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Dive Equipment A B C...D?
By Jacob T. Nelson, PADI Divemaster
The class is over and your certification card is in your hand. Odds are you have bought your ABC gear of mask, snorkel, fins, and boots. In your enjoyment of the class, you've decided to buy your own gear but sadly your heart and wallet are at odds and you can’t buy everything at once. So now what? You have to start somewhere, but where? The answer lies in what you’d like to understand and know about your diving.
A good first choice of equipment is a dive computer. This can be an important piece of equipment to your dives for your safety. Even though you are taught how to use your copy of dive tables you can still make mistakes, after all, we’re human. A dive computer will make it so that if you go beyond your pre-dive plan you are still safely within nitrogen and depth limits with its constant calculations while in the water. Computers can also come with a variety of other features such as a Bluetooth connection to your phone to wirelessly transfer all recorded logs directly to an online logbook. Higher end computers can also have a compass and air integration built into it to further its use. The use of air integration will allow you to better judge your air consumption and how much time you have left before it's time to return to the surface. Even if your computer is simple in its capabilities having one is always better not only for your safety but for accuracy in your dive logs as well with recorded depth, time, and possibly other statistics often asked for in logs like water temp, and air pressure.
If you want to buy a higher end computer later, then for all the equipment that exists in scuba, there is a simple truth. You cannot breathe with any other gear than a regulator. The regulator can be rented at just about any dive shop you visit but the regulator is also the sole reason you are capable to stay underwater for more than about 2 minutes. Just like all other rental gear, it gets its share of abuse, and things wear out. Not to mention the idea of sticking something in your mouth that you know has been in several “environments,” can be unsettling. Owning your own regulator allows you to know how many dives and how long it has been since the last service was done on it, so you can more likely predict if a problem might occur during a dive. As it is your own gear you can also take better care of it in a storage method of your choice, although a regulator bag is advised. Comfort on your dive is another benefit to your own regulator because you will understand its flow rate. Rental regulators are not commonly the best-built regulators and don't come with all the options a more consumer-style regulator is likely to have. This is normally noticed in the work of breathing (WoB), or amount of effort required to inhale air. When the WoB is high you may feel air starved or overexerted because you have to breathe harder than what is natural for you, making your dive exhausting and uncomfortable.
If neither of these suits your interest due to the rarity of your dives then another option to consider is your exposure protection. If you plan on only diving on that cruise off of Florida or that dream stay at a Sandals resort in beautiful areas like Jamaica and Barbados, then you may not have a wetsuit or drysuit very high on your priority, but if you have intentions on diving in Michigan or other cold water areas then buying your own wetsuit, or even a drysuit, is a choice you’d never regret. The reason why this would be high on your priority no matter where you dive is due to the suits fit. Rental suits get used and abused, as is their nature, but because of this they can get misshaped or damaged, among other things, causing you to wear a suit that is either too tight or too loose and potentially with holes. Any or all of these problems could result in you having to cancel your dive simply because you won’t be able to stay in the water for very long. Your own wetsuit will almost always be more comfortable to you simply because it will fit your body the way it needs to so you are comfortable and warm. Not to mention you’ll always know where it has been and what has happened to it.
It’s up to you to determine what you feel is important to your dives. But know that safety and reliability should be at the top of your concerns. And the top two leading pieces of equipment for that are your own dive computer and regulator, as knowing how they function and how long it’s been since the last service will keep your odds of equipment failure low.
Outside of that is the comfort of your dive, there is no good dive if you’re uncomfortable the entire time, and the best way to make sure you are comfortable is to own your own exposure protection, all the way from the warm water dive skin to a cold water drysuit whatever you may need.