The difference between a perfect dive trip and a frustrating one – By Natalie Gibb Scuba Diving Expert

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Doing your research, testing your gear, and packing carefully can make the difference between a perfect dive trip and a frustrating one.

  1. Test dive all your scuba gear before your trip!

When is your dive gear most likely to break? That’s easy. It is most likely to break when you are on your dream dive trip off the remote island of wherever, where no spares parts are obtainable and gear servicing is impossible. This rule is universally true unless you are an unusual size, in which case items are likely to break just about anywhere, because no one will have a replacement in your size anyhow.

Weeks before a dive trip, test dive your gear – each and every piece you will bring – in the open water if possible, in a pool if not. Evaluate new gear in a controlled environment and address issues immediately.

  1. Reviewing basic scuba skills in a pool before a trip.

If you have been out of the water for six months or more, consider taking a refresher course , even if you feel that you already know everything. Of course, the benefit of a refresher course will be a dependent upon your dive experience, but in general, shaking the dust off of your dive skills and knowledge will help to increase your enjoyment of diving on vacation.

The main benefit of a refresher course, however, is simply to get you back in the water using your gear in a controlled environment so that you feel as comfortable and confident as possible on the first dive of your vacation. You can even bring your own gear along on a refresher course to ensure that it is all working properly.

If you don’t have DAN Insurance, get it. 

  1. Review Your Travel and Dive Documents

Review your travel and diving documents before booking flights or a trip, and be sure they are up-to-date. The most obvious of these are your passport and dive certification cards. Keep in mind that many remote dive locations do not have reliable internet, and looking up your certification online is not always an option.

Other documentation you may or may not need can include travel visas, medical releases, your dive logbook, and dive insurance. Many standard medical insurance carriers will not cover recompression treatments, double check yours.

Be sure to alert credit card companies that you will be travelling. It is a good idea to carry copies of international toll-free numbers to call in case cards are compromised. Keep in mind that many debit cards and credit cards have daily limits when used at overseas ATMs or credit card terminals. Be prepared!

 

  1. Double Check Airline Regulations for Scuba Gear

Carefully research airline policies as to what dive gear you can carry on and what you can check.

If you are carrying your own equipment, be sure to double check airline regulations regarding dive gear, and keep in mind that regulations may be country and airline specific. Items such as HID lights, spare air bottles, spools and reels, and even back plates may require specific packing considerations.  Consider carrying print-outs of descriptions for unusual items to be able to prove to airport personal that they are dive gear, not bombs.

Divers will have to pick and choose what to bring in a carry-on and what to put in checked luggage. If possible, carry on delicate items.

Finally, consider TSA-friendly locks, pack and weigh your bags ahead of time, and be sure to allow for sufficient drying of dive gear before you pack it back up to go home. 

  1. Pack Spares of Vital Gear, Parts, and Medicine

Consider what items in your dive gear are easily replaceable and what are not. This will depend upon what gear you use, and where you are going.

Most dive shops have a decent range of rental gear that can be borrowed in an emergency, but if there is an item you cannot live without, pack an extra!

Divers who have allergies or medical issues should pack an excess of the required medication. A major consideration is prescription ear drops for divers with sensitive ears or those who are prone to ear infections.

Be sure to alert your dive shop to any prescription medications you are taking, and check all medications for potential side effects if they are to be used while scuba diving.  

  1. Research Your Dive Destination before Booking a Trip

Research your planned dive destination carefully.

Your research should include everything from surface/water temperatures and conditions at the planned time of your trip, to dive shop reviews, to candid recent photos.

Keep in mind that dive travel can be seasonal.

If there is a specific type of wildlife you are interested in seeing, or a dive experience you would like, email dive shops and ask when the best time of year is. Most dive service providers are interested in providing the best experience possible for clients, take their advice!

In some cases, the off-season is your friend.

Flights, accommodations, and even diving may be less expensive during the low tourist season, and you might be able to avoid crowds! However, sometimes low season is low for a reason.   

  1. Pack Diving Safety Devices

Purchase and learn to use your own diving safety devices, and then carry them on your dive trips.

The first, and most important, is a huge, inflatable surface marker buoy and spool, with a mirror, chemical light stick, and whistle attached in a small pocket at the base. The second is a dive computer.

If you carry a surface marker buoy be sure to alert the dive guide and your captain to its presence and appearance, and discuss the circumstances under which you will deploy it before ever entering the water.

  1. Plan a Day or Two Off

Plan a dry day or two to enjoy local sites and give yourself a buffer in case of illness or ear problems. 

Giving yourself a few extra days can make the difference between a fun dive trip and a disappointing one, so plan carefully. Consider flying in a day or two before a planned live aboard trip to accommodate flight delays or cancellations.

Plan a dry day at the end of your trip to dry dive gear, or mid-way through to see local sites.

You can use your dry day to make up dives if you unexpectedly fall ill, have ear problems, or can’t dive due to weather conditions.

Having extra days can be particularly important when booking courses, in which case a missed day of training can mean the difference between completing the course and having to retake it if you don’t have a few buffer days.

Natalie Gibb

Scuba Diving Expert

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Mask Squeeze in Scuba Diving – By Natalie Gibb Scuba Diving Expert

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Have you ever surfaced from a scuba dive with an indentation from your mask on your face? If so, you may have already experienced a mild mask squeeze.

Mask Squeeze is the condition that occurs due to incorrect equalization of the air pressure inside the mask causing the outside pressure at depth to push the scuba mask to a divers face resulting in bursting of the small blood vessels around the eyes.

Serious mask squeezes are rare in scuba diving, but when they do happen, they can be painful and horrifying to look at.

Thankfully, mask squeezes are completely preventable.

What Causes a Mask Squeeze in Scuba Diving?:

A diver’s mask traps a pocket of air against his face . During descent, the air trapped behind the diver’s mask behaves in the same manner as the air trapped in his other body air spaces. As a diver goes down, the pressure surrounding him increases with his depth. The increase in pressure causes the air in his mask and other body air spaces to compress in accordance with Boyle’s Law.

As the air compresses, it creates a pressure vacuum, or suction, on the diver’s face.

If the situation is not remedied, the suction can be so forceful that it damages the diver’s facial tissues and eyes.

 

How to Identify a Mask Squeeze:

Mask squeeze affects a diver’s eyes, cheeks, and forehead.

A diver with severe mask squeeze may have inflammation and raccoon-like bruises over his cheeks and surrounding his eyes.

Mask squeeze may also cause subconjunctival hemorrhages, or bleeding under the thin layer of transparent tissue covering the whites of the eyes.

A diver who has experienced a mask squeeze may have bright red blood spots in the white of his eyes. His eyeballs may even be completely red (like a zombie!).

 

Equalizing a Scuba Mask to Prevent a Squeeze:

Preventing a mask squeeze is simple.

A diver need only equalize the pressure in his mask as he descends by adding air to the mask’s air space.

To do this, a diver exhales into the mask from his nose, much as he would when clearing his mask of water. Many divers exhale small amounts of air through their noses without realizing it as part of their normal breathing cycle. These divers will not need to take any additional steps to equalize their masks.

However, divers who have mastered “mouth only” scuba breathing will need to exhale into their masks periodically during descent. A diver should equalize his mask air space anytime he feels a slight suction on his face from his mask. Of course, it is best to prevent any pressure build up whatsoever, so a good rule of thumb is to exhale into the mask after each ear equalization.

No special action need be taken to equalize a scuba mask during ascent. The air inside a diver’s mask will expand, just as the air in his other body air spaces. The expanding air will simply bubble out from under the skirt of the diver’s mask, and does not present a problem.

Is Mask Squeeze Dangerous? What Is the Treatment?:

Mask squeeze is not usually dangerous and does not cause permanent damage.

It is uncomfortable and embarrassing.

Divers who experience a major mask squeeze, particularly a mask squeeze involving the eyes, should seek the advice of a doctor familiar with hyperbaric medicine. Antibiotic drops may be recommended for the eyes to prevent infection. A diver with an eye squeeze should expect the bright red colour to slowly fade to green or yellow before disappearing, just as any other bruise would do.

“Save a Dive” Kit

SaveaDiveKit

 

Save a dive kits may be a small as a zip-lock bag or as big as a tool box, a diver’s save a dive kit will differ depending upon his needs and type of diving.

Suggested parts for the Basic Save a Dive Kit:

Spare mask strap
Mask straps are one of the most common items to break before a dive. Be sure to select a spare mask strap that fits your mask.

Spare fin strap and buckle
Fin straps break less frequently than mask straps, but they do break.  Be sure to choose the correct strap for you fins.

Spare regulator mouthpiece and zip tie/cable tie to secure it.

A spare regulator mouthpiece is an absolute essential.

Basic o-ring kit
This should include o-rings for low pressure and high pressure hoses, as well as o-rings for yoke tank valves or o-rings for DIN regulators (depending upon which you use).

High pressure and low pressure port plugs for the regulator first stage.

When a diver removes a hose from his regulator first stage, he must plug the hole with a port plug. Bring along both a high pressure and low pressure port plug that fits your first stage (apex first stages have unusually large port plugs).

Small adjustable crescent wrench
This is used to remove hoses from the regulator to replace o-rings.

Hex wrenches/ allen keys
Hex wrenches are used to remove port plugs, as well as for a variety of other applications.

Cutting device/knife
At a minimum, your cutting tool should be able to cleanly slice off zip ties and snip strings and bungee.

Needle nose pliers
Needle nose pliers are great for just about everything that needs to be pulled or tightened.

Small pot of silicon lubricant

This is used for greasing o-rings in dive gear, dive lights, etc.

A lighter

Zip ties and duct tape

Nail clippers

Nail clippers are useful for nipping of zip ties and clipping small items.

White trash bag.
Use a white plastic trash bag as a work surface on dirty or wet areas. This makes seeing o-rings and parts easier, and keeps them clean and dry.

Dry suit zipper wax.

Essential if you use a dry suit.

A DIN-to-yoke or yoke-to-DIN adaptor

This allows you to dive with both DIN and yoke tanks.

• Bungee/ Shock Cord

Bungee can be used to secure lights, create necklaces for back-up regs (long hose configuration), manufacture watch/computer straps, and create octopus/alternate air source holders.

 

 

 

Buoyancy Basics – Seven Ideas for Adjusting Trim Without Adding Weight

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Before making any adjustments to his gear, a diver must first check his trim. He should enter the water with all of his diver gear and attempt to hover in a horizontal position without moving his fins or arms. He can then note whether he has a tendency to hover head or feet up, or to roll to one side.

1. Move Weights Around

Changing the position of a diver’s weights may help to adjust his trim. Many buoyancy compensators (BCs) have trim weight pockets just below the diver’s shoulders. A diver who tends to float head-up may use the pockets to redistribute his weights, placing a few pounds in each pocket. For example, a diver who uses ten pounds of weight may want to carry six pounds on his weight belt and four pounds (two on each shoulder) in his trim weight pockets. If a diver’s BC does not have trim weight pockets, some divers will place a weight on the BC’s tank band for a similar effect.

Redistributing weights is not always possible, as in the case of a diver who uses very little or no weight, or a diver who uses a BC without trim weight pockets. Some divers simply find that redistributing weight does not correct their trim. Fortunately, it is possible to manipulate other pieces of dive gear to perfect a diver’s trim.

2. Tank Position

A diver’s tank position affects his trim. A tank can be lowered or raised in relation to a diver’s BC by changing the position of the BC strap on the tank. A diver who attaches his BC strap near the top of his tank will find that the tank sits low on his body. This may help to correct for a foot-up position by shifting the weight of the tank towards the diver’s feet. Attaching the BC to a lower part to the tank will have the opposite effect.

3. Reposition the Buoyancy Cell

Some equipment configurations, such as a backplate/ wing system, allow a diver to move his buoyancy cell (the part that inflates and deflates) upwards or downwards in relation to his harness. A diver can move the buoyancy cell towards his head to compensate for a foot-up position, or towards his lower body to correct a head-up position.

4. Change Your Neoprene

The thickness and distribution of a diver’s neoprene garments can have a huge effect on his trim. Thick, full-length wetsuits, especially wetsuits that have 5 mm or 7 mm legs, have a tendency to cause a diver to float feet-up. Switching to a wetsuit that has a 7 mm torso and thinner legs can remedy this situation. Similarly, thick wetsuit booties can cause a diver’s feet to float. Simply switching to thinner booties may solve a foot-up position. Finally, warm-water divers who find themselves floating foot-up may consider switching to a short wetsuit, as long as the suit still provides adequate thermal protection.

Adding neoprene layers to the torso may also have a slight effect on a diver’s trim. Thick vests and hoods add buoyancy to a diver’s upper body, and may be useful in compensating for a foot-up position.

5. Change Your Fins

Changing your fins may sound like a drastic step, but switching your fins can often be a helpful method of correcting trim. Different brands and styles of fins have astonishingly different buoyancy characteristics. For instance, SCUBAPRO Jet Fins are some on of the most negatively buoyant fins on the market. Other fins may be neutral or even positively buoyant. Heavier fins can compensate for a foot-up position, while lighter fins can compensate for a head-up position.

6. Change Your Regulator First Stages

Regulator first stages can be very heavy or relatively light. A heavy regulator first stage can help to fix a head-up position, and a lighter regulator first stage can help to compensate for a foot up-position. Of course, regulators should be selected first and foremost for their breathing characteristics, but given the choice between several similar first stages, a diver may want to make his final decision based on weight. The weight of the first stages is of particular interest to technical divers, who use at least two first stages on every dive.

7. Consider Your Accessories

Finally, a diver may want to take a look at his accessories and consider their effect on his trim. A diver who carries a heavy dive light may have a tendency to list to one side — in this case he may want to place other accessories (or counterweight in a worst-case scenario) on the side opposite side of his light. Divers who carry huge, heavy reels on their rear d-rings may notice that they float head-up. Switching to a lighter reel may fix this problem without any other adjustments.

In most cases, a diver’s trim can be adjusted without adding weight. Before making any adjustments, a diver should attempt to hover in horizontal trim with all of his dive gear in place (even accessories) to diagnose any trim problems. He can then begin repositioning or changing dive gear to improve his trim. It is advisable to change or reposition only one piece of gear at a time, and to get into the water after each adjustment to evaluate its effect. It is difficult to determine the result of an individual alteration when several adjustments are made at once.

 Take your time and make methodical adjustments to your equipment, one change at a time, until you are happy with your trim.

The Art of Equipment Configuration

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1. Accessibility:

The single most important concept in scuba equipment configuration is accessibility. A diver should be able to deploy, use, and stow dive gear easily and efficiently. Any configuration that makes accessing a piece of dive gear difficult or complicated should be re-thought, even if it fulfils all the other tenets of optimized equipment placement. Whenever possible, configure all dive gear so that it may be deployed and operated with one hand. This ensures that a diver can use his other hand for emergency management, such as maintaining physical contact with an out-of-air buddy.

2. Durability:

The manner in which a diver configures his gear should ensure that it will stay in place for an entire dive. A common equipment configuration failure is the alternate air source regulator coming free of its quick release.  The first time a piece of gear comes loose, the diver should reconfigure his gear to prevent the problem from reoccurring.

If it happened once, it will happen again!

3. Streamlining:

All dive gear, including accessories and hoses should be streamlined. In no circumstance should a piece of dive gear dangle more than a few inches below a diver’s horizontal body line . Hoses should be adjusted so that they do not loop above or beside the diver. Keep in mind that regulator hoses are available in a variety of lengths. Proper streamlining reduces the chance of entanglement, damage to the environment, and drag.

A common failure of streamlining in standard recreational scuba diving is the octopus-style alternate air source, which necessarily must be attached to a longer hose to facilitate donation to an out-of-air diver. The hoses on octopus-style regulators typically loop out to the side of the diver, presenting an entanglement hazard and creating drag. As far as streamlining goes, integrated alternate air sources and long hose/necklace regulator configurations are both preferable.

All types of diving require some level of redundancy in the gear. Recreational open water diving requires that a diver carry at least one redundant second stage for his buddy to use in an emergency. More advanced or technical types of diving may require additional redundant gear for safety. A diver should carry the minimum amount of accessories and gear that allows him to dive safely. At a certain point, additional gear no longer increases dive safety. The trick is to balance redundancy and simplicity when configuring dive gear.

5. Trim and Comfort:

Once a diver has optimized his equipment configuration, he should test it in a forgiving environment such as a pool or shallow water dive site. When evaluating changes to his gear configuration, a diver should notice whether the changes upset or improve his trim and whether or not position of the gear is comfortable. No matter how fantastic it seems on the surface, the final test of an equipment configuration is whether or not it is comfortable and functional underwater.

Evaluating and adjusting your scuba diving equipment configuration can make diving easier, safer, and more comfortable.