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June 2018

The Incredible Wrasse

Posted by | Articles, Blogs, PADI underwater naturalist, The Incredible Showcase | No Comments

Our first showcase in this series is dedicated to a particularly fascinating and versatile group of fish.*Drum roll* – THE WRASSES!

With nearly 500 known species, wrasses form the second largest marine fish family (Labridae) in the world. Wrasses are generally elongated fish that taper at both ends, you could call that being “cigar-shaped”. Found in tropical and temperature waters, wrasses can be as tiny as the thumb-sized minute wrasse (Minilabrus striatus), but also grow to be as big as the 2 meter long Napoleon wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus).

Portrait of a Napoleon wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus)

picture credit: Gunnhild Sørås

Most people know and love to see the Napoleon wrasse on a dive. A large and majestic fish that appears to carefully inspect divers with its googly eyes as it slowly cruises by. Napoleon wrasses have a single fin that runs continuously along its back (like a Mohawk); a characteristic feature of wrasses. Look carefully next time at a bird wrasse (Gomphosus varius) – you will see that same dorsal fin as the Napoleon, albeit on a smaller scale.

Bird wrasse (Gomphosus varius)

Brian Gratwicke (Wikimedia Commons)

Similar to the Napoleons, many wrasses appear as though their heads have been tattooed with Maori art. Intricate patterns radiate from their eyes in stunning colour schemes and patterns. Admire this artwork the next time you swim close to a red-breasted wrasse (Cheilinus fasciatus) or a moon wrasse (Thalassoma lunare).

Face painting on a Red-breasted wrasse (Cheilinus fasciatus) and a moon wrasse (Thalassoma lunare)

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons

Wrasses are a family found in great abundance across reefs. Perhaps a key to their diversity lies in their versatile diet. Wrasses leave no part of the reef unexplored. There are wrasses that eat fish, some that graze algae, some that crack open crustaceans and molluscs, and others that suck out worms and coral. A few chase after plankton in the blue.

There are also those that follow other fish, almost like a shadow, watching closely to see what hidden treasures are revealed when these hunters are at work. Look out for the small checkerboard wrasse (Halichoeres hortulanus) hungrily tailing either a triggerfish upturning rocks or goatfish that is stirring up the sand in hope of nabbing a quick crab or clam. What would you call this- Clever? Lazy? Freeloading?

A checkerboard wrasse (Halichoeres hortulanus) waiting to see what goodies the yellow-margin triggerfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus) stirs up!

Photo credit: Bernard Dupont (Wikimedia Commons)

By virtue of their choice of cuisine, some wrasses play critical roles in the functioning of coral reefs as an ecosystem. I am talking about the unassuming but industrious blue-streaked cleaner wrasses (Labroides dimidiatus). Cleaner wrasses feed specifically on parasites, dead tissues and mucous, found on bodies of fish that do not want to keep any of it. In the process, cleaner wrasses have set up some of the most phenomenal symbiotic relationships that can be observed while diving. These wrasses work in pairs or in small groups and work extremely hard to look for fish that are looking to be cleaned. A single cleaner wrasse on duty, working 4 continuous hours, cleans up to 2000 ‘client’ fish. Starting up and running a cleaning station successfully is no joke for these finger-sized fish and there is a lot that we can learn from observing them. (Watch out for our upcoming post- Business lessons from a cleaner wrasse partnership.)

A blue-streaked cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus) working on a Napoleon wrasse with a keen eye.

Picture credit

Of all the wrasses that we might come across commonly, we are likely to underestimate the anchor tuskfish (Choerodon anchorago) the most. The anchor tuskfish is named so, for its tusk-like canines. These sharp teeth when unleashed, transform the otherwise delightful-looking wrasse into a predator that every hard-shelled animal should be afraid of! Tuskfish can spend hours trying to dig out clams, carry them over to specific spots on the reef where they whack them repeatedly against specific rocks until the shells crack open and are ready for the devouring. Tuskfish are the first wild fish to be documented using tools.

I would like to end this showcase with one of my favourite wrasses of them all. It is one that some of us have probably witnessed, doing something so bizarre, in a span of one second, that no one but you and the wrasse will believe that it happened. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Epibulus insidiator or the slingjaw wrasse!

Watch this space for our next  showcase on the underwater lives of the Incredibles.

The author, Chetana is a PADI divemaster and resident biologist at DIVEIndia in the Andaman Islands. She is an alumnus of the Masters program at the Wildlife Conservation Society -India program and National Center of Biological Sciences in Bengaluru. She has been diving and exploring the Andaman Islands since 2013. She is also deeply excited about forests, birds, reptiles and amphibians.

Should i learn to scuba dive - Get certified?

Should i learn to scuba dive – Get certified?

Posted by | Andaman scuba diving course, Articles, Blogs, Scuba diving Courses, Training | No Comments

Should i learn to scuba dive – Get certified?/ Why get certified when you can do a DSD

Most visitors who come to the Andamans do try an introductory scuba program such Try Scuba / PADI Discover Scuba Diving and find it an amazing experience.     But many of them are not aware that there is also the option to become a certified diver, the benefits of doing so or even how easy it is to get certified.

Let’s talk about the 2 basic options for beginners:

Option one to a introductory scuba diving program, be it the very basic Try Scuba or the more immersive/experience-rich PADI Discover Scuba Diving, which is designed to give people a taste of scuba.  There is a dive professional in the water with you at all times, who is responsible your safety during the program.

Option two is a certification course, aka the PADI Open Water course or PADI Scuba Diver course: these are designed for people who want to take up this amazing sport in a more in-depth manner, and who want to keep exploring the oceans in different parts of the world.   It consists of 3 elements:  academic development, skills practice and ocean dives.   At the end of this, you get a certificate which is valid for a lifetime, and which lets you dive anywhere in the world.

Sounds like a lot of work, right?    I mean, you can dive as is without that certification card, so why go through all the trouble?   Why not just do more introductory scuba experiences wherever you go?

Well, yes, you can.  Nothing wrong with that and many people do just that.

However, the intro programs are all designed to be just that – intro.   While the instructor does handle your safety in such cases, there are several things that the instructor cannot do for you.   So all responsible dive centers conduct the Intro to Scuba / Try Scuba / PADI Discover Scuba Diving programs in locations where the conditions are benign, predictable and as much within the instructor’s control as possible.

For first timers, these is still a marvellous experience – virtually everyone who tries scuba for the first time comes out having experienced the “wow” factor.

But… the “wow” becomes “OMG I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT WOWOWOWOW!!!” when you get certified:   it is yet another level of amazing when you are able to go deeper:  the kind that sinks its claws into you and makes this a passion that you want to indulge in regularly, just like going hiking in the mountains or on safari trips.

It is surprisingly easy to get certified – you complete your theory at home, using online learning.     Skills training takes 1-2 days, 2-4 hours per day, leaving the rest of the day free for other sightseeing.    Then you do 4 dives over 2 days, again each day’s sessions lasting about half a day.    And you are done.    You don’t have to be a fantastic athlete or great swimmer either – basic swimming skills are required, average fitness (ability to walk 1-2km) and, in the event of pre-existing medical conditions, a doctor’s clearance.     So in 3-4 days, you can earn a license to explore the magic of the underwater world, whereever you go.

If you live in Delhi, Bombay or Bangalore, you can even do your skills training there over a weekend – thereby requiring just 2 days to get certified!

Can you scuba dive if you can’t swim?

Can you scuba dive if you can’t swim?

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

SCUBA DIVING IN THE ANDAMANS – FOR NON-SWIMMERS

One of the most common question we get from people coming to the Andamans and wanting to try scuba diving (or even from people who want to try diving in their home city) is: “I don’t know how to swim – can i try scuba diving?”

Can you scuba dive if you can’t swim?

The answer is:  yes, you can

To get certified as a diver, you need to know basic swimming (ability to float or tread water for 10 min, swim 200m unaided/300m with mask-fins-snorkel). However, to do introductory scuba diving program such as Try Scuba or a PADI Discover Scuba Diving program, swimming is not required.

So what is the difference and why?

The introductory scuba diving program, be it the very basic Try Scuba or the more immersive/experience-rich PADI Discover Scuba Diving, is designed to give people a taste of scuba.  There is a dive professional in the water with you at all times, who is responsible your safety during the program.

The certification course is designed for people who want to take up this amazing sport in a more in-depth manner, and who want to keep exploring the oceans in different parts of the world – it is designed to create divers who are trained in diving procedures and skills, including safety/emergency procedures, and who can dive without professional supervision.   As such, swimming is a requirement.

So why do people go through all this trouble to get certified?  Can’t they just do more introductory scuba experiences wherever they go!

Well, yes, they can.  Nothing wrong with that and many people do just that.

However, the intro programs are all designed to be just that – intro.   While the instructor does handle your safety in such cases, there are several things that the instructor cannot do for you.   So all responsible dive centers conduct the Intro to Scuba / Try Scuba / PADI Discover Scuba Diving programs in locations where the conditions are benign, predictable and as much within the instructor’s control as possible.

For first timers, these is still a marvellous experience – virtually everyone who tries scuba for the first time comes out having experienced the “wow” factor.

But… the “wow” becomes “OMG I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT WOWOWOWOW!!!” when you get certified:   it is yet another level of amazing when you are able to go deeper.   That’s when you get to have experiences that match what you see on Nat Geo.   And for that, certification is indeed required – as is swimming

Review: Mares Pure SLS BCD

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Review: Mares Pure SLS BCD

Note:   The BCD reviewed in this unit was purchased by us before being reviewed.  We did not get any special discounts or other considerations for the review.   All the gear we review is based on our personal experiences and we will NEVER recommend a product that we do not believe in – we exist to serve our guests, not manufacturers of scuba equipment.

Review Mares Pure SLS BCD

They say you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, nor can you get an old diver (speaking metaphorically, of course!) to try on new gear.    Well, Frodo, my golden retriever proved the first adage wrong and now the pressure is on me.

Some background:  though a process of trial and error, I figured out my ideal gear configuration in the late 90s, and have seen no real reason to change it.     When it came to recreational BCDs, my preferred brand has always been Seaquest / Aqualung – and that confidence has been time-tested:  even today, we use Aqualung BCDs in the dive shop and recommend them without reservations to people looking to buy BCDs.

While we are also a Mares distributor, I have never recommended Mares BCDs so far.   A chance conversation with the Mares distributor got me thinking about why this was so.       While I am a big fan of their masks, fins (Quattros rock!) and wetsuits, I have never been a fan of their BCDs:  I found the entry-level ones to be lacking compared to Aqualung, and higher-end ones to be needlessly fussy and generally, the range to lack the same robustness as Aqualung.

But at the same time, this experience is also quite dated.   A lot of things change in that time, and if we are going to recommend gear, we owe it to our divers to make sure our recommendations are based on a broad and up-to-date set of personal experiences.

As it turns out, I was looking to get a new recreational BCD for myself anyway, as my old Aqualung Balance, while still serviceable, was getting a bit tatty after 9 years of (ab)use.   So instead of getting the Aqualung Dimension I had been lusting after, I looked up the Mares catalog and picked a Pure SLS BCD instead.  I sent the money over and a few days later, I had the BCD in my hands.

And now, here is a review of the BCD, based on several months of ownership and diving.

Note:  Before going further, I encourage readers to read the following Buyer’s Guide on How To Select A BCD.

SPECIFICATIONS

 The Mares Pure SLS BCD is a mid-end BCD in the Mares line, lying below top-range BCDs like the Quantum and Hybrid, but above more basic models like the Prime and the Rover.

The Mares Pure SLS BCD, with the folding pocket opened

The Mares Pure SLS BCD, with the folding pocket opened

The Mares Pure SLS BCD has the following specifications:

Style:   Back-inflation BCD with a central, rigid backplate
Lift:  18kg
Weight:  3.9kg
Streamlined
Swivel shoulder buckles
Weight integrated:  Yes, with visual confirmation
Trim pockets:   Yes
Adjustable waist strap
Customizable and travel friendly
Fabric:  Cordura 420
MRP:    Rs 38,250
Our price:   Significantly less (of course) 🙂

On paper, this is a very well-specced BCD.      But what does that mean, in terms of usage?   Read on.

FIT/COMFORT/FEATURES

 A BCD must be comfortable.   That’s a very, very essential and non-negotiable requirement.  If it doesnt fit properly, you will not enjoy the dive.   And that is why most of us dive, right?   So what are the elements that go into fit?

The BCD should sit comfortable and snugly tight around the waist, the shoulder straps should be comfortable and the tank should be stable.  And nothing should pinch or bite when you wear it.

On this count, the Mares performed very well.    The padding on the backplate at the contact points (upper and lower back) made for a very comfortable wearing experience, with the pressure evenly distributed and no extraneous materials adding weight.

The BCD comes with the standard sets of releases and clips.

It uses a buckle and webbing system to tighten at the waist, as opposed to a more traditional velcro strap system.     Some people prefer the velcro as it is easier to attach and loosen-  after years of diving with a harness, I prefer the buckle-and-webbing system, as it allows you to really modulate the snugness of the waist band.  It takes a little longer to get used to, but is well worth it, in my opinion.

On an entry-level BCD, the velcro makes more sense to avoid confusion (and a resultant unhappy outcome) with the weight belt buckle.   But as this is a weight-integrated BCD, you are likely not going to be wearing it with a weight belt.   So it makes sense to have that buckle there.   Mares has paid attention to the details here.

The D ring is used to tighten or loosen the waist strap

The D-ring is used to tighten/loosen the waist strap

The BCD also comes with the traditional chest clip (in case your straps are too far out on your shoulders) and the 2 quick releases, one on each shoulder.

Thankfully, the shoulder clips are the swivelling type – these improve the ergonomics and comfort significantly by allowing the straps to follow the natural curves of your torso.  This means no pulling, pinching or biting in the shoulders.    It’s a small thing but once you get used to it, you’ll notice it every time you dive with a BCD with regular quick-release clips.

The swivelling clips at the shoulders allow the straps to follow your torso’s natural curves

The BCD also has 2 clearly-marked emergency air dumps – one on the usual right front shoulder and the other on the right bottom.     Both come with large handles which are easily located by touch – an essential feature (if you do lose your buoyancy and are going up, you want the emergency air dump to be VERY easy to find).    The air dumps allow for a surprising amount of modulation – many people, once they get used to their BCDs, use the rear air dumps to adjust their buoyancy on the fly:  it is more convenient than bringing yourself to a more vertical position, raising your deflator hose and releasing the air.      Some dump valves allow this more easily than others – thankfully, the Mares is one of them.

In terms of attachment points for accessories – you get lots!   The Mares Pure SLS has D-rings in the following locations:

  • 2 sturdy steel D-rings, one on each shoulder
  • 1 plastic D-ring at the bottom of the right shoulder strap
  • 2 steel D-rings on top of the weight pockets
  • 2 steel D-rings at the bottom front of the BCD, under the weight pockets
  • 1 plastic D-ring at the bottom of the wings, at your lower back (for attaching SMBs or even a jerry-rigged crotch-strap)

If you need more D-rings than this, you should be in a submarine!

In addition, there is a rolled-up pocket underneath the right integrated weight pocket, which you can unroll to expand.  This has a surprisingly amount of capacity and is fairly useful.    In yet another nod to sensible ergonomics, it doesnt open via zipper – there is a velcro strap and a D-ring, allowing for one-handed opening of the pocket

Folding pocket - notice the d-ring and velcro release

Folding pocket – notice the d-ring and velcro release

Carrying pocket opened

Carrying pocket opened

One minor area where I felt the BCD missed out – attachment points for the SPG and octopus.   Now, my BCD came with a 2-hose retainer clip, so you could (and I did) use this to attach both the SPG and the octopus.

But I am a big fan of looping the octopus hose on a retainer around the right shoulder – this puts it in a very convenient position to grab and deploy in one smooth motion.   On some Aqualung BCDs, you can slip a loop of the octo hose into the BCD sleeve itself – other BCDs have a bit of elastic there which serves the same purpose – providing a place to loop the octo hose.  Similarly, a small loop of velcro around the left weight pocket could have provided a suitable point for retaining the SPG.

The Mares Pure SLS lacks either of these.  Yes, you can use a clip (or 2), but it isnt as neat a solution as having the retainers built into the BCD itself.   Yes, I agree that this is a very minor issue but for a BCD that otherwise has a lot of nice litte ergonomic touches, this one would have been very nice to have as well.

BUOYANCY, LIFT & STREAMLINING

I am a big fan of back-inflation BCDs.   I find them to be significantly more comfortable and allowing for better trim than jacket style BCDs.   Yes, they take a little bit of practice to get used to, especially on the surface, but the payoffs are well worth it, in my opinion.

The 18kg of lift is more than ample for most kinds of diving, from tropical warm water to cold water.     The downside of most large-lift back inflation BCDs is that the wings can often be too large and flap around in the water even when not full, thereby adding to the drag.   The Mares Pure SLS comes with a neat little feature:   elastic bands sewn into the edge of the wings, which pull it in closer when deflated.

Use of bungee cords in wings has always been a contentious topic among tech divers, but the implementation here is very sensible:  it doesnt so much compress the wings, but merely pulls the edges in close.   So in the event of a leak, it will not compress your wings and cause them to lose air faster.

Even small reductions in drag can have massive payoffs in ease of swimming and reduced air consumption, so this is a very nice and under-rated little touch from Mares.  Well done!

The bungees runs along the length of the wings and hold the edges close to your body, thereby preventing it from flapping around in the water and adding drag.

The bungees runs along the length of the wings and hold the edges close to your body, thereby preventing it from flapping around in the water and adding drag

TRAVEL FRIENDLY

This is not an ultra-light travel BCD.

Mares states the weight of the BCD as 3.9kg, but on my scales, it showed up at over 4kg.   That’s a fairly chunky BCD, compared to some of the lighter travel BCDs like the Aqualung Zuma.   Also, due to the rigid backplate, it doesnt fold up into a tiny package either.

But my general approach is – first, the BCD should be suitable for diving (features, comfort, trim).    Only once you short-list a list of candidates which meet this requirement should you worry about weight.

There is no point taking a lighter travel BCD with you if you dont enjoy it in the water.   Now obviously, all else being equal, you want the lighter BCD.    But 2kg more isnt the end of the world – it is very easy to pack a 20kg bag which has all your  dive gear as well as clothes for a 7-10 day dive holiday.   So dont sacrifice your primary usability for this reason.

STURDINESS/RELIABILITY

The BCD is made of Cordura 420 fabric.

Now generally speaking, I am a big fan of 1000-denier BCD construction, as that fabric not only lasts forever, but also retains its color for a very long time.    Lower-denier fabrics tend to fade faster – or atleast, used to.

That said, 1000-denier fabric is becoming harder and harder to find these days, except on top-of-the-line models, while 420 and 840 denier fabric is becoming increasingly sturdier and fade-resistant.    Certainly, Cordura 420 is certainly a very robust fabric and the popular choice for a lot of gear intended for rugged use.   So from that point of view, there is certainly nothing to fault.

Given that most BCD owners are not going to have their BCDs going out daily, 350+ days in a year, and the improvement in quality of 420 or 840 denier fabric, the choice of fabric is probably less of a determining factor these days.

Long-term reliability of the BCD remains to seen, but so far, everything looks to be quality – from the zippers to the clips to the stitching.

High quality zippers, sturdy hardware and quality stitching on display

High quality zippers, sturdy hardware and quality stitching on display

TRIM POCKETS AND INTEGRATED WEIGHTS

Getting comfortable in the water requires not just good buoyancy but also good trim.   Buoyancy is relatively easy – but achieving good trim requires finding the proper location for your weights, so that bring your center of buoyancy and your center of gravity together.   Since each of us varies in height, weight and body type, this requires the ability to move the weights around.

As I mention in the article on “How to Choose a BCD:  A Buyer’s Guide”, I strongly recommend that someone who is buying a BCD pick on with both integrated weights and trim pockets:   these 2 features on your BCD gives you a lot of options in terms of how to position your weights and thereby achieve good trim.

The Mares BCD has both trim pockets AND integrated weight releases, as is standard for most BCDs in this price range.     However, there are a few key differences between how Mares has implemented them, versus most others.

For one, the Mares weight pockets are removable.   This is fantastic for those of us who dive with 3mm wetsuits and dont use a lot of weight – if you are only diving with 1-2kg of weight, you may decide to put it entirely in your trim pockets and remove the entire weight pocket system, thereby streamlining your gear more.

Secondly, the trim pockets are almost in line with the weight belt.   Honestly, this one surprised me when I saw it.   The whole point of trim pockets is to allow a diver to move some weights higher up, moving his center of gravity towards his head and thus countering a tendency for the legs to go down.     Having trim pockets in line with the integrated weights, as opposed to higher up (around the shoulders) seems counter-intuitive.

There seems to be a greater tendency among manufacturers to do this, though.   A couple of Aqualung BCDs also have their trim pockets near the floating ribs, as opposed to around the shoulders.    The proof of pudding, for this, of course would be the diving.  [Spoiler alert:  I went in fully expecting it to be an issue but much to my surprise, this turned out to be a non-issue.  More on this later.]

Lastly, the Mares weight system has a locking mechanism.     As with all weight systems, the release is a Quick Release action which can be operated with one hand – you grab the weight system’s handle and pull, and it comes out, allowing you to ditch it if you have an emergency.     That is to be expected – you want the emergency release system to be as simple as possible.

However, unlike most integrated weight systems where you just jam the weight pocket back in to replace it, Mares has adopted what they call a “Slide and Lock” system.    When replacing the weights, you have to pull the handle out into “unlock” position.   Then after you insert the weight pocket into the retainer, you have to push the top of the handle to “lock” it.   When it is locked, the display tab in the weight system shows Green.   If it is not locked correctly, it shows as Red.

The weight pocket showing with the Slide & Lock mechanism (the red/green part)

The weight pocket showing with the Slide & Lock mechanism (the red/green part)

Accidental ditching of weights due to improper replacement is one of the more common failure points of integrated weight assemblies.     And obviously, depending on the amount of weight dropped and the diving situation, the outcome of this can be very dangerous.

What Mares’s locking mechanism does is remove this risk.   Take a look at the 2 photos below.     In both cases, the weight pocket looks visually secure, right?    However, in one case, it can just slide and fall out whereas in another, it is locked in place.  A quick glance at the BCD’s weight system window will tell you which is which – green is go,  red is danger.

A properly-locked weight pocket - the weight will not fall out accidentally.

A properly-locked weight pocket – the weight will not fall out accidentally

An improperly-locked weight pocket - even though the pocket looks secure visually, it isnt locked in and the weight can fall out when diving

An improperly-locked weight pocket – even though the pocket looks secure visually, it isnt locked in and the weight can fall out when diving

IN THE WATER

All the features in the world are meaningless when it comes to how a BCD handles in the water.  And not to put too fine a point on this – the Mares Pure SLS blew my mind, that’s how great it was.

As someone who is used to diving with a backplate/wings, I am used to my rig being exceedingly solid and stable.    Every recreational BCDs I have used to so far falls short in this area – admittedly, we are not talking about a huge difference and I can adjust to it very easily:  but it is there and I do notice that difference.

Well, until now.   Between the swivelling shoulder harness, comfy back pads and a convenient tightening mechanism for the waist band, the Mares Pure SLS wrapped around my body like a cocoon and felt as solid/stable as my backplate rig.     In simple terms, it felt that my body and the BCD was a single unit, as opposed to me being inside a BCD.      Did this change my air consumption or make me a better diver?   No.   But it just felt a lot nicer.   And that is not insignificant.

Despite the tank cut-out not being curved, the tank is remarkably stable on the back, and not at all prone to moving

A view of the back of the BCD:  despite the tank cut-out not being curved, the tank is remarkably stable on the back, and not at all prone to moving

The second thing that took me aback was the trim.    My legs tends to be very prone to sinking and i generally need to move some weight closer to my shoulders to counter this.  Given what i wrote earlier about the trim pockets being inline with the weight system, I was expecting it to be hard to achieve neutral trim.

But right away, off the bat, it felt as though this BCD has been designed specifically for me.    I got in the water, i turned to a horizontal position… and i stayed there.    Again, getting this with a new BCD is something that usually takes me a few dives to get right and often involves doing things like adding 1kg to the tank band.   But not here.   Right away… NAILED IT!

I have to admit, I did not expect that.   I am very, very finicky about my trim and this is the best level of fit and trim I have gotten from a regular recreational BCD, ever.   And truth be told, I still don’t understand how I managed it with trim pockets around my waist when i struggle to do so with trim pockets around my shoulders.   I can only guess that Mares has taken the overall trim of their BCD into account when deciding where to put the pockets.   While I obviously cannot speak for everyone, I’d venture to guess that if it works for me with my absurdly bottom-heavy natural trim, it should work well for most people.

From an operational and ergonomics point of view, the BCD worked as expected – the inflator hose, the emergency releases, the quick release clips:   all did their job as expected from a BCD in this category.      The buckle-based weight belt was was an improvement over other BCDs, as described earlier.

Deploying the storage pocket was also much easier than on a jacket-style BCD.   In most regular BCDs, the storage pocket is around your ribs and the zipper is just under your armpits – with even a moderately-thick wetsuit, it is very difficult to reach and operate this zipper.   The zipper for the storage pocket on the Mares was around the hips and so very easy to deploy.   Big win for ergonomics.

Lastly, we come to the weight pockets.    Here, my response is a little mixed.    When i first used the BCD, I didn’t realize Mares had a special locking mechanism  (what?   RTFM?   We don’t RTFM and we don’t stop to ask for directions either).   So i pulled out both the weight pockets to test the release tension and slipped them back in when i was done – at which point, they promptly fell out as soon as i let go, causing a few seconds of entertaining acrobatics while i retrieve them.   Doh.      It took a lot of futzing around before i managed to replace them securely.

Once i came back to shore and had a chance to examine the mechanism, it made a little more sense and I got the hang of it after a couple of tries.  That said, I am still somewhat ambivalent about this.

Many dive manufacturers, including Mares, have at times made pointlessly complicated stuff that, while well-engineered, tries to provide solutions to problems no one really has (anyone remember the Mares Hub?).      This system is definitely a little more complicated to replace – and while it may give a clear positive indicator when done right, it is also prone to being done wrong if you are not careful.     Is it really needed?

On the other hand, I have to admit – my opinion is clouded by the fact that I show weight belt and integrated weight removal/replacement on a regular basis while teaching.   I have decades of muscle memory built up on how to do this, and changing that is something that i dont like to do without good reason (and Frodo also hates moving from his particular spot under the fan and will bark if I leave something there that prevents him from doing so.   Hmmm).

However, for someone who doesnt have that pre-existing muscle memory, who will not be ditching/donning weights on a regular basis, this may not be a bad idea.    There is one extra step when you attach the weights to the BCD, that’s about it – and if that step reduces the risk of the weights falling out by accident, that’s not a big deal.

Besides, if this weight system bothers you, you can always get rid of it and replace it with an aftermarket, more-traditional integrated weight system, such as the one used by Halcyon.   It’s a fairly minor issue, really – I don’t see it being that much of a bother to anyone.

SUMMARY

Regardless of manufacturer,  I have always felt that the mid-end range is where real value resides as far as BCDs go.     At this price level, you get all the essential features that let you truly dial in the BCD to achieve perfect trim, and none of the excessive bells and whistles that add to the price but are of dubious value in terms of actually improving your diving experience.

The Mares Pure SLS reinforces that.     Yes, I have some minor quibbles with it, but those are just that – minor.  When it comes to usability, comfort and trim, this is one of the class-leading BCDs out there with lots of small features that add up to one impressive package.

PROS:

  • Very comfortable
  • Reliable integrated weight system
  • Best trim and stability I have ever discovered on a recreational BCD
  • Several small features that improve ergonomics and usage experience

CONS:

  • Heavy (although that probably contributes to the excellent trim and stability)
  • Slightly finicky weight pocket
  • Lack of built-in retainers

Recommended?   Definitely – this joins our select list of Recommended BCDs.

A caveat – trim is a very personal issue, and we always recommend that you try out BCDs yourself in the water before you buy.   If you are coming to the Andamans, or live in Delhi, Bombay or Bangalore, you can try out several of our BCDs for yourself before you buy.

How much does a Dive master make?

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The Divemaster is the first professional level in the recreational dive industry.   As a Divemaster, you lead certified divers in their diving activities by providing logistics and support, on-site guiding and being an added layer of safety.  You can also assist Instructors in teaching their course.    Most industry insiders agree – Divemasters tend to have the most fun, as they get to go diving at a location’s best sites along with the customers

Time to go from beginner to Divemaster:   45+ days (although more time is recommended)*
Approximate expense:   Rs 125,000 – Rs 150,000 **
Dive master salary (typical) range:    Rs 15,000 – 35,000***

Read more about how you can kickstart your career in Scuba diving in India

Scuba Diving Careers in India

Scuba Diving Careers in India

Posted by | Articles, Blogs, scuba careers, Scuba Diving Careers in India, Scuba diving Courses | No Comments
One of the most common questions we get asked from people is about the scope of career options in diving, especially in India.
Makes sense – would you rather be stuck in an office in an unsatisfying job that leaches away your soul, while you dream of the 2-3 weeks of vacation you get each year when you can finally go diving?   Or would you rather dive daily and then spend your ample free time doing other exciting things?   Yeah, thought so, too.    But let’s face it – for most of us, the dream job also has to meet a bunch of practical requirements as well.
The purpose of this article is to talk about what the career options in diving are – in subsequent articles, I will also cover what sort of lifestyle dive pros lead.    Keep in mind that this article is focused on sport diving only, not commercial diving (underwater welding, construction, etc).
10 years ago, the world of sport diving attracted a handful of daring individualists who were willing to take a plunge into the unknown (pun not intended) and see where their passion led them.    These days, however, diving is growing rapidly in the country, with dive centers opening all across the country (including in some extremely unlikely places).   And that means there is a very high demand for qualified dive instructors.
Scuba Diving Careers in India – This can take many shapes and forms:

 1/  Divemaster:

The Divemaster is the first professional level in the recreational dive industry.   As a Divemaster, you lead certified divers in their diving activities by providing logistics and support, on-site guiding and being an added layer of safety.  You can also assist Instructors in teaching their course.    Most industry insiders agree – Divemasters tend to have the most fun, as they get to go diving at a location’s best sites along with the customers.

Time to go from beginner to Divemaster:   45+ days (although more time is recommended)*
Approximate expense:   Rs 125,000 – Rs 150,000 **
Typical salary range:    Rs 15,000 – 35,000***

2/  Assistant Instructor:   

This is the next level up from Divemaster – as an Assistant Instructor, you can independently teach some sections of various courses.  In addition, of course, you can do all the tasks that a Divemaster can.   Usually, most people rush from DM to Instructor – but we feel that spending time as an Assistant Instructor is a great way to develop your teaching skills.   That way, when you become an Instructor, you are really ready to hit the ground running (or hit the water swimming, as it were).

Time to get to AI:   7+ days*
Approximate expense:   Rs 25,000 – Rs 40,000 **
Typical salary range:    Rs 25,000 – 40,000***

3/  Instructor:

This is the highest level of dive professional (well, there are categories of instructors as well, but we can ignore that for now).   As a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor (or comparable rating), you have the highest responsibility of all:  you can teach people to dive and issue them certification cards to that effect.  In other words, you can now introduce others to this sport that we all love.    You can also teach additional advanced-level courses, all the way up to Divemaster, actually.     The responsibility on you is higher – and commensurately, the pay also tends to be higher

Time to get to Instructor:   20+ days to complete the pre-requisites, 15+ days to complete the Instructor Development Course*
Approximate expense:   Rs 165,000**
Typical salary range:   Rs 35,000 – Rs 65,000***

4/  Non-Diving Positions:

Yes, surprisingly, there are non-diving positions to be had in the scuba industry.   Like any business, there are a lot of other ancillary functions which are essential to the smooth functioning of the industry and in many of these positions, it helps to be a diver even though you are not actually going to be diving.    Some of these tasks include:  scuba equipment sales,  equipment technician, business development/sales, customer relations and marketing, dive travel, dive resort management and more.   And for those of you interested in working in the industry but without moving to a remote destination – many of these jobs can actually be done while working from your current location.
So how many of these jobs are there, anyway?   Quite honestly, it is hard to give a definite number.     But at the time of writing this article, there are nearly 80+ dive centers in the country, and the sport has not even started to enter its boom phase.   So the opportunities are there – certainly, we are always on the lookout for good instructors, not just in the Andamans but also in the various cities, and so is virtually every other dive center that we know.
And with this industry growth comes the opportunity to carve out a larger role for yourself, as well – making this not just a job but also a potential career.   So don’t just in your office cubicle dreaming about a fun, active lifestyle – go ahead and take the plunge!

Note:

*This is the minimum time to complete the pre-requisites and also the training course for that level
**This is for the training only and is meant to be indicative only – prices vary from location to location.  It does not include meals, stay, personal expenses
***This varies by location, experience, specific role of the candidate, other skills that they bring to the table, etc.
The author, Vinnie, is India’s first and most experienced Instructor Trainer, with over 10 years experience teaching instructor candidates, nearly 20 years as a dive professional and over 25 years as a diver.