How to pick a dive computer

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HOW TO PICK A DIVE COMPUTER – A BUYER’S GUIDE

By: Vandit Kalia (Vinnie)

One recurring theme that you may have noticed in my articles – and if you do any course with me – is my tendency to get on a soapbox and talk about divers taking ownership of their own safety by engaging their brains.     That is the windmill I have chosen to joust against, and, for better or worse, will continue to do so.

But a fundamental requirement to taking ownership of your own safety is having all the information needed in order to do – information drives decision-making, after all.     What information are we talking about ?   Dive time, depth, no deco time and air left at minimum – direction and air consumption rate as nice-to-have extras.       This is the information you need in order to make an informed decision about your dive, and you get this information from a dive computer.

I really cannot stress this enough – if you are diving, you really should own your own dive computer.   And no, I don’t say this because we sell dive computers.   We make a few thousand rupees on each sale.  It is hardly the sort of stuff that is going to let me retire to a tropical island.

Now, many people – especially those used to diving in tropical locations – will be used to having the DM lead the dive, and often, the DM also has the dive computer and manages the dive profile for everyone.      Let’s face it – ideal or not, this system works and thousands of people dive daily following this approach.   But there is a reason this is not ideal and is not recommended:  when it works well, it works well.   But if something goes wrong, it compounds the dangers.     What if you get separated from the group?   What if you end up going a little deeper during each dive, for multiple dives?     Most importantly, this habituates the diver into doing “trust me” dives, and prevents them from engaging their brain on each dive – this significantly hampers their development as a diver because if a problem happens, they have not developed the judgement or critical thinking skills or discipline needed to solve the problem.

That is why I push dive computer ownership more aggressively than, say, doing a Specialty Course with us (which earns us more).   It is one of the best investments you can make in controlling your own safety and eliminating variables which can add complexity to a problem.

So the next question (and one of the most common ones I get asked over email or Whatsapp) becomes – what dive computer should I get ?   There is a bewildering array of dive computers out there in the market, ranging from under twenty thousand rupees to well over one lakh (a few hundred dollars to well over fifteen hundred).

The purpose of this article is to demystify dive computers and give you the information you need to pick the dive computer that works very best for your budget and preferences.

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THE FUNDAMENTALS:  NO-DECO INFO & DIVE COMPUTER ALGORITHMS

The main reason you get a dive computer is to know how much no-deco time you have left – everything else can be figured out through some combination of a dive watch, depth gauge, SPG and/or compass.       So it stands to reason that this should be the most important thing, right?     Well, yes and no.

Yes, it is indeed the most important thing.    However, the good news is that virtually all dive algorithms being used today are robust/reliable enough to provide safe information to most divers.     Let’s talk about that in a little more detail.

As you guys may remember from your Open Water course, the decompression model is basically an empirical curve that is fitted onto existing data about safe/unsafe dive profiles.  It is essentially a probability curve which predicts the risk of getting DCS for a dive to a given depth/time.     The No Deco Limit is basically a point along the probability curve where the risk of DCS is deemed to be very low.

The most popular – and industry standard –  decompression model is the one you learned about in the Open Water course:  it was created by John Haldane and refined further by Dr Albert Buhlmann, into its current iteration, the ZHL16 – most computers today use a variant of this model, with some tweaking done as per each company’s preferences.     Another popular model is the RGBM model, developed by Dr Bruce Weinke, which focused not just on the traditional tissue absorption model but also on controlling the build-up of silent bubbles.      In addition to that, several other brands have added more significant tweaks, by trying to factor in things like age, heart rate, etc and using those to adjust the No Deco Time.

While a detailed comparison of the various models is outside the scope of this article, and the arguments of the pros/cons often resemble holy wars when it comes to the fervor of the participants on each side, it is worth noting that at the recreational level, either of these models is perfectly capable of keeping you safe.        Yes, that is correct – from a safety point of view, there is no evidence that indicates that one model is better than the other for recreational diving.

What does vary between dive computers is how conservative or progressive they are.     On a weeklong dive holiday, you might find that 2 dive computers often diverge by as much as 5-10 minutes when it comes to no-deco time.      At this point, I can hear you going “wait a minute – how can 2 dive computers be so different?   Which one is correct?”

Remember – there is no correct answer.   These are just models using probability curves and taking into account multiple factors to arrive at a single number – what you see as being a higher or lower number is merely a function of which factor has been given more or less weight.         All these models keep you safe – they just do it differently.     So “which is correct” is the wrong question to ask.

A more appropriate question is – which one is better for me:  more conservative or more progressive.

As a general philosophy for diving, we can all agree that “more conservative is better”.   But as with everything in life, you reach a point of diminishing returns.    That’s why we don’t wear helmets when we drive, or elbow/knee pads when we walk, for example.    So if we are on an expensive dive holiday to a dream destination, do we necessarily want a dive computer which cuts out dive time short by 10-15 minutes on each time?

In my experience, experienced divers often have a good idea of which algorithm has worked well for them and are also aware of any personal risk factors that may apply – they would be better off with a more progressive option, as this would let them build in additional safety margins if needed, and give them more bottom time otherwise.   On the other hand, beginner divers may still be developing their diving discipline/awareness, and so may benefit from a more conservative dive computer, which gives them a margin for error (which, to be clear, is not something you rely on!).      Also remember – you can add conservatism to a more progressive dive computer via its settings, but you cannot make a conservative dive computer more progressive.

So my recommendation is that if you think you have the discipline and awareness to add your own safety margins when applicable (eg, if you are tired, been in a strong current, etc), then a progressive dive computer would be fine for you.   If you are a diver who is at greater risk of DCS (age, weight or other factors), or want the comfort of added safety margins, then a more conservative option would be better for you.

FEATURES OF A DIVE COMPUTER

So if a cheap dive computer keeps you just as safe as a more expensive dive computer, why is there a price difference? The answer is simple – due to features. Some features are virtually essential and greatly enhance the utility of a dive computer (and make it less likely that you will outgrow it). Others are convenient and nice-to-have. And yet others are a matter of personal preference.

So here is a list of popular features and some details about them, which you can use to determine whether or not you want them.

Nitrox:

In this day and age, you should not buy a dive computer that does not have Nitrox mode.    Even if you are not Nitrox certified now, you may choose to get Nitrox certified later (and there are very good reasons for doing so:  namely, extended bottom times) – and having a dive computer that allows you to dive with nitrox will help.  Dive computer manufacturers realize that – it is very hard to find a computer that does not have Nitrox.      Do look into how easy it is to set the nitrox, and whether there is an easy way to check what mix you are diving with.      Failure to set the mix correctly (or forgetting to switch back to air later) are very common mistakes, and the easier it is to set/see your nitrox mix, the less likely you are to make this mistake.

Ascent / depth / time alarms:

I cannot think of a single computer that does not have them.   What does change is how loud those alarms are.   So if they matter to you, look into whether or not you can hear them (or feel them, if there is a vibrate mode).

Legible Display:

The benefits of a display that is easy to read, even in poor conditions, should be obvious to everyone.    Sometimes, this can take the form of a backlight – other computers have active LED displays which are much brighter.     However, legibility goes beyond just that.     Is it easy to understand what all the elements in the display mean – this is especially true when you go into accidental decompression, when you are faced with a display that you may not have seen before:  can you clearly identify that you are now in decompression?   Are all the numbers clearly labelled and can you tell what they mean?

Battery Life and Charging:

One of the banes of old dive computers used to be the need to send the entire computer to the shop to have the battery changed.     And imagine the feeling of being 2 days into a week-long dive holiday and having your computer battery die!    We have seen this happen with quite a few divers who have come to dive with us, and I have had it happen to me when traveling.   So I firmly believe that any computer that you use today should be one with either a rechargeable battery or a user-replaceable one.    Rechargeables are easier, but rely on a proprietary connector.    User-replaceables require you to have a spare battery of the appropriate type.     So there is a tradeoff.

The other element here is battery life.    Some dive computers have great, colorful displays but may last only a couple of days.    Others go up to 40-50 dives.   Yet others can go a few hundred dives.     Typically, the brighter/more colorful the display, the shorter the battery life.   And rechargeable dive computers (usually but not always) tend to have shorter battery lives than those using AA batteries.       Which one you go with is a matter of personal preference.

Planning Mode:

Most computers have some kind of a planning mode, which lets you figure out how much bottom time you have at various depths, which is important for dive planning. The most basic dive computers only give you the allowed bottom time if you were to dive immediately. Other dive computers let you add on additional surface time and calculate the allowed bottom time in such cases. This is very handy for dives where you plan to go to a specific depth, as it lets you figure out how much surface interval you need.

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Screen showing the Shearwater Perdix in planning mode.   You can also increase the surface interval and see how that affects the NDL

Ergonomics:

How easy is it to change the settings on your computer – such as nitrox percentage, depth alarm, personal conservative factor, etc? How easy is it to scroll between displays when diving? With enough practice, you can get used to pretty much any device, of course – but what if you pick up the computer after a gap of 5-6 months and then, while on a dive boat, realize you need to change a particular setting? Will you remember what to do?
One of the most common questions I get asked on a dive boat is “hey Vinnie, how do i set the nitrox on this thing”, as someone hands me an unfamiliar dive computer. The easier it is to remember, the less likely you are to mess it up.

Deco diving / Tech Features:

All computers will handle accidental decompression – ie, if you accidentally exceed NDLs. However, not all computers react the same way afterwards. Some computers are designed for decompression diving – eg, Suuntos, Shearwater and more. If you go into deco, they tell you want to do and happily keep purring afterwards because their standard algorithm is compatible with decompression diving. Others are not: while they will give you the info you need to complete your accidental deco, they will get more conservative later because their algorithms are not designed for decompression diving.

In addition, some dive computers designed for tech diving will allow you to switch between different gas mixes.   Yet others are capable of working with trimix.      Typically, only higher-end dive computers have these features.   Are they need for recreational diving?    Not at all.  But if you plan to get into tech diving, then getting a computer with these features ensures you won’t outgrow the computer.

Digital Compass:

One of the least-developed skills among recreational divers – especially in tropical reefs – is navigation. That reason is obvious: most of the time, you are following your DM, who handles the navigation for you, and so you don’t get a chance to practice. Having a compass is useful as it lets you work on your navigational skills at all times – and of course, if you and your buddy plan to dive without a guide (or you get separated from the guide), the compass becomes an essential part of your toolkit.

You can get an external compass and mount it on your console or clip it to your BCD, or you can get a dive computer with a built-in digital compass. I have a strong preference for the last option – neater and always there when you need it. This is a very under-rated but nice-to-have feature.

Air Integration:

If you had asked me a few years ago what I thought of air integration, I would have said “not for me”. Then I got the Shearwater and have been using its air integration feature, and am getting sold as to its benefits. It’s really convenient to be able to see all your information, including air, in one go. But one very nice benefit is that it also lets you see your air consumption rate on the fly – so if you are breathing a little faster for some reason, you will see that and can adjust your breathing rate accordingly. Eg, my breathing rate often goes up when I am taking photos, as I use my lungs and legs to compensate for currents while I try to get a precise composition – sometimes, my gauge has provided a very useful reminder that I am being too inefficient and that perhaps I should try a different method to stay in position.

Higher-end models even let you add multiple transmitters – so for example, you can see not just your air but also that of your buddy (or air of 2 different tanks, if you are diving sidemount or have deco bottles with you).

Essential? Of course not. But definitely very nice to have. When I use my other dive computer, which lacks air integration, I definitely miss it.

Form Factor:

Some dive computers are large and chunky. Others are more wrist-watch sized, not much larger than a regular watch. And this does matter. A larger dive computer will have a more legible display. But it is also one extra thing to pack and carry, and also something you will have to take off/put on every time you get in and out of a wetsuit. By contrast, a wrist-watch sized dive computer is something you just put on and forget – no risk of it falling while on the dive boat, no risk of forgetting it in your hotel room on the morning of the dive, etc.

Heck, you can just wear it every day as your regular watch – so if an unexpected dive opportunity comes up, you are good to go (I used to do that with my old Suunto dive computer – and it came handy when I was traveling through Africa for 4 months, and got some unexpected opportunities to go diving). I personally have a very strong preference for wrist-watch sized dive computers (and am considering switching my personal Shearwater from a Perdix to a Teric for this very reason). But larger displays are also nice, especially for older eyes. So think about what matters more to you.

Materials, Straps & Colors:

Dive computers can be made of polycarbonate or have a steel (or even titanium) case – metal cases look nicer and may be preferable if you want to wear the dive computer as a watch.    That said, polycarbonate is very robust and has good shock absorption properties, so don’t rule it out as being “lower quality”.

Straps can be of rubber, metal, elastic or fabric – the last two are often one-piece and so add a degree of reliability in case you lose a spring bar where the strap attaches.

And of course, choice of colors varies by model/brand.

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Form factors  compared:   Shearwater Perdix, Suunto D9Tx, Garmin Descent and a Doxa 1200T dive watch

Freediving/gauge modes:

This is also something that comes standard with virtually all dive computers have these days.    Gauge mode is great if you want to use your dive computer as a bottom timer (eg, as a timer backup to a different computer) – it switches off deco calculations and just gives you depth/time.   Freediving mode, as the name implies, is used for freediving/skindiving/apnea, and tracks dive duration, average depth, recovery times, etc.

Personal / altitude adjustments:

Virtually all computers let you adjust for altitude by changing a setting.    They also let you adjust how conservative the model is – in most computers, you can make the computer more conservative, although some let you tweak in either direction:  make it more or less conservative.    Typically, these are just pre-cooked settings, but some high-end computers like Shearwater actually let you precisely adjust the gradient factors, so that you can customize the dive computer precisely.

Digital Logs:

Some dive computers allow you to download your dive info into the brand’s app via a cable. Others do it wirelessly. Yet others have a full ecosystem built around uploading, geo-tagging and sharing your dives with other divers. I havent logged my dives for over 20 years and if I did, I would use paper – but I know many people prefer digital logs. If so, wireless transfer may be something to consider.

Other Features:

Some dive computers use a heart rate belt and factor in your heart rate when calculating your decompression info. That’s pretty slick, I have to say. Does it make you materially safer? I cannot say. Other computers combine activity tracking (steps, heart rate, etc) and are basically smartwatches + dive computers rolled into one. Are any of these essential for diving? No. Are they cool as heck? Oh yes. Should you get them? Depends on your budget and preference.

SUMMARY

In general, there are 3 price points for most dive computers.

At the entry level, you get the standard features:  nitrox, freediving, gauge, alarms and algorithm modes (eg, standard, conservative, more conservative).    These are sufficient for most recreational diving.      Typical pricing for computers in this range is Rs 25,000 – Rs 35,000, more or less.

In the middle range, you get extra features like digital compass, air integration and more premium materials – this is a range from Rs 35,000 – Rs 50,000 or so, approximately.

At the high-end, you get no-holds-barred devices, with a lot of neat extras, like customizable/upgradeable algorithms, ability to handle trimix, ability to handle multiple air transmitters and so on.     Prices for these can run to over a lakh.

What should you get?     The answer is – it depends on your budget and preferences.   The entry-level is where the value lies.    That said, if budget allows, the mid-range lets you get computers which, while not essential, add a fair bit of convenience to your diving.    And of course, the high-end gets you amazing devices that do pretty much (except spot hammerheads).

Hopefully, this article gives you enough information to help you reach a decision.    Feel free to drop us an email at sales@diveindia.com if you have any questions and we would be happy to help you out.    Oh, and we do carry dive computers in all these ranges – Mares, Aqualung, Deep Blu, Scubapro, Shearwater and Garmin – at very competitive prices (hint, hint!).

Deepblu Cosmiq+ Dive Computer Review

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Review: DeepBlu Cosmiq+ Dive Computer

Reviewed by:   Vandit Kalia (Vinnie)
Date of review: May 2020

The Deepblu Cosmiq+ is an entry-level dive computer and one of the more interesting units I have had a chance to try out of late.

Headquartered in Taiwan, Deepblu positions itself primarily as a community and marketplace for divers first, and gear manufacturer second.   So it is not surprising that their dive computer also emphasizes this community aspect, and also relies heavily on a smart phone for controlling and uploading, eschewing the desktop-based apps of the traditional manufacturers.

Read on for a hands-on review of its pros and cons, as well to find out whether it makes our recommended kit list.

THE BASICS

The Deepblu Cosmiq+ dive computer is an oversized, entry-level model designed to be easy to read and easy to use.   It came packaged in a nice hard case, inside of which you find the computer and 2 straps that match the accent color of the computer.

The Deepblu Cosmiq+ comes in a nice, sturdy case.

You have a choice of accent colors when you buy the computer – the one I got was pink (my wife claims that it is lilac or maybe lavender, but I don’t believe in those colors.    Pink it is), and so the 2 matching straps were in pink:  one in a solid color and the other with a camouflage pattern.      Yes, you read that correctly – a pink camouflage pattern.

I have pink sneakers, pink slacks and pink shirts (and no, I don’t wear them all at once), so I am a sucker for pink.    And once I got past the ridiculousness of the concept of pink camouflage (make up your mind, bro – do you want to be seen or not?), I had to admit that the color actually looked quite funky – and it also matches with a few BCD and masks that we sell, so there is that.

The straps are NATO-style pass through straps and are super sturdy – there is near-zero chance of this computer coming off accidentally, no matter what you do.   And they will last a lot longer than rubber straps too, which can become brittle with age.

Inside the box are the computer and 2 heavy duty fabric straps.

The case itself is a nice sturdy unit and packs the computer safely and securely.     Now, unlike a watch-sized computer which you can just wear when you travel, oversized computers typically get carried in your carry-on bag.    Many people prefer to use a padded box for carrying their dive computer – while you can use this box for that purpose, it is a little too big for carry-on (and you shouldn’t be checking in your dive computer).     Compare that to the Shearwater, which comes in a really compact case that is perfect for the computer and a couple of spare AA batteries.

But then, you can buy 3 of these computers for the price of a Shearwater, so it is not a perfect comparison.   And in any case, given carry-on weight restrictions, I personally don’t really use any boxes.   I just toss my Shearwater into a pocket in my bag and leave it there – it is sturdy enough and I haven’t had any issues.     Given that this computer also has a hard plastic case, I wouldn’t expect any issues with it either.   Wrap it in a sock or T-shirt, if you must or stick a screen protector on the display.

The Cosmiq+ case vs the Shearwater case.

FEATURES

As mentioned, the Deepblue Cosmiq+ is an entry-level computer designed for recreational divers.   So obviously, you don’t get tech features like use of gas mixes containing more than 40% O2 or the ability to switch gas mixes.   You also miss out on some nice-to-have premium features such as air-integration & built-in compass – but that is to be expected at this price range (you typically will need to spend Rs 10,000 – 15,000 more to get those features).

What the computer does have are the essentials, as to be expected from even entry-level dive computers these days:   ability to use nitrox mixes up to 40%, a gauge mode and a free diving mode.     It has the usual full set of alarms – depth, time, deco, ascent rate, MOD/PPo2 violation, CNS O2 Clock limit and more.    And it packs all of this in a lovely, oversized display with a lot of contrast and which is very easy to read.

ALGORITHM

The Deepblu Cosmiq+ uses a Buhlman variant as its algorithm – the industry standard which has been around for decades.   Does it have fancy features like heart-rate related adjustments, or RGBM and such?    No.     But the Buhlman algorithm has withstood the test of time and proven itself to be safe and reliable – and as far as I know, the human body hasn’t changed significantly over the past 30 years.

As someone who once used to geek out on the latest decompression algorithms, I have realized that for recreational diving, this plays a very minimal role in safety – different algorithms may produce numbers that vary, but in the real world, as long as you follow sensible diving practices, any algorithm in a mainstream dive computer is more than capable of keeping you safe.

To provide additional flexibility in terms of matching the algorithm to your personal preferences, you can adjust the algorithm on the Cosmiq+ to be normal, conservative or progressive.

The normal implementation of the Buhlman on the Cosmiq+ is quite conservative to begin with, compared to both my Shearwater and my Suunto D9Tx (set at 50% RGBM).   At 24m, the Suunto gives me 29 minutes of bottom time, the Shearwater gives 26 min and the Cosmiq+ gives 24 min.   At 30m, the difference is even more stark – 18 min for the Suunto, 17 for the Shearwater and 14 for the Cosmiq+.

The Cosmiq+, compared to my personal dive computers – the Shearwater Perdix and Suunto D9Tx

On subsequent dives, the gap to the Suunto narrows, as the Suunto’s RGBM algorithm tends to be more conservative compared to Buhlman.      But it is still on the conservative end of the scale – although not as excessively so as something like the Suunto Zoop.

That isn’t a bad thing –  for beginner divers, having slightly more room for error isn’t a bad thing.    And as you gain experience, improve your diving discipline and also gain familiarity with diving algorithms, you now have the option of using the progressive option – I did not have a chance to test it too extensively, but from the few dives I did on it, it seems to be a “sensible” degree of progressiveness that should work for most experienced divers.

And obviously, if personal or other conditions warrant, you can set the computer to be even more conservative.  So very sensibly done.

Lastly, this computer is not designed for decompression diving, and going into deco will punish you fairly heavily, in terms of bottom time for the next dive.     Which is fair – you should not be doing decompression dives if you are not trained for it, and if you are trained for it, you should know better than to use a recreational computer for that purpose.

SIDE NOTE ON CONSERVATIVE / PROGRESSIVE COMPUTERS

On one hand, we can all agree that more conservative is always better – atleast as a general philosophy and approach to diving.   On the other hand, if you have spent good money going on a diving holiday, do you really want to cut each dive short by 10-15 min because your computer is less conservative?    So which is better?

To start with, keep in mind that there is no “correct” number.     The No Deco Limit isnt a hard line, but a probability curve, and algorithms are basically a mathematical model fitted to simulate the probability curve of getting DCS for a vast and varied population of people.     So each number is, to some degree, an arbitrary cut-off point on the probability curve which is deemed “safe enough” for most people, with an additional safety margin added on.

Experienced divers often have a good idea of which algorithm has worked well for them and may choose a more progressive option because they are disciplined enough not to need a lot of additional safety margins:   they build it in themselves.    Such divers typically also tend to be more aware of conditions that may increase their pre-disposition to DCS and so know to be more conservative if those conditions apply, and so are able to handle this well.    In other words, they also keep their brain engaged while using the computer.

On the other hand, beginner divers may still be developing their diving discipline and awareness of NDL, depth and air.     They may also not have the best buoyancy and be going up and down a little.   In such cases, a more conservative computer may be a better option, as it gives them a little more margin for error (which, to be very clear, is NOT something that you ever plan to rely on!).

Gun to head, if you force me to pick an option, I will pick a more progressive computer, as you can always make them more conservative by tweaking their settings.    That said, if you are a diver who is at a greater risk of DCS (age, weight, other factors), or if you feel that you would benefit from a greater safety net, or if you are more risk averse, then yes, a more conservative option might be better for you.

BATTERY

The next key feature that I think is important is a rechargeable or user replaceable battery.     I am happy to say that the Cosmiq+ comes with a rechargeable battery – it comes with a USB cable with a magnetic charger on one end, which snaps to attach to 2 contact points on the underside of the body.

The magnetic charger and the contact points on the Cosmiq+

However, the battery life of the computer needs improvement – I tested it in Raja Ampat, where we were doing 3-4 dives a day, and it did not always last 2 days.    I’d estimate the battery life at around 6-7 hours or so from a full charge (which I never got – I will talk about that further down).      To be safe, I would recommend charging it every day if doing 3 or more dives, and definitely every 2 days.

Is that ideal?   Depends on what you like.   My Shearwater uses a AA battery and gets well over 30-35 hours of battery life with the air transmitter connected.    And if I have an issue, a AA battery is one of the easiest things to find.     On the other hand, this makes for a large form factor and the spare battery is still one extra thing to carry (and make sure it is fully charged) – whereas with the Deepblu Cosmiq+ all you need is its USB charging cable and a USB output, and you are good to go.    But you do have to charge it regularly.      Personally, I am not used to  charging my computer regularly, and having had this reinforced for 30 years, I have a “get off my lawn” moment at the idea of needing to do so – even though I, like almost everyone else, have other devices that I do charge daily without complaint.  Go figure.  Whether this is an issue for you is a personal choice.

The magnetic charger attached to the Cosmiq+ body – this is not a very secure connection

And speaking of charging:  my other issue with battery life is related to the reliability of the magnetic connector of the charging cable – in my experience, this was not very robust and was dislodged a bit more easily than I would have preferred:  sometimes, the very act of putting down the computer after attaching the charger to it would cause the connection to become loose.     On more than one occasion, I woke up in the morning to find that the charging cable had come loose at some point and the device had not charged properly.   Luckily, this was my backup unit, but if this was my main unit and I woke up with an uncharged dive computer and 3 dives to go in Raja Ampat, I would have been very upset!

To be fair, once I became aware that the connector was a little finicky and easily dislodged, I started taking extra care in how i put the dive computer down after attaching the cable and did not have any problems afterwards.    But for someone like me, who isn’t really good with being so fastidious with things like charging cables, this is something I would prefer to avoid entirely.

Reading the specs, the battery life is supposed to be 8 hours – a fair bit more than the 5-6 hours I got out of it – and I wonder if my woes had something to do with the connector woes.   Also, to be fair, you can reduce the brightness of the screen (it is VERY bright by default – cutting it in half will not affect legibility and significantly increase battery life).

But be that as it may, this is definitely an area where the Deepblu Cosmiq+ could be improved.

USING THE COMPUTER

Due to some last minute issues, I only had 3 hours to pack my dive gear and my camera system before leaving for a Diveindia Outbound trip to Raja Ampat – in that hectic rush, I completely forgot to read the Cosmiq+ user manual before leaving.   I chucked the computer and cable into my bag, and carried on packing.

At breakfast on the morning of the first day of diving, I was doing what I always tell people not to do – trying to figure out a new computer.   Luckily, it was surprisingly easy to do:  the computer has 2 buttons and remarkably easy-to-understand interface:   pushing one button changes between modes (and icons at the top of the screen tell you what mode you are in), pushing the other button lets you make some changes.   About the only changes I wanted to make were the nitrox setting and it took me perhaps 2-3 minutes before I figured it out.   That’s a win.

The computer turns on automatically in the water and the display is very bright and legible.     Not only that, it is very sensibly marked and it is very easy to see all your dive information – depth, time, NDL, MOD and more.  There are visual indicators to indicate how much NDL and CNS O2 Clock you have left, and also alarms if you go up too fast.    The safety stop countdown is also easy to read.

One of the biggest challenges with many computers is that the deco screen can be quite confusing to divers who inadvertently end up exceeding their NDLs.    I personally know of atleast 2 cases  where divers did not realize that they had gone into deco, and continued diving, assuming that their deco time was their NDL (and oblivious to the fact that this number was increasing).    As you can guess, that could have been very, very dangerous.

Not so with the Cosmiq+.    I did end up putting the Cosmiq+ into deco on one dive, because I was using my Shearwater for the dive profile and just using this unit for comparison.         There was absolutely no mistaking the information – the computer clearly told you that you were in deco, by how many minutes you had exceeded your limit, how much deco you had to do and what depth you should ascend to (and all this info was clearly labelled and displayed in a manner that made it nearly impossible to confuse with the regular display screen).

Overall, the additional screen size of the oversized computer has been put to very good use here and information is displayed cleanly and with proper labelling  – unlike many manufacturers, who use the same screen logic on small and larger computers, just with bigger fonts.

Mantas on Manta Ridge, Raja Ampat (Dampier Strait)

THE DEEP BLU APP

And now we come to what sets this computer apart from the rest:  the DeepBlu App, available on Android and iOS.

The App let you do a lot of things – log your dives (you can pair other brands as well), post your dive photos and see posts of other divers in a social-media-like setting, learn more about dive sites in various locations, stay in touch with your dive buddies, and join clubs/groups.    It also lets you change all the settings of your computer very easily.

The day after my first dive, I tried to set up the app.    Yes, I know normal people would do it before, especially given how the app is the ideal way to set up your computer, but I was in Raja Ampat, this was not my main computer and I got distracted, ok?

The  first thing it required me to do was create an account – I could link to my FB or use an email.   I went with the latter.     The app sent me a confirmation email with a code I was supposed to enter.  10 minutes later, I still hadn’t gotten the code.   So I gave it up and went outside to look at stingrays playing under my water bungalow’s balcony,.    He, Raja Ampat vs messing around with my phone?   Phone is gonna lose every single time.    Instead, I continued to set the nitrox mix directly on the computer – something I was able to do without RTFMing (which is good) or needing the app (also good).

After a few days, I remembered about the app and tried again.    This time, I was able to get the verification code and register properly.   Then I tried pairing the Cosmiq+ to my phone – and nothing happened.   After 3 attempts, I ended up hitting Google for answers: clear the DeepBlue app data and try again.   Ok – and hallelujah, this worked.    Pairing was easy and after this, consistent.

As mentioned earlier, the App is a combination of a social media platform for divers, review site, online dive log and controller for your dive computer.    It has 4 main sections:    DiscoverPlanet, Community and Menu.

The “Discover” section is like a mini Facebook/Instagram for divers, where you can share your photos/dive log and see details of other people’s dives.    The “Planet” section is a review/information section, where you can research dive sites, read and post ratings and reviews and get all sorts of dive-related info.

The “Discover” section

The “Planet” section

The “Community” section lets you follow various groups, such as dive clubs, groups belonging to various dive operators, etc.      In the interest of full disclosure, I did not spend too much time on these features.

Lastly, there is the “Menu” section.     This is where you can adjust the settings of your dive computer and wirelessly upload the dives from the Cosmiq+ dive computer to the app.   Then you have the option of sharing those dives as part of your own feed in the community section, or just keeping it private for your own viewing.

The “Community” section

Uploaded dive logs are found in the “Menu” section

The “Menu” section also lets you add buddies, see your dive log, edit app settings and, as mentioned earlier, set up your dive computer.       You can change units, salinity level, conservative factor, nitrox percentage, screen brightness and also set various alarms, all on the app.

This is a really smart idea – one of the biggest issues with computers that I see on dive trips is people not remembering how to set their computers and fumbling around before the dive, pushing buttons at random.     The app eliminates all that – switch on your phone, make the settings on the app and voila, your computer gets set automatically.

Of course, the downside is that you need to have your phone with you.    On many dive boats and liveaboard dive platforms, this may not be the case.       The good news is that most of the settings are not things that you would change on a dive to dive basis – mainly, only the nitrox mix.   And this can be done without a phone, if need be.

The “Menu” section also lets you adjust the various dive settings of the computer

Adjusting the settings is very easy and intuitive

SUMMARY

So in summary, would I recommend it?

The computer has a lot going for it – a bright and legible display, well-labelled information presented in an easy-to-understand format (one of the best I have seen in an entry-level computer and which mitigates one of the biggest failure points of dive computers:  user error) and easy to set up/sync via the app.      It was very easy to use and overall, a really nice dive computer.   And, of course, the fact that you can tweak the algorithm up or down to meet your preferences is a huge positive.

However, there are 2 downsides to the unit.

The first is a matter of personal preference – for me, I strongly prefer watch-sized computers.  My Shearwater Perdix is the first oversized dive computer I have used since 2001 and while I love it to bits, I am seriously contemplating selling it and getting a Teric mainly for the small form factor.   The reason for this is that it is easier to travel with the computer and also, easier to manage it on a dive boat before and after a dive.   Of course, on the flip side – the larger screen is also why the information is presented so clearly and legibly, so there’s the tradeoff for you.

The second is more significant, however:   the below-average battery life and connection system.      Are they deal breakers?    Absolutely not.     If you are careful with how you attach the charging cable, and are ok with doing so every day or two while on a dive trip, it is certainly something that can be managed.   It is, however, a potential – and foreseeable – problem if a diver is careless or forgetful.  From what I have seen, many divers do tend to be a little forgetful on holiday and all it takes is one such incident and you can potentially end up messing a day’s worth of diving.

So for that single reason, the Cosmiq+ does not make our Recommended Gear list– that selection is reserved for gear which we think is the best fit for most people, and can be recommended without any qualifiers.   To be honest, it is a bit of a shame as otherwise, I really do like this dive computer.    However, at this price point, the Cosmiq+ is competing with the Mares Smart and the Aqualung i200.   Both have a watch-sized form factor, sensible algorithms and while the display isn’t as sexy and you do need to read the manual to understand the settings, the battery life on both is significantly better and so there are fewer caveats about usage.

However, that is not to say that the Cosmiq+ doesn’t deserve consideration or is not competitive – the legible display, app-based settings and cloud-based dive logging  make it a refreshingly different alternative in a world of otherwise fairly similar entry-level computers.   If the battery issues are something that you can work around, it is definitely worth considering (and arguably outperforms the other options in its price range).

So yes, I would recommend it, but with the caveats described.

Reviewed by: Vandit Kalia (Vinnie), resident gear head of Diveindia.   This unit was provided as a demo for testing, and was returned after the test period was over.   As always, these reviews represent our honest opinions on the product in question – we are beholden to you, our divers, and not to manufacturers.

DIVEIndia has the DeepBlu Cosmiq+ available for sale at a very competitive price – if this computer fits your needs, please contact us for current pricing and to purchase.

UPDATE FROM THE MANUFACTURER

Apparently, the battery life issues were not just limited to me:  Cosmiq has recognized that and released a firmware update that improves the battery life, as well as a Gen 5 version with a larger internal memory for logging 200 dives, as opposed to 25.   Supposedly, there is also an upgraded charging cable as well.  If the battery life issues have been resolved, then yes, this computer makes it on to our Recommended Gear list.   We will update the review if and when we get a chance to try out the newer version.

How To Make Your Scuba Diving Holiday Go Smoothly

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How to Make Your Next Scuba Diving Holiday Go Smoothly

Scuba Diving Articles

It is the one thing we all dread the most – having a much-anticipated holiday not go as planned.     After the anticipation, use of valuable vacation time and the not-inconsiderable expensive involved in going on a dive holiday, we all want things to go smoothly.

And the good news is – so do most dive centers and other divers.    The people running the dive center got into the business primarily due to a love for the sport – and the other divers are in the same boat as you (literally and figuratively):  they want to have a great trip.

But often, small mistakes, minor miscommunications, cultural differences and varied expectations can cause stress on a diving trip.       But it is very easy to avoid them – and with just a little bit of care and attention, it is very easy to ensure that your trip goes smoothly.

Join Vinnie in this recording of his FB Live Session on how to ensure that your diving trip goes smoothly.

About Vinnie:
Vinnie is a fictional character created by the golden retrievers that secretly run DIVEIndia (and generated using CGI in this video). In the narrative, he is an experienced tech diver, long-standing instructor and keen underwater photographer. Carefully planted rumors lend credence to his existence – some people have been paid handsomely to claim that they have seen him and even dived with him.

Scuba Diving in the city

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Scuba Resources in your Home City

Scuba Diving in the city

If you are a beginner looking to try the sport, why not give it a go right at home?    No need to book an expensive holiday – try diving in a pool and see if you like it (be warned – you will!).   And after that, complete your theory sessions as well as skill development sessions in the city itself, as your convenience and without feeling rushed.    Then, when you go on a holiday, you can go straight into the ocean and not spend valuable vacation time in a classroom.

And the benefits don’t stop just with certification.    Diving does not have to be something you only do a couple of times a year on vacation. Stay involved with the sport, keep your skills fresh and continue to develop as a diver right in your home city…. Vinnie tells you how in the video below.

While this video was shot during the COVID lockdown, a lot of the benefits of staying involved with diving on a continual basis still apply – whether it is polishing your skills, trying equipment, doing some theory online or generally hanging out with fellow divers.

And yes, we almost always have something or the other going on with regarding to diver training @home as well, in our dive  centers in Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore and Chennai.   So do contact us if you have any questions or are interested.

About Vinnie:
Vinnie started to dive back in 1991 and spent the first decade of his diving existence exploring the shipwrecks of the cold frigid waters of the North Atlantic (including the Andrea Dorea, although he regretably was unable to get a plate from the wreck).    A trimix diver since the late 1990s, a scuba instructor since 2001 and a Course Director/Instructor Trainer, first with NAUI and then with SSI since 2008, he is India’s most experienced dive instructor and also founder of DIVEIndia.     He currently conducts training in DIVEIndia’s @Home centers in Bangalore and Chennai.

How To Prioritize What Scuba Gear To Buy?

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How to prioritize what scuba gear to buy?

What scuba gear to buy 1st

Article by:   Vinnie

One of the most common questions newly certified (or even moderately advanced) divers have is, what gear should I buy?      This is fuelled in no small part by the various certifying agencies and dive centers, all of whom have a vested interest in pushing sales of gear.   In fact, in a lot of places, divers are required to buy their own set of personal gear before they sign up for even their first certification course – and many places often push divers to buy a full set of dive gear before they have even gotten certified!

Now, don’t get me wrong – there are very good reasons to buy/own your dive equipment:  good fit, convenient features like integrated weight pockets that are usually not present on rental kit, lighter gear for easy traveling, consistency in buoyancy and trim, familiarity with gear (which can be critical in an emergency) and also pride of ownership (let’s face it – dive gear is cool).    And a lot of these benefits are not obvious until you have actually owned your own dive gear and realized how much better your dive experience is, as a result.   If money wasn’t an issue, I’d suggest everyone buy a full set of gear as well.

But sadly, money is an issue for most of us.    So the question becomes, how do you prioritize what to buy?      As with most things in life, there are no short and easy answers which apply to everyone.   But the purpose of this article is to give you the pros and cons of each piece of kit, so that you can decide for yourself.

A word of warning:  the video and the attached article are unabashedly subjective and opinionated.   My opinions.    I have been doing this long enough that I think my opinions have a very sound basis in reality, but there certainly are other sensible ways to look at this issue which may be different.      Also, this article is geared towards the typical tropical/vacation diver and also does not take into account any unique needs or specific requirements people may have.

MASK

Masks are the most commonly recommended item for people and with good reason.   An ill-fitting or easily-fogging rental mask can reduce the enjoyment of your dive.   As masks are fairly inexpensive and easy to carry, there is no real reason to not get a mask.    That said, the downsides of not having your own mask are fairly low as well –  fogging is relatively easy to fix, and most people generally are able to find a mask that fits their face fairly easily.     However, for those of you with prescription glasses who do not want to wear contacts, a prescription mask becomes a near-essential piece of kit.

Recommended for:   Everyone
Essential for:  People who struggle to get a good fit with regular mask, people who need a prescription fit

SNORKEL

Snorkels are great for snorkelling.    Or if you are doing long surf entries.     They are absolutely a menace around dive boats – having your face in the water, unable to see or hear anything, is not really a good idea around a boat that may be pitching in the water.      29 years of diving, 6000+ dives later, I have yet to have a single dive where I have gone “gee, I sure wish I had a snorkel with me”. But your mileage may vary – if you feel uncomfortable on the surface with your head upright, then yes, a snorkel does make it easier to breathe, especially in choppy seas.

Recommended for:   Those whose special dive conditions require a snorkel
Essential for:  Snorkelers

THERMAL PROTECTION

Most tropical water dive centers issue 3mm shorties to divers.    These are great for a moderate amount of warmth and some protection from stinging objects.      If you tend to get cold easily, you will need a 3mm wetsuit – and it is nice to have your own, to ensure you get a good fit.   Other pieces of kit that are nice to have are a full sleeved rashguard (sun protection, protection from small stingers in the water) or neoprene vests/jackets like the Mares Ultraskin / Sharkskin.      There are various bits of kit you can buy, which can let you dial in the perfect combination to cover your diving situations – eg, I own a 1mm lycra fullsuit, a 3mm neoprene wetsuit, a full sleeves fleece+neoprene jacket, a hooded vest and a separate hood (and this ignores my older cold water gear – a drysuit, 7mm suit, etc).        To get the most of this, it is  better to gain some experience and understand how prone you are to getting cold, what sort of conditions you will be diving in, etc and then make a purchase decision, however.

Recommended for:   Everyone, as they gain some experience and start to understand their own requirements
Essential for:  People diving regularly in colder water

FINS

Making people aware of the importance of fins has become a bit of a personal crusade of mine.     People obsess and agonize over what regulator to buy, for example, when you can pretty much pick any regulator in the market and get more-than-adequate performance.     But pick the wrong fins and you have ruined your dive.    Wrong fins make it harder to swim in challenging  conditions (read:  stronger currents) and can also ruin your trim by making your legs go up/down too much.

Recommended for:   Everyone
Essential for:  Those who struggle with currents or trim

BCD

Diving with the same BCD helps you dial in your trim more consistently, manipulating all the buttons and clips becomes a part of your muscle memory and you can customize your setup (storage of things like cutting tool, octopus, lift bag and reel) to be consistent every time.     And most importantly, you know where the emergency dump valves are located and how much modulation they (and the inflator) need.    The reason not to buy?    These are all mainly matters of comfort and convenience.   But don’t under-estimate the value of comfort and convenience:  this is one of those products where you will not really miss having your own, higher-end BCD until you actually own one – but once you own your own, you will not want to go back to a rental.

Recommended for:   Everyone, budget allowing;  underwater photographers, wreck divers, people who dive enough to justify the savings in gear rental
Essential for:  Cold water divers

REGULATOR

It is somewhat ironic that the most essential item in scuba, in terms of being safety-critical, is also the most reliable and relatively undifferentiated.   Yes, manufacturers all tout superior materials, better breathing rates, etc. etc. but in real world conditions, there is very little difference between regulators that you would notice without doing an A/B  comparison.      That said, for experienced divers, it is good to own your own reg so you can customize hose routing, gauges, etc as per your requirements.    Also, if saving weight is important for you, then having a travel-specific regulator can save you 500-1000gm over a normal regulator.    Lastly, having your own regulator means that you know its service history and it is less likely to have minor leaks and issues than a rental regulator.

Recommended for:   Those who value low weight, who want the peace of mind of knowing their regulator’s service history or experienced divers who like consistency in all aspects of their gear setup, people who dive enough to justify the savings in gear rental
Essential for:  Tech or cold water divers

COMPUTER

To me, a computer should be mandatory for diving.  When you have your own dive computer, you have all the information that you need to dive safely, and also to handle any emergency that may come up:  depth, time, no-deco info (or deco info), ascent rate and with high-end computers, compass/heading and air time remaining.      Relying on a dive guide’s computer or sharing a computer between buddies – both common practices – is a little better but over the course of a dive holiday, small variations in dive profile can add up to a significant difference.   Not to mention what happens if you are separated from your buddy:  that is a stressful event and being without a computer at that time only makes things worse.    Quite simply, as a diver, you are in charge of your own safety – and you cannot do that without a dive computer (don’t even mention tables).   Yes, you can rent dive computers on trips – but it is preferable to have your own computer, where you understand what the displays mean, how to adjust the settings, etc.  Dive computers are fairly cheap, starting at a little over Rs 20k for a computer –  there is no real reason not to own one.

Recommended for:   Everyone
Essential for:  Everyone

ACCESSORIES

There are plenty of useful accessories divers can own – SMBs, whistle, reels, a small cutting tool, a small dive light, reef hooks and pointer sticks.     Of these, I would say SMB/whistle are essential if you are boat diving;  cutting tools are handy if there is a risk of entanglement, reef hooks for hooking in during currents (if allowed by the dive center – this is a debatable practice, which is a separate discussion), etc.     A lot of these can also be rented as needed, so there is no great impetus to own these other than the convenience of always having them with you in case of an unexpected need.

Recommended for:   As needed
Essential for:  n/a

SUMMARY

So – what do you actually need?       Personally, I would suggest starting with the following 2 items as your initial purchase:  mask and computer.   These have the biggest and most immediate impact on comfort and safety.      Then, once you have gotten some experience, add a pair of suitable fins (based on having tried out various options) and appropriate thermal protection (rashguard, jacket, vest or full suit) – both of these are probably just as important, if not more, for comfort than a mask but you need some experience in order to make the right purchase here.   The regulator and BCD can come last – or you might find that you don’t dive enough to warrant purchasing these and are ok to rent – these definitely fall in the “nice to have” category (or the “will save money” category for frequent divers).

With all diving products, especially if you are starting out – nothing beats the advice of experienced professionals who can help you select the product that best fits YOUR needs, as opposed to what they have in stock.   As much as possible, do try out the product you are buying in the water, if you can – just because something works very well for others doesn’t mean it will for you.

Ultimately, there is only one question that matters:   will a particular piece of kit make diving more comfortable/enjoyable?         Anything that gets you diving more is a win – the sticker shock of the purchase goes away, but the memories of great dives stay with you forever.

How to Become a Better Scuba Diver

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How to Become a Better Scuba Diver

How to Become a Better Scuba Diver

A common misconception among divers is that learning to dive is where you acquire all the skills that you need to dive.   That is incorrect.    The certification course gives you enough skills in order to get you STARTED in the post.  It is only the beginning – becoming a better diver is a path on which each and every one of us are walking.

And while we would love to have you spend all your money with us, and do as many courses as possible with us, you don’t have to do so in order to improve.      In fact, for most divers, just continuing to develop the skills and concepts that they learned in the Open Water course is all that is needed in order to improve their scuba skills and comfort significantly.

In this recording of a Facebook live session shot during the COVID lockdown, Vinnie shares some practical, real-world tips on how to take ownership of your dive experience, and how you can do small things to continually improve your skills, both mental and physical.

About Vinnie:
Vinnie started to dive back in 1991 and spent the first decade of his diving existence exploring the shipwrecks of the cold frigid waters of the North Atlantic (including the Andrea Dorea, although he regretably was unable to get a plate from the wreck).    A trimix diver since the late 1990s, a scuba instructor since 2001 and a Course Director/Instructor Trainer, first with NAUI and then with SSI since 2008, he is India’s most experienced dive instructor and also founder of DIVEIndia.     He currently conducts training in DIVEIndia’s @Home centers in Bangalore and Chennai.

Underwater Photography Guide For Beginners: Building A System Around A Compact Camera

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PUTTING TOGETHER AN UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY SYSTEM BASED ON A COMPACT CAMERA

Are you interested in taking high quality underwater photos?  Or perhaps upgrading from your GoPro to something that takes better images and also is more scaleable?   Does the complexity of an underwater camera system and all the bits and pieces needed put you off buying one?

In this video and article, we are going to talk about the various components of an underwater photography system and what attributes to look for – a system that may not be the cheapest to start with, but also a system that will grow with you as your interests develop (which works out to better value in the long run).

For the purposes of this article, we are going to ignore ILC (Interchangeable Lens Cameras, like DSLRS and Mirrorless) – while they are technically the best solution, they also require a commitment in terms of money and approach to diving that is not suitable for most people, atleast not initially.   For the vast majority of divers, a compact camera system actually is the better tool.

1:  THE CAMERA

When picking a camera, the obvious point is to make sure there is a housing that is made for that specific camera model.  That aside, please look for one with the following attributes:

  1. A good wideangle – the wider the better: Underwater photography is all about getting close to your subject, and a wider angle lens lets you get closer to subjects ranging from turtles, large coral outcrops, divers, etc.  This means that your images are going to be better lit, sharper and have more detail/contrast.  By contrast, the telephoto range is not as important, as you will rarely be shooting something too far way.
  2. A good close-up/macro mode: Among the most rewarding – and easily accessible – category of subjects in underwater photography are macro subjects: nudibranchs, shrimps, etc. And here too, you want to get as close as possible, to fill the frame with your subject.
  3. Fast autofocus: While modern cameras have improved substantially compared to the Olympus C3000 I started shooting with, back in 2001, there still is a difference in autofocus, especially in poor light and low contrast (ie, your typical dive).  Faster AF will result in a much greater percent of keepers, especially for fish portraits.
  4. Easy to access controls:  Operating a camera underwater means working through a housing, which is typically via buttons and dials.   A camera which requires a lot of use of touchscreen or rotating dials typically does not pair well with these buttons and dials, and so may limit your ability to set key parameters underwater.
  5. Built-in flash: One feature I didn’t mention in the video is a built-in flash, mainly because virtually every camera does come with a flash. This is mandatory – that built-in flash is what controls your strobe (see section 3).  No flash = no strobe, and you might as well just shoot with a GoPro.

In addition to this, a nice-to-have feature (for me) is built-in waterproofing.  This way, if or when the housing floods, there is a good chance you may save the camera.  You can also use the camera for other activities associated with the diving trip – beach, snorkelling, etc. and not have to worry about it getting splashed.

This is the camera I used underwater (at the time of writing this article): an Olympus TG5.  It has the best macro modes out of all the compacts in the market at present

As camera housings are specific to individual cameras, you obviously need to pick a camera model which has at minimum a housing made for it and ideally, a range of accessories to support the system.   The 3 brands which I recommend are Canon, Olympus and Sony.  Each of them make cameras that are very popular with underwater photographers, and so it is easy to find housings and other accessories for them.

Do note – if you have a compact camera already, you can likely get a housing for it and wont need to buy a separate camera.  However, I do encourage read up on the housing section to determine what features to look for when it comes to building a scaleable system, and whether you particular camera + housing combo meets those requirements.  In some cases, it may be better in the long run to buy a new camera, rather than build a compromised system around a less-than-ideal camera.

2: THE HOUSING

The housing is the waterproof case within which the camera is kept while shooting underwater.    When looking for a housing, look for the following 3 main attributes:

  1. Ergonomics: What you want is a housing which feels easy to grip in your hands and where the important shooting controls – focus, change AF point, change exposure – are easy to reach with your fingers, without you needing to take your hand off the grip every time.  I cannot overstate what a big difference this makes when you are actually shooting – if you are struggling with your camera, you will not be able to get the best shots.
  2. Access to controls: Most camera housings do give access to all the essential controls when shooting underwater – however, in several cases, many “nice to have” functions may not be accessible. For example, if you rely on a particular custom function button or a rotating control dial, please make sure you can access it from within the housing.
  3. Ability to easily add accessories: This is the single biggest attribute when it comes to determining whether your system will scale up or not.  As your needs evolve, you may find you want greater close-up capabilities or the ability to go wider for impressive reefscapes.   Does your housing allow you to add these components easily?   At a more basic level, can you connect to your strobe using standard connectors or are you dependent on proprietary connectors that limits your choices?  Ideally, you want a housing with a threaded filter mount in the front, which will let you screw in additional accessories and a port for plugging in an optical fiber cable to sync your external strobe with the camera’s strobe.

This is the Olympus PT-058 housing I use with the TG5.  The front of the port has 58mm threads for screw-in accessories and there are 2 ports for fiber optic cables on the upper right of the port – allowing me to attach 2 strobes directly to the camera

Housings can be made by the OEM (camera manufacturer) or by a third-party manufacturer like Nauticam, Fantasea, Seafrog, etc.    OEM housings are generally relatively inexpensive and made of polycarbonate.   Third-party housings often tend to be a bit more expensive, and often made of metal.

Often (but not always), third-party housings may have a better ecosystem of accessories – which is a good reason to pay a premium for them.  In addition, while OEM housings are typically rated to 30m or 40m, metal third party housings may be rated to 60m or deeper – for divers looking to shoot at tech depths, a more expensive 3rd party housing may often be the only solution.

The housing has a large window in the back for looking at the LCD screen and all the buttons are large and easy to access

However, purely in terms of reliability and functionality, I have not found 3rd party housings to be more reliable or less prone to flooding.  Personally, as long as the housing met my preferred depth rating and checked off the three attributes listed above, I would happily buy the cheapest housing – as long as it was from a reputable brand.  There are plenty of horror stories about ultra-cheap housings flooding due to poor QC – that is not a risk I am willing to take, so save $100-200.

The shutter button has a large lever, making it easy for most hand sizes, and the zoom and power buttons are also easily accessible.  There is also a cold shoe on the left, for mounting additional accessories

3: THE STROBE (UNDERWATER FLASH)

Photography is, in its essence, the act of recording light.   It doesn’t matter how expensive your camera – if the light is poor, the image will be poor.  And underwater, the natural light is always poor: you will need a powerful flash to not just brighten the scene but also to add in the reds that have been absorbed by the water.

Simply put – the strobe is the single most important element in taking high quality images.  Period.  This is one area where you should not skimp (and unfortunately, this is the one area where most people do try to cut corners).   A good strobe has the following attributes:

  1. Power: Power is represented by something called Guide Number. Without getting into the specifics of what it means, the main thing to know is that bigger = better.  You want as high a GN as possible – ideally, atleast 20-22, or even more if budget allows.   Once the payment is made, you will never regret having a more powerful strobe.
  2. Angle of coverage: Along with power, you also need to know the angle of coverage of the strobe beam.  Many cheap strobes may appeal due to their high GN, but the angle of coverage is very low, which can be a problem when it come to lighting a scene.  You want an angle of coverage of atleast 90 degrees – and as before, more if you can afford it.
  3. Beam uniformity:  This is another area where cheaper strobes cut corners.  A good strobe will have even lighting across the entire beam.  No hotspots, which can cause uneven exposure when shooting underwater
  4. Manual controls: Most strobes have an automatic mode, where they work seamlessly with the camera’s TTL exposure mode (unsure what TTL is?  Just think of it as fully automatic, with the camera effectively controlling the strobe).  This is great when you are starting out or for macro, but auto mode is unreliable with many subjects, such as wide angle and reflective fish.  For more consistent results, you want the ability to set the strobe’s power manually.   This is a lot easier than it sounds, and is something many photographers gravitate to as they evolve.    Is it essential?  No.  But having this feature ensures you will not outgrow the strobe.
  5. Additional features:  These include things like focus lights, torch functionality and red light (for focus assist in the dark with shy subjects).   While not essential, they do make your diving a lot easier – which is always nice.

The Inon Z240 (top of the range strobe from Inon in its time) has a full array of controls and also a standard 1” ball mount for attaching to other hardware.

One thing worth noting- manufacturers often tend to be very optimistic with their claims about power and angle of coverage.  And unfortunately, in the case of really inexpensive products sold on Ali Express and elsewhere, they flat out lie – and I say this as someone who uses dive lights and bicycle lights that I have bought (and will continue to buy) on those sites.

Also, video lights are not a substitute for strobes.   Video lights put out a lot less power than strobes – even a $1500 video light will not have as much power as a $500 strobe.  So while they may work for macro and closeup work, they are not as good for wide angle photography.

Given the importance of the lighting to underwater photography (I really think your strobes are the centrepiece of your system), I cannot overstate the importance of allocating ample budget towards them.    Typically, most people skimp out and get budget strobes.  Then after a few dive trips, they end up upgrading.  It is better to just get it right the first time – and also more economical in the long run.

It is one thing to buy inexpensive torch lights or video lights (which are really torch lights with a wide angle of view) – however, the moment you add in sync circuitry and greater power needed for strobes, cheap becomes a losing proposition.  I recommend Inon and Sea&Sea as 2 brands offering very good power, reliability & features for the money.

Also, as your photography skills improve, you may want to add a second strobe.  But for now, it is better to start with 1 good strobe.

The controls may look intimidating, but are fairly easy – clockwise from bottom left: (1) button for turning on the torch (and locking it), (2) setting the various strobe exposure modes, (3) adjusting the strobe power in manual control modes and (4) adjusting for camera with or without pre-flash.  I typically set the strobe on M on the upper left dial, and use the upper R dial to increase/reduce the power.

4: THE SYNC CABLE

This is a piece of fiber optic cable that connects your camera to the strobe – when your camera’s flash fires, that triggers your external strobe.  Depending on what mode you are using, the strobe will either then put out a specific amount of light (manual mode) or will also shut off when the camera’s strobe shuts off (auto / TTL mode).

The main thing to look for is a cable whose terminators are compatible with your system.  The standard used is a push fit (also known as the Sea & Sea connector, after the popular strobe maker).   Inon strobes use a screw-in terminator, which is not very popular outside of Inon products, but less prone to popping out (which isn’t really a big deal, though).

The cable on the left has Sea&Sea connectors on both ends;  the cable on the right has a Sea&Sea connector on one end (this plugs into the housing) and an Inon connector on the other (this screws into my strobe).

5: THE CONNECTING HARDWARE

Note – you can also connect your strobe to the camera via electrical cable, but that is for DSLRs with hot shoes only, not for compact cameras.

The camera, housing, strobe and cable are the essential bits needed to take the photo.  But you also need a bunch of accessories to physically combine them into one unit and also to position your strobe underwater when shooting.  These are the following:

a. The base tray / handles:

The base tray is a plate that connects via a screw to the tripod mount at the bottom of most housings.    It will have 1 or 2 handles on the side (depending on the option you get), for mounting most accessories.

The standard for connecting multiple pieces of hardware is 1” ball mount, as shown in the photo below.    There are other connecting mechanisms as well, but try to get this, as this gives you the most options for putting together different hardware elements.

Two different trays – one is a single-handle tray (the handle actually goes on the left as my right hand holds the housing), and the other is a dual-handle tray.  The latter lets you attach 2 strobes.  Both the trays have the standard 1” ball head terminators for adding more hardware

b. Strobe arms:

Strobes are typically mounted on strobe arms, to get them further away from the central axis of the camera/lens (this reduces backscatter).

A common option are flex arms – they are easy to use and do not require a lot of other hardware.  The downside is that they are limited in length and also positional flexibility.

Flex arms are an inexpensive solution to get started but limit flexibility when it comes to strobe positioning.  Note the 1” ball heads at each end

In my opinion, rigid strobe arms are a better option for enthusiasts – by using 2 of these arms to connect each strobe, you have maximum positional flexibility for lighting (and remember – underwater photography is all about lighting).   Strobe arms come in various lengths – for someone starting out with underwater photography, two 6” arms per strobe is a good starting point and well suited for everything from macro to wide angle.

Different types of arms. From left to right: 10” arms used for wide angle photography on my ILC system; 6” arms recommended for compact camera systems and 4” arms used for macro photography on my ILC system.  The 10” and 4” arms have floats to adjust the buoyancy of my ILC system.  As with everything else, each of these arms ends with 1” ball adapters and you can see how they connect using butterfly clamps.  

As with the tray/handles, may sure you get arms with 1” ball terminators on each end.

c. Butterfly Clamps

These are clamps for connecting 2 separate hardware components, each of which has a 1” ball terminator.

For each strobe, you will need 3 of those – one to connect the handle to Arm 1, a second to connect Arm 1 to Arm 2 and a third to attach the strobe to Arm 2.

Butterfly clamps are used to join 2 separate pieces of hardware via their 1” ball heads.  The nature of the ballhead and clamps allows for very easy movement underwater, along any axis

The good news is that here, you can DEFINITELY save money by buying inexpensive arms and clamps off Ebay, Ali Express or wherever.  These are simple pieces of machined metal and do not require high technology or high QC – and the generic hardware costs a fraction of what the branded ones do.

So once you have a camera, housing and strobe, all neatly mounted on a tray and strobe arms, you are ready to go shooting.   And indeed, you have all the tools you need to take excellent photographs – in fact, as long as you can get close to the subject and light it properly, the images from a compact camera will not be too different from that taken with an ILC.

However, where the compact camera typically falls short of an ILC is in ability to get really close (near lifesize or 1:1 reproduction) of really small objects, or its ability to encompass sweeping wide views of reefs or really large animals like whalesharks, etc.

The former requires really good macro capabilities (which most compact cameras lack – the Olympus TG series being an exception).  The latter requires an ultra-wide angle of view, which is also not possible with compact cameras.

However, there are ways to get around this – by using adapter lenses.   You can get close-up adapters, which let you get closer to a subject (and thereby increase magnification).  You can also get wide angle adapters, which widen the field of view of the camera, thereby letting you get closer to large subjects or wide vistas.  These are typically called wet lenses, as you can attach and remove them underwater.  There is a small optical tradeoff compared to the specialized gear that ILCs use, but you make up for it by being able to shoot both wide angle and macro on the same dive.

6: ADD-ON ACCESSORIES

A Kraken UWL wet lens – this increases the field of view of my Olympus system from an average 100 degrees to a very wide 140 degrees: great for impressive wide angle shots.

Ability to use wet lenses depends primarily on being able to attach them to the front of your housing – typically, this can be done via a proprietary bayonet mount (specific to individual 3rd party manufacturers) or via a standard threaded screw mount (58mm or 67mm are typical sizes).   I am a big fan of screw mounts, as it lets you add components from a wide variety of manufacturers.

If you are starting out, you do not need to spend money on these – but do make sure your housing has an option to add these later.

Summary

If you were looking for a magical solution to putting together a system for underwater photography on the cheap, I am sorry to disappoint.  Versatile, cheap, quality – you can only pick two, unfortunately.   I have chosen to focus (no pun intended) on putting together something that is significantly better than what you can shoot with a GoPro.

The system I have suggested is going to cost somewhere in the following ballpark:
– Camera:  Rs 30,000
– Housing:  Rs 25,000
– Strobe:  Rs 35,000
– Sync cable:  Rs 5,000
– Tray:  Rs 2,500
– Arms + connectors:   Rs 6,000

So about Rs 1 lakh / $1300 or so for the whole thing, give or take 10-15%.

Is it cheap?  No.   But I also think that there is no point spending $400-500 / Rs 30,000-40,000 and getting something that is only a little better – you might as well just stay with what you have.  If you are going to upgrade, you might as well upgrade to something that is truly and noticeably better.

Also, it is better to spend a little more to buy the Right Stuff, as opposed to buying something cheaper which is a compromise, which you have to upgrade later.   Almost every photographer goes through a stage like this (eg, with tripods) – and virtually every experienced photographer later advises against it.

If you are on budget, consider buying used/NOS.  The previous generation camera and the previous generation housing can be had for substantial discounts and with relatively negligible difference in performance.    Used strobes can also be a good deal, but a bit harder to source in India.

In the grand scheme of things, look at it from the lifetime utility point of view.  Given how much a diving trip costs, the small increment you pay for better quality pales into insignificance, especially when you amortize it over the number of years of use you will get from it.

Anyway, I hope you found this article useful – do give us a follow on Facebook and Instagram, and perhaps share this link, if you did.

Where should you go scuba diving – havelock or neil island?

Posted by | Dive Sites, Scuba Diving Andamans | No Comments

Where should you go Scuba Diving next?

Havelock Island (SwarapDweep) or Neil island (Shahid Dweep)

Here are the best dive sites in Havelock Island and Neil Island to help you decide where you should dive next.

Havelock :

Dixon’s Pinnacle – Three pinnacles at different depths with abundant soft coral growth on them. Depths range from 17mtrs – 32mtrs. Schooling fish like snappers, fusiliers being hunted by trevally, banner fish, red tooth trigger fish, juvenile emperor angel fish, peacock mantis shrimp, Moray Eel, cleaner shrimps, turtle if you’re lucky. A dive site that is good irrespective of visibility because there’s so much to see. Ideal site for nitrox

Johnny’s Gorge – A gorge with rocks scattered around. Strong currents sometimes at this site. Depth ranges from 18mtrs – 30mtrs. Massive schools of snappers (different types), fusiliers being hunted by trevally, banner fish, White tip reef sharks, occasional turtle, Barracuda school, lovely swim throughs, shit loads of moon jellyfish in summer when waters get warmer…

Jackson’s Bar – Primarily a deep dive site ! A long bar which starts and stays at around 22-23mtrs with the edges dropping down to 30-35mtrs. Lots and lots of sting rays on the bar, soft coral, occasional rays gliding by, huge school of snappers, lots of Moray Eels… I can’t remember much about this site now cuz it’s been that long ?

The Wall – As the name suggests, a reef with one side dropping off to 60mtrs and the other side gently sloping down in the form of huge steps. Soft coral at depth but fish life concentrated between 9 – 15mtrs. Again, massive schools of fish like fusiliers, trevally, snappers, lionfish, angels, octopus, morays, crocodile flatheads, ghost pipefish, scorpion fish and a whole lot more. Easy dive site even if there is a strong current because you can simply hide from it. Perfect for all levels of divers. Except fucking try divers 😉

WhiteHouse Rock – Oh boy, where do I even start with this site. My favourite in the Andamans. Coming up from about 60 odd mtrs to as shallow as 8-9 mtrs, this dive site offers everything ! Insane variety of soft coral, fish life like groupers, residential turtles, octopus, Scorpion fish, Barracuda, trevally, rays if lucky. Swimming through the soft ‘black coral’ is like swimming through a forest, then around the corner the type of coral and colours start to change ( I need to look at the names of all those corals, forgot ) perfect site for deep,, Nitrox, fish id specialty dives…

S.S Inchket – Steam Ship Inchket was a Japanese cargo vessel which sank in 1950 (I can’t remember exact date) after hitting a huge rock. It took a long time for the ship to sink and so there were no casualties. The wreck is now an amazing site for all sorts of marine life. Coral, invertebrates, molluscs, reef fish, turtle -all reside here… The ship is broken in two parts and has a couple of narrow swim throughs, however, Penetrating the wreck entirely is not possible. The site ranges from 5mtrs at the bow to the deepest point being at the stern at 18mtrs. Visibility at this site is usually quite low but tends to surprise on some days. Currents if any are quite mild and most often because of thermoclines. A lovely site overall. One of the furthest dive sites from Havelock apart from WhiteHouse Rock, diving these sites requires planning based on the tide to have best conditions.

Neil :

Junction – called junction because it’s right at the junction of Neil and Havelock ! This is a deep dive site and topography is similar to Jackson’s Bar. Starts off at 23mtrs and goes down to 33mtrs, this dive site has a lot of soft coral and Gorgonian Fan coral in particular. The currents at this site can get really strong and since the life is primarily deep, dives tend to be shorter than others. Huge school of fusiliers feeding on plankton and being hunted by trevally make for an epic dive even if it is short. Strong currents at the junction could be an ideal place for pelagics and so drifting off if you have plenty Air after running low on bottom time could be fruitful.

Bus Stop – Bus stop is a gently sloping dive site with patches of reef and sparkling white sand in-between the reefs. Most often always very clear water at this site. The patches of reef are home to the reef fish and Moray Eels. One particular area where there is a fan coral has around 35 lionfish and can make for quite a site if they are all out in the open and not hiding under the overhang. Sandy bottom is home to a carpet of garden eels facing the direction the current is coming from. This site ranges from 13-22mtrs and continues sloping gently..

Margarita’s Mischief – Another patch reef, this dive site has patches of reef of what is supposed to be volcanic rocks. The way the reef is formed makes the reef patches look like it were some ancient construction with very rectangular shaped rocks placed horizontally and vertically. In between these rocks are invertebrates, morays, sand filled with sting rays, anemones, feather stars, and beautifully colourful Anthias. Surgeon fish, snappers, banner fish, red tooth trigger fish always cloud up the visibility. One section on the reef is where a lot of hunting happens when the current and visibility are just right – most often ! The site is fairly flat and ranges from 12mtrs over the reef patches, to 16mtrs in the sand… Beautiful site for all certification levels.

Fish Slate – Jeeeejus ! Whatasite ! Suitable for all levels of divers from DSDs to experienced certified divers. This site is a reef fringing Neil Island. Has amazing coral life starting at very shallow depths of 5mtrs. Boulder and a variety of branching and table coral make for picturesque views. Visibility at this site is most often clear and schools of fish are massive. Schools of Midnight snappers, chubs, red tail butterfly fish, sweetlips and a whole lot of fusiliers always hovering over the reef are a perfect safety stop. Reticulated Dascyllus and freckled Hawkfish are always above and between the branches of the staghorn coral. If this site really wants to show off, then even a turtle or dugong may show up. The max depth at this site is 12mtrs and currents are mild. A site you should definitely dive at from Neil Island

Busy Buro – A site just out of bounds for open water certified divers in terms of depth. Starts at 16mtrs, this is a flattish reef of volcanic rock. Not too much coral at this site but lots and lots of fish. Schools of yellow snappers at the start, stingrays or marble rays in the sand, lobsters and cleaner shrimp in the crevices followed by white snappers and golden sweetlips at the other end of the rock at 19mtrs make this another site off Neil with different schooling fish. Trevally hunting fusiliers is exciting to watch at this site because of the coordination of the trevally hunting and fusiliers darting all of a sudden.. Currents could be from none to moderate.

K Rock – haven’t dived it much. Only a couple of times so far..

Anchor Line – Another reef fringing Neil Island, a site ideal for DSD and open water course divers. This site has a  Sandy bottom at 6mtrs and reef filled with live boulder and branching coral. Schooling fish doing their thing and the sand bed right by it, makes it a perfect dive site for beginner divers to watch and understand why one gets hooked to diving. Easy relaxing dive site !

Nursery – This site is on the western side of Neil Island and again is a reef fringing the island. Schooling fish, lobsters, stingrays, octopus and cuttlefish are what can be seen here. A site suitable for all levels of divers starting at 6mtrs and upto about 12mtrs.

How to become a marine biologist – Tamanna Balachandran

Posted by | Andaman scuba diving course, Articles, PADI underwater naturalist, Scuba Diving Careers in India, Underwater Naturaliast Course | No Comments

How to become a marine biologist?

Essay by Tamanna Balachandran
How the marine ecology camp from last year influenced her and her decision to become a marine biologist.

The first time I experienced what the ocean had to offer was when I scuba dived, in the waters of Havelock. Then, I was a ten year old girl who had just fulfilled a life-long dream, mesmerised by the beauty of the underwater world I had gotten my first peek into.

When I returned five years later, a couple inches taller but with the same zeal for marine exploration, I decided to take part in the marine ecology camp. Over the course of the camp, I learnt more about the ocean I adored, from how corals were formed to figuring out how a particular fish hunts just by observing its features. I went on dives, guided by Chetana, where I was able to observe the subtlest interactions and behaviours, like the goby fish protecting the shrimp as the shrimp dug a safe home for the two of them, or parrot fish sleeping in mucus bubbles of their own making. The more I learnt, the more I felt like I understood. And I began to view the ocean no longer as a picture perfect fantasy world, but as a living breathing ecosystem held together by fragile, intricate relationships between its biotic and abiotic components. I realised that our ocean is straining to deal with the effects of our actions and it is our responsibility to fix what we’ve caused.

After the camp, I learnt and explored even more, and firmed my decision to play my role in marine conservation more actively. I attended wildlife conferences, heard from experts that had spent decades studying animals. And I decided to share my thoughts with the world; in August of 2019, I gave my first TED talk, titled “Bulldozing Our Oceans’ Integrity”. I shared my concerns about the effect that commercial fishing techniques like trawling were having on our oceans. Having decided a career path that will lead me to becoming a marine biologist, it is vital I continue learning and sharing my ideas but, also starting to take action for the cause. And so, this summer as well I’m returning to Havelock to intern in their marine conservation programme.

Photo credits Umeed Mistry

How to Plan A Trip to the Andaman Islands – Zero Waste and Ecologically Responsible

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5 Eco-friendly Ways to Travel In the Andamans

How to Plan A Trip to the Andaman Islands

Emerald hues!   Picture credit: Umeed Mistry

Coral reefs, beaches and islands in the Andamans are now world famous for being some of the most beautiful and quiet places to be in nature. There is this ‘wow untouched paradise’ notion associated with these islands; a sense of which you get when you are flying into the islands. Approximately 2000 sq.km coral reef surrounds these islands. And a majority of these islands are densely forested and uninhabited by people.

The Andamans is a fairly remote island chain, nearly 1600 km away from Chennai but it is definitely a top tourist destination for people across the world. The remoteness coupled with the fact that well, these are islands, means that resources are limited and any waste that we generate goes nowhere!

top 5 Zero Water Ecologically Responsible Ways to Travel the Andaman Islands

Andaman Islands: The ‘untouched paraside’     Picture credit: Umeed Mistry

Waste management is currently unplanned here in the Andamans and this becomes a particularly big problem in Havelock which sees huge tourist turnover on a daily basis. Resorts need to call a truck to take garbage to a common unsegregated landfill. It is unclear how many resorts compost their organic waste (we do!). Many will simply incinerate their waste within their property or dig a hole in the beach outside their resort to bury the trash. Several people are trying to work with the administration to bring a waste management system in place but that will take time.

Platic dump in havelock - shahid dweep

Havelock’s trash solution is a burning landfill   Picture credit: Mahima Jaini

All of these factors make it all the more important for us to plan ecologically responsible holidays. Nothing short of ‘zero waste’!

DIVEIndia has been working in the Andamans for a long time now (16 yrs and counting) and we are still deeply in love with these islands. Here is a link to some of the ways we try to make our operation minimum impact: https://www.projectaware.org/updates/diveindia-what-we-are-doing-be-ecologically-responsible-dive-operation-andaman-islands

Now here are 5 ways in which you can plan and execute a zero waste ecologically responsibile holiday in the Andaman Islands. We always welcome recommendations from travellers so do feel free to give us feedback!

#1 RESORTS, RESTAURANTS AND DIVE CENTERS- DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE YOU COME!

There is plenty of information about resorts, restaurants and water sport operators available online, along with scores of reviews and limitless pictures! Be sure to support businesses that operate in an ecologically friendly manner.

This could include resorts and restaurants that make a concerted effort to AVOID single-use plastics, segregate their waste, compost their kitchen waste and DO NOT throw their trash in the sea. This even includes choosing dive and snorkelling boats that are careful not to throw their anchor on coral beds, shops that do not sell coral, shells, or similar prohibited items. Please choose restaurants that serve local and fresh seafood caught by local fishermen. Avoid places that sell shark-fin soup, or threatened animal meat. If possible, let the person know why they have lost your business and in the event of illegal items for sale, please inform the local authorities.

Air conditioning is a luxury on an island heavily dependent on the import of diesel, which is unsustainable and contributes significantly to warming. While it may be nice to have access to AC, we suggest reducing its use to only when absolutely needed, or even turning it on for an hour, instead of having it running all night. Besides, the sea breeze is the best AC!

#2 DON’T BRING DISPOSABLES, DON’T LEAVE BEHIND DISPOSABLES

It is a common practice for travellers to purchase disposable products before or on arrival that they will toss out at the end of their holiday before heading back home. Most often these products include toiletries – toothbrush, shampoo and soap sachets. Even if you throw these into your resort-provided dustbin, they will end up in a burning landfill or land up on the beach.

We recommend carrying reusable, travel-sized bottles topped up from your home supply of soaps, shampoos and other things that you can use one trip after another.

If you are in India:
Something like this: https://barenecessities.in/
Switch to a good bamboo brush, please: https://www.instagram.com/thegrassroute.co/?hl=en

#3 AVOID FASTFOOD, PARCELLING FOOD AND ORDERING IN

If you have travelled from mainland India or from across the globe to these islands, the last thing you want to be eating is packet chips and biscuits right? Why indulge in packet snacks and aerated drinks when there is plenty of amazing FRESH food and drink available? The Andamans is definitely a great destination for a food holiday, with delicious local cuisines, numerous restaurants and street food!

Top on our list of plastic trash collected from beaches are plastic bottles- coke, pepsi, water and others. The islands are known for fresh fruits, and fruit juice bars are everywhere- try those as mixers instead!

Last but not the least- please do not order-in food, or request for parcelling your meals. This results in unnecessary plastic and aluminium packing used for 15 minutes before it is on its way to the landfill. A majority of restaurants are walking distance from one another if you are feeling adventurous, and seconds away if you are the lazier kind and would rather rent a motorbike!

#4 BRING YOUR OWN METAL, CLOTH, REUSABLE ALTERNATIVES

Carry your own steel water bottle from home to avoid buying packaged drinking water during your holiday, starting right from the flight, in your hotel and to your flight back. In-flight attendants might seem surprised when you deny the complimentary plastic bottle but they will happily top up you water bottles. There are water filling stations available in the Port Blair airport and island ferry terminals. Hotels and most restaurants will provide you free filtered drinking water as well.

PLEASE carry your own cloth bags and reusable straws. Coconut water vendors and most restaurants still provide straws for fear of losing business. It is up to us as consumers to insist on NO STRAW while placing an order.

Look here for great non-plastic lifestyle alternatives: https://barenecessities.in/

#5 SAY NO TO SUNSCREEN

Say hi to natural oils (https://amzn.to/2ZvLVgy) instead!

We encourage people to avoid using sunscreen before a dive. Read this to understand what skin care products do to the marine life we go into the water to see: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/sunscreen-corals.html

Wear full sleeve rash guards and full length swimsuits instead (for UV protection) and carry a hat and sunglasses for your surface intervals. All our boats also have roofs to give you shade.

#6 PICK NO SHELLS, LEAVE NO BUTTS

Yes we said 5 ways, but here is a number 6! Sea critters use seashells to protect themselves, and use them as homes. Collecting certain seashells, coral (alive and dead) not only endangers these marine animals, but is illegal as per the Wildlife Protection Act of India, 1972.

Cigarette butts take up to 10 years to break down (plastic bottles take 450 years at least), they stick around, like sore thumbs, long after we are gone. Please toss them into dustbins.

Be sure to check our website for more articles on how to have a reduced-waste lifestyle in general!

The Andamans Islands- Our treasured paradise   Picture credit: Chetana Babburjung Purushotham

Our dream is to continue to dive and explore these beautiful emerald islands for as long as we can. Thank you for helping us keep the Andaman Islands happy, healthy, safe and clean. <3

The Role of the Instructor in Creating Responsible Divers

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Quick question:   when was the last time you were on a dive boat and saw everyone diving by the book?    Getting familiar with their gear beforehand, planning their dives independently of the instructor, discussing contingency plans with their buddy, doing a thorough buddy check, staying close enough to the buddy to intervene within a few seconds in case of an emergency, etc?
I cannot think of a single time that has happened – and I have been guilty of lapses here myself.
So why does this happen?   Is it because divers don’t know the buddy system?     Or the usefulness of planning the dive?     Or even the value of getting  familiar with your gear before getting in the water with?        Unlikely – this is covered quite extensively in the Open Water course and most divers are quite familiar with all of this.   So is it a deliberate decision to take on additional risks for no reason, then?    I think we can agree that this is not the case either.
Before we go any further, let me touch upon the 3 domains of learning:
– Cognitive:   basically knowledge – in the context of diving, these refer to what you learn from reading the books, watching the videos or via discussions with the instructor
– Psychomotor:  these are the physical skills – for diving, how to clear the mask, how to achieve neutral buoyancy, how to put on your gear, etc.
– Affective:  this is your personal beliefs, attitudes and emotions – to put another way, what you consider important, what you pay attention to, etc
Within each domains, there are different levels of mastery (eg, in the Cognitive domain, being able to merely recite the correct answer, vs understand the reasoning behind it vs being apply to apply different pieces of knowledge to come up with an answer to an unfamiliar scenario, and so on), but that is not so relevant for now.
Instead, let’s focus on how the Open Water course is taught:   The student does the bulk of the theory via self-study (online, watching videos, reading the book, etc), with perhaps some additional sessions with an instructor re-visiting a few salient points and adding some additional content.   Then there is an exam to review the knowledge – which includes the importance of dive planning, of taking responsibility of your own safety, of the buddy system, of being conservative, etc.   That covers the Cognitive domain.  Then (or in parallel) the student goes into the water and completes the various skills needed to get certified as an Open Water diver.   That’s the Psychomotor domain right there.
What about the Affective domain?     Sure, in the course, a conscientious instructor will make sure the students plan their dives, stay close to their buddies, etc. etc.   But is that really the same as instilling the value of those things, to the point that it becomes something that the student takes seriously and integrates into his or her diving routine?     Very rarely so.
Simply put – while students leave with a knowledge of the buddy system, of dive planning, of getting familiar with their gear, etc., this is rarely internalized.   Then they go diving and see other divers being pretty loose about such things, and these things tend to get ignored – and repetition reduces the value even further.
And to some degree, this is understandable – in a typical course, often even teaching the psychomotor skills to a sufficient degree can be challenging.        So the instructor’s time is focused on knocking off the skills and making sure the student is safe during the course.    Furthermore, there is no checklist or requirement in the Standard manual of any agency that talks about this – after all, how can you measure this?    So often, instructors coming from a system where they aren’t mentored by more experienced instructors fail to even realize the importance of this, and end up following a checklist approach to teaching a  course:  ticking off every requirement individually but failing to integrate it into a cohesive whole.    To me, that is directly comparable to teaching someone to cook merely by teaching them to slice, dice, fry, grill, bake and roast separately, and not telling them how to put these things together.
But even when an instructor tries to teach it, they often to not face a lot of success:  the student diver is overloaded with theory and physical skills which they are doing right then – all this talk about dive planning, buddy system etc is merely theoretical noise for them, as they lack the experience to appreciate how and when it can be valuable (and typically, this realization often comes too late to be immediately useful – for example, only when you are low on air and your buddy is nowhere to be seen do you realize the value of the buddy system).
So what is the solution?     Fairly simple, really.
For one, spend some time in the Open Water course covering this.   Merely saying “remember, always stay with your buddy” or whatever isn’t going to cut it – you have to have an actual session on this.    A good way to do it is in an informal setting after the dives, where the instructor can discuss any lapses that may have happened in these areas and use that to segue into anecdotes from his or her diving experience, talk about specific situations that may have occurred on that dive site involving such lapses, etc.   Really hammer home the point, but in an interesting manner that catches the student’s interest.
Second, use the Advanced Open Water course to really drill this in.   Let’s face it, the curriculum for the Advanced Open Water course is fairly light on theory and skills – it is just meant to give the diver a taste of different types of dives, with more substantial theory in the corresponding Specialty course.    And by the time the student starts the AOW, s/he already has most of the basics of diving mastered (hopefully, anyway).    So they are less overloaded, and by virtue of having some diving experience already, more able to relate to a discussion on this diving behavior.
I have spent the last 10 years conducting one session in the Advanced  course focussed on what being an Advanced Diver entails – and PADI has also recently formalized that into their AOW curriculum.   However, this tends to get ignored a little bit as there is no checklist to measure how effective this session is, and instructors often tend to focus on what they consider the more material skills.    But really, teaching new divers to value the importance of these safe diving practices is probably the single biggest contribution an instructor can make to helping them continue to develop as divers.
What is the content covered in this discussion?  For me, it consists of, at minimum, the following:
–  How to do a self-assessment of skills at the start of every diving trip
–  The importance of checking gear – along with a practical workshop on different types of kit, what is useful where, etc.
–  Essential safety equipment to carry
–  What is sufficient real-world dive planning and the value of doing so
–  The mindset of being responsible for one’s own safety and diving with one’s comfort zone, with anecdotes on how peer pressure, etc. often make it difficult to do so
–  How to continue to improve one’s skills – short games one can play on each dive (air consumption, safety stop drills, etc)
–  How to balance staying within one’s comfort zone vs expanding that comfort zone and getting better as a diver
–  Learning the importance of saying “no, i will not dive”
–  The value of a buddy
–  How small issues can snowball into accidents
To me, a dive instructor’s role is to not just check off the list of skills in the course standards book, but to prepare the student diver to enjoy a lifetime of safe and fun-filled participation in the sport.   And that means passing on ownership of the diver’s safety from the instructor to the diver.   And this is a good way to do so.

Best Scuba Diving in Chennai

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Best Scuba Diving in Chennai

We had a run of a few clear and calm days in Chennai, and decided to go exploring.   However, as one would expect, on the day of the trip, it rained in the morning and the winds picked up.   But since we were all psyched for exploring, we went anyway.     The vis was fairly low, but the fishlife was amazing – and that ornate seasnake was a new one for me!      It definitely had us psyched about the potential, and we’ll be going out and shooting more often, that’s for sure.

Location: Chennai, India
Dive Site: Middle Rock

Mares Epic ADJ 82X Regulator Review

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Testers:  Devatva Raj, Arijit Dasgupta
Article Text:  Vinnie
mares epic adj 82x regulator review
mares-diving-regulator-82x2
The Mares Epic ADJ 82X is the new heavyweight (in more ways than one) from Mares – their top of the line regulator.   As per Mares, it is certified for performance at 200m and proven to work at 400m and so of course, in true Mares fashion, they advertise it on their website as going “perfectly with the SSI Advanced Adventurer” course.   Cos, you know, nothing pairs as well with learning to dive to 30m as a top-end regulator designed to perform at the depths of the human ability.   I am sure the fact that Mares now owns SSI has nothing to do with this forced bit of cross-promotion.
Anyway, back to the regulator.   We tested the regulator at depth, and also compared it to our 2 benchmarks, the Aqualung Mikron (which is currently the easiest-breathing regulator we have ever tried) and the Apeks ATX (which, despite being a supposedly “entry-level” regulator, is my personal favorite as the best-value regulator in the market, period).  We also added the Mares Abyss (their former top-of-the-range model, used for a world-record-beating deep down to past 1000 feet) to see if the new boss was the same as, or better than, the old boss.      So read on.
Disclaimer:  this regulator was provided to us for testing, with the understanding that it would be sent back afterwards.    Whether we buy or test, our reviews are as honest as we can make them.   Unlike magazines who get their money from manufacturers and other advertisers, and so have an incentive to say positive things about everything, we do not get any financial benefits from anyone for our reviews.    Our organizational philosophy is to bend over backwards to make sure that we offer you the best advice (and service) that we can – after all, it is your choosing to dive/get gear from us that keeps us afloat as a business.
FEATURES 
The Mares website touts a lot of features, and is packed with TLAs (Three Lettered Acronyms) which make things sound very profound.   You can GRT (Go Read That) if you want to KST (Kill Some Time), but we’ll SIU (Sum It Up) for you.
The first stage is very sharp-looking balanced diaphragm design (pretty much the de facto standard for most high-end regulators), with a black coating on both the first and second stages.    This coating is done via PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition – a legit TLA, in case you were wondering), and not regular electroplating.   Why does that matter?  Because PVD coatings are typically a lot more resistant to scratches than simple electroplating, and is a better option for a piece of gear that is going to get banged around, jostled, rub against other metal, etc.:  it reduces the chances of unseemly scratches exposing the shiny metal below.      Further, the first stage isnt a simple cylindrical tube like most first stages, but has some decorative contours and curves on it, and in terms of looks, this is one the nicest-looking regulator that we have seen.      It is definitely going to turn heads on a dive boat – I wanted to buy it purely based on how nice it looked!
Moving in to more practical features – the first stage comes with 5 3/8” LP ports (4 on the sides, 1 vertical – possibly for that weird TIE Fighter style Mares Loop second stage, where the second stage hose comes from directly under the second stage and not the sides like normal: a design that carries on the proud tradition of the Mares Hub).   The 4 radial ports are on a swivel turret – a fancy way of saying it moves around – which reduces strain on the hoses and allows for more flexible routing.   The two 7/16” HP ports are also tilted – one downwards, for attaching a traditional SPG and one upwards, presumably to fit a remote air transmitter for your computer of choice.   The ports are also at a sensible enough distance that they are all usable (which is not true of atleast 2 other regulator models I can name).    Nicely done, Mares – perhaps you guys are ready to offer a scuba training course on product design now (SSI course, of course!).
1st stage - mares epic adj 82x regulator

First Stage – you can see the 2 differently-angled HP ports

angled port

You down with OPD?  Yeah, you know me.   Oh, and swivel turrets are good

Like the first stage, the second stage is also made of nickel and chrome plated brass, which is then also given the same PVD treatment.   It contains two adjustment mechanisms:
– A flow control knob at the junction between the first stage and the second stage (aka, VAD):   one position delivers maximum air flow, the other reduces the air flow to provide more of an on-demand breathing experience
– The left side of the second stage also has a more traditional breathing resistance control knob, which affects the amount of breathing resistance before the regulator supplies air.
Why would you ever want this to be anything less than maximum?    For one, regulators with very low breathing resistance/very high flow rate can often free-flow when held upside down.   Second, if you are a slow, deep breather (as you should be!), you dont want the regulator to pump out a lot of air – you want the air coming through the hose to match your inhalation duration and lung capacity.   More is better than less, but “just right” is even better.   Ask Goldilocks!     I generally tune my own regulator to have slightly lower flow rate and also a higher cracking pressure, as i want my inhale to be a measured process.    However, it is always nice to know that a lot more air awaits, merely a couple of knob turns away.
Like the sealed first stage, the second stage is also rated for cold water diving, and as is increasingly becoming the norm for top-of-the-line regulators, Mares provides a superflex (weave) hose as standard with the regulator.      So all in all, you have a very well-specced, well-designed and smart-looking regulator, as one would expect from a top-of-the-line model.
You can see the flow rate controller (VAD) and breathing resistance control knob above

About the only downside is the weight.    Mares states the weight of the first stage with a INT/Yoke vale as 964gm, and the second stage as 329gm, with a total weight, including the supplied regulator hose, of 1429gm.   This does not include the octopus or SPG.   If you get a DIN valve, the system weight reduces to 1255gm.    This is heavier than the XTX200 (1272gm for the INT/yoke), ATX (1130gm for the INT/yoke) and of course, the Aqualung Mikron spanks them all with its waif-like 893gm in the same INT/yoke configuration.    However, leaving aside the travel-oriented Mikron, the weight difference compared to other top of the line regulators isn’t that significant, and shouldn’t be an issue from a travel or packing point of view (and in the grand scheme of things, paying for an extra kg of excess baggage is not even a rounding error, compared to the overall cost of a typical dive holiday).

USE EXPERIENCE/ USER EXPERIENCE
Our intrepid testers, Dev and Arijit, bravely took this regulator, along with the ATX, the Abyss and the Mikron all the way to the depths of the ocean – or atleast, part of the way down the Wall and swapped multiple regulators back and forth at depths which we shall not reveal, while possibly being narced (the things we do in order to play with shiny gear – please don’t try this at home.   Dev and Arijit are professionals).   A fun time was had by all, and there may have been underwater giggling, but since we don’t have any videographic evidence, we wont pursue that line of discussion further.
The breathing from the Epic was as natural as it could get – regardless of depth.   There was no sense of strain at any time, and the regulator was comfortable to breathe at all head angles and body orientations.   Absolutely no complaints.     When turning both the flow control knob and the resistance control knob to their “max flow” positions, a slight tilt of the regulator did make it free flow – but this was with the regulator out of the mouth, and there is absolutely no reason for anyone to keep these 2 knobs set to max when the reg isnt being used.   So in practice, a non-issue.

The entire first stage, including the yoke clamp, is beautifully finished

The only issue was the weight of the second stage, which made a little awkward to hold in the mouth.   The VAD system didn’t help with the weight or the balance of the regulator in the mouth.      However, to put it in perspective, this wasnt extremely awkward or uncomfortable – merely noticeable.     It is something that you definitely notice if you were, oh, i don’t know, swapping back and forth between regulators at depth – but if you were always diving with the same regulator, I think you could probably get used to it as well.
In terms of comparisons:   the easiest regulator to breathe was, surprisingly, the Aqualung Mikron.     This small, plastic, lightweight wonder provided air like an excited Labrador provides drool – in vast, vast quantities and at the slightest provocation.    It has provided more than pretty much every other regulator we have tried – from the entry-level Aqualung Calypsos to the mighty Apex XTX200.    But it is also a little more prone to flee flowing, so there is a trade-off there (do note – it can be tuned to be a little less enthusiastic – a service we provide at no charge if you buy it from us).      The Epic 82X was the next best, with a near-perfect balance between breathing resistance and risk of free flow.    The ATX, the cheapest regulator on test by far, was, by comparison, slightly harder to breathe (but comfortable nonetheless) and did not free flow at all.   The Abyss was the hardest breathing of all 4 and by a significant margin.
So what does this mean?    Should you run and buy the model with the lowest breathing resistance and maximum flow?     In principle, yes, you want the regulator with the lowest breathing resistance and maximum flow.   If you are swimming in a current or working a bit harder, this gives you the comfort of knowing that you are not going to “overbreathe” your regulator.     However, there is a cost associated with this – tendency to free flow.     Keep in mind that the differences above end up being more noticeable when you do a direct comparison:   in normal use, you may not notice.     The Abyss in the test above is one of my two personal regulators, and I have never noticed or felt that it was hard to breathe.  Only when I did an A/B comparison with my XTX200 did I notice the difference.      And I actually prefer a very slight amount of breathing resistance over a fire-hose.   So personal preferences and breathing patterns, as discussed earlier, also play a role.
Of course, Mares being Mares, they are simply unable to release a product without adding atleast one completely unnecessary and useless quirk – but atleast they have gotten to the point where these quirks usually no longer affect the  functionality of the product, but just make you scratch your head and go “err.. what?”.   I call it the “Nipples on a Bull” feature.    For example, on the otherwise fantastic Mares SLS Pure, a BCD that I reviewed in some detail and loved enough to purchase, they added a ridiculously over-engineered locking mechanism for the weights that serves no practical purpose other than to be different and just adds one extra and un-needed step to locking in the weight pocket.   On the Epic 82X, this Nipple-on-a-Bull feature manifests itself in the purge valve.  Now, on most regulators, the external purge is something that you can press anywhere on the surface and it depresses straight in.   On the 82X, the purge valve doesn’t go straight in but pivots.     Mares is very proud of it, too – this is boldly listed as one of the features of the regulator, along with PVD, VAD, PAD, GFY and the rest of the alphabet soup.     Luckily, as i said above, this quirk doesn’t actually affect the functionality and by now, is becoming a somewhat endearing trait of the brand that I look forward to on my reviews.

This is like using a fork and knife to eat a pizza at Pizzeria da Michele – it doesn’t affect the taste of the pizza, thankfully

SUMMARY
Let me cut to the chase there:   this is a fantastic regulator.    Great looks, superb functionality, a lot of adjustability to meet individual breathing preferences and great ergonomics (and that too, from Mares – I guess the lessons from the Hub finally have been absorbed!).    To me, there is no question that it deserves its place in the pantheon of the top regulators in the market, such as the XTX200.
However, with a MRP of Rs 51,750 and even factoring in our special pricing on this (hint hint), this regulator faces the same challenge that other top-end regulators do:   is it worth paying the premium over something like the ATX, which is less than half the price?   This is a tough call.     The logical part of me says – the ATX is functional, it does everything you need it to do.      And you can make the same argument about entry-level computers like the Mares Smart and the Aqualung i200.   So why, then, do I dive with an XTX200 and an Abyss, and have a Shearwater Perdix (for which I paid full retail, btw)?     Hell, why do we drive anything more than an entry-level compact in cities, or pay a premium for anything?
It really is very simple:  the additional features, while not strictly essential, are definitely nice to have and make things a lot more enjoyable on a daily basis: the ability to adjust hose routing on the XTX200, the ability to fine-tune the air supply on the Epic 82X, the amazing display and features of the Perdix – these are things that you only appreciate when you have them.   And once you get used to it, you don’t really want to go back to a more utilitarian model.     So yes, while there are plenty of very reliable regulators at a lot lower price, the additional features, superior ergonomics and yes, the drop-dead good looks of the Mares Epic 82X certainly make it a regulator worth considering if you want something higher-end.
Especially at the great prices that we have for this model.   Contact us if you want to purchase this unit.

Life in the under-anemone: Because looking isn’t actually seeing

Posted by | PADI underwater naturalist, The Incredible Showcase, Underwater Naturaliast Course, Underwater Photography | No Comments

It was sometime around the second week of March when something special had taken place, a big change, in the lives of a pair of false clownfish.

Living at about five meters deep over at Nemo’s reef, with beige-coloured tentacles and a pinkish-purple base, sat a magnificent sea anemone. Everything in the anemone appeared to be much the same, the fish couple who lived with it were busy cleaning out the anemone, lapping up its dying tentacles and parasites, while the anemone stood firmly guarding the couple from harm. The anemonefish were constantly swimming through the anemone’s tentacles, as was usual, to help it breathe. The anemone took what the anemonefish pooped and the fish ate what the anemone pooped. Business as usual! And yet something was markedly different in this anemone home.

There was something going on in one corner of the anemone that kept taking the fish pair back there. Was somebody hurt? Were they hiding a stash of food?

No… it was babies!

Attached to a cleared patch of rock under the tentacles of the anemone were hundreds of pairs of eyes on the tops of alien-like bodies, swaying gently in the current. In addition to protecting the anemone and themselves, the anemonefish must now protect their offspring.

They looked to be quite old already, which could only mean that they had been laid about a week before. It would be just a few more days before full moon would approach and larval fish would emerge. This meant focussed and dedicated work for the devoted father who was responsible for their care. While the female continued to take care of the anemone and daily duties, he concentrated on the babies, vigorously fanning the water with his fins, oxygenating, cleaning and doing everything required to make sure they survive. Both parents were invested.

A clownfish once hatched will have to live out its plankton phase until it is ready to find and settle into an anemone of its own and take on the forces of the underwater universe.

As dive professionals we sometimes think twice before talking about certain animals in our pre-dive briefings because we feel divers might find them too common or ordinary to be specifically mentioned. As we grow in dive experience, there is a natural tendency to create a hierarchy of coolness that we set for the marine life that is out there and the animals that we wish to see. Novelty, rarity and massiveness are definitely key factors in how high up in the list animals are positioned, and those that are seen often enough are further down, closer to the more ‘beginner diver stuff’.

There is definitely an appeal is seeing manta rays, sharks and turtles. They are enigmatic, extraordinary and closer to extinction than a damselfish. This extraordinary nature of the marine world, however, does not end here. There are so many phenomenal animals, interactions and communities that occur so commonly, we often fail to really see them entirely. And the loss is ours.

No two reefs or animals or behaviours are exactly the same when seen twice, even the most ordinary of things. That is just how dynamic the ocean truly is. Now you might ask- if there is so much beauty and wonder in the ordinary, why is it that we don’t see it? Perhaps we aren’t looking carefully enough. Perhaps we do not know what to look for. There is no special skill or talent required to do so. The secret is curiosity and patience. Wait, observe and soon, the animals will let you into their extraordinary world.

Text: Chetana Babburjung Purushotham |  Video: Umeed Mistry

sahil stone fish

A peek into the sex lives of the stonefish.

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

Do You Love Me? A peek into the sex lives of the stonefish.

Stonefishes may be the most venomous group of fishes in the world, they may have some of the most potent ‘verrucotoxin’ venom ever studied and a full blown sting from a stonefish might kill you in under an hour, but should one powerful defence mechanism define their entire existence?

Stonefishes are primarily solitary animals that use extensive camouflage and stealth to catch their prey, typically fish. Seeing a stonefish fully out in the open is not particularly common, let alone finding one that is actively moving around. Unless it is mating season!

From what has been observed in the wild, stonefish males can go to elaborate lengths to court a female. Once she lays her egg mass on the seabed, the male swims over her eggs to deposit his sperms. Sometimes courtships can turn into an elaborate congregation where multiple males try to win over a female.

The stings produced by the dorsal spines of stonefish can induce intense pain, respiratory weakness, damage to the cardiovascular system, convulsions and paralysis, at times death. But hey, even the most brilliantly venomous animals can have a – I’m just a boy, standing in front of girl, asking her to love him’-moment, as we see in this beautiful video of male stonefish chasing after a female, captured by our stellar divemaster Saw Montu in Nemo’s Reef! Footage has been edited and tuned by Umeed Mistry J

Aren’t you rooting for the hobbling young male in this pair of lovers?!

Credits:
Image clicked by @Sahil Lokhandwala
Video by @Saw Montu(Instagram handle coming soon) & @Umeed Mistry

Buyer’s Guide to Scuba Fins

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BUYER’s GUIDE TO SCUBA FINS – WHY FINS MATTER AND HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT PAIR

(aka, an old dog learns something new)
By:  Vandit Kalia (Vinnie)

How to Buy Scuba Fins

Go to any scuba forum and ask what the most important bit of diving kit people should own, and the answer is going to be “mask”,  “dive computer” or “regulator”.       Makes sense.   Masks are probably the most likely point of discomfort on dives due to improper fit.   A dive computer is the single most important bit of kit that a diver should have, in order to take ownership of their safety (as anyone who has taken a course with me will have heard me reiterate over and over again).    And regulators – well, that is obvious as well.
Now, a little side trip.   I am a gadget freak, but I am also a creature of habit.   Once I find something that works with me, I stick with it.    I have been using Apeks regulators since the late 90s:  they’ve gone ice diving with me, they’ve been inside the Andrea Dorea with me, they’ve endured far more abuse than they should have and they have kept ticking.    Similarly, for fins, I have been using Cressi Masterfrogs since 2000 or 2001.   They are large, they are stiff, they don’t have any fancy technology, but they provide thrust and precision control like no other fins I have used (and have much better buoyancy characteristics in warm water than the only other fin that comes close, the Scubapro Jetfins).     So that’s what I dive with.   But Cressi, in their wisdom, discontinued the Masterfrogs and replaced them with a lineup of fairly mediocre, “me-too” fins which do not stand out in any way.
So that got me looking for a replacement when my current pair, which is 10 years old, finally wears out and I have been trying out various fins from Mares, Scubapro, Apeks and Technisub to find “The Next One” (@TM Vikas Nairi).
Vinnie’s Mythical Cressi Master Frogs

Vinnie’s Mythical Cressi Master Frogs

 And in my quest, I have realized something:  fins are probably THE most significantly under-rated piece of dive kit.   In theory, we all know the characteristics of fins:   they come in varying level of stiffness, buoyancy and thrust.   Some require faster kicks (equivalent to high turnover/cadence in running or cycling), some require slower, more powerful strokes (my Masterfrogs).    Some are easier to kick but top out at moderate thrust – others provide greater thrust but require more power.   Some are softer and easier on the legs.   Yet others use fancy technology (split fins, gears, channels, springs, etc).    And yet others are designed for flutter kick while some are better for frog kick.
But if think about it – if you rent gear, when was the last time you ever paid attention to which fins you were provided?    I mean, it certainly isn’t something I have prioritized as a “must own” item to other divers looking to buy their gear, focusing instead of mask/computer/regulator as well.    But recently, I have had a change in my thinking.
This realization was kindled over the course of two separate Diveindia Outbound trips – one to Malapascua and one to Maldives.   In both cases, I was using new fins.   In Malapascua, I was simply unable to get into horizontal trim, despite the rest of my kit being my usual gear.     My legs would keep sinking and since i was diving without any weights, I had no real option to adjust my trim.       That made photography a singularly uncomfortable experience, my air consumption was about 20-25% higher than normal and throughout the dive, I felt as though I was a newly-minted Open Water diver again.   In Maldives, the trim was better but in a current, I outkicked my fins, and possibly for the first time in 2 decades, I was struggling to move in a current (the Cressis havent seen a current they cannot wallop – if a diver has the leg strength to swim against the current, the Cressis will make it happen):  I was working far harder and moving far too slowly than I could/should have.
Mares Quattros

Mares Quattros

 I’ve dived in BCDs that are too large or too small for me (including an XS – and those of you who have me know that at 6′ and 82kg, I am definitely NOT an XS).   I’ve worn masks that pinch my nose, used regs with super-high breathing resistance and dived while overweighted by 3-4 kg (although not all at the same time).   Did I enjoy any of these experiences?  Not particularly, but it wasn’t a particularly big deal.    So while I do prefer the comfort of my own gear, I can make do with pretty much anything that is reasonably close.     Except with these fins – with these fins, it wasnt just a mental thing.   I was physically affected during my diving.
So that got me thinking – if my choice of fins messed up my diving zen so badly, what are the implications for all the people who have recently learned to dive, who are going on diving trips and are wearing fins that may not be optimal for them?       To what degree is a diver’s trim (and therefore buoyancy), breathing rate and general comfort level in the water, especially in currents, affected by poorly-matching fins?
So we modified our buoyancy specialty in certain cases to make sure we spent time experimenting with various types of fins – and we tried this with divers of varying levels (beginner to over a hundred dives).    And it has proven to be a game-changer for a significant majority of the divers – in most cases, there was ONE Goldilocks fins which just made the entire system (BCD, weight distribution, kicking, buoyancy) work together in a significantly better way.
And really, it makes sense.      Fins may not be very heavy, but they are the furthest item from your center of buoyancy/gravity and so exert the greatest moment on your trim.    A small change in the buoyancy characteristic of your fin can have a greater impact than a kilo extra on your belt.     Then add to that your kicking style – do you prefer slower, more powerful strokes or shorter, faster kicks, and which affects your breathing pattern more?      The right fins address all these issues.
Scubapro Seawing Novas

Scubapro Seawing Novas

 So what is the takeaway for you as a diver?   If you have ever had buoyancy and trim issues, or struggled in a current, look into not just weighting and distribution, but also fins as a source of fixing these problems.     Even if you have not had any issues with currents, it may still be worth trying to find the Right Fin – it may not be as critical but going from an Ok Pair to The Right Pair is very similar from going from being almost properly weighted to properly weighted – it feels significantly better.
To help you with the process of evaluating fins, I have created a framework of 5 attributes for evaluating fins.

HOW TO EVALUATE FINS

The following 5 attributes of a fin provide insights into its performance and should help you narrow down on fins that work best for you:

1) Thrust:   This is a measure of how much propulsion a fin provides with a single kick, and depends on the length of the fin, its stiffness as well as the overall design.

2)  Beat Rate:   This is a measure of how frequently you have to kick in order to get the optimal propulsion.     A direct analogy would be running, where your speed depends on your stride length and turnover or how many steps per minute you take.   Beat rate is the equivalent of steps per minute here, with thrust being the equivalent of stride length.
3)  Stiffness:    This is a measure of how much force you have to (or can) exert per kick for optimal propulsion.   In general, greater stiffness typically results in greater thrust, but manufacturers are always trying to find clever designs to improve the thrust:stiffness ratio.
4)   Buoyancy:   This tells you whether the fin floats or sinks in the water – which can affect your trim.   These days, most fins tend to be more or less neutrally buoyant, although a few notable exceptions do exist.
5)   Bite:   This is a term i have coined to describe how well you “feel” the water when you kick – your proprioception, in other words.     To use an analogy – when you do the front crawl, you learn to develop a feel for “holding the water” in your hand when doing the pull part of the stroke.    Similarly, you have a better feel of the water with some fins than with others.   That is bite.    Why does this matter?   This is essential when you are trying to make small precise movements in limited space – eg, inside a shipwreck or while engaging in underwater photography.
So what does all this mean?
Thrust and beat rate together give you a measure of the propulsion provided by a pair of fins.      You can get the same propulsion by using a high-thrust fins kicked at a low rate (the equivalent of mashing a big gear on a bicycle) or by using low-thrust fins kicked at a high rate (high cadence spinning).      The former is easier on your lungs but harder on your legs – the latter will increase your HR to some degree, but is easier on your legs.
Stiffness tells you how much effort is required to get that propulsion.    Actually, to some degree, stiffness and beat rate are linked – stiff fins tend to lend themselves to lower beat rates, whereas softer fins tend to lend themselves to higher beat rates.   But I feel it is worthwhile enough to keep stiffness as a separate category because it doesn’t just affect propulsion but also leg comfort.   Also, it is possible to “outkick” your fin if you exert a larger effort than the fin’s stiffness allows it to handle – in such cases, it is better to increase the beat rate rather than effort per kick.
The last 2 characteristics aren’t about propulsion but about control and balance in the water.   Buoyancy of fins tells you how it will impact your trim in the water, as explained earlier in this article.      There is no right or wrong attribute here – a lot depends on your trim characteristics (defined by your body and your gear).
And lastly, bite gives you an indication of how much precise control you have in the water with the fins.     I created this term while trying to understand why I liked some fins more than others even though both of them were equally effective in the water.    The words that came into my mind were “mushy” vs “precise” – and it is a significant factor in determining how good a pair of fins feels while diving.

OTHER FEATURES OF FINS

 In addition to the attributes mentioned, there are other aspects of fins that also go into a purchase decision.
The first of these is whether you want a Full Foot fin or an Open Heel fin – the former are meant to be worn on bare feet, whereas the latter require the diver to wear booties (or at the very least, neoprene socks).      The benefit of full foot fins is that they can be very comfortable and feel very secure – and also require one less piece of equipment.    On the flip side, fit is very important – if the foot pocket doesn’t match your foot shape and is too loose or tight, it can hurt or result in blisters.     Open heel fins are more flexible in terms of fit, and also allow you the ability to wear the fins over a broader range of water temperatures.   Plus, if you are doing shore dives, dive booties are very nice to have – especially on rocky water entries.
Another point to consider is fin size and weight – in this day and age of ever-miserly baggage allowances, large fins can be harder to travel with.     I am always on the quest for smaller and more compact fins – but so far, I have yet to find one where the smaller size comes with no compromises (there are a couple of fins where the compromise can be acceptable in some conditions – but not universally so).      And given the cost of a diving trip, the slight increase in inconvenience of taking the Right Fins is significantly outweighed by increased comfort when diving.   Your mileage may vary, of course.
The last item is what I call “high tech features”:  fancy designs meant to shift the thrust-to-effort ratio.  These include gears to adjust stiffness, split fins, funky designs, etc.    I have tried a bunch of them, and honestly, been underwhelmed – however, I also admit that while I like playing with new tech, it also takes convincing to get me to give up what has worked well in favor of the latest-and-greatest:  especially when this latest-and-greatest often comes at a much higher cost.   As with most things, personal preferences come into play.    Personally, instead of just looking at the technology, I would evaluate fins like this using the 5 attributes I had mentioned earlier – ultimately, that is what matters, and not how “funky” the fins are.   Obviously, if all else is equal, you can always choose to get the fins that are more high-tech:  nothing wrong with wanting cool tech.

 

SELECTING THE RIGHT SET OF FINS FOR YOU

 So now that you have read all of this, how do you actually select the correct fins for you?
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this.   Because we all vary in our dive skills, personal fitness, swimming skills, buoyancy characteristics and kicking style, what works for me will not necessarily work for you – and by the same token. a set of fins that I discount may very well be the best fins ever for you.
The only way to find the right set of fins is to try out as many pairs as possible.   The next time you go diving, try out a few different fins, if you can.   Note the model and try to evaluate how they feel in terms of thrust, beat rate, stiffness, buoyancy and bite.     Make a note of what you like about it and what you don’t (sometimes, you may have to try more than one set of fins before you start noticing these differences).      You will note that some fins feel a lot better and improve your comfort in the water drastically – if possible, try to identify what particular aspect of those fins is contributing to this.
To help people with this process, we have also put together a basket of Recommended Fins – these are available to try out in our dive centers in the Andamans, as well as at our @Home dive centers in Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore and Chennai.      We have selected fins that, from experience, have worked well for most divers – each of these fins are slightly different from the other in terms of attributes, and we feel confident that most divers will be able to find something that works for them from this set.
Contact us to set up an appointment to try this out!

Author:   Vandit Kalia (Vinnie)

Vinnie is the founder of DIVEIndia Scuba & Resorts, and has been diving since 1991 and teaching since 2oo1.   A NAUI Course Director, SSI Instructor Trainer and TDI trimix diver, he is also a keen gadget head and always interested in digging deeper into the nuances of dive equipment and trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t and more importantly, why.

Dive Site: Nemo’s Reef

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DIVE Site: Nemo’s Reef

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 15-20 meters
AVERAGE DEPTH: 5-8 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: Nemo’s Reef

Nemo’s reef. Where do we begin to describe this extremely familiar yet totally mysterious place! A shore entry site, it opens into a swimming pool-like setting with shallow water, white sand and a baby reef (1-3 meters). It then splits into two long fringing reefs on either side of the shallow sandy pool. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands harbours over 2000 sq.km of coral reefs and a majority of this area fringes along islands. Thick forests, mangroves and rocky shores make access difficult in most places and this is where Nemo’s reef is popular. Easy entry and exits, not requiring long surface swims. It is also fairly sheltered from winds through most of the year.

On an average day at Nemo’s, we typically get to see mixed schools of reef fish, everything from surgeonfish, rabbitfish, parrotfish, butterflyfish, bannerfish and snappers, sweetlips queenfish and chubs, to hunting trevallies, needlefish and barracudas. Five species of anemonefish can be seen here, easily, giving this reef its name. Cephalopods like the octopus, squid and cuttlefish are residents at nemo’s with regularly used dens and rubble patches. The banded sea kraits and the more estuarine file snake come through regularly, along with the beautiful Kuhl’s sting ray. Molluscs, crinoids, crustaceans, sponges polychaetes and several other invertebrate groups thrive here as well.

High tide is a great time to dive because the water is usually clear and we get to see the sloping topography of the reef, however, the marine life tends to concentrate into dramatic densities when the tide recedes, the water level comes down and visibility drops.

The topography of the dive site makes it ideal for us to begin dive courses and take people on their first ever SCUBA diving experience, but by no means is Nemo’s reef just a training space. The shallow profile of this reef allows us to stay until we hit the reserve on our tanks without having to worry about no-decompression limits. So this gives us on average an estimated 60-80 minute underwater for fun divers who are keen on exploring the rocks and sands for crazy macro life- day and night!

While we love all of our dive sites dearly, it is here that most of us come back nodding in awe-inspired disbelief, thinking “did we really just see that animal in the Andamans? And in Nemo’s reef?” Starting with flying gurnads, ornate ghost pipefish, robust ghost pipefish, devil scorpionfish, angler flounders, honeycomb moray eels, seahorses, bizarre nudibranchs, sea moths, skeleton shrimps and as of a week ago- painted frogfish! While a bunch of these are potentially only briefly passing through, we are certain that most are resident and have missed our eye from having not looked carefully enough or for long enough! Shore dives at Nemo’s reef are very easy to organise and we are never limited by space. So if you are keen on shore diving, our divemasters would be thrilled to take you. It gives us a chance to continue exploring this crazy reef!

Pictures clicked at Dive Site: Nemo’s Reef, Andamans
by Dev 

Dining etiquette for an Octopus | The Incredibles Showcase

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How do octopus eat their prey

How do octopus eat their prey

Dining etiquette for an octopus: Dig in with all hands!

Nemo’s reef is a fantastic place to spend hours watching these animals just,be. We follow them quietly, as they go about doing their daily things around the shallows of Nemo’s. That alone is one lifetime of diving right there! People often make the mistake of getting way too close to an octopus. Sure, it is sitting there in its crevice, changing colour in response to divers and that is rather cool! But what would be even cooler and perhaps much less disruptive for the octopus, is if we were to curb the excitement and give the animal enough space to get back to its life. This can in fact be plenty times more extraordinary a sight to behold than a tense octopus hiding in a hole! Here we see a young octopus that frequents the ‘first barrel sponge rocks’ area at Nemo’s reef. All of us have met this octopus over the past few weeks and she/he is now very comfortable around divers. When we first saw it, a diver was ten inches away from it with a camera, as it hid inside a crevice, perhaps thinking to itself – Hurry up mister, I’m starving and you’re in my way. As soon as said mister left the scene, the octopus was on the move! We suppose one can identity an octopus with a ravenous appetite by how thoroughly it inspects each rock, tickling every crevice simultaneously with every arm. Note how it expands each arm, turning its entire body in to a large web-like umbrella to trap any molluscs, crustaceans or tiny fish that get flushed out during its invasion.Once prey is in hand, an octopus might crush it, pry it open, or drill a hole in it, drain in some toxins or simply slurp it up, depending on the nature of its catch. Owing to its highly efficient, powerful and thorough hunting technique, an octopus on the hunt is almost always surrounded by a mob of other fish-a mix of allies and competitors possibly. Here we see a few juvenile groupers, wrasses, goatfishes and a tiny cloud of exasperated damsels. Isn’t this simply fascinating?

Video credit: Chetana Purushotham

The Angler Flounder (Asterorombus Intermedius)

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The Art & Science Of Floundering About

 

We all know what a flounder is, and we’ve surely heard of anglerfish, but what in the world is an angler flounder? As though the flounder and angler were each not sci-fi enough, evolution has fashioned this beautiful animal, a.k.a Asterorombus intermedius!

With intricate and elaborate head-to-toe camouflage and a stiff lure protruding from the tip of its mouth, the angler flounder takes the most effective adaptations of two very good predators and blends into something like a super-predator of the sandy bottom. But, why go through all that effort? Is procuring a meal really that difficult in the wild?

For many of us humans these days, finding food would probably mean, cooking a meal after heading over to the market, going to a restaurant, opening the fridge for a quick bite, making a phone call and ordering in (in increasing order of tech sophistication but in decreasing order of per capita effort?). You and I don’t really have to forage, chase or hunt for our food, sustenance and survival. But animals in the wild do, every single time, requiring sophistication and effort! As prey get smarter and harder to catch, predators have no choice but to evolve better strategies to make sure they have that meal on their plate. It is never an overkill.

The angler flounder on the hunt has heightened senses- it swivels each eye, keeping a look out for potential prey- a watchman goby or partner shrimp maybe? Hidden from view by its granular pattern and colour, carefully it crawls over the sandy bottom with webbed fins, waving its bait, casually but concertedly-come fishy-fishy-fishy…

Camouflage for a flounder is extremely effective but also a lot of work. There is the technical aspect of the chromatophores and pigments that need to be constantly redistributed amongst the flounder’s tissues, just the right amount and at just the right time, to give it the right colour, texture and hue. This requires the thinking aspect, where should I position myself? What should I blend in as? Am I on rock or sand or both? Of course, this is where the cleverness aspect comes in- there comes the goby, it is going to turn in my direction in…3…2…1… BAMMM! Meal.

While we might appreciate the beauty of these animals and their wild schemes, it helps to also appreciate all that goes in the making. Take something like camouflage, for instance. The next time you are trying to get too close to a flounder or scorpionfish or any camouflaged animal for that matter, for the thrill of a better view, a photograph or to instigate movement, remember that disturbing it will not only blow its cover, but also cost it a day’s meal!

Video Credit: Umeed Mistry
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Dive Site: Pilot Reef

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DIVE Site: Pilot Reef

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 12 -18 – 25 meters depending on diver verification level
AVERAGE DEPTH: 9-14 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: Pilot Reef

North Pilot is a fairly big dive site falling within an even larger patch reef known in old topographical maps as Pilot Reef. While our boats are moored to the dive site, we often times choose to drift and explore the dive site and have the boat pick us up. This reef is rocky and stands tall from the sand bed like a fortress. The part of north pilot we dive at has beautiful encrusting and digitate coral starting at about 8 meters, down to 15 meters.

The best part about this dive is looking in all the crevices and tiny caves for hidden
surprises- lobsters, giant and white-eyed moray eels, sweepers, soldierfish and the
infrequent resting shark. The orange-spine unicornfish, longnose butterflyfish and
trumpetfish are pilot reef residents and are almost never seen in our other dive sites.

North pilot also has great macro life, especially crustaceans and molluscs. Scorpionfish, flatheads and stonefish are very common here but a challenge to spot amidst the complex topography but, well, therein lies the fun. ?

For folks who tend to lose their way in this reef, always keep a look out for the wall of phantom bannerfish that hover over the reef at about 8 meters and just two kick cycles from the mooring line. We are not very sure how to explain this schooling phenomenon by the phantom banners, which do nothing of this sort in any of other sites. At north pilot, they are a monument!

North pilot is often not accessible when strong winds are hitting Havelock from the east. However, we presume that the regular exposure to the winds and swells give this site the regular toss and tumble it needs to stay healthy!

Picture clicked at Dive Site: Pilot Reef, Andamans

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