Purchasing SCUBA equipment is a big undertaking, and there is a lot of information available to consumers. There are a lot of people with opinions – user forums, social media outlets and post-diving conversations. As an open water diver contemplating my first purchases, I was highly skeptical of the opinions expressed in stores, but also of the various on-line sources. As a dive shop owner, my goal is to educate my customers to the best of my ability as a technician, equipment expert, instructor, and most importantly, as a diver.
The opinions below are as balanced as I can possibly be – in no particular order, we have put together the this list of the most common questions most dive shops receive. I have been where you are, and hope that this helps you make good decisions.
1. Should I buy used dive gear?
The quick answer – no.
As divers, we are entering a hazardous environment with life support equipment. Would you trust a random person to look after toddlers without checking credentials, or someone you didn’t know to fix the brakes on your car in a parking lot? You are taking someone’s word that the gear you are buying is maintained on the INSIDE. Regulators, BCDs and computers may look fine on the outside, but the insides can be corroded, pitted, filled with gunk or have broken components. Even certified technicians need to take things apart to render an opinion during service. A diver has no way of knowing what the state of the gear is when they look at it. Additionally, there are programs from many manufacturers that subsidize regular service and warranties. Scuba equipment is often a lifetime purchase – used equipment often costs more to maintain than new over a 10 year period, sometimes by hundreds of dollars.
The only exception is purchasing used equipment from a dive centre. You can get a great deal on used equipment that is maintained and serviced by professionals. REMEMBER – there is still no warranty, and generally no parts-for-life or other manufacturer sponsored programs. The cost of maintenance is a long-term consideration still.
2. Why are mask/fins/snorkel combinations cheaper at big box stores?
These packages are designed for people who stick to shallow water in pools, lakes and beaches. They are not designed for diving. The buckles, straps and other materials are very light-duty and are designed as “throw away” items. The masks generally seal poorly due to the materials used on the skirts. Most dive shops sell “dive ready” gear for snorkeling. It is a little more expensive, but will last a very long time. Comments we hear from customers are that they have purchased the same “cheap” gear 2 or 3 times before buying something better. It is cheaper in the long run to buy something better!
3. Cold vs Warm Water Gear?
You can dive cold water dive equipment in warm water, but not the either way around! You get better equipment and can dive in more places with gear designed for use in Canada. It’s the best bang for the buck!
4. Beginner or Entry Level Equipment
Unlike other sports and hobbies, there is no such thing as “beginner” scuba gear. Whether you are a brand new 10 year old Open Water Diver, or a seasoned technical diver, equipment is essentially the same – aside from specialty attributes and configurations. There are a variety of manufacturers and models to choose from. A dive professional is your best starting point to determine what gear you should look at. Education and knowledge are the most important tools a consumer can use. Opinions are like mouths – everybody has one, especially on the Internet!
5. Differences Between the Least and Most Expensive Gear
There are a variety of features, where the equipment is manufactured, brand name, materials, specialty functions and a variety of other parameters. Discussion with certified technicians or people with a lot of experience with dive equipment and an objective approach (or at least someone who will admit to their biases and preferences). Ask your Divemaster or Instructor what they dive, and why!
6. Full Foot vs Open Heel Fins and Boots
Some consider open heel fins and boots to be cold water dive gear – and they would be correct. They also can be used in warm water, in fact, many people prefer this equipment configuration when they dive in the tropics. Hot sand, rough docks, slippery boat decks, sharp shells and climbing ladders onto dive boats are some of the reasons divers prefer boots and fins.
7. Shorty vs Full Wetsuit
A wetsuit is more than thermal protection, although this is it’s primary function. Divers tell us that they get the most utility from a full-length suit. In addition to staying a little warmer when you need it, the long sleeves and legs protect you from cuts, abrasions, fish hooks, jellyfish plus their nasty cousins, fire and black coral.
8. Buying Online vs Store
Online purchases seem to be less expensive, but most people will tell you that online purchasing will generally cost you about the same as visiting your local dive shop. Purchasing from international vendors can have a number of hidden costs, such as currency exchanges, additional shipping fees after your shipment crosses the border, customs and brokerage fees. Most dive manufacturers and distributors protect their dealer network with a variety of dealer – level service agreements. Simply put, dive shops don’t make much money on the equipment, but can make a small profit on the recurring service of equipment. Many manufacturers will offer parts for life on regulators if you take them back to the shop you purchased them from. Warranties are often voided when equipment is serviced outside of the vendor’s home territory – for example, a regulator purchased online from a store in Florida will not receive warranty coverage from a store in Calgary. That being said, if you move from Australia to Canada, your local dive shop will contact the manufacturer and make arrangements to transfer your warranty (if allowable).
As with used gear, the savings from purchasing online are often lost after as little as one year.
You also can’t touch, check sizes or try an example of the gear before purchasing online.
9. Try Before Buy
Many dive shops have an extensive rental fleet where you can try all sorts of dive gear. The best way to tell if you like to dive a particular piece of gear is to take it to the lake or pool and see how it works for you.
10. What Type/Brand Should I Buy?
The simplest answer is the gear that fits you best, meets your current and projected dive requirements, and your budget. Going the cheap route always ends up in compromises, and re-spending the money later. Every regulator that you can purchase in any dive store on the planet will deliver air to you in recreational limits. Any store or diver that tells you that Brand X is better than Brand Y has a bias – it’s up to you to see through the hyperbole. A good dive shop will identify the features, purchase price and cost of ownership of any dive equipment. Any sales representative that tells you their competition is inferior is not doing you a service. They should understand the features of their competitor’s products and have an informed opinion of them.