There is NO good diving in Santa Cruz. While it is possible to dive in Santa Cruz it is shallow diving and the visibility is very poor. Running a dive shop based in Santa Cruz I get a lot of calls about people that want to go diving here. Hopefully everyone searching for diving in Santa Cruz will find this and save themselves some disappointment.
Why we don’t dive in Santa Cruz: Despite being relatively close to popular diving areas like Monterey and Carmel, Santa Cruz is very different in terms of what is going on under the water. The first thing to know is that it is very shallow in Santa Cruz, max depth off shore within a swimmable distance is only going to be 15-30 ft. While some divers might not have an issue with shallower dives, the other issue this presents is the waves (the reason Santa Cruz is known for surfing). Because of the shallow water there are more waves that break farther out stirring up more sediment on the bottom and increasing turbidity. This also makes it more difficult and dangerous to enter and exit the water. The other main issue is the visibility, because Santa Cruz coast line mostly consist of silt stone and mud stone, there are very fine particle in the water that are not conducive to good visibility. While on rare occasions the visibility can be decent most of the time it is roughly 2-7 ft. The last reason that we do not dive Santa Cruz is the structure, while there is structure usually marked by kelp is is low lying structure and once again mostly mud stone, so breaks off easily and clouds visibility, for the most part its is also a lot of sand which for recreational diving is not very exciting.
In Conclusion, it is not worth it to go diving in Santa Cruz. Dive shops will not take you diving in Santa Cruz, because the diving is NOT GOOD. If you are interested in diving, Monterey and Carmel are where you want to dive, thats not to say that you shouldn’t support Santa Cruz dive shops but that is where we go diving.
There are dozens of dive sites in our local area all with their own features that make them unique. Wether you are diving, or freediving these are all sites worth checking out. This is going to be a down and dirty guide to the well known sites in this area, best way to reach them and what to expect. I will be doing my best to rate these sites in terms of ease of diving and quality of diving. The sites will be listed in order of easiest to hardest to dive and a score out of 10 will be given for the quality of diving. Obviously these are objective opinions based on my diving experience in the area but I feel I have a pretty good feel for many of these well known dive sites.
Breakwater/ San Carlos Beach: (4/10) This site is probably one of the most well known dive sites in central California, and the primary place for dive shops to conduct certification dives. It is a very easy entry into the water and the location is tucked into Monterey so only the largest swells prevent diving. There is a lot of sand at this site and divers will only have 3 options to explore the wall, middle reef, and the pipe/ medtridium fields. For first diving experience or first California diving experience this is a good ice breaker but due to the high volume of divers, and silty bottom this dive site is more like a bunny slope, a good taste of diving but will not leave you satisfied like other sites. Breakwater does actually have a decent variety of fish and creatures to see but does not have the volume of life that other sites have, it is one of the best places to have an encounter with Sea Lions though. If you are new to diving or conditions are not looking great this is the place you will probably dive. Average Max depth 40-50ft.
Maccabee Beach: (6/10) This dive site is located between Breakwater and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is a moderately protected location but does get more waves than Breakwater. The bottom structure is more interesting with much more rock structure, thicker kelp forest and old pipes and chains left from the old canneries. If you are able or willing to swim out or have access to a boat there are some deeper rock structures large boulders that have large crevices that ling cod and cabezon like to occupy. There is still a fine sand at this site so it can get stirred up but generally less divers so it doesn’t feel so crowded. Average Max depth 35-80ft depending on where you go there are plenty to see in the shallows.
Otter Cove/Lovers Point: (6/10) This dive site is unique because on the western side of the point which otter cove is located fishing/spearfishing is allowed. This makes it a popular dive site for spearfisherman especially when the swell is a little rougher. there are multiple entry points with stairs down to small beaches. This dive site it is best to focus on the center of the cove where most of the structure and kelp is. It does stretch a good amount of distance but is speckled with low rubble and mini pinnacles throughout. This is a great place to get into the kelp and just wander. The deeper portion of this site turns to sand so if your are looking to simple navigation you can stick to the outer edges. Average Max depth 40-50 ft.
Coral St/ Chase Reef: (7/10) This site is located just before Point Pinos and is much more subject to swell affecting its dive ability. When it is dividable I believe it is one of the best shore dives in Monterey, There is a bit of a swim to get to the more interesting structure but well worth it. The kelp forrest at Chase Reef stretches on and on and has a huge abundance of life. This site is similar to Otter Cove in the low lying rubble with pinnacles scattered about but the pinnacles are much larger. This site also gets much deeper than lovers with the shallower portions about 35 ft and can get deeper than 90 ft. A very good quality dive site but more dependent on the swell than the others listed so far. This site is best suited for more experienced divers.
Still Water Cove/ Pebble beach: (7/10) This dive site while it is accessible from shore it is an extremely long surface swim. To be honest if you don’t have a boat or a kayak you should not consider this site. But if you are willing to attempt it you will find just beyond the first set of rocks out from the pier there is some wonderful structure with canyons and pinnacles, tons of kelp and plenty of fish. Even Farther out there is Peekaboo rock which is were you can reach some real depth, and if you are lucky can find some of the large swim throughs in the reef. This site is really broken into 3 parts the interior bay between the rocks and the pier, outside of the rocks and peekaboo. Max Depth for interior are about 15ft, you want to get outside the rocks, beyond the rocks it drops to 40-60ft, and at peekaboo it can get deeper than 100ft. Once again this is a site best suited for a dive kayak or boat. Biggest benefit to this site is it is south facing and usually protected when many other sites are blown out by the swell.
Butterfly House/ Carmel River: (8/10) This may be one of the more iconic sites in carmel marked by a house on the coast with a scalloped roof that looks like wings. There are multiple entry points and limited parking, so getting there early is key. This dive site has plenty of Granite structure with kelp pinnacles and canyons with depths that range from 20ft-90ft. In my opinion it is best to enter from the rocks on either the left or right side of butterfly house and to explore from there entering on the beach there is a long swim and lots of bull kelp to fight through to get to some of the better structure. The biggest down side to this site is its location, it is situated in such a way that regardless of swell direction it tends to get hit no matter what. This site is best dived when the swell is very small, which can be tricky to get the timing right.
South Monastery: (9/10) This dive site is one half of probably the most infamous sites on the central coast, its steep burn, large particle sand, and shore break can be deceptive to divers that are not familiar. But learning how to dive this site provides vast rewards. The South side of the beach is usually a little calmer being tucked in the southern corner of the Carmel Bay. There is great structure but usually requires a longer swim to get to the more interesting locations, but provides a very large area to explore. You will need dozens of dives to truly explore the vastness of South Monastery, this is best explored with kayak, but a fair amount can be done with surface swim for the devoted. The farther around the corner you explore the more extreme the structure get with canyons, valleys and pinnacles all over. Large fish are a common site because it is part of the Point Lobos MPA so No Take of any fish, invertebrates or shells. This site is best capitalized on a south swell, this will provide adequate protection to easily enter and exit the water. Also for dives at Monastery south or north always be prepared to exit the water using the Monastery Crawl if you don’t know about it you shouldn’t be diving at Monastery.
North Monastery: 9/10 This like South Monastery has all of the same hazards for diving and is best avoided if there is significant swell, even if the waves don’t look very powerful they are deceptive and will even give seasoned divers trouble. Beyond that the North site has a much smaller footprint, with a reef that can easily be fully explored in a handful of dives. It does get deeper much faster reaching the northern end of the Carmel trench within swimming distance giving access to deep dives very readily max depths can be more than 120ft although the most interesting stuff can be found between 20-60 ft. There is plenty of kelp and rock structure at this site with more big fish and usually a school of blue rock fish. Most iconic kelp pictures taken in Monterey/Carmel that are published are taken at North Monastery, when you dive there you will see why. This is a very difficult site if you are not familiar with this beach, so it is best to make sure your first dives are with someone that is familiar with diving this beach.
Point Lobos: 10/10 This is the best place to dive if you are able, with that there are some things to be aware of, you need to make a reservation to dive Point Lobos, and you must dive with a buddy. The reservations require that 2 divers are signed up. This site does have a very easy entry a boat launch ramp, but it can be slippery so watch your step. The entry point in whalers cove is very protected and usually the easiest place to dive in all of Carmel. There are 2 diving areas Whalers Cove, and Bluefish Cove. Whalers is very easily accessed with nice structures canyons, walls, pinnacles and lots of kelp, getting moderately deep at about 70ft. If you are willing to make the swim or have a kayak, Bluefish Cove is by far one of the best dives on the central coast. Bluefish offers more extreme structures, deeper water, more fish, and stunning colors. You can easily find yourself deeper than 100ft but the best stuff is in the 40-80ft range. An amazing dive site that is perfect for photography with dramatic structure and an abundance of life.
There is no doubt that Monterey and Carmel Have amazing diving, if you enjoy shore diving these are some great sites worth checking out. Make sure if you are unfamiliar with diving this area it is best to dive with someone that is or hire a guide. Many of these sites can be difficult to dive depending on conditions so it is best to consult with your local dive center to determine when to experience some of the more difficult dives. With that being said in diving there is also no guarantees so surge, visibility and fish density can change from dive to dive, so experience these sites as much as you can to get all the best they have to offer.
Happy Diving everyone, Be safe and blow some bubbles.
The Riffe Stable snorkel is by far the absolute best snorkel that I have ever used. When looking at this snorkel you will notice that is is a little different from other snorkels and those differences are what makes it in my opinion the best snorkel. This snorkel it is produced by Riffe which is a very well known spearfishing company, with that being said this snorkel is amazing for any activity free diving, scuba diving, snorkeling but was designed with spearos in mind and it shows.
Lets start off with the features of this snorkel because despite it being a snorkel there is a lot of design and thought put into this piece of equipment.
Tapered shape: one of the first things you will notice when holding the stable snorkel is the taper shape of the tube, instead of a standard round tube it is teardrop shaped to give it a more hydrodynamic shape in the water. While this may seem gimmicky there is almost no drag from this snorkel and i easily forget about it when I am diving with it.
Oversized Purge: the purge on this snorkel is huge and makes clearing water out of the snorkel effortless, I have never had to clear the snorkel twice to get out residual water.
Oversides purge reservoir: this reservoir allows for any water that is left in the snorkel after clearing to be as far from the users mouth preventing water droplets from being inhaled by the user.
Backwards Facing Splash guard: This is probably one of the subtle features that most divers wouldn’t appreciate, the splash guard is backwards facing, it keeps with the hydrodynamic design and leaves a very large opening at the top of the snorkel, the added benefit of this design is that the opening is the perfect size to block with a thumb to force any residual water out the purge of the snorkel. This also allows users to clear that negative air space that is created in the tube of the snorkel.
Flexible Tube: The tube of the stable snorkel is made out of a flexible plastic that is rigid enough to keep its shape but can also be folded and shoved in a pocket of a bcd if not in use.
Corrugated Silicone section: This is pretty standard for most standard snorkels and is a nice feature for one that can be used for scuba diving as well as free diving.
Replaceable mouth piece: this is something that is also fairly standard for most snorkels these days but being able to swap out another mouth piece if it is damaged is always a great feature.
With any design there will always be flaws that deserve improvement for the most part this is a perfect snorkel my only gripe with this snorkel is the lack luster snorkel keeper and the sub par mouthpiece. Both of these are easily replaced or swapped but I wish that they just used the same snorkel keeper that Riffe Uses on their J-tube snorkel. And the mouthpiece while not the worst I like it better than aqualung mouthpieces i just din’t find it as comfortable as I would like.
The last thing worth noting is the price, for a semi-dry snorkel the Riffe Stable snorkel is a little expensive but if you factor in all the features I think it is well worth the value. Standard retail pricing in the US for the Stable Snorkel is about $52. If you are in search of a new snorkel and you are tired of the basic bargain bin snorkels but don’t need the fancy dry tops check out the Riffe Stable snorkel I assure you it will be the best purchase you have made on dive gear.
While it may not be the traditional set up for a scuba regulator, I find it just makes more sense to have the alternate air source on the left and not the right. The alternate air source, safe second or octopus whatever you prefer to call it is typically set up on the right side of the first stage and I think that it is something that most divers just accept. But if we really look at the design of regulators and alternate air sources I think it is more functional to be on the left.
Before we get into why I think it should be on the left let me put a couple things out there that not all divers will agree with largely because of their training. And if you disagree with me that is fine I think all divers should dive with the set up they are most comfortable with.
There is nothing that says the alternate air source has to be on the right side. No training agency specifically states which side the alternate has to be on for recreational diving. Yes it is most commonly on the right but I think that is just because thats now it has always been.
The alternate being on the left does not change the process of sharing air. You still pull the alternate from the keeper, clip or pocket, clear it from under your arm, give it to your buddy and make contact with your buddy.
The alternate air source is for my buddy. I do not believe in donating my primary to a panicked diver or a diver that is out of air. The hose for the alternate is designed to be longer so a buddy can use it, and I shouldn’t have to breath off a less tuned regulator because my buddy was not paying attention to their air.
Overhead environment, A majority of my diving occurs in California with the kelp forest and there are times where going straight up while sharing air can cause more problems so an ability to swim comfortably with a buddy who is using an alternate air source is very handy.
My first reason for diving with my Alternate air source on the left is no kink in the hose when sharing air. Because of the orientation of the regulator in order to share air with a buddy (if oriented on the right) the hose has to kink, or bend back on itself reducing the length of the hose, this also makes it pull out of the divers mouth and honestly a little awkward. It is also common to avoid this kink for divers to present the alternate upside down to their buddy which for some alternates can cause them to leak water, or not work at all, often making the situation worse. By placing the alternate on the left these problems are all resolved, the hose does not kink, it does not have to be given upside down, and the divers are allotted appropriate space.
My second reason for placing my alternate on the left is body positioning for sharing air. The traditional position (for PADI at least) is to make contact with your buddy once air is being shared by linking right arms. This is all well and good if you are going straight up but if you need to swim out from under something like a dock, boat or kelp, it can be a little awkward. Now with the alternate on the left this can still be done, but I prefer to grab onto the bcd with my left hand when I am donating air so i can help control their buoyancy with the right shoulder dump, and give the receiver both hands free to manually inflate at the surface while I am still holding onto them, this avoids any bumbling at the surface and I can use my buoyancy to help them stay afloat until they are inflated without losing contact. I understand that this may impede my ability to deflate as we ascend because my left hand is occupied but I also dive a drysuit so I am raising my left arm anyways to deflate.
My third reason is kinda over arching of all of these, it comes down to training. One of the biggest reasons people stick to the alternate on the right is because of the fear that is instilled upon them that another diver is going to run out of air and pull their primary out of their mouth. While the logic behind this appears to be sound, a panicked diver is looking for a working regulator will go for the one that they see is working, I believe that is a failure on the part of their instructor. I have been diving for almost 20 years with 1000+ dives and never have I once seen a diver grab a regulator out of my or anyone else’s mouth. I know for sure that my students were trained better than that to endanger another diver. The alternate is made a bright color for a reason so it is visible for the other divers to find in an emergency. I have been on dives were divers have run out of air and each time they either signal to me or grab my alternate because thats how they were trained. If you train someone to pull a regulator out of someone else’s mouth then they will and that could cause a whole other mess of problems.
While I personally prefer to have the alternate on the left this is my own opinion, I believe that the benefits of having it on the left are much higher than having it on the right. With that being said I also believe that personal equipment should be set up to each divers personal preferences and if this convinces some divers to try it out on the left great but I understand that those of us that prefer our alternates on the left will remain a minority. I hope that this has been enjoyable and maybe made people question why their regulators are set up the way they are.
This is probably one of the most difficult bcd’s to categorize, it is a back inflate, soft backplate style, travel bcd. It is lightweight, customizable, and one size fits all, the only downside to this bcd is its minimal lift capacity. Zeagle is well known for their durable and reliable bcd’s that are used for both recreation and a favorite of the military. The most recognized bcd from eagle is the Ranger, and the least recognized is probably the Express Tech. This bcd can come in multiple forms depending on how many bells and whistles you want it to have. The most basic is the Express Tech and then you also have the complete package with the Express Tech Deluxe. Depending on what you are looking for in a bcd this may be the perfect fit.
The Basic stats of this BCD are as follows:
Dry weight is 6.5 lbs
Lift capacity 24 lbs
Rear Weight pockets (16lbs)
Soft back plate
Twin tank straps
Optional shoulder and back pads
Optional quick release pockets (2 options: Zip Touch 20 lb, and rip chord 30 lb)
One size fits all
Zeagle’s quick unscrew inflator hose (compatible with garden hose for flushing bladder)
Starting Price $394.95
Can be set up for twin tanks
What I like about this BCD:
In my mind this is almost a perfect BCD it has pretty much everything I want for an all around BCD and nothing I don’t. Especially for my personal style of diving. It is one size fits all using webbing that can be trimmed, and a stomach strap that is connected to the shoulders with slide so it easily adjust unlike some backplates where the shoulders are almost static. This means I can dive with this bcd in a 3mm suit for warm water or a Drysuit for cold water without having to make any major adjustments to the BCD. The optional quick release pockets and pads let the user decide if the extra comforts are worth the cost. And by far the cost of the BCD may be its most attractive coming in under $400 for a travel bcd is hard to find, and though it may be a tad heavier than others on the market 6 lbs is nothing to shake a stick at.
What I don’t like about this BCD:
There isn’t much that really is a deal breaker for this bcd in my opinion, the only things that I can understand might be undesirable would be the minimal lift capacity and the additional cost of add-ons. The lift only being 24 lbs really dose make this BCD best suited for warm water divers, I do find it silly that with only 24lbs of lift they give the option to accommodate 46 lbs of lead in the front and rear weight pockets. I it is probably possible to attach a larger bladder but have not looked into the difficulty of doing so, and of course the larger bladder would be sold separately. I would prefer the bladder to have a little more lift 30+ lbs would make me much happier than the 24 lbs but it wouldn’t deter me. The added cost of extras on this bcd i wouldn’t categorize as a bad thing obviously more features cost more but I think some will get the basic Express Tech and be put off that it doesn’t have quick release pockets on the front or padding for the shoulders or back. The price is very desirable for what you are getting $394.95 for the basic and the price jumps from there with the weight pockets and pads pushing the price over $500.
Overall if you are looking for a lightweight durable BCD, that you want to customize to fit you and your diving style the Express Tech may be the perfect fit. I have only dove this bcd a few times borrowing from a friend, I enjoyed the fit, it was easy to put on and take off with the stomach strap connected to the shoulders. Diving it with my drysuit the lift wasn’t an issue I usually only use the BCD at at the surface anyways. It will definitely be my next purchase and become my dedicated travel bcd because although my Stiletto is great shedding a few pounds for other gear can make a big difference.
For diving fins are an integral part of how we move around underwater they are one of the most efficient ways to propel ourselves with all of our gear on. While there is no perfect science for finding fins this will cover some considerations in determining which fins will best suit your diving style. This will be more handy for divers looking for their first set of fins but could also be helpful for divers looking to replace an old pair of fins.
First consideration: full foot or open heel?
Full foot fins are generally regarded as snorkeling fins but are often used as diving fins for warm water. They are usually a bit smaller than traditional fins, use a full foot pocket with heel, and usually are a bit lighter and cheaper than open heel fins. These are a good option for someone who only plans on doing warm water diving, they will not keep your feet warm enough for cold water diving. The sizing for these fins usually is a range of shoe sizes (7-8, 9-10, 11-12 etc…) this will vary with each brand.
Open heel fins are just what they sound like they have a foot pocket with no heel and a strap to keep the foot secure. These fins are almost always used with booties. They are generally a little bit more robust in the blade and the foot pocket to accommodate the boot, and can cost a little more. The open heel fin is the ideal fin for diving because of its versatility, despite the extra weight can be used in warm or cold water by going to a thinner or thicker boot, feet are also something that we need to worry about overheating while diving so wearing a thick boot in warm water isn’t an issue, except for travel weight. Open heel fins can also have a variety of different straps for the heel ranging from rubber or silicone adjustable with clips for quick disconnect, to silicone, bungee, or spring straps that are usually at a set tension and used for easy removal. This can effect the cost of the fin but can also usually be changed so if you would like to upgrade to spring style straps that is possible. The sizes of the open heel fins is much more general usually ranging from XS to XL but with the adjustable strap or spring strap able to accommodate a wider variety of foot sizes.
Second Consideration: Comfort.
This is the most import step in finding the right fin, comfort should be your primary objective because if its not it will make the experience unbearable like going on a hike in dress shoes. Depending on which style of fin you decide to go with you will be next trying them on, if you are getting an open heel you will need to find a comfortable bootie first. For the full foot fins you want to make sure that when in the pocket your foot is secure and not shifting around, too much space could lead to rub spots that cause blisters. You also don’t want the foot pocket too tight because it may cause cramping in the foot. Consider trying out different brands if possible because their foot pockets and ranges of sizes will differ. For open heel fins it will be a very similar process you want to try on different sizes and make sure that the bootie fills the entire pocket you should not have any gaps when worn, gaps can cause the fin to move and shift on the foot and work less efficiently. For people with small feet make sure that the heel strap is not completely maxed out, sometimes this can still not be enough and the fin can fall off under heavy kicking. Check and make sure that the foot is not experiencing and squeezes or pressure points from the pockets these can become uncomfortable and possibly cause cramping, sometimes due to the heel strap being to tight. For both the full foot and the open heel make sure to extend the leg and kick with the toes pointed to replicate the position your foot will been in while diving this will be a more accurate portrayal of how the fin will feel. Consult with the sales person if you are having trouble determining if it is a good fit, but ultimately you will feel if it is comfortable or not.
Third Consideration: soft or stiff blade?
The softness or stiffness of the fin blade will differ from style to style and most brands will have a range to accommodate all styles of divers. Soft blades have a lot of flex to them and are much easier to kick but do not provide a great deal of power. With the soft blade it will not be as obvious that you are kicking a fin and will feel like a more fluid motion. Softer blades are most efficient with the flutter style kick. These are generally popular with newer divers, divers with injuries, or divers that may not have the best kicking form because they are more forgiving and require less strain. Stiff blades will provide more resistance when kicking and have increased power to the kicks, you will be aware that you are kicking. These fins can be a little heavier and sometimes shorter, becoming very popular in the technical diving space because of the ability to maneuver and push a diver with more equipment. These blades work best with some form of frog kick, but can be efficient when the flutter kick is used as well. This fin is best for divers that are used to kicking and have stronger legs and a good kicking form to maximize their efficiency. There are also a variety of fins in-between soft and stiff, like stated before focus on comfort first if you are a new diver whatever you start with will become your normal.
For divers replacing an old pair of fins, I generally suggest sticking with a fin that is roughly the same stiffness or softness as the last pair. If you have been diving that fin for a while it will be an awkward transition going from soft to stiff and vise versa. If you have not been diving in a while and don’t remember how soft or stiff your fins may have been it shouldn’t matter that much.
Split fins: these are fins that are just what they sound like split down the middle of the fin leaving two fins instead of a single blade per foot. The split fin is very efficient in how they work channeling the water straight back on both the up and down kick. A majority of the time the split fin is a very soft fin, ideal for divers that may have a injury that could affect their kick. While very popular for a while new fin designs have found ways to maximize efficiency of the fin with out the split, so they are becoming less common.
Fourth Consideration: Color.
Like all other dive equipment most fins will come in a variety of colors to allow divers to personalize their gear. The color of the fin will not affect its performance, so in reality it doesn’t matter but some divers will choose a particular set of fins over another because of the color option. I recommend agains this but if you need to match your gear have at it. Most fins will offer at least the basic 3 colors (black, blue, yellow) but with new styles more colors are becoming popular (teal, pink, purple etc…) Fins are a great way to identify other divers underwater and having a different color will make you more recognizable. Some more tech oriented fins will often only be offered in one color usually black, but many divers will write their names on them to make them identifiable.
Wether you are a brand new diver or a seasoned diver learning a new specialty there are somethings you might do that secretly drive your instructor up the wall. Some of these things may occur before instruction begins, during or after, but at some point these will all happen eventually. Here are some things you might do as a student getting certified that your instructor hates, and how you can avoid or fix these problems.
Don’t show up to class with the generic Costco mask, snorkel & fins set.
Diving isn’t the cheapest sport to get into, but like many other sports there are very very cheap alternatives that just don’t cut the mustard. The mask in those sets are made with cheap materials that will not hold up over time, the silicone is actually silicone & some sort of PVC which will harden relatively quickly. These are also very generic so its very common for them not to fit well or be very uncomfortable. The fins are the worst of the package, they are meant for snorkeling, so they are way to small to efficiently push a diver with gear through the water, and they are made for bare feet so if you are planning on diving with boots in cold water they won’t fit. The straps and clips are also cheap and very prone to breaking. I want to bang my head into a wall ever time I see one of these sets show up to a class, it tells me that this person is either to cheap to commit to diving or they just don’t care about getting certified. I see this a lot with parents getting kids certified or significant others getting their partner certified, they don’t know if they will like it so they don’t want to invest in good gear, but if you don’t have gear that is comfortable and appropriate its more likely they won’t enjoy diving. Obviously this is more of an issue with Open water students than continuing education.
Do get your gear from a dive shop.
Firstly preferably get your gear from the shop you are getting your instruction at its just a show of good faith and support, but secondly they will ensure that you have equipment that is appropriate for the type of diving that you are training for. Proper fit and suitability of personal equipment will greatly improve the quality of the experience and make diving way more enjoyable. If you compare diving to something like snow skiing or snowboarding if you show up to a lesson and you don’t have appropriate attire genes and a sweatshirt and its storming out you are going to be miserable and not enjoy the experience despite paying for a lift ticket, lesson and rentals unless you purchased a plastic version of the snowboard or skis at Costco and that won’t work very well either. So make sure that you have the appropriate equipment for diving and that it fits you properly, your dive shop will be happy to help you with this.
Don’t be Late.
This is one of my personal pet peeves, as a very punctual person I hate it when people are excessively late. Classroom, pool and ocean dives are usually set in advance so if you sign up for a class make sure that you can make it to all of the meetings on time. Most of the time there will be other students also waiting for you to arrive so the class can get started. Scuba training is often open ended in terms of time so your being late could drag the class on much longer than people want. Its a sign of respect and commitment to show up on time, and being late affects everyone in the class.
Docall in advance if you are going to be late.
Its a simple courtesy to everyone in the class and instructor if you can let them know you are running late. Depending on how late you might be they may wait or start the class without you so you can make it up later (likely for an additional fee). Sometimes the meeting time might not be during shop hours so it is a good idea if you are starting a class to ask if you can get the instructors contact just in case this will also help if you are having trouble finding a meeting location. Your instructor should have your contact from when you signed up and will likely call you to find out if you are running late or not coming to class. The most important aspect is to make sure that being late to class is not a common occurrence.
Don’t be unprepared for class.
This is something that often contributes to being late to class, maybe you show up on time or a little early but you still need to get all of your equipment for class, this can take anywhere from 30min to an hour and now the class is waiting for you. Some students might also show up and not have read any of the material, or gotten important forms like the medical questionnaire signed by a doctor (if necessary). These are all things that delay the class, and some instructors may ask that you sign up for a different class so you can complete the required material or have time to see your doctor and get medically cleared. This is all information that you are given when signing up on how to be prepared for the first day and it is up to the student to take responsibility.
Do prepare for class in advance.
It sounds simple but many neglect this opportunity, often times scuba classes are signed up for well in advance and the student has plenty of time to get their personal equipment, read the materials and get medically cleared (if necessary). So take the process seriously and your instructor will greatly appreciate it, it will make the class much easier for everyone involved. There is nothing more disappointing than having to reschedule a student because they didn’t take the time to prepare so avoid the situation all together and make sure you are ready for the class well in advance.
Don’t be afraid to ask for additional attention or help.
The purpose of the instructor is to train and assist you in learning to scuba dive, so don’t be afraid to ask for additional help. If there is a skill that you are struggling with and everyone else in the group is getting it the instructor or their assistant will either take you aside to work with you one on one or have you move on to circle back to the skill at the end to keep the flow of the class moving. Its ok to have trouble with the skill especially in the pool it is all new and very unnatural, so if you are having some difficulty let the instructor know and they might have an alternate way to perform the skill that might be easier for you. If you are completing a skill but not feeling comfortable with it, it could cause problems when performing them in the ocean which can be dangerous, so make sure that you are 100% comfortable with all the skills. If you need to arrange additional pool time for practice or a private session with the instructor to make sure you are ready.
Do consider tipping.
This is of course subjective, but if you had a really great instructor that went above and beyond in your training a little something extra is always appreciated. It doesn’t have to be cash it might be a 6 pack of beer, or bottle of wine, a thank you card or even signing up for another class like advanced or a specialty . These things mean a lot to instructors to know that their work is appreciated, surprisingly instructors don’t make that much off the classes, after the shop taking their cut, pool fees, paying assistants your instructor is teaching primarily for for joy of teaching and sharing scuba diving with you. So let them know that you enjoyed the experience leave a positive review, call the shop and let the owner know what a good job they did. Of course if they didn’t don’t but if they did do an amazing job make the effort.
The dive shop is often the first interaction most people have on their journey to becoming divers. For new divers and old diver there are somethings that can drive the staff up the wall weather its a small shop or large shop you are likely to encounter one or multiple of these issues. The goal is to help guide any diver in what to avoid and how to properly act when in a dive shop.
Don’t try to haggle everything.
One of my biggest gripes from working in dive shops is the customer that tries to haggle the price. While I understand that some equipment can get expensive it is not the shop that sets the price a majority of the time. The manufactures of the products set the price and usually have whats known as MAP (minimum advertised price) for their products. This is the lowest we can advertise the price breaking MAP could result in the loss of that brand to the shop. The other thing to keep in mind is that MAP price often doesn’t leave that much room for profit for the shops this is especially true in small shops that can’t buy in volume to reduce their cost on items. Think of it this way when you go clothes shopping or grocery shopping do you ask for additional discounts when you check out.
Do ask if there are similar items that may be in your price range.
A good dive shop will do everything in their power to ensure that you get the best gear for your buck. Many shops and employees are aware of deals and packages that may save you money and allow you to get equipment that fits your budget. That is what the dive shop is for to help support divers, who support dive shops.
Don’t use shops to try on gear to purchase it online.
As sneaky as you think you may be trying on any piece of equipment employees are pretty good at figuring out when your just testing it out before you buy it online, if your taking notes its completely obvious. There is nothing more infuriating than assisting a customer with manny different types and sizes of equipment to have them just walk away never to be seen again. Sometimes this process can take over an hour just for basic gear, mask, booties, fins etc… that employee may have missed out on sales that where missed because they were helping you. While online is a great convenience and some of the larger retailers (Leisure pro, scuba.com, etc…) have great deals, some that your local shop can’t compete with your are just running your local shop out of business. One thing to keep in mind is that these online retailers aren’t going to help when you need your tanks filled or equipment serviced. Your local shop provides an expertise that they should be compensated for when assisting you find your equipment.
Do be upfront about your intentions, or ask if they price match.
While part of this response may come off as a little cold, I think that if you come into a shop and try on equipment to buy it online then the sales staff shouldn’t have to put any effort into helping you more than they have to. Some shops if the price online is reasonable will match the price. This may be more common in larger shops where they can make up for the discount in volume but small shops it may not be as common. If the difference in price is too great they may not be able to accommodate you. But once again this goes back to weather or not you want to support your local dive shop. If you buy equipment that needs to fit properly online you should have to deal with the repercussions of gambling on weather it is going to fit or not instead of wasting a dive shops time.
Don’t try to sell us your (your friends/family members) crusty old equipment.
A majority of the time equipment that has been sitting for many years in a garage or closet has very little value in general, and nearly no value to dive shops. It takes up space and most likely needs to be serviced especially tanks, bcd’s and regulators. While you may think that the new ones are expensive so yours should be worth a lot, it isn’t especially in the condition its in. One of my least favorite interactions is when someone brings in something they are trying to sell, I tell them we are not interested and they tell me they want to sell in on craigslit/ebay and want to know what a new one is worth so they can price theirs the same. You wouldn’t try to sell a old car for the same price as a brand new one would you, why would it work with dive equipment.
Do ask what options you have with your old equipment.
I understand that as divers we accumulate stuff and sometimes we need to clean house, this is were a shop may be able to help. Depending on what you want you usually have options depending on the condition of the equipment. If you just want to get rid of it the shop can take it as a donation and repurpose it or refurbish it. If you want money for it and its in good condition they may offer to sell it on consignment (not very common unless its in really good condtion). If you want money and its not in great condition take the shops advice on what it is worth and try craigslist or eBay. If you are looking to replace it with new gear ask if they have any trade in programs, some brands like Oceanic will take old and non functioning equipment and provide a discount on new equipment in their case it can only be for the same type of equipment BCD for BCD, computer for computer etc…
Don’t buy used gear online.
Despite offering this as a solution for getting rid of gear I am a strong advocate for not purchasing used equipment online especially for new divers. There are some exception for people that may be looking for a very specific piece of equipment that is no longer manufactured and they are very familiar with that piece of equipment. But as appealing as some prices on used gear is online its going to cost you way more in the long run. The people selling these items are trying to get rid of them most likely because they are old and outdated or not working properly. The service fees may cost you more than if you were to just purchase an new one. It is also worth knowing that some regulators are no longer serviceable (Dacor), so this great purchase you just found might as well be a paper weight. The other thing to consider is fit and durability for things like wetsuits and other neoprene items neoprene wares out and new suits use a much better quality neoprene than the old suits had access to.
Consult your Dive shop about used equipment.
Some dive shops sell their used rental gear that has most likely been maintained better than anything found on criagslist/ebay. So if you really need to save money on equipment ask if they have any used gear for sale, of if they sell their rentals (usually at the end of the season). If they don’t sell used gear or rentals, tell them about what you found ask their opinion on it they may help you avoid waiting money on something that seems too good to be true because it usually is.
In the end support your local dive shop, and they will always be there for you when you need them. As online retailers grow and take business from more and more small shops there will always be things that they can’t offer that your local shop can that is the expertise and knowledge that they share with you.
The BCD (buoyancy compensator device) is usually one of the first big purchases that a diver will make when committing to owning all of their own gear. This will hopefully be a helpful guide into identifying features and making a decision on which BCD will best fit your needs as a diver. The first part will be understanding the differences between different styles of BCD’s, then we will focus on features. One thing we want to realize is that not all BCD’s are created equally and although almost all brands will produce bcd’s that function properly what they are being used for will greatly affect their usefulness.
Lets first get familiar with the different styles of BCD’s, I am going to break them down into 4 main categories that most shops will carry some assortment of. These four BCD styles are Jacket, Back Inflate, Travel, Backplate/ wing & harness. The two styles jacket and back inflate are what would be considered general or all around recreational BCD’s while the travel and Backplate are considered more specialized having a much narrower usage generally.
Jacket Style BCD:
The Jacket style is usually the first BCD that most divers encounter almost universally being used in rentals for dive shops. The get their name because they wrap around you like a jacket and the entirety of the bcd is a bladder. So air will fill the full bcd around the back and front. This is almost always the best budget option (which is why it is used for rentals) simple design and functioning in all environments. The downside to this style of BCD is when in flawed the Jacket tends to squeeze the user, which if adjusted to tightly or sized wrong can be very uncomfortable for the diver. The benefit of this style of BCD is when inflated at the surface it easily keeps the diver head up. This is a great option for divers on a budget or divers that will not be diving as often because they are generally not the most comfortable.
Back Inflate Style BCD:
The back inflate style BCD generally offers all of the same features of the jacket style bcd with a different style of bladder system. This one is exactly what it sounds like the bladder instead of being wrapped around the diver is attached to the back of the harness. This means that there is no squeeze when inflating the BCD. It also will give the diver better positioning in the water while diving because the bladder is oriented on the back around the heaviest object the tank. Divers that are new to the back inflate often complain that at the surface it tends to push you face down, this is true but can be easily remedied by leaning back on the bcd like a recliner. These tend to be more expensive than the jacket style BCD’s and in my opinion worth the money for the increased comfort and fit that is gained with the back inflate style.
Travel Style BCD:
The travel style BCD more often than not will closely resemble a back inflate style but with smaller features. These BCD’s are meant to be light weight for travel, so reduced weight and lift capacity. This is great for warm water destinations where the user is not wearing a thick wetsuit and does not need a great deal of weight. Most of these travel BCD’s will generally weigh from about 4-6 lbs while the standard jacket or back inflate will weigh from 7-10 lbs. So the Travel BCD’s are not well suited for cold water diving. If you are a diver that will only be doing diving while traveling these are great options. Much better quality and comfort than the BCD’s that you might rent while on a trip. They tend to be in-between the prices of a jacket and back inflate style bcd despite being far less material than either.
Backplate/wing & harness style BCD:
The Backplate style BCD is generally focused more towards technical diving but can obviously be used for recreational. They use either a steel or aluminum backplate with nylon webbing for a harness and some kind of rear mounted bladder attached. These types of BCD’s are very customizable usually set up very simply with few bells and whistles for the diver to add on later if they choose. They can be set up for single or double tanks (usually technical divers), with or without weight pockets and the size of the bladder can be exchanged for a larger or smaller one. The benefit of the backplate is the weight, most steel backplates weight about 5-6 lbs meaning divers can remove that much weight from their weight belt or pockets. If you are looking to get into technical diving this is definitely the best option.
Features: This is something that is hard to cover thoroughly because while most BCD’s will have all of these features each company will have their own take on them, the largest differentiators will be the Quick release weight system and the inflator. Beyond those two they are all fairly similar with a few outliers.
Quick Release Weight system: This in my opinion is one of the most important features to be aware of when purchasing a BCD with the exception of the backplate because they will be an optional add on. Almost all new BCD’s will have their own version of this feature and the reliability of these pockets are paramount. the difficult part of this is that the pockets need to be very secure when the diver is diving, the pockets should not come out unprompted, the locking mechanism holding the pockets in place should be secure (thank god they stopped using velcro it wore out so quickly). But the pockets should also not be so secure that they are impossible to release the weights in an emergency. It is a very fine line that I think few brands get right. In my years of diving I have found that there are a few brands that i find their pockets lost on the bottom much more frequently than others, while this could be user error I personally believe it is an inferior quick release mechanism.
Inflator: This is something all modern BCD’s will have and they all function the same there is a corrugated hose attached to the bladder and on the other end there is an inflator that the LP hose attaches to. There are two buttons one to inflate the BCD usually the one closest to the corrugated hose and a second button to release the air usually on or near the end. Each company will have their own little flair to the inflator with colored buttons or different shapes but for the most part they are interchangeable, you can even get generic ones that fit most corrugated hoses. For the most part this should not be a major factor in deciding which BCD to get each brand will have the same inflator on all of their BCD’s no matter the style. With the exception of Aqualung and their i3 system which integrates the inflator into the bcd and uses a switch on the left side to inflate and deflate, personally I am not a fan, to many moving parts to trust and not easily serviced but some divers do like them.
Tank Straps: These are what attach the Tank to the diver and usually use a standard cam buckle system with the exception of a few brands that have a metal pin latch system. BCD’s will usually have 1 or 2 tank straps depending on the brand, the ones with 2 straps generally secure the tank more efficiently preventing it from feeling like its swinging around. The BCD’s that have a single strap will usually have some sort of plastic backplate that the strap grips the tank to reduce this swinging feeling. Oftentimes with travel BCD’s to reduce weight they minimize this plastic plate with a single strap and add a second lightweight velcro strap to secure the tank slightly more. All of these are functional options that serve their purpose if the user secures the tank properly, which the sales staff should assist with if you are unsure.
Trim weight pockets: these are pockets usually on the back of the BCD located on or near the tank straps. They are not quick release pockets so only a small portion of weight should be placed in these to help adjust the divers trim while underwater. these are very popular for back in late BCD’s because all of the buoyancy is on the divers back. Personally I don’t find them useful, some can be removed if attached to the tank strap webbing which is what I generally do. But if you are a diver and you need to add more weight and have maxed out your quick release pockets and refuse to wear a weight belt this may help pack on those last few pounds. With that being said if you are diving maxing out all of your pockets with weights you should either dive a larger bcd with more lift or a weight belt/harness.
D-rings: these are attachment points for accessories they will vary from BCD to BCD and the number you may want or need could vary. The more technical style BCD’s will generally have more or the ability to add more while travel BCDs will be very minimal with only a few. Once again this is not a feature that i would choose a BCD on but to some divers like photographers it is handy to have more places to clip essential items.
The cumber bun: This is where you tend to see a divide between divers, the comber bun is a velcro strap that wraps the bcd around the waist of the user, there is usually a clip around the outside of the bcd as well that keeps the front pockets from dragging or swinging out when inflated (jacket style BCD’s) I personally find that the cumber bun secures the BCD comfortably to my body, while some divers find it unnecessary, it is a personal preference. Most Travel bcd’s and Backplates will not have a cumber bun, while most jackets and back inflates will.
Dump valves: There are multiple dumps on most BCD’s to release air from the bladder, in addition to the dump on the inflator there is also one at the top of the corrugated hose that is attached by a wire to the base and can be pulled on to use. Most non technical BCD’s will have rear dumps near the base of the bladder for when a diver is inverted needing to release air. Some will also have a dump on the right shoulder with a string to release air, if you are looking for option on where to release air depending on your body position pay attention to the dumps. Personally I find the inflator dumps the most useful and rarely use any other unless I am assisting a student that has not released sufficient amount of air.
I hope this has been helpful in guiding any diver to make an informed choice on their BCD.
Zeagle is not a name in diving that is synonymous with regulators while they are better known for their BCD’s they do produce a small line of rugged hard working regulators. These regulators range in price from $329.95 for the Envoy 2 at their entry level, $484.95 for the Onyx 2 for the middle ground, and $629.95 for the F8 as their high end regulator. This is going to focus on the F8 regulator from Zeagle and my experience with this lesser known regulator.
The F8 regulator is made to be rugged and able to withstand the harshest conditions. The simple classic design takes advantage of the classic look of regulators and the simplistic no extra bells and whistles of the first stage. Zeagle does like to set their regulators apart by having 5 low pressure and 2 high pressure ports on their first stages, 4 of the low pressure ports are traditionally placed with the fifth facing directly forward I assume for more tech/sidemount applications. Zeagle like other companies has adopted the usage of color kits to personalize the regulator with an assortment of colors from standard blue, and pink to purple and red. These kits are in my opinion a little over priced but will make the regulator stand out replacing the purge cover, adjustment knob and exhaust cover.
First Stage Features:
Balanced diaphragm design and the environmentally sealed ambient chamber ensure top performance in any condition.
Redesigned environmental seal cap and yoke knob enhance ergonomics & design aesthetics.
Percision machined neoflon seat harder more reliable material, keeping you diving longer.
First Stage Materials:
Second Stage Features:
New inhalation diaphragm provides superior tear strength and improved response time to breathing (super soft silicone molded over a low friction disk).
Improved exhaust valve ensures dryness and a lower exhalation effort.
Seat-saving orifice, compliments of Atomic Aquatics, retracts when not in use – extending the life of the breathing tube seat.
Seat comprised of soft silicone molded over a metal insert to deliver the firmness required for an airtight seal while maintaining the necessary elasticity to prevent leaking.
Redesigned front cover and inhalation effort control knob use co-molded components that provide the necessary grip, soft touch and ease of use. Available in several color kits
Zirconium-plated inlet tube and heat sink for superior corrosion resistance.
Redesigned heat sink dramatically increases surface area, aiding in the heat exchange necessary to avoid freeze-up.
Co-molded silicone mouthpiece for better fit and less jaw fatigue
Second Stage Materials:
316 SS insert with silicone overmold
My experience with the F8:
This is a very well performing regulator that I would easily put in the same running as other high end regulators. It has a clean simple look, breaths well, and venturi switch and air flow adjustment are easy to use even when wearing heavy gloves for cold water. It is surprisingly light for the size of the second stage, I did add a swivel to my second stage for added comfort which is a strong recomendation for anyone who experiences jaw fatigue while diving. The only issue this has presented is the lp hose for the second stage is very long much longer than I am used to for standard regulators and the addition of a swivel added an extra 2 inches to this making it at times seem a bit excessive. Another issue that I have experienced is use of the regulator inverted can cause water to get into the second stage, by inverted i mean head down feet above the head, not lying on the back. This being a very uncommon position only affected me while playing with students while teaching in the pool.
Over all this is a good regulator that should be considered if you are looking to upgrade, it is very hardy and reliable. At a price of $629.95 this is one reg that should be thrown into the mix with other high end regulators like the Oceanic Zeo, Hollis 200LX, Aqualung Legend, and Scubapro MK25/S600. Zeagle may not be the brand you think of when regulators come to mind but they are a sleeper in this category with tough regs that are inexpensive to service, and can easily last a lifetime.
I hope this was helpful and feel free to share your own experience with the Zeagle F8 in the comments.