What to look for when choosing a mask

Clear-skirted-mask

They say the golden rule in choosing a mask is to find one that makes you look cool, however important this may be it’s far more important to find one that fits correctly and is comfortable. Buying a mask is very personal, a mask that fits one person may not fit another. Here are a few hints and tips of what to look for when buying a mask.

Safety:

First and foremost it’s important to make sure that the glass used for the mask is tempered, nowadays it’s unlikely that manufacturers will be using standard glass due to health and safety regulations but it is always important to check.

Black skirt or clear skirt?

Single Lense

Black-skirted-mask

This is sometimes overlooked but this question is important; if you aren’t a fan of tunnel vision or you don’t like feeling closed in, then a clear skirt would be more beneficial as a clear skirt lets in more light. If instead you are in need of focusing on a certain subject matter, for example if you are a photographer, then a black skirted mask would be far better suited to you.

You may notice that the majority of dive professionals and regular divers have black skirted masks, this is because regular use of clear skirted masks can discolour slightly over time and show up dirt more easily.

It’s also important to make sure that the skirt is made of silicone not plastic, which some of the cheaper masks, especially snorkeling masks, are made from as silicone is more durable and will have a better seal against the skin.

Single lenses, Twin lenses or Tri-View Lenses?

Single-Lense-Black

Twin-lensed-mask

Tri-view-mask

Single lenses are great as they let a lot of light in but are unable to hold prescription lenses should you need them, whereas twin lenses are able to change the lenses to prescription if necessary. Twin lenses also have a bridge over the nose which you need to make sure doesn’t press down on your face as this can cause discomfort, especially with the added surrounding water pressure at depth. There are also Tri-View options which include cornered windows around the face. These don’t have much benefit when it comes to seeing more but they do allow more light to enter.

Buckles

More and more masks are becoming gender friendly; for example Aqualung have designed a whole range of dive equipment for women, including masks like the Linea Twilight below, which has been designed with special buckles to prevent catching long hair. So if this is an issue you have had in the past that you would like to change, then this type of mask may suit you.

Linea Twilight Mask

The Test:

You don’t even need to touch the water to check to see if a mask fits you correctly, all you need to do is flip the strap over the front of the lenses so it is out of the way, make sure all hair is out of the face (even one strand of hair could break the seal so make sure it’s all pushed back), tilt your head up to the sky and place it gently on your face with your face still in the upward facing position. Once placed, check where the skirt is on your face, is it in your hairline? If so, it may be slightly too large for your face and could leak. If not in your hairline GREAT! The next thing we need to check is for gaps, if there is someone with you ask them to have a look, especially if you are in a shop, the shop assistant will be able to help you with this, or if not ask a friend if they can see any obvious gaps. If there are no obvious gaps, take a breath in through your nose and feel if the mask fits on your face comfortably. If the mask remains suctioned to your face, this indicates there you have a tight seal! GREAT!

If you are still unsure, why not try the mask on with a regulator or snorkel in your mouth to see if the seal is still good or ask your local dive centre for more information. Ultimately your mask is what’s going to allow you to visually experience every dive site, so it’s important to find the right one for you.

Scuba Diving Etiquette; how to not put your fin in your mouth.

Everyone who is a certified diver knows there are certain do’s and don’ts in the diving world, here are a few of our favourite, above and below the water.

Bubble ring

Above the water:

Don’t be late; this may be a given but a few always turn up late and leave the rest of the boat waiting around. In some shops and resorts if you don’t turn up on time the boat will leave without you.

Master Divers

Don’t throw things over board; whether its a cigarette, piece of fruit or a plastic bag, anything thrown into the ocean is a big no no, there will be a rubbish bin on board so please put any waste into it otherwise your diving companions may decide to through you overboard!

Don’t leave your equipment all over the place; on board any diving boat each diver will have their allotted area of the boat, there is only so much space on a boat and with a lot of divers it could be a tight squeeze so it’s important to make sure you keep your area in order and don’t spread yourself all over the place! This will also keep your gear from getting lost, broken or used by accident.

Listen to the Boat Master during the Boat Briefing; they are there to make sure everyone is safe and knows where everything is placed on the boat so when they are giving a briefing or orientation of the dive boat please have the common courtesy to listen to them.

Dive-Briefing

Listen to the Dive Briefing; As above the dive briefing is there to let you and the rest of your group know what to expect, what to see and what the safety procedures are of the day. It doesn’t matter how many dives you may have or how much experience you have if you are being guided respect the dive guide and listen carefully to what they are telling you, the information they are giving is important.

 

Under the water:

Don’t touch & don’t take; this is just standard good diving practice these days, however it still occurs everywhere. We are guests in the oceans, the age old saying goes ‘take only photos and leave only bubbles’. This is also important from a safety point of view; there are some of the deadliest creatures in the ocean, going around touching things that you don’t know is a sure fire way of an accident occurring. If you need to balance yourself or steady yourself try to minimize your contact with the reef; a good tip is to waft your hand in front of the area you intend to use and then once you know the area is clear, place the tip of your finger there and that will help you balance.

Jellyfish

Don’t get in the way of other divers; be aware of other divers whether they are a part of your group or another group entirely. Be careful where your fins are and be careful not to knock in to divers in front of you or behind you. Look around and be aware of your settings. If there are photographers in your group be careful not to silt up the area the photographer is trying to capture or chase away the subject of the photograph. Again, if you are a photographer you may want other divers to go in front of you as that way you can spend more time with the subject and focus on your positioning for a little while longer.

Don’t go in front of you dive guide; your guide is there to GUIDE you around the dive site so don’t get ahead of them. They can’t look after the group if you are all going off in different directions.

Take turns; don’t always be the one to look at something first, take it in turns.2

Be a good buddy; this is a given, it doesn’t matter which diving agency you trained with each of them has some sort of buddy system in place. Remember that buddy system is in place for a reason, the majority of diving accidents occurred when ‘buddies were separated’.

With these points in mind it is important to remember diving is an exciting sport that everyone should be able to enjoy in a safe and relaxed manner!

Do you need a snorkel when you scuba dive?

This is always a great debate to start with a bunch of divers particularly with a group of divers with varied interests.

Snorkeling really is the simplest way of being able to see and breath and enjoy the oceans delights. It’s the first time you will have had to practice airway control with any kind of breathing apparatus which makes it part of the basis of water management. Most training agencies list the humble snorkel as a mandatory piece of gear at least for entry level training and have a small part of their courses dedicated to learning how to use it. After all you don’t always need scuba to explore the ocean.

Snorkeling is fun!

Yet you can certainly argue that it goes against all principals of streamlining and in strong current they can cause your mask to leak profusely.  Any instructor will know that students find them uncomfortable and in the way. Most new divers will mistake the snorkel for the low pressure inflator particularly when deflating too. So why should we have one?

Snorkel in at the surface

Demonstrating skills on the surface

The argument is for safety, for example, if you run out of air and make an emergency ascent you still have your snorkel to breathe from. This seems a valid argument yet some will counter that with an inflated BCD you will be high enough out of the water to be able to breath safely without. Unless of course there are high waves and choppy sea but then you could argue that your snorkel wouldn’t be much good in conditions like that.  To my mind there is certainly value in being able to rest comfortably in the water while giving your airway the best protection possible and you the best chance of breathing easily. If you really are against wearing one then you can get a snorkel that folds into your pocket which is a compromise.

 

Choosing and using the right dSMB for you!

The latest piece of kit we are going to put under the spotlight in this blog is the humble dSMB.  This is one piece of kit every diver should carry and could end up saving your life. Having said that, many people still don’t actually know what a dSMB is and / or does!

Deploying a dSMB from underwater.
Deploying a dSMB from underwater.

 

 

A dSMB (or Delayed Surface Marker Buoy to use its full name) does exactly what it says on the tin.  It is a signalling device to alert boats and other motor vessels above the water that there are divers below.  It is generally put up towards the end or at the end of a dive, when the divers underneath are getting closer to the surface.

 

In more extreme cases they can also be used by technical divers to alert the surface team that a diver below is in distress.

 

They can also be used when at the surface to attract the attention of the boat if it is far away or in choppy waters

 

It is now part of the new standards of the Open Water course that PADI have produced, that every student should know how to deploy a dSMB.

 

 

 

So now we know what one does, and how important they are, what should we look out for when we make this investment?

 

dSMBs should be bright in colour (usually orange), and large enough when inflated so that they can be clearly seen from the surface by motor vessels even in high swells.  Usually they have the caption ‘diver below’ or something similar written down the side.

Yellow ones should be reserved for technical diving as these indicate diver distress, and that the diver needs help, and usually have writing saying as much on them.

 

dSMBs are made in 2 main types of materials: the cheaper ones are usually made of plastic, while the more expensive ones are some sort of hard wearing nylon material.   The cheaper ones do tend to slpit at the sides when used a lot.  A good quality material one may sound quite expensive, but will last you a l0ot longer and be more cost effective in the long term.

 

Another consideration is whether you want a dump vale to let the over flow of air out on the way up.  This is a much more controlled way to vent the excess air and leaves you with a full buoy at the surface.  The other type is open ended at the bottom to allow the expanding air out, but more often leads to too much air being released which means a rather floppy, sorry looking buoy at the surface!

 

Finger reel
Ratchet reel

 

There is also the question of how you want to deploy your marker buoy.  You have 3 different options and these really do come down to personal prefence.  The most common two types are the reels.  First is the finger reel, which are smaller and easier to carry around, but can be more prone ton tangling.   The second is the ratchet reel, which comes with a handle and ‘stopper’.  These are much bulkier, however and are not very travel friendly!

dSMB tape

 

Third is using a tape or string.  The downside to this is that they are normally only 5m in length, so you can’t deploy your dSMB from any deeper than that.  Also it means that unless you are very conscientious, you will most likely have tape dangling about underneath you which can be a real entanglement hazard for you and those around you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The way in which you inflate your dSMB is another consideration.  You can use your alternate air source (most common), just at the entrance of the inflation end and purge the

Gas canister for dSMB deployment

mouthpiece.  (Don’t forget to let go!!)  Some smaller dSMBs may oral inflating, but these tend to be more like back-up ones.

 

There is one more way to inflate your dSMB, if you are into your gadgets, and that is with a cannister.  This is filled directly from your air tank and attached onto the dSMB.  Then when you want to deploy it, you simply turn the handle, and up it goes!  Not the most lightweight, travel friendly design, but certainly very effective!!

 

 

 

 

 

Whichever type of dSMB you chose as your preferred method of choice, it really doesn’t matter.  The important thing is that you learn how to use it properly, and you should take it with you on every single dive.  You never know it could just save your life!

Choosing the right dive computer for you

So many computers to choose from!

So previously we talked about choosing the right regulator to suit you, and we briefly mentioned dive computers.  In this blog, we are going to look a little more in-depth into how to pick the right dive computer for you.

 

Everyone knows how to plan a dive – right?  Remember those funny little blue and white cards, with lots of numbers in lots of squares from your Open Water course?  The Dive tables are brilliant for us to understand the concept of maximum bottom times and nitrogen absorption over a certain period of time, but unless you are taking them on each and every dive and combining that with using some sort of bottom timing device, are you really USING them, or simply know what they do?  Well dive computers are essentially dive tables, but ones that do most of the hard work for you.  An added benefit of the computer being it stays with you on the dive, every meter of it, so you have a personalised multilevel image of you dive, rather than the more linear one of the table.

 

It is important to remember however, that dive computers should never replace your tables. They should be used in conjunction with each other; the tables as a backup in case of computer failure.

 

Most divers, when thinking about making a first investment in to their own dive gear think about mask and snorkel, and computer.  These are all lightweight, easy to pack and the things that are most personal to us (an ill-fitting mask is a nightmare – we will be making a video blog about how to get this right – watch this space!).

 

So, what should we look out for?

 

There are 2 basic computer types: Wrist mounted and gauge mounted.

 

The gauge mounted type connects to the console on your regulator high pressure hose.  The wrist mounted goes (surprise surprise) on your wrist!

 

The type that will be best for you will depend on personal preference, but also if you have already have a regulator which could take an integrated computer or not.

 

Wrist mounted computers come in a couple of styles – ones that look more like the classic watch, or ones that are slightly larger, often these larger wrist mounted ones can also be console mounted too.  When you are looking at these options, think about how easy they are to read, and that you will be able to see in lower visibility.

Wrist mounted dive computer.
Gauge mounted dive computer.

 

Watch style computers tend to be very popular as they can be worn away from diving as well, whereas the more clunky ones are not exactly the next big fashion statement! However the larger the computer, obviously the easier it is to see!

 

Another thing which may help you make your decision, is how you want to use the computer.  Are you an Enriched Air Nitrox Diver?  If so, you will be looking to have nitrox compatibility on your computer.  If you are planning to do some Freediving, or Technical Diving, will your computer allow for these things too?

 

Another feature which some people love is air-integration, this means that your tank air pressure information is sent wirelessly to your computer via a transmitter on your tank. This eliminates the need for an SPG on your console, making it more streamlined, however, as a backup in case of failure, many people still chose to keep their SPG too.

 

Take the time to do your research and think about the future when you are choosing your dive computer.  You may not be a technical diver, or freediver now, but may well be in the future.  You want a computer that can grow with you, and that gives you the most  for your money.

 

 

What to look for when buying a set of regulators.

 

As with any adventure hobby, people that love scuba diving invariably love the gadgets that go with it!

 

Buying your first big piece of kit, such as a regulator set can be just as exciting as using it for the first time.

 

When it comes to spending our hard earned cash we want to make sure that we get exactly what we want. And good value for money too of course!   So what should you look for when it comes to making this investment?

 

What parts make up the regulator?

 

First things first, think about where you are going to be using your regulators. There is a big difference between diving in colder conditions, like European waters compared to fair weather diving in the tropical waters of the Gulf of Thailand.  Which regulators match your dive destination choice?

 

Secondly, think of your budget. Spend as much as you can, without having to take out a second mortgage!

 

One of the first questions someone in the shop may ask you is ‘balanced’ or ‘unbalanced’. Don’t be scared by all the jargon!  Basically this is just the difference you will feel in the ease of breathing at depth due to the way the regulator first stage has been designed.  Typically shop regulators used mainly for introductory courses, such as the Open Water Course will be unbalanced, as you are not going deeper than 18m.  Whereas for deeper dives, like your Adventure Deep dive or Deep Diver Specialty where the pressure is greater, you may feel more resistance in breathing with this type. The balanced regulator first stage helps to counteract this, making your breathing feel pretty much the same at any depth.

 

Another question they may ask you is DIN or Yoke – anyone remember the difference between these?!   A DIN regulator screws into a tank valve creating a stronger seal, where a yoke regulator fits over the top of the tank valve and clamps onto it with a tightening screw. Most technical and overhead environment divers use DIN connections, whereas in recreational diving in warmer water (typically in the Caribbean and Asia-Pacific) Yoke is most commonly used.  If you do opt for DIN, you can always use an adapter to fit it to a yoke tank.  This is not possible the other way around.

 

Another consideration is weight. There are many very good regulators with all the bells and whistles you would ever need, but how much excess baggage do you want to pay to get all this gear to your next dive holiday destination?  With the ever increasing dive travel market many of the retail manufacturers are coming up with light weight versions of many bits of dive kit including the regulator.

 

As if all that wasn’t enough, another consideration to think about are your gauges – SPG (Submersible Pressure Gauge), depth gauge, and maybe even a compass or computer if you want them all console mounted too.  Making sure you have an easy to read SPG makes your life a lot easier, but a smaller one saves on weight as is much more streamlined.  The compass and computer choices are something we will look at in later blogs – so watch this space!

Matching your regulator to your mask – obviously very important!!

 

Have a think about what prices you are being quoted actually mean.  Quite often the price you initially get given does not include parts like your SPG and console, or your alternate air source.  Also the low pressure inflator hose (LPI) usually comes with the BCD not the regulators, so you may need to get one of those too.  This may mean the initial price suddenly doesn’t look so wallet friendly.

 

If you are considering buying second hand, think of the total cost of your purchase.  Not only will you be paying the asking price, but you should also make sure you get a full service of the regulators before using them.  Get a quote for the servicing before making an offer on the regulators so you know how much your total spend will be.

 

Ultimately it all comes down to personal preference.  Don’t be pressured into getting something just because it is the most expensive, or because your friend has it and says you should get it.  The regulators you choose have to fit all your needs and budget.  Make sure you seek expert advice.  Find your local scuba retailer, go and meet them and ask!   Even if you think it may be a silly question, ask it, the answer may turn out to be more important than you think.  If you follow these easy steps, you can’t go wrong!

5 reasons you should have your own mask and snorkel.

As part of learning how to dive you should be taught about each piece of gear, how to fit it properly and how to select the most suitable for you when you wish to buy it.  Nearly all new divers choose to buy their own mask and snorkel during their open water course. We strongly recommend it ……. Why?  Well here are 5 good reasons…………

Looking Good !
Looking Good !

 

1)      Safety

Ensuring you have a mask that fits your face properly reduces the likelihood of leaks. I’ve not met anyone who liked learning how to clear their mask and a constantly flooding and leaky mask can lead to panic underwater. Why put yourself in this position?

2)      Comfort

If you have ever dived with a mask that pressed uncomfortable against your nose or forehead you will know how much this can mar your dive experience. You want to be enjoying the marine life and not counting down the minutes until you can relieve yourself of the pain caused by the ill-fitting mask.

3)      Hygiene

It’s yours, only you use it…enough said.

4)      Convenience

Whenever you want to go snorkeling, it’s there. You don’t have to worry about hiring and the state of hire gear, simply pick it up and splash in.

5)      Fun investment

It’s perfectly true that once you have your own gear for any sport, you use it more and get more out of it. A good mask is going to cost you less than a night out and if you look after it will last you for years and share many snorkeling and diving adventures with you.

If you are not sure how to select one that fits you correctly – pop in and see us – we will happily show you how to fit a mask to your face and explain what you should be looking for – no obligations.

We will happily show you how to properly fit a mask so that you can ensure you get the best mask for you so pop in or ask us when you get here.

 

What to do if your camera floods?

The first thing NOT to do is panic.

Yes your camera is expensive but so is a trip to the decompression chamber or worse. Remember that you are way more valuable than the camera and unlike the camera, you cannot be replaced.

If the camera is fully flooded then there is likely to be little hope that anything other than the housing is salvageable. A complete flood is reasonably rare unless you have forgotten to put the o-ring in, trapped the o-ring or have something caught in it. This is why a thorough pre-dive check on your camera is very important.

Turn it port down
Turn it port down

So if you notice a drip, trickle or leak you should react, as in any dive ‘situation’, calmly.  Turn the camera port / lens down so that the water will collect in the lens port, running passed the camera. This will hopefully avoid some damage or at least limit it.

Now you can ascend, SLOWLY!

Should you do a safety stop? Well, remember a safety stop is just that, for extra safety. If you can remember back to that recreational dive planner, you will recall that it’s a recommendation when you come within 3 pressure groups of or at your limit or if you dive greater than 30M. Practically we do one on every dive but you can blow it off in an emergency. As a certified diver your decision is your own, I would simply continue to ascend slowly.

Once on the surface and buoyant you can hold the camera clear of the water but remember to keep it pointing port down and not slosh the water around. If the dive procedure calls for a pick up then you simply need to wait but if you are supposed to end your dive at the boat then you could be in for a surface swim. In this case do your best to keep your camera level, pointing port down and out of the water.

When you pass the camera to the boat, be clear with your instructions as to what has happened. Tell them to keep it level and pointing lens down and NOT to put it in the camera bucket!

First you want to get the memory card and the battery out. If these aren’t wet, simply keep them dry. If they are soaked then there’s no harm in rinsing with fresh water and then drying them off. This might just save your card.

If your camera is fully soaked then to be honest it’s unlikely to work again, but it’s worth a shot. Rinse it in fresh water and pack it in rice. If it’s not soaked but just got a bit of water damage and even worked then don’t rinse and again get it packed in rice.

Either way it’s a bit of a long shot. Leave it in the rice for as long as you can before you try it, and by this I’m meaning days rather than hours, the longer the better. Make sure it’s well packed and fully covered.

Then all that’s left to do it hope!

If you want to learn more about underwater photography, this course could be for you.

Why should you keep your mask on your face while on the surface?

Years ago I remember reading a post on Scuba Board about a diver who had dropped her mask. She was simply requesting that if anyone found it could they return it. One poster responded berating her for having her mask off at the surface. While his post was a bit harsh it certainly stuck with me. Fast forward years later, being an instructor and I understood perfectly well why this guy had felt the need to rant.

Not that I am going to rant now,but seeing divers without a mask on their face and snorkel or regulator in their mouth certainly gets my bikini in a knot. It’s not good practice, dangerous and a bad habit to perpetuate by simply doing and showing others.

Why? It’s simple really, your mask keeps water out of your eyes and enables you to see and your snorkel or regulator allows you to breath. This means comfort and safety.

Good Practice
Good Practice

True it doesn’t feel comfy in your first sessions as we are not used to having anything stuck to our face and particularly something which causes us to breathe through our mouth rather than our nose. Taking it off as soon as you can is a subconscious action but one that needs training early on. Do you remember your instructor patiently repeating, “Ok, now put you mask back on your face and…” ?

Sure its nice to clean your face of any goo your body may have decorated your face with but you can just lift your mask and wipe to do that. Your mask and snorkel or reg should remain in place until you are on the boat or shore.

Being able to see and breath comfortably makes a surface swim or waiting for the boat pick up for comfortable and safe even in big waves. Choppy seas play havoc with fin and gear removal. If you have ever to watched someone try remove fins in choppy seas while holding onto a drift line and not wearing a mask and snorkel or reg, you will understand exactly what I mean.

No water getting in here !
No water getting in here !

Shore divers should always have all their gear in place- think about it – if you slip and then the tide pulls you out….its not as far fetched as it sounds – really !

Ultimately though its about protecting your airway until you are safely out of the water. An unprotected airway can lead to drowning, its really as simple as that.

So please, help get this knot out of my bikini and be safer divers – keep your mask on your face and your snorkel or reg in your mouth until you are safely on board or on dry land.