Back to School dive package

Back To School Dive Package: Underwater Naturalist

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Introducing the Back to School dive package!

If the ocean were your classroom, would you like to go back to school?

If you have been looking to know more about the marine environment and how life works underwater or if you would like to learn how to identify fish and other reef organisms, this two day package is for you! Learn more about some of the conservation challenges our oceans are facing and help us come up with solutions to protect these magical places.

We also offer this package as an Underwater Naturalist specialty through PADI and SSI open to any diver with at least an Open Water certification.

This program runs over two days and includes short theory classes and discussions along with four open water dives. You can also choose to do a night dive as one of the four dives.

During this course we introduce you to some of the numerous ocean ecosystems (yes, there is more than one!). We take you through how environmental factors shape these coral reefs as well as our experiences when we dive these sites. Reefs are extremely diverse spaces, where survival is based on cut-throat competition but also to an equal measure on cooperation and forging partnerships. Learn about some of these interactions as they unfold like a show around you on every dive! You also get to try your hand at identifying fish and other reef organisms and be a part of REEF LOG, the first diver-led reef monitoring program here in the Andamans!

Image courtesy: Gunnhild

Marilia and Jugal were the first two students on this course package.  Here is what Marilia had to say, Diving became much more interesting after a short Underwater Naturalist course, that basically introduced micro life, which I couldn’t identify before, and explained the relationships between the animals down there.” Jugal feels that understanding more about the underwater environment is rewarding on various levels. Knowledge of fish identification, understanding of interactions between organisms, relation between organisms and their environment are few aspects this course develops, which make every dive more interesting, fun and fulfilling. It also makes you aware of the importance of conservation through individual and collective efforts. Learning through discussions and reading along with practical demonstration (during dives) of everything in live action makes for a beautiful experience while developing a special tool to take away and make use of in all future dives!”

Diving with a naturalist’s perspective can also be fun.

To get more information on the same, please email us.

OCEAN GRAVITY - Guillaume Ne?ry:: Julie Gautier - Dive india

Ocean Gravity by Guillaume Néry

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Snippets of the ocean gravity video are resurfacing on the internet and we wanted to let you know that there is more to that video. The video is an edit of a short film made by Guillaume Néry.

Here’s the description from his Youtube channel.
Ocean Gravity is a short film that rewrites the rules of the underwater world and takes us this time into the world of the weightlessness.

Just like in the space, there isn’t anymore a top or a bottom. There isn’t anymore upside down and wrong side out. The ocean becomes cosmos, the man a satellite, and the bottom of the sea an unknown planet. Welcome in the fascinating universe of Ocean Gravity.

Guillaume: «since ever, my diving propels my imagination in the fantasy of the conquest of space. To touch the sea floor or to set foot on an unexplored planet, here are 2 fascinating adventures which feed my thirst of unknown. The discovery of this quite unique place (Tiputa – Rangiroa – French Polynesia), allowed us to put in image the visual closeness of 2 universes water and air, ocean and space.»

 

Here’s the entire freediving short film.
By a strange coincidence, DIVEIndia now offers Freediving certification.  Hint hint!

Credit: Guillaume Néry

False killer whale jumps over diver

False Killer Whales jumps over Snorkeler

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We know this is an old post, but its definitely worth viewing.

False killer whale sightings are rare, but when photographer and naturalist Scott Portellini was snorkelling in Tonga, he experienced something divers dream about.

The video footage showing the leap – and the snorkeler’s astonishment.
The video was posted on Facebook by guide and photographer Scott Portelli, after a Swimming With Gentle Giants humpback whale excursion.

Portelli’s description reads: “Today out on the water we had an unexpected encounter with a large pod of false killer whales. This one interactive one came back and literally jumped over one of my guests. Never know what you are going to see in Tonga.”

False killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens), which can grow to about 17 feet, are uniformly black or dark gray, and do not resemble killer whales. They were named because, like killer whales, they sometimes attack small whales and dolphins.

Inter-tidal walks

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Left by the tide, right by your feet

Sunny days by the beach are best spent taking a cooling dip in the sea. Wait for the tide to rise and once there is enough water to swim in, make a dash for it. Even better if you have a mask and snorkel to take with you. Now that is what most would say.  But, have you ever waited for the tide to recede before getting into the sea?

What could there possibly be to do or see when there is practically no water, you ask? The short answer to that would be –prepare to be amazed. 

The ‘inter-tidal zone’ is that stretch of the ocean that can go from being fully submerged during a high tide, to holding as less as one foot of water at low tides. The receding water gradually begins to expose the hidden ‘rocky shore’ ecosystem- a magical world waiting to be explored.

Left by the tide, right by your feet

Credit: Gunnhild

It was a sunny and clear day here at DIVEIndia. Sharmila and I had just rounded up an army of nine kids who had been eagerly waiting to head out for a low tide walk. We had promised them that we would spend all afternoon looking for crazy critters of the sea.

The moment we set foot on the beach, the first questions began coming in. Touching the wet sand, one of the kids asked “Wasn’t the water up till here in the morning?”

Another wondered “Where did all those rocks come from?”, followed by “What made all the water disappear?

We talked about the moon and tides and what makes the pretty patterns in the sand. We spoke about how the intertidal zone is a place of extreme environments. How animals and plants found in this stretch of the sea have adapted to extreme fluctuations in water levels, water temperature, oxygen and salt.

We hopped across the rocks and waded through the shallow pools that formed in between, looking for any sign of movement- something crawling here, something darting there and sometimes, something slithering under our feet. Each time one of us spotted something, there would be an excited “Oh my, what is that?!” and within no time there would be circle of curious kids squatting around the critter that was just spotted.

Blog DIVEIndia Sharmila Mondal

Credit: Sharmila Monda

A common sentiment shared by all who have come on these walks with us, kids and adults alike, has been absolute surprise and amazement at how full of life this intertidal space actually is. All we have to do is squat, wait and something beautifully bizarre will emerge right before our eyes. From crabs, wormsand snails to many species of coral, sponges, juvenile fish and marine plants. We’re also keeping an eye out for the occasional mantis shrimp, octopus and sea snake too!

Natasha Jeyasingh

Spider Conch. Credit: Natasha Jeyasingh

Intertidal walks have also been a great space for conversations about conservation. Looking at the stunning architecture of the rocky sandy shore, yet finding vast tracts of dead coral. Seeing hundreds of hermit crabs scuttling about carrying their homes made of shells lying on the beach, while walking past a wide variety of plastic trash.

Hermit crab blending in with washed up coral. Image courtesy -Natasha Jeyasingh

Hermit crab blending in with washed up coral. Credit: Natasha Jeyasingh

Everyone leaves with a renewed sense of awe, while  also realising how degradation is slowly setting in and wondering what can be done to understand and conserve these beautiful places.

For starters,  as visitors to these beautiful seashore ecosystems, it’s time we start gathering more knowledge than we do shells. 🙂

We now offer a variety of marine ecology programs, both diving (covering reefs, surveys, fish identification and more) and non-diving (covering not just the reefs but also mangroves and coastal eco-systems).    These can be taken as stand-alone options or combined with diving packages.    Please contact us for more information on these programs.

Review: Aqualung Pro HD and Apeks ATX40 Regulator

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Earlier, I had talked about the benefits of owning your own scuba gear, Here, i would like to start by discussing a BCD and a regulator that I have a lot of personal experience with, and which I think are fantastic value for money: the Aqualung Pro HD and the Apeks ATX40 regulator.

APEKS ATX40 REGULATOR

AQUALUNG PRO HD BCD – SHORT REVIEW

The Aqualung Pro HD BCD is a personal favorite of mine.  I owned the previous version of this (Seaquest Pro HD, before they were re-branded) for several years and found it an extremely comfortable jacket-style BCD.     The air pockets have some structure to them, so the air bubbles doesnt move all over the place (as in some other BCDs) and robust tank support and structure in the back means that the tank stays firmly put, without rolling from side to side.

 

This BCD has integrated weights and one feature i consider near-essental – trim pockets.   These are weight pockets located around your shoulders:  by storing 1-2 kg there, you can move the center of your buoyancy higher up, which allows you to get a better, neutral trim (in other words, you can hold any body position you want – horizontal or inclined – without any issues).    This system of distributed weights (2 integrated weight pockets and 2 trim pockets) gives you more ditch options:   if you are diving in cold water where you need to plan for the contingency of dropping weights, this gives you more options as compared to a weight belt (which is all or nothing).

 

The Aqualung Pro HD BCD uses a high-denier fabric, which is more robust, more abrasion-proof and less likely to fade or look raggedy over time.    Lastly, the BCD comes with more than enough lift to handle cold water diving as well (13kg of lift for a size M).     And it has more than enough D-rings and attachment points to hold all your accessories.
As I mentioned earlier, I used to own this many, many years ago and sold it because i was diving with a tech harness only.     In terms of price/performance, this is probably one of the best BCDs in the market today, period.
AQUALUNG PRO HD BCD

APEKS ATX40 REGULATOR – SHORT REVIEW

I am a creature of habit when it comes to scuba.   I don’t chase the latest technology or the fanciest bit of kit (which usually is finicky and more expensive to maintain).    I have been diving with the same Cressi Master Frogs for nearly 2 decades.   And I have been using Apeks regulators for almost 25 years.    Apeks makes very high-end regulators as well, if you want the latest in breathing rates, materials, light weight, etc. etc.     And they make bomb-proof, ultra-reliable workhorse mid-end regulators that simply work, work, work without any fuss.      I’ve always owned their mid-end line, as that’s where I feel the best value lists – my TX50 has gone down to 94m, has been to the Dorea, has done nearly a 1000 dives in cold water (<10C) and has gone embarrassingly long durations between servicing, and yet has performed reliably.   4000-something dives without any issues.
The Apeks ATX40 is the modern day equivalent of my venerable regulator.    It doesnt have the highest-end features and technology (honestly, I dont even know what they are – we are talking regulators, which are basically pressure-assisted springs whose designs haven’t changed for decades).     However, what it does have is the following:
– A very robust design
– Very easy to breathe at all depths you are likely to go to as a recreational diver (and then some)
– Cold water suitable
– Adjustable flow rate controls for surface/underwater (to prevent free flows)
– Comfortable mouthpiece
Again, if you want higher-end regulators, we have them for sale.   But really, other than trying to save a couple of hundred grams in weight, there is very little in the way of actual, tangible performance benefits that you will notice in real-world diving.
Another price/performance leader, and another one that I have a LOT of experience with, and recommend highly.

We have this combo available at a very good price, with your choice of instrumentation – SPG only, SPG+depth gauge or air-integrated computer. And as always, we have further discounts for our diving alumni. Please contact us for more information and pricing.

The Benefits of Owning Your Own Scuba Gear

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Some 90s rock band had a song which went “Dont know what you’ve got, till its gone”.  Scuba gear works the other way – you often don’t realize what you are missing when you rent gear, until you actually buy your own BCD and regulator.

 

Let’s start with weighting and trim:  Different BCDs have different flotation characteristics. So every time you rent a different brand of BCD, your weighting will need adjustment, as will your trim (where you place those weights). Having your own rig (and matching wetsuit) means that once you dial in your weight amount and positioning to get the ideal trim, you are good to go for all future dives.   Benefit:  More comfort, more streamlining, better air consumption and a more enjoyable experience.

 

Now let’s talk about familiarity and how useful it can be during an emergency. For whatever reason, you have lost your buoyancy and are floating up, legs up. Quick – do you know where the emergency pull dump on your rental BCD is located? Is it on the left or the right hip? Front or back? Or will you have to waste a few seconds in flipping yourself into a vertical orientation and then raising your inflator hose before you are able to purge your gear? What about an air emergency? Where is your octopus stowed? Front pocket? Upper right shoulder? In an octo holder across your chest? All of this affects how quickly you can deploy it in an out-of-air situation and in a real live situation, those extra couple of seconds of fumbling can make the difference between a safe resolution or a panic incident.

 

Familiarity isn’t just for emergencies either – when you dive with the same BCD all the time, you get familiar with how much air the inflators and deflators add/remove. So no more of the “add some air, realize it was too much and then let some out” dance that everyone does. How about donning the BCD in the water or removing the clips – your hand automatically goes where the strap is or the clips are, and you can focus on where the boat is, what your buddy is doing, etc. The less mental attention you devote to your gear, the more mental bandwidth you have to be aware of your situation, your buddy and also to look out for that manta or whaleshark. Never underestimate the importance of muscle memory.

 

Lastly, let’s talk costs. No, this stuff isn’t cheap and we wont pretend it is.   However, when you go on a dive holiday, gear rental can often run a couple of hundred dollars a week. Many places have shore dives and if you have your own gear, you can rent a tank for $10 and go diving with your buddy. Rent gear and that could be $50 more. In other words, do 3-4 trips and your gear has paid for itself – and you get all the benefits above.   With proper care, your gear should last you a very long time. Amortized over the lifespan of the gear, a BCD/reg set can cost you less than Rs 200 per dive. That’s pretty good economics!
Best time for scuba diving in the Andamans

Best time for scuba diving in the Andamans

Posted by | Andaman scuba diving course, Articles, Scuba Diving Andamans, Scuba diving Courses | No Comments

BEST TIME FOR SCUBA DIVING IN THE ANDAMANS

Best time for scuba diving in the Andamans

Let’s start by clarifying something – rain doesnt matter so much for diving. Yes, it can affect visibility at shallow depths, but this only happens when there is extended rainfall here (which doesnt happen often, even in the monsoons – we usually get short showers). Furthermore, most of our dive sites are off shore and once you descend to the dive depths, conditions arent affected so much. Tides play a much bigger role in affecting underwater visibility and that changes from week to week – so the range of visibility remains more or less the same all year long, whether it is raining or sunny.
What matters more is wind. When it is too windy, the seas are rough and we cannot go out to the open sea (or sometimes, we can go out but decide not to, in order to be safe:  our standard isnt “can we dive in this”, but “if something were to go wrong, can we manage the situation safely for everyone in this”). However, even when it does get rough, we have a bunch of sites that are accessible all year long as they are sheltered from prevailing winds – what we cannot do is visit our remote, highlight sites like Johnny’s Gorge, Dixon’s Pinnacle and Jackson’s Bar. This doesnt affect beginners so much, but does affect certified divers.
Traditionally, this is what the weather holds over the course of the year:

 

January-May period is when the seas are the calmest (especially March-May, when the sea is sometimes to calm that it resembles a mirror) and surface conditions are best for diving.

 

June – August is the rainy season. This is different from the mainland monsoons, and consists of wet periods (when it is cloudy all day and there are frequent, brief showers) and dry periods (when it is sunny and calm for several days or even weeks). During some of this time, we are able to visit all our highlight sites and at other times, we are restricted to the nearby, sheltered sites.   While the diving is usually fantastic due to fish spawning in the warmer water, odds are higher that we will be limited to our nearer sites. However, the weather is usually very pleasant at this time, the package tourists are away and the island reverts back to a sleepy, idyllic paradise.

 

September-November is what we call the “new season” – during this time, the south-westerly winds are starting to die down, but there are still regular showers and occasionally, the winds do pick up. At this time, the diving is absolutely fantastic (a lot of fish spawn in the rainy season, so there is a lot of bio-mass on the reefs) and the sites are at their absolute best. The flip side, of course, is the slightly higher risk that winds may play spoilsport and limit us to nearer sites.  Also, currents can be stronger at this time.

 

December is a bit of a transition time – the terrestrial weather is lovely, sometimes there are showers and the winds can be moderately strong.
Of course, with weather patterns changing over the past 5-6 years, things are a little more blurry now. Over the past 3-4 years, we’ve had very calm conditions in June, with low wind and limited rain. We’ve also had rough conditions in Jan/Feb. At this point,

 

What does this mean?

 

FOR BEGINNERS: It doesnt matter when you come. We have sites that are accessible all year long, even in a storm, and the conditions of these sites usually do not vary that much whether it is on or off-season. In season, things are sunny and the islands are busier – in the off-season, it is quieter, things are more relaxed and the weather is actually very pleasant. And because the rain takes the form of brief showers, you can actually explore the islands without any issues).

 

FOR EXPERIENCED DIVERS: Based on the recent weather trends over the past 5-6 years, we’ll say that March/April/May offer the best chances of calm conditions,  followed by January/February, followed by September-December.     Conditions in June, July and August can vary – if you are lucky, you’ll get superb diving with just 2-3 people on the boat, and if you are unlucky, you’ll be limited to our nearer sites (which are very nice, but probably a step or so behind our highlight, open-sea sites).
Of course, the weather being what it is, there are no guarantees but hopefully, this will help provide some information in helping you plan your trip to the Andamans.
what does scuba diving feel like

What does scuba diving feel like?

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What does scuba diving feel like?
A beginners view.

One of the downsides of having been diving for a while is that sometimes, it is easy to take the ocean’s wonders for granted – yes, the diving is still enjoyable but that sense of wide-eyed wonder is lost. The more you dive, the more cool things you see, the less you tend to be excited by the common, everyday stuff – which, if you take a step back and think about it, is pretty damn amazing. On any given scuba dive here in the Andamans, you can see well over a hundred species of marine life. Translate that to seeing 100 different animals in a national park, or 100 different birds in a morning walk.

The same thing happens with the Andamans. After going out for an evening walk with the dogs daily for nearly 10 years, it is easy to take the long stretch of quiet, untouched beach, the clear azure waters and all the interesting marine life in the low tide rock pools for granted. It’s human nature, after all.

Still, sometimes, it is nice to “see” things from fresh eyes. Rajdeep Bhattacharyya came to do his open water course with us, and has written a beautifully evocative post on his first experience at diving. It puts a smile on my face, and it reminds me of my own first dive (in a pool – where the feeling of weightlessness had me hooked to the sport instantly) and the first dive where I saw fish (dive #30, in Florida). So, with the author’s permission, here is a link: https://www.wingd.ca/swimming-fish-andaman/

 

Scuba Diving Andamans

Scuba diving courses: Andamans, India

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Scuba Diving Courses Andaman: Learn Scuba Diving
For those interested in learning to dive, we offer the Open Water Course.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be an expert swimmer, or a daredevil adventurer in order to dive. Recreational diving is one of the safest sports around, and is suitable for everyone from the age of 10 to 65-plus. All you need is basic swimming capabilities, moderate fitness levels (ability to walk a kilometer or two without fatigue) and good health.

The Open Water course consists of 3 sections:
– Academic development: Here, you learn the theory of diving. This is covered in a mix of video, self-study and instructor briefings
– Confined water training: here, you master the essential skills of scuba, starting from the simple (breathing underwater) and working your way up to complex (removing/replacing your equipment underwater)
– Open water dives: now you get a chance to apply everything that you have learned by actually diving. We do 4 dives in the open water, where you repeat some of the skills that you learned earlier, and where you also get a chance to dive, enjoy yourself and soak in the wonders of the underwater world.

At the successful completion of this course, you receive a certification card from PADI or SSI, two of the largest diver training agencies in the world.

A quick word on these agencies: either of these cards will let you dive anywhere in the world – both are universally accepted (contrary to a popular misconception that one works better than the other). They are also interchangeable (you can start with one and switch to another, and each agency recognises the other’s cards). Regardless of which option you choose, you get a high-quality course. There are some minor differences in curriculum (more so at higher training levels), add-ons and pricing, and these, rather than brand, should form the basis of your decision. Our instructors will be happy to work with you in selecting the course that is just right for you – contact us for more info.

Typically, the Open Water course lasts 4 full days. However, we recognize that different people learn at different speeds – besides, you are on vacation and may want to spread out your training. So, the time to certification can be more or less. Two things are for sure: we will not rush you, and we will not compromise on your training.

The DIVEIndia approach: As with our diving, we believe in small groups and personalized attention for training. With our large staff of instructors, we are able to keep our classes small – usually 4:1 or better student:professional ratio – ensuring that you get all the personal attention that you need. Furthermore, as with all our courses, we go WELL beyond the bare minimum in terms of how skills are integrated, in terms of amount of in-water time you will get and also the degree of comfort and mastery that we impart before certifying someone.

Please keep in mind – just as all coaches, teachers and colleges are not the same, neither are all diving programs the same. We conduct what we consider to be one of the best Open Water training programs you will find in Asia (and even elsewhere): we have one of the most experienced teams of instructors in the region, we go well above the bare minimum in terms of standards and our goal is to actually make you a qualified diver, not just check off a set of skills and let you go. Think of the difference between learning a subject and learning to pass an exam – that sums up the DIVEIndia difference.

If you have any health-related concerns about learning to dive, please download the Medical Statement form which goes over a medical checklist. If you answer “yes” to any of the questions there, please get medical clearance from your doctor prior to reaching Havelock. You will need one separate clearance for every question to which you answer “yes.”

We highly recommend you club the Open Water Course with the Advanced Open Water Course.

The PADI Advanced Open Water course / SSI Advanced Adventurer (same rose, different names) consists of 5 dives: two are mandatory (Deep Dive and Underwater Navigation – Night is highly recommended), and for the remainder, you can choose from 15 options, including Night, Computer, Naturalist, Buoyancy, Wreck, Boat, Underwater Photography and lots more.

This is a practical course (emphasis on in-water training) and is meant to give you experience in diving under different conditions, as well as provide you with a deeper understanding of dive theory, planning and techniques.

And the reason we suggest clubbing the two courses is because it has the following benefits:
– you learn more and become a significantly better diver when you do both the OW and the Advanced
– you retain your skills longer, as you are better able to internalize the diving skills
– you are able to dive to 30m and thereby visit some of the best sites of the Andamans
– our Open + Advanced combo works out to be staggeringly good value

You do not need to commit to this in advance, but if possible, try to keep 2-3 days extra on hand after the course for this. Virtually every one who has done the combo has loved it.

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Review: Aqualung i300 Dive Computer

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Review: Aqualung i300 Dive Computer

Anyone who has done an Open Water or Advanced course with me knows that I feel that a dive computer is the single most important piece of equipment a diver should own. With a dive computer on your person, you have full control over your dive and are completely self-reliant – which is exactly what you, as a certified diver, should strive to be. A divemaster or more experienced buddy is good to have as an added layer of safety, but your safety is your responsibility and no one else’s.

Yes, it costs a little bit of money – but really, if you factor in the years of use you can get out of it, the annual cost is not that high. And having all the information not only improves your safety, but your confidence as well – and that means you are more likely to dive.

At this point, I can hear someone going “yes, but i can do this with a dive table as well”. Yes, you can, in theory. I did a dive yesterday – max depth 30m, total dive time 58min and at no point did we come anywhere close to our no decompression limits. If you were on tables, you would be out of the water in 24-25 min. Do you really want to pay thousands of dollars on vacation and then give up on >50% of your dive time? Let’s get real. Dive tables are obsolete for recreational divers and for good reason.

But I digress. Getting back to dive computers: until now, it really wasn’t cost effective to buy scuba gear, including computers, in India. However, times are changing. As those of you who are members of our Facebook group know, the scuba market in India has finally evolved to the point where manufacturers are taking it seriously, and now it is becoming increasingly cost effective for people to buy gear here.

So that led to me scouring the various price lists to see if there was a dive computer that could be a sensible alternative to the Suunto Zoop, one of the heavyweights in entry-level dive computer category – and this search led me to the Aqualung i300.

Before we start, a word on ‘entry level’ – that is not the same as ‘cheapest’. The idea is to find a computer which has sensible set of features ie, one which includes everything that is essential, and where you are neither paying extra for a bunch of optional bells-and-whistles, nor saving money by giving up on things that are important (be it features or usability).

Aqualung i300 Dive Computer

THE SPECIFICATIONS

The Aqualung i300 is an over-sized dive computer which has 4 modes: Air, Nitrox, Free and Gauge. The first 2 are for diving, the 3rd for skindiving/apnea and the last for use as a bottom timer when doing technical diving.

The first thing that jumped out at me was that the i300 has user-replaceable batteries. This is a heaven-sent. My personal computer, a Suunto D9TX, requires me to send it to Thailand every time the battery runs out – which means a couple of months without it. User-replaceable batteries are a ‘must have’, in my opinion.

The i300 also comes with a bunch of useful features: backlighting (for viewing in the dark), auto-detection of altitude and fresh water/sea water, the usual depth and time alarms & 2 unique alarms: a ‘Dive Time Remaining’ alarm (which can be set to beep to however many minutes before you hit your no-deco limit) and a nitrogen loading alarm (which can be set to beep when you hit 20%, 40%, 60% or 80% of your max nitrogen loading).

It gets credit for having a sensible Dive Plan mode – on many computers, including several Suunto models, accessing the Plan mode during a surface interval would only provide the bottom time based on the current surface interval. So if you were 30′ into the SI and wanted to get in the water after another 45′, there was no way to figure out how much bottom time you would get then – the Plan mode would only show you how much bottom time you had at that time. Thankfully, the i300 lets you add more surface time to the planning mode, which makes it actually useful for figuring out how long you have to wait or what your depth/time limits would be when you actually got into the water.

Two other neat features – it has a ‘Deep Stop’ option you can enable, if you want, and it also lets you specify the depth and duration of your safety stop.

In addition to the above, the Aqualung i300 also has all the other usual features – dive log mode, total number of dives logged, a conservative factor setting (which lets you make the computer more conservative), metric/imperial adjustments and the ability to sync with a computer with an optional cable (this lets you download your dives for review on a computer or online dive log software, and also lets you upgrade the firmware of the device if need be) and auto-on – although for some inexplicable reason, you actually have the ability to turn off the ‘auto-on’ function, if you so desire.

Lastly, the i300’s Free Diving mode is quite robust: not only does it includes things like a Countdown Timer (before you start your immersion), but the computer actually tracks your activities in Free Diving mode. So that means you can switch from Free Diving mode to one of the Diving modes (Air or Nitrox) at any time – many other computers, including several Suunto models, require a 24-48 hour waiting time before letting you switch modes.

IMG_3361

THE ALGORITHM

All of this is well and good, but ultimately, the main purpose of a dive computer is to help you plan and execute your dives. How good is the i300 at this?

Let me take a step back and sign a paean to Suunto dive computers. They are one of the heavy-weights of the dive industry, and with good reason – sophisticated computer models, workhorse reliability and smart interfaces. However, the big knock against them has always been how overly conservative they are – they use a very advanced model called RGBM, which tries to predict and minimize silent bubble buildup in the body, but the downside to this is that your dive time is greatly reduced, especially on repetitive dives.

The i300 is made by Pelagic Systems – who also make dive computers for Oceanic, Mares and others, and who are one of the leaders in developing decompression algorithms. The i300 uses their PZ+ algorithm, which is a moderately conservative algorithm, slotting in between the liberal DSAT model (also created by Pelagic) and Suunto’s conservative RGBM model.

So in theory, this should give you more bottom time, especially on repetitive dives.

But hold on – isn’t it better to have a more conservative computer? I sort of agree with that – their extra conservative model is the reason we use Suuntos in our dive center, after all.

However, the decision-making for a dive center is going to be different from the decision-making for an individual: we have to take into account divers of all body types, fitness level, age groups, health levels and abilities. You only have to take into account yourself.

And the inescapable fact is that millions of people have been diving safely for years using variations of the Buhlmann model (which is the compartment-based model that you learn in Open Water and even Divemaster), of which the PZ+ is a derivative. So at what point is a computer conservative enough?

Suunto themselves recognizes it to some degree – on their higher end computers, such as the D9, they offered a setting which would let you make the computer less conservative.

Generally, my belief is this – unless you have a condition which requires you to be more conservative when it comes to DCS (age, fitness, overweight), the PZ+ algorithm is going to be more than adequate at keeping you safe – just be careful about watching your ascent rate, give yourself atleast an hour between dives and follow all the concepts of safe diving that you learn in Open Water, and you are good to go.

i300

TESTING THE COMPUTER IN THE WATER

Over the past few days, I have taken the computer for a bunch of dives, along with my Suunto D9TX and a Suunto Zoop from the dive shop. To test how the computers responded to various diving situations and emergencies, not only did I do a day of regular diving, but I also took all 3 computers into decompression, and did a day of reverse profiles (a shallower dive first, a deeper dive second).

The computer behaved pretty much as i expected: on the first dive, I got a bottom time that was somewhere in between my D9TX (which has the reduced RGBM algorithm) and the Zoop (which has the full RGBM algorithm). The difference between all 3 computers was fairly small. On the second dive however, the i300 gave me a little bit more bottom time than the D9TX, and both gave me significantly more time than the Zoop – this is pretty much what I expected, given the algorithms.

The backlighting worked well, the tactile buttons were a pleasure to use, and all the automatic features of the computer worked precisely as they were supposed to. And the readout is very clear and easy to read, with all the essential information available at a single glance.

On the reverse profile day, the same held – all 3 computers gave readouts that were ‘sensible’, with similar bottom times as earlier.

On the decompression dive, there was a significant variation, however. I went down to past 40m and hung around till all 3 computers went into deco (no significant differences in bottom time here) and started to ascend once both computers were showing me 5′ of ascend time. As i ascended to a shallower depth and the controlling compartment changed, the Sunntos gave me credit for off-gassing on the faster compartment and the deco obligation cleared by the time i was at 15m. However, the i300 obstinately kept that deco clock ticking till I ascended to shallower than 10m.

This is a key difference – the Suuntos are designed for decompression diving (provided you are trained and qualified to know how to use them for this), whereas the i300 is strictly for recreational, no-deco dives (and it doesnt pay any attention to that ‘recreational deco’ nonsense) – So someone who is a technical diver or planning to become one may prefer a different computer. However, for the vast majority of recreational divers, this isn’t such an issue. You shouldn’t be going into deco anyway.

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CONCLUSIONS AND FINAL THOUGHTS

2 weeks ago, if you had asked me to recommend an entry-level computer, I would have blindly said Suunto Zoop/Vyper – why? Because i am a long-time Suunto user – and Suunto is also the brand that we use in the dive shop, with excellent results.

However, while the Zoop still makes sense for the dive center, I think that for an individual diver, the slightly less conservative algorithm of the i300 makes it a better buy, especially given that prices are comparable.

There are a couple of cheaper options out there, such as the various 1-button dive computers like the Mares Puck. However, going back to what i wrote earlier about the difference between ‘best entry level’ and ‘cheapest’ – single button interfaces are a pain in the rear. Given that the monetary savings would have been very modest, I ruled those out.

There are also more expensive options out there – what a greater price gets you is a smaller form factor (so you can wear it like a wrist watch – which is actually a really good thing: it goes with you whereever you go, so you are sorted if you make a last-minute decision to go diving somewhere), air integration via optional tank transmitter (so you can see how much air you have left, both in bars and time, based on your breathing rate), an in-built digital compass (that’s nice to have for serious divers and pros) and, at the highest end of the scale, the ability to switch gases between various nitrox and helium blends and rebreather modes (useful for technical divers).

All those features are nice to have, and if budget allows, by all means go for it. A Suunto D6 or equivalent is a great buy in that price range. But if you are a casual recreational diver who is not looking to spend a huge amount of money on unnecessary gear, the Aqualung i300 gets my vote as the first piece of scuba gear you should own.

Buy the i300 at a special price