwater time by determining the place of the minute hand and subtracting it to where the 0-mark of the bezel is in place. For night diving, dive watches can be charged with the beam from your underwater torch.
Have you noticed those floating orange balloons at the surface or the ones inflated and deployed by your divemaster before the start of your direct ascent back to surface? That is a surface marker buoy or SMB. Some difers also call this a “safety sausage.” When inflated and deployed, the SMB will mark your presence whether you are at the surface or underwater. This is very important so that incoming boats will stay clear and you can easily be spotted by the boat that you are in.
There are regulations regarding the use of SMBs. If you are a boat operator or happen to know one, they should be reminded not to get close to an inflated SMB as it indicates that there is a diver underneath it. While some countries require boats to be at least 100 meters (330 feet) away from the SMB, 50 meters (165 feet) is the usual practice. So before you end your dive and make a direct ascent, inflate and deploy your SMB so that you are guaranteed for a clear surface.
First things first, a dive knife is not for stabbing. A dive knife is used for cutting during entanglement. Although some dive knives are designed for pounding an object underwater, we do not recommend this as you will damage the very ecosystem that you are exploring and enjoying.
Stainless steel and titanium are the most common material in making a dive knife. A dive knife usually has a non-slip handle grip, a housing that has a quick release button and rubber straps for body attachment.
Reminder: do not attempt to sharpen your dive knife as it may lose its protective coating. And by losing its protective coat may invite corrosion to set in.
While hand signals might be the lingua franca of scuba divers, there’s another way to communicate underwater–a slate board. Using pencil, this white plastic material allows you to write, not just communication notes with your buddy, but also observations like what organisms you see during the dive.
Getting your buddy’s attention while underwater may be difficult, especially if your buddy’s focus is set on something. Usually, we shout or tap our tank with a knife or any object to draw attention. Using air from your low pressure hose, underwater horns are designed to produce sounds that can attract your buddy’s attention. However, you still need to orient your buddy or your dive group about the quality and kind of sound your underwater horn produces so that they will not be puzzled underwater.
Fond of night diving? Then you should have a good quality flashlight. And not just any flashlight, but an underwater flashlight that is sealed and can withstand pressure. Also called a torch, underwater flashlights are either powered by disposable or rechargeable batteries. While it can power up higher-lumen torches, the only downside with rechargeable flashlights is that you need electricity to recharge dead batteries and this may not be possible if you’re exploring remote dive sites. You can also communicate with your buddy using your flashlight and recharge your dive watch or SPG with its beam.
A good dive is always complemented with good memories and this is best documented with an underwater camera. Basically, an underwater camera is just a camera, but with a case or housing (although there are some units that don’t need any case and are rated to be water resistant at certain depths).
A simple underwater camera set-up involves a camera and a case. We highly advise you get used to its functions and operations. Trying it on land before diving is the best thing to do. For complex set-up, underwater strobes and camera mounting are often added.
Tired of using fins or feeling lazy? Don’t worry, an underwater scooter can solve the problem. This battery operated machine can take you greater distance underwater as compared when using traditional fins.
While underwater scooters are a great equipment for underwater mobility, we highly recommend that your buddy or your dive group are each equipped with scooters. Otherwise, you will speed up alone, leave behind your group and become the talk of the town.
Your scuba equipment will last long if you take care of it and this is highlighted especially if you are frequently travelling to different dive destinations. Dive bags are designed to hold and store your equipment. Some bags are padded, with compartments and mesh allowing water to drain out.
If you are a frequent traveller, we highly advise not to mix your personal belongings with scuba equipment. For personal belongings or important items that don’t need to be wet (like make up and passport), you can check out our article about dry bags.
As an individual diver, a scuba compressor may be the last equipment that you will buy. But for a dive shop, a scuba compressor is a priority and always at the heart of the operation.
Aside from being expensive, it also requires service and maintenance to run properly and fill your tank. So for an individual diver, why should you have a scuba compressor? Why not have your tanks just air-filled in a dive shop? Instead of giving a concrete answer as it may be subjected to preference and diving style, I opted to share with you my personal experience. As an individual diver, I only have 4 tanks and a small compact scuba compressor. While my friends are run back and forth at the dive shop just to fill their tanks, I relax at the beach drinking refreshments under the night sky full of stars while my tanks are filled nearby.
At the end of the day, having a complete set of scuba equipment comes with a price. But you also have to remember that a complete set of good scuba equipment equates to a comfortable and safe dive. After all, we are diving for fun and enjoyment.
Here’s a tip before we wrap up: If you have the money, then you have the liberty to buy a complete set right away. But if there are budget constraints, then you can have it piece by piece. One at a time. And as time passes, you will be surprised to have a complete set of scuba equipment, just like what happened to me and many others.
Common questions scuba divers have about buying scuba gear
All scuba divers need a mask, fins, regulator, BCD, air tank, and gauges that reveal data during the dive in real time. There are also accessories like SMBs, dive computers, exposure suits, and other tools to help you make the most of your dive depending on where you are in the world.
You do not need to be certified to buy scuba diving gear. However, it’s recommended that you obtain your scuba diving certification before investing in any gear to see if it’s the right sport for you.
Dive shops typically have scuba gear for rent. However, getting a perfect fitting mask, dive fins, wetsuit, and your personal dive computer will help you dive anywhere in the world comfortably.