Buying basic equipment
Mask: The most important consideration when buying a mask is the fit. A poorly fitting mask will allow water to seep in during your dive, thus spoiling your enjoyment. You should be able to hold the mask onto your face by gently inhaling, even when the strap isn't in place. Watch out for stray bits of hair (including moustaches!) interrupting the seal. If you normally wear glasses to correct your vision, there are basically two options: one is to wear contact lenses under the mask; the other is to buy a mask with two lenses rather than a single piece of glass, and get corrective lenses attached to the inside of the mask. Make sure you discuss this with the shop where you buy the mask.
Snorkel: You'll need a snokel for your early training, and they are useful on dives to conserve air if you have to swim on the surface, or if you are bobbing about waiting to be picked up by a boat at the end of your dive - they make it much less likely that you'll end up with a gobful of salt water! Don't bother with a flash one though: a cheap basic one is fine as long as it is comfortable in your mouth.
Fins: There is a lot happening in fin design at the moment, but even so, basically there are two choices - open-heel or full foot. A full foot fin has a recess which completely envelops the foot, while an open-heel fin has just that - a hole into which you put your foot, and strap to tighten round the back of your heel. Open-heel fins are more versatile: you can use them with wet-suit booties, or with the integral boot on a dry-suit. Make sure you get open-heel fins that are big enough to fit your feet while wearing either of these types of boot, and which are easy to tighten and release. Otherwise, pretty much any fin make will propel you through the water adequately!
Other kit: Here is a suggested list of other essential kit. This is what I would be looking at purchasing if I were starting out at the moment.
First, a suit. This is something that is very personal - it must fit reasonably well in order to keep you warm. If you intend to dive in the UK for a reasonable proportion of the year, you will need a dry suit. My own preference is for a crushed or compressed neoprene suit - thin enough not to give significant buoyancy changes with depth, but warm and flexible. Good makes are DUI and O'Three. Membrane suits are OK but a bit less flexible - Otter do a good range. If you are looking for a second hand suit, try looking on e-Bay or on the Divernet personal ads forum.
Second, a regulator, with octopus and contents gauge. I like the Apeks TX40 - suitable for use in cold water, a really good breathe, and a good price. Try Go-Dive in Derby, or Diving and Marine Services in Urmston for competitive prices. Or, if you want something a little more pricey and an even easier breathe, my absolute favourite is the Scubapro Mk20 and G250.
As regards a contents gauge, keep it simple, and don't bother with a mechanical pressure (depth) gauge - save your money and spend it on a digital dive timer (e.g. the one by Uwatec) or a computer.
Thirdly, a BC or wing. There is quite a bit of debate about whether newish divers should go straight on to using a wing or not. All I can say is that I've had several trainees use wings, and have no trouble at all. For sheer flexibility and value, I reckon the Buddy Tekwing is hard to beat - try one, look at the price SDS sell them for, then you decide!
Training Officer 2003
Last updated: November 11, 2008