The decision to buy your own scuba kit is an important one for any diver. You will want to purchase something of a good quality and that fits your current diving needs as well as being able to adapt as your diving skills grow. Once you do make that investment it is equally important to protect it and make it last as long as possible. The proper care of your kit will extent its life remarkably. While most dive centers gear look worn out after 50 dives or so, most often they need to be replaced before having 150 dives. You can easily extend that number by a factor or two or three with proper care. Most of my dive gear was purchased over 17 years ago and has about 500 dives. It does not look brand new, however, it does not look worn out either.
Buoyancy Control Device
It amazes me sometimes to see the way divers treat their gear, both the items they own and rental gear. Most concerning is the Buoyancy Control Device, commonly just called the BCD. First and foremost, this is a safety device. As a diver, you know that at the end of a dive you are about five pounds more buoyant that at the beginning of the dive. This is due to the air that we breath. To adjust for this we add additional weights so that at the end of the dive we are neutrally buoyant. We start our dive by exhausting air from our BCD and letting our negative buoyancy cause us to descend. As we descend, we add air to the BCD to slow our descent and when we reach the level of our dive we add air to maintain neutral buoyancy. If the BCD fails to hold air, we will continue to descend until we drop our weights and make an emergency ascent, which may be dangerous itself. As you can see, it is very important that our BCD is properly maintained and inspected.
In our open water diver training, we learned the basics of taking care of the equipment. When we use rental equipment, we seldom do the small details that will help not only maintain our safety but also extend the life of the gear. Most of the items that will be mentioned here, are basic open water diver trained items, however, I have added a few tips to help prolong the life of your gear. Many times, we allow the dive crews to take care of our equipment at the end of the day’s diving. There is nothing wrong with accepting that help, I often do it myself. It does bring to point that if we do allow others to do that, we will need to take extra care at the end of the dive trip to insure that our equipment is in the best shape. The BCD is one of the more expensive items of your scuba kit so it deserves extra care. Let’s break down some procedures:
Every day after diving your gear needs to be cleaned. Most dive crews will give it a quick dunk in clean water or hose it off, then hang it up to dive. This does not adequately remove the salt and dirt that the BCD has been exposed to, but realistically will not cause you immediate problems. You should insure that they also rinse the inside of the BCD, and that when drying and stored overnight that the BCD is partially inflated.
After a dive weekend or vacation: It is time to give your BCD some loving care. Start by partially inflating your BCD and submerging it under water, squeeze it and look for any bubbles escaping. This could indicate a worn valve, sand around a seal or a small puncture. Try to locate the source of the bubbles. Give it a long soak in clean fresh water, at least 30 minutes but longer is better. If you are soaking it the same time as your wet suit it is okay to use wet suit shampoo, or a soap such as Woolite. After the soak, examine the Velcro parts to make sure there is not sand or other materials caught in the surface. If so, a stiff tooth brush should be used to remove the material. Also examine all of the seams and rings looking for signs of wear.
Using the inflator hose, add water to the inside bladder of your BCD. When it is about ¼ full, use the oral inflation mouth piece to inflate the BCD, then give it a good shake a few times and slosh the water around inside. Drain it out the inflator hose and repeat. Also allow water to flow out of your dump valve if you have one and the over inflated valve. Repeat until a taste of the water draining out has no presents of salt. A few times each year, I recommend adding a BCD conditioner to an extra fill at the end. This will help protect the interior from the growth of mold and any reaction to chemicals. Inflate the BCD until the over pressure valve opens and then allow the BCD to dry out of direct sunlight. Allow it to sit and check later that it is still fully inflated. It is leaks, check the valve seals. Removing the dump valve and over pressure valve should be done carefully so that they are not damaged. Check the seals for sand deposits or damage. Clean or replace as necessary. This should only be done when there is an indicator that it is needed. When dry, release the air from the BCD, then infinite again. Repeat the process until the air coming out of the BCD seems dry. Store the BCD with a little air inside so that the sides to not touch. It is best to store it with the hose at the lowest point, after a few days release any water that may have accumulated in the hose.
Wetsuits are easy to care for, they just need a very good soak. The key to making your wetsuit last is being gentle. Neoprene is made by introducing nitrogen into a foam. This forms bubbles, that act as insulation as well as gives us the buoyancy that we expect. Harsh treatment, such as putting in a washing machine or wringing out the water, will cause the bubble to burst which leads to decrease efficiency. A long gentle soak in fresh water is the best approached. A wet suit shampoo or something like Woolite will help break down the salt that the suit absorbed while diving. When finished the wet suit should be dripped dry out of direct sunlight. Neoprene will start to break down in direct sunlight, chlorine will also hasten the wear of a wet suit so if you have to use your wet suit in a pool give it a long soak as soon as possible. It might be best to rent a wet suit and BCD for any pool activities and prolong the life span of these two items. Use a wide hanger so the pressure is not concentrated at one point.
The dive mask should be kept in a hard plastic case when you are not wearing it. Most mask come with such a case so keep it handy. After your dive soak the mask and rinse the case to remove any salt built up. Before putting the mask away, examine it closely for signs of salt or sand. Make sure the double seal that goes against your face is clean of salt and sand and there is a space between both edges. Framed dive mask have a replaceable skirt. Once or twice a year, remove the skirt and clean it. Look for signs of wear. Replacement skirts are inexpensive.
Regulators and Dive Computers
These items do not absorb salt so a short rinse and wiped dry is all that is needed. However, these items do have a service requirement that should be done by a trained technician. Regulators used to have a yearly service requirements, however, the current trend is for longer intervals. The operator manual will give you the proper service interval and warranty requirements.
Take care of your Scuba Kit investment and it won’t let you down
Your scuba kit was a large investment, however, with proper care it can last for decades. How is my original scuba kit doing? I am using my original BCD, it about 18 years old and around 500 dives, My original dive mask on its third skirt also 18 years old, and my second wet suit. The first one I still use for snorkeling, it just not have the insulation properties anymore. I recently started using a new dive computer because of additional features, but I do use my old one as a back up on some deep dives. My investment has paid for itself, will yours?