Over the last few months, I have had the opportunity to acquire a couple of new pieces of gear. The equipment selection was not to satisfy the need for a shiny new toy, but the goal of each purchase was to improve my diving experience. When selecting new gear for SCUBA diving, you need to look at the purchase with a methodology in mind.
My methodology, not necessarily the same way that you might, is roughly the following process.
- Evaluate the deficiency in the equipment.
- Evaluate if augmentation of the existing gear corrects the gap, or does it require a new purchase.
- Create selection criteria and Research new equipment
Let’s dive into (no pun intended) the process in more detail.
Evaluate the Deficiency
Have you been at the point where you say something’s not right, or I have a new underwater task that I have the need or desire to take on? It could be as simple as a flashlight for low visibility or night diving, or this water is too cold for my 7mm wetsuit I need something different. Whatever the deficiency is or the catalyst that drives the need for a new piece of gear, you’re starting your process on selection.
Recently I was diving in a lake that was 39℉ at the surface, with an air temp of 30℉. Ninty seconds into our descent, I began to notice something wrong. I could tell the second stage in my mouth was not performing correctly. There was a hitch or drag on an inhale that began to concern me. I also started to detect what seemed to be ice crystals entering my mouth during inhalation. Within another sixty seconds, I was dealing with a second stage freeflow and had to abort the dive. Deficiency noted. Upon inspection of my regulator, which I have used in colder water, we discovered a warn seat that contributed to the freezing. The incident was a catalyst to push me to finish building my redundant air delivery system or pony system for short. I was out on the hunt for a new regulator.
Evaluate the Gap
Evaluating the gap is a vital part of the process; this gives you the “Why I am replacing a piece of equipment.” Some of the questions I ask are, is it a Comfort issue, will correcting the problem make my experience more enjoyable? Is it a safety concern, will fixing the issue make my scuba diving safer? Can I modify what I have now to close the gap, or am I looking for a new piece of equipment? The last thing I usually ask is will it help me safely complete a task, like document the dive with a camera, or communicate to a buddy with a slate or navigate to a destination with a compass. You get the idea. In my example, the gap wasn’t so much the freezing up of the second stage but finding an adequate regulator for my pony bottle setup. For me, this is both a comfort and a safety decision. No augmentation or modification solves my issue; I need a new or new to me regulator set.
Research happens in different ways; with the internet, there are tons of resources to leverage. There is lots of both useful information and twisted opinions, so sometimes we can get stuck on what I should do or purchase. When researching, I like to weigh the sources, Manafacture information, professional reviews, personal reviews, and my buddy list. I first always go to the manufacture of the product and research in which application or environment they have designed the equipment to operate correctly. Short disclaimer, I work for a manufacturer of electronic equipment (not SCUBA equipment) and different products we make have specific applications and, outside the “natural” use of the product, your experiences may not be optimal. Let me give you a for instance; BC selection if I am going to do ice diving in a drysuit, and I want to make sure I get a BC that has the lift capacity to keep me buoyant at the surface. A tropical travel BC may work great for me and my 8lbs of led in the warmer waters, but it may not perform as expected in 32℉ water with 28lbs of led, a steel 120 tank, and in a drysuit. Understand from the manufacturer for which use-case the equipment is appropriate. Number two in research for me is “what are others saying,” especially from reliable resources. Many scuba publications have built their reputation is based on non-biased reviews. You can use these reviews as sources for tests of the product or equipment you are evaluating, and most give you the test criteria on how they came to their conclusion. Thirdly, I troll the message boards, video sites, and blogs for the opinions of real users, and this is where you have to apply the complex internet opinion filters to filter out misinformation from useful information.
During the research phase, have a criteria list to help include or exclude equipment for evaluation. Your criteria list may vary from time to time, but a couple of things I always emphasize are:
- is the gear easy to operate
- simple to maintain
- can I quickly get it repaired
I would strongly suggest if it is life safety equipment, buy it from your local shop, buy what they know, and what they service. It may cost you a few percentages more to get it from them, but in the long run, it saves you repair and maintenance headaches.
The acquisition is not the final phase in the process but, for the most part, the most definitive stage. You are now committing to your plan. Selecting manufacturer, model, accessories, and vendor are part of the criteria you settle during the evaluation phase. Remember, you don’t just evaluate the equipment functionality but also reliability, maintainability, and the vendor.
After the purchase, the process is not done, and I am not done with the topic. I figured over 1000 words is long enough to read. There will be a part two to discuss knowing your new gear and what you do after the purchase.