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Tusa Paragon Mask Review

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PARAGON TUSA MASK – REVIEW

Tusa is a line that we started carrying recently – a Japanese brand well known for making sensible, reliable products at sensible pricing.     I have also been on the look-out for a mask to replace my current one (a Mares Ultravision LS, which, while a fantastic mask, is starting to show the effect of age and abuse).    My eye was caught by the Tusa Paragon masks – on seeing them, I was reminded that one of our instructors had been raving about them a couple of years ago, so I decided to look up the pricing.

And that’s where I had my first shock – these things had an MRP of Rs 15,200 for the double-pane version and Rs 16,000 for the single pane version (we sell it for a lot less, but still…).       That’s over twice the price of my Ultravision, which was one of our most premium masks.

My first response was to laugh in disbelief.    Had this been any other brand, I would have written this off as a halo product and moved on to something else.   But this was Tusa – as grounded a brand as it gets.    And I remembered our instructor and how excited he had been about this mask (it takes a lot to get a dive pro excited about gear – for most of us, these are tools and we want the product that is reliable and good value, not the fanciest/most expensive).

So rather than jump to a hasty conclusion, I decided to order one of these masks to try out for myself.

FIRST LOOK VIDEO

Let’s start by taking a look at the mask:

(Yes, I was so shocked by the price that I actually got it wrong in the video)

QUALITY AND CONSTRUCTION

As mentioned in the video, all you need to do is look at the mask and you can tell that this is an ultra-premium, high-end product.    Visually, it has a combination of aesthetics, solidity and finishing that just screams “high end”

Let’s start with the frame.   Made of three materials – actual, honest-to-goodness metal, polyurethane and polycarbonate – it has a rigidity that is leagues apart from the polycarbonate frames of other masks on the market.     Tusa claims this frame is designed for professional use – and that is very obvious when you hold it in your hand.

The frame is a discreet unit, as opposed to one that has been molded together along with the skirt as a cost-saving measure.

Another area where you can see the emphasis on quality is the silicon skirt.     Not all silicon is the same – thicker silicon tends to be more robust but less pliable, whereas thinner silicon tends to be more flexible (read: better able to form a seal) but also more liable to cuts.      And of course, a higher grade silicon will be more flexible and/or more robust for a given thickness than cheaper silicon.     One of the reasons why I am a fan of the Liquidvision silicon of Mares skirts is that it is very soft and pliable to fit well, but also robust enough to not get damaged too easily.

The Tusa silicon follows the same principle – the material is of different thickness at different places, adding robustness or flexibility where needed.     It also has rolled edges, which takes the pressure off the face and improves comfort.     In addition, Tusa uses varied surfaces on the silicon to add structure and stability to the overall skirt.     There is obviously a lot of detail that has gone into the materials here.

You can see the dots and the ridge on the silicone, meant to add structure to skirt.    Also visible is the thinner layer of silicon below the nose pocket, which would contact your upper lip, just below the nose.

Lastly, even the mask strap has been contoured to take into account the curvature of the human head against which it will rest.   Rather than trying to describe it, I will just borrow this graphic from Tusa that illustrates the point:Mask strap

As you can see, there is a near-obsessive amount of attention being paid to details that most people would not even notice.

ERGONOMICS, COMFORT AND FIT

I tend to get very excited about small touches which improve the diver’s usage experience.   With the mighty Shearwaters, it is the ability to color code the display as per your preference.      With BCDs it is a sensibly-designed octo holder that allows the user to deploy it with the mouthpiece in the proper orientation.   And with masks, it is swivel clips.

What these simple things do is allow you to move your strap up and down on your head without causing the mask itself to get pulled up or down.    A very small touch but once that adds that extra touch of comfort that can cause the mask to “disappear” on your face.     Personally, I am at the point where I simply do not buy a mask where the clips do not swivel.

Tusa Paragon ClipsSwivel clips, which are neatly tucked in behind the frame and do not stick out.

The mask fits very comfortably – the silicon truly is very soft and grippy, and feels very comfortable against the skin.   Even the mask strap wraps the head, as opposed to feeling stretched around it, if that makes any sense.    The nose pocket is large and roomy, even for my lumpy, twice-broken nose and allows a good comfortable grip on the nose for equalization.

About the only negative I can think in terms of fit and ergonomics is that it is not particularly low volume.   It sits a little further from my face than the Mares Ultravision, and so will require perhaps a little more effort to clear, if you were to flood it completely.   There is a reason for this, however – the sligthtly greater distance means that the frame of the mask is less likely to come in contact with the bridge of your nose, thereby increasing comfort.

Lastly, fit is a very personal issue – I personally had absolutely no issues with water coming into my mask, even when i made faces and moved my jaws around.    Given the stickiness and suppleness of the silicon of this mask, it wouldn’t surprise me if this mask fit a better percentage of people than most others.

THE VIEW

And now we get to what really sets this mask apart:  it is the quality of the optical lenses.     Tusa calls them Crystalview and touts their light transmission and sharpness:

CrystalviewPIC courtesy Tusa and presented for illustrative reasons only

For starters, they are a lot sharper/clearer than other mask lenses that I have used and also come with an anti-reflective coating meant to improve contrast, clarity and sharpness.     Tusa uses the term “Crystalview” to describe their optics – buzzwords aside, this was certainly noticeable when I did an A/B test with other masks that we had lying around the shop and tried to look at fine details in front of me.    It isnt as if the Tusa Paragon lets me see more detail – but the detail is just a little crisper/sharper/brighter.

Another very under-rated plus of the mask – it comes with UV protection.     That may not be so useful when you are diving, but what about the 5-10 minutes before and after each dive, when you are floating on the surface, doing a surface swim and/or waiting to get off/on the boat?    As someone who is very sensitive to harsh light, this is a feature that I am definitely willing to pay for.

However, there is one downside – due to the larger volume that I spoke of in the previous section (ie, the mask sitting further away from the face), the angle of view is good but not class-leading.   As its name would imply, when it comes to 2-window masks, my Mares Ultravision has a very large angle of view of approx 110 degrees and I would estimate the Tusa Paragon to have a field of view that is approx 5 degrees less (these are approximate estimates, btw).

CONCLUSION

Sooo… after all these words, what is the verdict?   Is it worth it or no?

Let’s first make it clear what this mask is NOT – it is not a “value for money” mask.     If you want to get the most utility per dollar, the entry level Mares Rover masks wins:  you can get 6 of those for the price of  this one and it will keep the water out of your eyes.   Or if you want something nice but still sensibly priced, the various Mares Ultraskin models in the Rs 5000+ range offer very good comfort for less than half the price.

BUT this mask has a bunch of features that are absolutely unique in the market:   optical-quality lenses.   UV protection.   Anti-reflective coating.   Highly engineered silicone skirt for more comfort.   Robust frame.     High quality finishing/visual appeal that no other mask can match.        Yes, we are entering the realm of diminishing returns here, but these are areas where this mask is tangibly better than the competition.

At the top end of the range of pretty much any product, it is not about getting value for money, but getting the best possible quality.    And when it comes to quality, I do not know of any mask that rivals the Tusa Paragon so far.

Luckily, in this case, getting the best is relatively affordable.   In my case, my gushing praise of the mask was not just for the purposes of this article:   the UV protection and the super-soft silicone were compelling enough reasons for me, and I have ended up getting this mask for myself.

NOTE

We do not get paid for these reviews and our reviews represent our true beliefs about these products.   Life is too short for us to push mediocre dive gear (there is a lot of other stuff that we also try out which does NOT make our review sections).

We do have these masks for sale.    You can purchase them here:
Tusa Paragon
Tusa Paragon S (single lens version of this same mask)

However, before doing so, please drop us an email to check stock as our inventory system is not online yet.

Scuba Diving Prices in the Andamans

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Scuba Diving Prices in the Andamans  – All you need to know

 

The following is our price list for the 2021-2022 season.

A word of pricing – while I know it seems self-serving to say so, we really do not recommend choosing dive centers purely on the basis of price.   While diving does follow common standards set by a central agency, so do schools.   Yet we don’t pick schools purely on the basis of price, do we?

How to pick a dive center is going to be the basis of a different post soon, but the short answer is – the experience of the instructors, their commitment to making sure that you are having a good time, the way diving is conducted, the group sizes, etc:  all of these play a big role in determining the “Fun” factor of your dive trip.

And here, we have a very simple philosophy for you on how we run our operations:  our approach is to run a dive center in a way that would make us happy if we or our friends/family were the customers here.

In any case, here are the prices.

They are valid until September 2022, they can be revised at any time prior if we choose, they are not binding unless quoted over email, blahblah-more-lawyer-talk.   You know how that goes.   Also note that 18% GST extra applies on all diving prices – other than that, the prices are inclusive, with no hidden catches or surprises.

Intro Programs For Beginners / Scuba Diving Prices for Beginners in the Andamans

The following half-day programs are designed for beginners who want to get a taste of scuba.   No swimming skills needed!

Program Havelock Neil
PADI DSD / Boat
Half-day boat trip and Discover Scuba Diving session, consisting of in-water training, one guided dive with an instructor, dive log and registration with PADI
Rs. 6,500 Rs. 6,500
PADI DSD / Shore
Half-day introductory Discover Scuba Diving session, consisting of in-water training, one guided dive with an instructor, dive log and registration with PADI
Rs. 4,500 n/a
Single Day / 2 Dive DSD Program
Full day session, starting with a PADI Shore DSD program in the morning, followed by a PADI boat DSD in the afternoon (subject to instructor discretion)
Rs. 10,000 n/a
Additional Boat DSDs
Additional boat DSDs conducted within a week of the initial boat or shore DSD
Rs. 5,000 Rs. 5,000
Upgrade to Scuba Diver certification
For boat/shore DSD participants only
Rs. 14,000 Rs. 14,000
 
Also, please note that in Neil, we only offer intro programs off the boat - shore programs are not possible (well, they are possible, but not worth it).

More information on the Try Diving / Intro to Scuba programs.

 Diving Courses / Scuba Diving Prices in the Andamans to get certified

As a PADI 5-star dive center, we are proud to present a full array of training courses, all the way from a beginner to an instructor.

Course prices include everything needed for your training – equipment rental, mandatory materials, certification charges, boat fees, etc.    There are no hidden surprises.   And with all our training, the course duration is determined by the student and their pace of learning – if you need more training time, that is included at no extra charge.

COURSES FOR BEGINNERS

COURSE # of dives # of days Prices – Havelock Prices –Neil
PADI SCUBA DIVER COURSE
Intermediate certification program – up to 12m
2 1.5 Rs, 17,000 Rs, 17,000
PADI OPEN WATER COURSE
Full entry-level diver certification – up to 18m
4 4 Rs. 27,500 Rs. 27,500
PADI OPEN WATER COURSE – REFERRAL
Completion of 4 OW dives, cost of certification not included
4 2 Rs. 16,000 Rs. 16,000
PADI OPEN WATER + ADVANCED OPEN WATER COURSE COMBO
Second level of certification – up to 30m
9 5-6 Rs. 49,500 Rs. 49,500

Note: The price of the Advanced course is discounted substantially – this price is only available for divers who have completed the Open Water course with us and want to do the Advanced course immediately after.

COURSES FOR CERTIFIED DIVERS

CORE SCUBA DIVING COURSES

COURSE

# of dives

# of days

Prices – Havelock

Prices –Neil

PADI ADVANCED OPEN WATER DIVER
Second certification level – up to 30m

5

2-3

Rs, 26,500

Rs, 26,500

EMERGENCY FIRST RESPONDER CPR/FIRST AID
Non-diving program, reqd for Rescue training

0

1

Rs. 11,000

Rs. 11,000

PADI RESCUE DIVER
Third level of certification

2

3

Rs. 20,000

Rs. 20,000

PADI RESCUE + EMERGENCY FIRST RESPONDER COMBO
Combo Rescue + CPR/First Aid program covering both courses

 

2

 

3

 

Rs 27,000

 

Rs 27,000

More information on continued education programs for certified divers.

SCUBA DIVING PADI SPECIALTY COURSES

COURSE

# of dives # of days Prices – Havelock Prices –Neil

CORAL REEF DIVER
Our custom & extensive u/w Marine Ecology training program.

4

2

Rs, 14,000

Rs, 14,000

BUOYANCY BOOTCAMP
Advanced buoyancy and trim master class

2

1

Rs. 8,000

Rs. 8,000

PADI DEEP SPECIALTY
Certification to dive up to 40m

3

2-3

Rs. 18,000

Rs. 18,000

PADI SIDEMOUNT SPECIALTY

3

2

Rs. 18,000

Rs. 18,000

PADI NITROX SPECIALTY
Extend your bottom dive – use of gas mixes up to 40% Oxygen

0

1

Rs. 9,000

Rs. 9,000

ADVANCED FUNDAMENTALS COMBO
Buoyancy, Deep & Nitrox specialties combo

6

3

Rs. 39,000

Rs. 39,000

UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY
Add Rs 4000 for certification
4 2 Rs. 12,500

Rs. 12,500

We also offer NIGHT, NAVIGATION and SEARCH & RECOVERY specialties (as well as BOAT DIVING, COMPUTER DIVING and DRIFT DIVING, if you want). Please contact us for more info on these programs.

More information on continued education programs for certified divers.

Scuba Diving Prices in the Andamans for Fun Diving

For certified divers only.  Prices include gear rental, boat fees, snacks on the boat and group sizes of 4 divers or less per guide, typically.

DIVES (Days / Dives)

HAVELOCK

NEIL

1 day / 2 dives

Rs. 7,000

Rs. 7,000

2 days / 4 dives

Rs. 14,000

Rs. 14,000

3 days / 6 dives

Rs. 20,500

Rs. 20,500

4 days / 8 dives

Rs. 27,000

Rs. 27,000

5 days / 10 dives

Rs. 33,500

Rs. 33,500

6 days / 12 dives

Rs. 40,000

Rs. 40,000

Additional Diving (After 6 days)

Rs. 6,300

Rs. 6,300

A discount of 10% on the above prices is applicable for people that have their own equipment (BCD and regulator).

OTHER ACTIVITIES

HAVELOCK

NEIL

Afternoon Dive

Rs 5,000

Rs 4,500

Night Dive

Rs. 4,000

n/a

Dawn Dive

Rs 5,000

Rs 5,000

Remote Trip surcharge

Varies

Varies

Barren Isl/Invis Banks

n/a

Rs 25,000

Quick refresher

Free

Free

Full refresher + 1 dive

Rs 5000

Rs 5000

Private instructor - per day/part

Rs. 2,000

Rs 2,000

Private guide - per day/part

Rs 1,500

Rs 1,500

For people who have their own gear (BCD/regulator), there is a discount of Rs 300 for dawn/afternoon/night dives and a discount of Rs 1,000 for Barren Island/Invisible Banks/Expedition Trips.


More info on our dive trips for certified divers.

Professional Training

As India’s first/oldest instructor training facility, we offer PADI Divemaster and PADI Assistant Instructor training courses all year long.   In addition, we also offer PADI Instructor Development Courses (PADI IDCs) several times a year.

Please contact us for more information on professional training / more information on Scuba Diving Prices in the Andamans (Havelock and Neil)

Become a PADI Instructor – PADI IDC 2021

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PADI IDC 2021:  BECOME A PADI INSTRUCTOR

Divemasters interested in becoming PADI instructors – we have good news for you. After a pandemic-related delay, we are finally glad to announced dates for our next PADI Instructor Development Course in the Andamans:  December 1-10, 2021.

This program also has our usual IDC add-ons, designed to supplement your learning with valuable real-world experience:
– A 2 week prep program before the IDC, for you to go over your DM theory, dive skills and other pro fundamentals, for those of you who feel that they need a refresher and/or a tune-up
– A 2-4 week post-IDC instructor internship, where you work with our team of experienced dive pros and gain valuable teaching experience (and also log some certifications in the process) – this prepares you to work independently later.

There are a couple of different things to note about this IDC – the revised curriculum has made an already strong IDC program even stronger.

ONLINE SELF STUDY
As per the new PADI curriculum, there is a greater emphasis on the students completing their prep work online, using digital materials. Candidates can start this at any time – they do not have to wait for the IDC itself to start cramming the materials (unlike back in my day, when we spent all day in classrooms/water sessions and then did homework at night). We will be conducting regular review sessions of this between September and November, so you can actually get cracking right away. This means that when you get to the Andamans to do your PADI IDC, the focus is on shaping your knowledge and skills, not teaching you background material. This allows for more efficient use of instructor time cand greater development of the candidate into an effective pro.

OPTIONAL STANDALONE AI PROGRAM/INTERNSHIP
Second, we are offering an extensive PADI Assistant Instructor prep program for candidates who either do not want to do an IDC right away, or who want to split their training over a longer duration. The AI program will be conducted in Chennai and will also double as an extensive prep for the IDC. This will allow you to hit the ground running as an instructor, and give you greater confidence to teach independently. The AI Prep program is conducted by yours truly, Vinnie (I have been an instructor trainer since 2008).

ONE FREE IDC SLOT
We recognize this year has been hard on all of us. As a result, in conjunction with Dive-Careers, Platinum Course Director Mark Soworka and PADI, we are sponsoring a free IDC and free materials for one candidate. The candidate must be a PADI Divemaster already, must be an Indian national, must show genuine financial need, should have sincere environmental awareness and should be actively involved in the local diving community.

Email us for more information or to sign up.

 

Diving after COVID

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NOTE:   This article and the accompanying video are intended to provide a summary/top-level view of the risks associated with diving after COVID.     Many of these risks are theoretical;  further, the data as well as suggested best practices are in a state of evolution and so may be subject to change.     We will try our best to provide regular updates to this post, but please be aware that this is not intended to replace medical advice from a qualified doctor (Dr Google does not count – and yes, we are aware of the irony if you came across this article via Google!).

 

 

As the world starts to re-open, and we all start thinking of getting back under the water, please be aware that diving after Covid is not necessarily as simple as just “recover fully – go diving”.   Depending on the duration and degree of your symptoms, there may be associated risks that only make themselves known when you breathe pressurized air.

Now, keep in mind that at present, a lot of these risks are anecdotal, or at best, based on limited sample sizes.  So by nature, the recommendations made by the doctors are conservative in nature (and a list of references is provided at the end for those who want to dig deeper into the subject).

However, given the potential impact of these risks coming to pass, we strongly encourage you to spend the time and effort to get these tests done in advance before resuming diving.

RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH DIVING AFTER COVID

There are several risks associated with COVID, each of which can have an impact on you when diving:

General loss of fitness

While diving is mostly an easy activity, there are times when you do need to work a little – eg, surface swims in choppy waters or swimming against the current.     Loss of fitness obviously makes the dive more challenging physically, but can also induce psychological stress/sense of losing control, which is not a lot of fun.

Fibrosis/scarring of lungs

This is a big one.    Fibrosis/scarring of the lungs has been observed in a significant number of people and one of the most common issues associated with it is reduced pulmonary function, which can result in exercise-induced dyspnea (shortage of breath) and the same physical/psychological stress discussed earlier.

However, there is also a potentially increased risk of DCS (due to uncertainty about how this affects gas absorption models).       And there is also the potentially increased risk of lung barotrauma, due to gas getting trapped in the alveoli of the affected areas.

At present, studies are still ongoing on the actual risk, but until there is firm data on what those risks are, it is better to play it safe and be extra cautious.

Cardiac issues

A very large fraction (up to 25%) of people who were hospitalized with COVID have also been affected by cardiovascular complications of some sort or the other.     And given that diving poses an incrementally greater load on the heart due to the pressure of the blood, this means that again, there is a potentially greater risk of cardiac issues when diving.

The same caveats apply – the signs clearly indicate a potential risk.   So until there is further study on where the safety line gets drawn, it is better to err on the side of caution.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR DIVERS

This bears repeating again:  we are not doctors.   We are dive bums who refuse to confirm or deny whether we pee in our wetsuits.     This is not meant to be specific medical advice for you.    This is just a general guideline based on various sources online as well as recommendations of our own diving physician.     Treat this is a bare minimum but speak to your doctor.   If your doctor recommends a more rigorous test procedure, by all means listen to your doctor.   And remember – nothing prevents you from choosing a more rigorous set of tests either.    Better safe than sorry!

Also, let’s define “COVID recovery” for the purposes of this section – it is defined as the time when you have (a) finally tested negative AND (b) are fully recovered with no lingering symptoms AND (c) have reached your normal baseline level of fitness.      All 3 conditions have to be met for you to consider yourself as having recovered.

With that out of the way, these are the current broad guidelines on when you can resume diving after Covid.   In all cases, please speak to the doctor who was treating you, and get his/her clearance – if s/he recommends a follow-up with a specialist, get that done.

Asymptomatic Patients

Asymptomatic COVID patients should wait a minimum of 30 days after COVID recovery (as defined above) before getting back in the water.

Mildly Symptomatic Patients

It is recommended that patients suffering from very mild symptoms wait for a period of 30 days to 3 months after full recovery, depending on the severity of their symptoms and then get, at minimum (or more if recommended by your doctor), the following tests done and reviewed by a specialist before getting back in the water:

  • Chest XRay/ECG
  • Clearance from a pulmonary specialist

Moderate to Severely Symptomatic Patients

If a diver has suffered severe symptoms, including hospitalization, s/he should wait a period of 3-6 months after full recovery (again, depending on the severity of the symptoms) and then undergo the following tests at minimum (or more, if recommended by your doctor) before getting getting back in the water:

  • Complete pulmonary testing
  • CT scan of lungs
  • Exercise/cardiac stress test, preferably with spO2
  • Clearance by both a cardiac and a pulmonary specialist

If you have been on a respirator, my personal recommendation is that you do not dive for now and wait for more detailed studies to be completed first.   It isn’t worth taking the risk!   Similarly, a few cases of people with long Covid also have reported issues of neurological or cognitive dysfunction – that has to be addressed/resolved before they are to be considered as  fully recovered.

In each of the cases above, note that you wait the appropriate duration and THEN undergo the appropriate tests.

If your doctor recommends a waiting period that is shorter than what is suggested above, we will still recommend you play it safe and wait for longer (obviously, if your doctor does have experience with diving medicine, that’s a different story).       This is not to impugn on the doctor’s credentials – but more to do with risk management as a diver.   Remember:   not many establishments in India have the expertise to deal with diving-related issues, and your typical dive destination is also further away from the top medical facilities.   So better to be safe.

Also, if you would like a consult with a diving specialist, please contact us and we will put you in touch with Dr Partha, our diving specialist.  

THINGS TO BE AWARE OF WHEN YOU RESUME DIVING

So you have done your tests, you have cleared the recommended tests, waited the appropriate amount of time (and then a bit longer, as befitting a conservative diver) and finally, it is time to go diving.

Be aware of a couple of things, especially initially:   the first is extra fatigue after diving, which could be a sign of sub-clinical DCS or a sign that something is not kosher with your cardio-pulmonary functions.    Also be very careful about shortness of breath – if you feel even remotely out of breath, abort the dive immediately and get back to the surface.

And be extra careful about your typical diving parameters – the first dive trip may be a good time to increase your computer’s conservative setting by one level, or to be extra cautious about staying within your NDLS.   Make sure you do a slow ascent and perhaps throw in a longer safety stop.   Hydrate well between dives.   Etc. etc.   You know the drill – you have learned it in Open Water.     Time to play it by the book, if you aren’t already doing so.

We understand the eagerness to get back in the water – we are itching to do so, as well.   But this is a sport for a lifetime – don’t ruin it for yourself by being a little too hasty initially.

Safe diving!

 

REFERENCES

The following is a list of useful articles to read.   When reading, please note the dates of publication and be aware that some of the info may be replaced by more recent findings.    This is very much an evolving science right now.

What divers need to know about cardiac health (general article on cardiac health for divers
AHA:  What COVID is doing to the heart, even after recovery (cardiac risks after COVID)
DAN Europe’s flowchart for resuming diving (based on current best practices – may be subject to change as the science and knowledge evolves)
USC San Diego Guidelines for Evaluating Divers during the COVID-19 pandemic (a leading report from May 2020 that is driving the direction of current thinking/research)
What you should know about diving after COVID-19 (an Apr 2021 summary, has links to additional studies as well)
DAN Europe Physicians’ Field Experience Regarding Diving after COVID-19 (an Apr 2021 report with more anecdotal info on the risks flagged by the USC report, and more)
NIH:  Fitness to Dive and Medical Assessment Guidelines (from Sep 2020)
Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society – Return to Diving Post Covid-19 (older paper from April 2020)

Scuba Diving in Bangalore

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Learn Scuba Diving in Bengaluru (Pool Training)

One of the most common questions we get is – “why would we dive in Bangalore? What is there to see?”
The answer to the second question, of course, is nothing. But the answer to the first is, quite simply, because it is a great way to get started with the sport.

Typically, people associate diving with going on holiday, diving in colorful reefs amidst large schools of fish, etc.  And yes, that is indeed correct – that is why we dive, after all. But before you get to diving on reefs, you have to complete some theory (online learning and sessions with an instructor) and also some skills training (aka, confined water training).

Yes, you can choose to do it all while on vacation – a lot of people do just that. You can also choose to complete this training in one of our @Home centers, such as Bangalore. What are the benefits of doing so?

Here is a list:

– You don’t waste your precious vacation time in training, but can use this time to get some additional dives in – so you maximize your diving/leisure time while on holiday

– You can learn at your own pace, without the time pressure of a holiday

– You can even use this time to decide if diving is the sport for you (fair warning – for most people, the answer is “yes”).

Even if you are not planning to get certified, but just want to do an Intro to Scuba, doing a pool session first gets you comfortable with scuba diving in a familiar environment, and you are more likely to enjoy your diving experience, as opposed to going diving straight away.

And pool training is not just for beginners.

Perhaps you are a newly certified diver who wants to get more comfortable with some skills, or you want to familiarize yourself with new equipment. Or perhaps it simply has been some time since you dived last and you want a refresher? Again, why waste one of your precious holiday days with refreshers, when you can do that at your convenience at home?

Lastly, want to try out some new gear? We regularly have tester kit available to try – you are welcome to try new masks, fins, BCD, etc in a pool and get familiar with it, before buying.

Pool sessions are a great way to stay involved in the sport and make it a sport that you engage in all the time, and not just once or twice a year on vacation!

Here are a few of our happy customers and their journey from the Bangalore Pool to a remote diving destinations

Scuba diving in Chennai

By Articles, scuba diving in india

Scuba Diving in Chennai

Ever imagined how it will be to wake up in your own bed, pack only a swimsuit, hop in a car, drive to the shore, get on a boat, kit up and dive? Scuba Diving in Chennai is exactly that. We are here to celebrate your love for diving, right in your backyard.

‘Is there life in the seas here? Can you see anything at all in these green waters? Can a new diver like me dive in Chennai?’, you may ask. The answer is yes, yes and yes.

Chennai is one of the big players in Indian fishing industry, owing to the rich faunal diversity all along Tamil Nadu coast. Yes, the visibility under water is not the greatest, and yes, we pray to the Wind Gods for a successful day everyday, but reefs off Chennai are some of the most prolific reefs we have come across along the coast of mainland India.

Scuba Diving in Chennai – Best Dive Sites:

#1 Thoondil Street: One of our deeper sites where the world changes at about 18 meters, where the visibility shifts from tens of meters to only a few. However, the murky waters don’t stop marine life to thrive down there. The flat bottom that sits at 26 meters is made of rocks covered with soft coral and sponges. Right as you enter the murky waters, you are met with schools of snappers and fusiliers leading their fast paced lives and schools of sweet lips swimming around like a parade of soldiers. The bottom is busy with the groupers having one of their Mafia sit-downs and random excursions by sea snakes.

Thoondil Street - Best dive site in chennai

Scuba Diving in Chennai – Best Dive Sites


#2 Castle Rock:
This dive site is a beautiful example of conservation efforts by people concerned about the insistent overfishing along Tamil Nadu coast. This is one of the artificial reefs built to promote the use of traditional fishing gear like hook and line over the more destructive trawlers and seines. Sitting at about 25 meters, these blocks of concrete house a variety of fish species. On a good day, you might find yourself stuck here in a traffic jam of fish. Starting from patient groups of groupers, goofy gobies and gliding lionfish at the bottom, you will see fish like longfin banners, oriental sweetlips, snappers, fusiliers and surgeons schooling in hundreds over the structures.

Scuba Diving in Chennai – Best Dive Sites:

#3 Vaddi Pop & Garden Rock: These are our shallow dive sites, perfect for beginners to apply the skills learnt in confined waters. Starting at 12 meters, the sites are built of big boulders running parallel to the shore and go down till about 16 meters. The rocks are laden with sea fans and whip coral, gardened by butterfly and longfin banner fishes. Feather duster worms and nudibranchs can be seen beautifying these fans and rocks frequently.

One of our most treasured dive sites in Chennai, however, is not in the sea. In the hills of Kanchipuram, we have found this abandoned quarry which is just perfect to experience diving in its purest form, and never again be bothered by bad visibility, swells, currents or any out-worldly distractions.

Scuba Diving in Chennai – Best Dive Sites:

#4 ShowCat Boneyard: The smaller, right side of the quarry has submerged, mostly dead trees and shrubs growing on a bed of sedimentary rocks, eventually falling down into a valley upto 27 meters. The curious placement of rocks makes it a ‘site’ to behold.

Scuba Diving in Chennai – Best Dive Sites:


#5 Mayajaal:
The much larger, left side of the quarry seems like a scene out of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas. After a gradual slope till 7 meters, the site drops straight to 27 meters along a humongous scarred wall of sedimentary rocks. Ideal for running deep scenarios, the flat bottom will keep you entertained with numerous crab gatherings, random appearances of truck headlights and tyres, TNT shells, fuse reels and scorch marks on the walls.

There is much more to diving in Chennai than what meets the eye. From rich marine ecosystems hidden in murky waters to new ecosystems sprouting in clear fresh waters, diving here is meant to change your perspective of the world underwater altogether. Contact us for more

Is Scuba Diving Safe in The Andamans

By Articles, Blogs, News

Is Scuba Diving Safe in The Andamans

As India (and most of the world) starts to open up and learn to live with COVID, a very common question we get asked is – is scuba diving safe in the Andamans, specifically from a COVID point of view.

To start with, let’s be clear on something – COVID hasn’t gone away and likely, will not for the foreseeable short/middle term. So the only way to maximize exposure to COVID is to stay at home and self-isolate.

When we go out and about – be it to the grocery store, be it to a restaurant, be it to work – we do have a certain additional risk that we are exposed to. So a more apt way of looking at things would be-  is that exposure greater or lower if we come to the Andamans for scuba diving?

In our opinion, coming for a trip to the Andamans does not pose a significant incremental risk – and in fact, is quite likely to result in a lower risk of exposure. This is for a bunch of reasons.

The first and foremost is that Andamans, at present, has negligible cases of COVID (4, at the time of writing this article on Feb 23, 2021). That means a very low risk of transmission by exposure.

Second, everyone who flies to the Andamans is required to get a COVID-negative test done within 48 hours of taking the flight. As is, the case load across the country has dropped significantly and by adding a COVID test, this minimizes the potential of exposure even further.

Thirdly, all tourist places are following regular safety protocols – sanitization, temperature checks, requiring people to wear a mask at all times.

Specifically to diving, we follow the protocols laid down by Divers Alert Network and PADI for sanitizing and disinfecting equipment between dives. We have also shifted much of our classroom training to online sessions, to minimize exposure and contact. Lastly, the fact that diving is conducted off a boat (ie, not in an enclosed space with recirculated air) also helps reduce the viral load, if any.

Look, we are not experts with complex mathematical models to determine risk. However, as people who live and dive in a place with no COVID cases (Havelock and Neil don’t have any recorded cases), we are acutely aware of the risk to ourselves, if nothing else. Based on the information available, we feel very confident that the risk – while not zero – is may actually be lower than what it would be based on just regular day-to-day life at home.

Which Island Is Better For Diving – HAVELOCK OR NEIL?

By Articles, Blogs, Dive Sites, Scuba Diving Andamans, Scuba diving Courses

Which Island is Better For Scuba Diving?
HAVELOCK (Swaraj Dweep) OR NEIL(Shahid Dweep)?

Another common question we get from our divers is – what is better for diving, Havelock or Neil?
The answer to that, of course, is… it depends.
It depends on what your experience level, the type of diving you want to do and what you are looking for in a vacation spot.

To start with, the 2 islands are very close together, so you are not going to see a significant change in the ecosystem and marine species between the two locations.
However, there are a few significant differences between the 2 locations:

  • Neil does not have the same mangrove cover as Havelock, and so tends to have lower sedimentation run-off. This results in generally better visibility closer to shore.
  • Havelock, by virtue of having the other islands of Ritchie’s Archipelago to the north, has a lot of sites that are sheltered no matter the wind or environmental conditions. This means that there are more shallow/sheltered sites for divers, where conditions allow access year long.
  • The drop-off into deep water is much closer to the southern side of Neil. This means a few more high-octane sites with a greater chance of seeing big pelagics (and we mean BIG).
  • Havelock has an excellent training reef accessible from the shore – a great place to do classes like Rescue Diver, Buoyancy, Navigation, Search & Recovery and more.

In addition to this, the islands themselves are fairly different. Havelock is all grown up now – it is has fiber optic internet, several restaurants and is pretty much a tourist island (albeit only relatively – compared to places like Goa, it is still positively rustic). Neil is still quieter and the package tourist hordes tend to give it a miss (or stay there only a night) – that gives it more of the quiet, “remote island” vibe of the Andamans. Depending on your preferences, you might find yourself gravitating towards one or the other.

Here is the list of top dive sites accessible from each island:

Best Dive Sites in Havelock:   The Wall, Slope, Pilot Reef, Aquarium, Nursery, Tribegate, Jackson’s Bar, Broken Ledge

Best Dive Sites in Neil:   Margherita’s Mischief, Junction, Bus Stop, Nursery (a different one!), Sea Fan City and a few more special ones that are going to be revealed over time.

Wait, wait, wait!

What about the Andaman, you ask – the world-class dive sites like Johnny’s Gorge, Dixon’s Pinnacle, V16, M/V Inchkett and Whitehouse Rock. The good news is – we can access them from both Havelock and Neil.

So as you can see, both Havelock and Neil are very good options. If we had to pick, we’d give Havelock a slight edge for newer divers looking to get some experience in controlled conditions or for divers looking to do some training courses. For advanced divers, we think Neil has the slight edge in terms of dives sites (although that edge is likely to increase in the next 6 months or so).

Shearwater Peregrine review

By Articles

SHEARWATER PEREGRINE REVIEW

by: Vinnie
Date: August 2020

 

Before I start, I should make it clear I am a big fan of Shearwater diver computers – in my experience, the Perdix and Teric are the best dive computers in the market today, and I believe this strongly enough to have purchased a Perdix AI for myself at full retail from a store in Singapore.

A full review of the Perdix is coming soon, but here is what sets it apart:  customizable algorithm, full features (trimix, Open Circuit, Closed Circuit), built-in compass, air integration, ability to handle more gas mixes than you are ever likely to use, user changeable battery, upgradable firmware and a fantastic, legible display, all in a sturdy housing that is designed for extreme use (this is certainly no dainty wrist jewellery).     There is literally NOTHING you are missing in this dive computer.

Unfortunately, all this comes at a price – the Perdix (and its sibling, the Teric) are not cheap.    While there is definitely something to be said for having a computer that is virtually future-proof and that you are not likely to outgrow, the price of the higher end Shearwater does tend to put off people looking for a more value-priced computer.     Enter the Shearwater Peregrine –  with an MRP of Rs 36,000 (at the time of writing this article) it is an “entry level” dive computer intended to bring the Shearwater experience within reach to more people.

Let’s see how it fares!

UNBOXING

I like the minimalist packaging that the computer comes in – it comes packaged in its own travel case, and inside, you find the following:

  • A 26mm rubber strap and a set of bungee cords
  • Locking bars and tools for attaching them
  • Wireless charger
  • USB cable
  • An inspection certificate
  • A couple of stickers
  • A spare screen protector

Everything that you need – and no huge amount of wasted plastics and paper.    Kudos to Shearwater for a very eco-friendly packing job.

Note that while my unit came with a black strap and a black bungee cord, you can get white or a matching blue rubber strap for the Shearwater Peregrine, if you so desire, as pictured below:

Peregrine_Rear_Duo_Rear-1024x657Colored straps are available for the Peregrine – never under-estimate the importance of color in making sure you stand out amidst a sea (pun intended) of divers all dressed in black!

FORM FACTOR, DISPLAY & ERGONOMICS

The Shearwater Peregrine is an over-sized dive computer – not a wrist-watch sized dive computer.         As you can see below, the screen is approximately the same size as the Perdix, but the casing has been slimmed down a significant degree.     The Perdix has a very strong “all business” look to it – this is a computer that is all business, all the time.   The lines of the Peregrine are a little more relaxed, with a pop of color in the form of the blue bezel around the screen (although that is the only color available at present).

20200812_144505The Shearwater siblings – the Perdix on the left, the Peregrine on the right.   The 158 day surface interval on my Perdix is a sad testimony to the effects of the COVID pandemic!

Generally, all else being equal, I have a preference for wrist-watch sized computers:  they are easier to travel with, you are less likely to forget them in your hotel room on the morning of the dive, you don’t have to take them off before/after the dive while putting on your wetsuit (and so risk them getting damaged or even falling off the side of the boat!).

So why have I gone from a Suunto D9Tx, a watch-sized dive computer, to a Perdix, an oversized unit?    The key phrase is “all else being equal”.      In some cases, a larger dive watch is just an exercise in cost-cutting – miniaturization is expensive, after all.   In other cases, the larger form factors gets you more – better battery life, higher quality display, better presentation of information, etc.       I am happy to say that the Peregrine, like its bigger brother, does utilize this large form factor very well.

Take a look at this:
Peregrine_Front_NX50_Deco-1Peregrine Display (image borrowed from the Shearwater website, as I sadly have not been able to get into the water with my unit)

A few things jump about this display.   To start with, the legibility and ease of reading the info.    This is a modern display with a high degree of contrast and easily legible in all conditions.    Second, note the use of colors to highlight important information (eg, NDL reaching ‘0’ in this case).    And last and most importantly, notice how well the screen of computer displays information in an easy to read format.      As an added bonus, you can even change the font colors as per your preferences.

One of the most common issues I have seen with divers is while they may be familiar with the “regular” screen of their computer, they often cannot read the decompression screen that comes up if they exceed their NDLs – ie, the very information for which they bought the dive computer.     Shearwater’s experience with the needs of tech divers is clearly obvious here – in this example. the decompression information is clearly presented and cannot be confused with anything else.

It bears repeating – it doesn’t matter how high-tech your dive computer is:   if it isn’t intuitive to understand, especially in a stressful situation, it is not a good option.   The Peregrine is aces in this regard, and for these tangible improvement, I am willing to forego the convenience of a watch-sized form factor (same as the Perdix).

In terms of ergonomics, the Peregrine, like the Perdix, uses a 2 button interface.   I initially expected this to be fairly clunky, given my experience with other 2-button dive computers, but the interface is surprisingly intuitive.    It helps that Shearwater uses the display to give you very clear indications of what each button press is supposed to do.

20200813_154611The labels at the bottom of the screen tell you very clearly what each button press does – in this case, pressing the left button takes you to the next setting, while pressing the right button goes into planning mode.    The logic is fairly intuitive and easy to pick up after a couple of uses.   Note the green color display – you can change font colors as well.

About the only downsize of this interface is that if you accidentally overshoot a setting, you have to scroll through the settings to get back to it.   But the buttons are have a great tactile feel (the ones on the Peregrine are actually a lot nicer than the ones on my Perdix) and it takes all of 5-6 seconds to do this, so it isn’t really a great loss.

FEATURES AND FUNCTIONS

While the Shearwater Peregrine dive computer is an “entry level” model, it is certainly not lacking in features.   Here is a short list of the essential features and functions.

For starters,  as you might expect from something carrying the Shearwater name, it is a full-featured computer designed for decompression diving.    Unlike many of the entry-level dive computers designed for recreational diving which often tend to penalize divers significantly if they go into decompression, the Shearwater Peregrine will work well if you decide to get into extended range or technical diving.    And of course, even if you accidentally go into decompression on a recreational dive, it will give you accurate information on how to handle your decompression safely.

Unlike its bigger brothers, the Perdix and Teric, the Peregrine does not offer trimix or closed circuit capabilities.   However, the Peregrine dive computers also offers a 3-gas Nitrox mode.  This lets you use 3 different nitrox mixes:  typically a bottom gas and 2 different decompression mixes for accelerated deco.    This makes it suitable for all air/nitrox based technical diving.

And of course, for recreational diving, the Peregrine has the standard modes:   Air, Nitrox and Gauge (no freediving mode but you would not wear a large dive computer like this for freediving anyway).     You have the option of setting both high and low PPO2 alarms, as well as depth and time alarms.   One cool feature:  you also get a vibration mode, in case you are diving with a thick hood and unable to hear audible alarms.   Pretty neat!

The computer is based on the Buhlmann ZHL-16C:  the industry-standard algorithm, proven and refined over decades to offer the safest possible approach to decompression today.      As is typical for most dive computers, you get 3 different conservatism settings – Low, Medium and High.      Even at its lowest setting, the Peregrine is not excessively liberal – so this actually is a setting that may work for a lot of divers, depending on their preferences (see my article on How to Pick a Dive Computer for a more in-depth discussion on conservatism).

However, what sets the Peregrine apart is the ability to customize the GFLow / GFHigh percentages, if you so desire – this is a fantastic feature and is absolutely amazing to find it in this price range.

deco-editAbility to adjust the conservatism setting on the Shearwater Peregrine

Do note that this feature is for experienced divers with an in-depth knowledge of decompression theory as well as their own personal risk tolerances – so I will advise not messing with it unless you are very sure you know what it does (hint:  if you have to ask someone what settings to use here, you are not ready to use it.   When you are ready to use this feature, you will know how to set it, and you will be thankful you have had this feature).

In addition, the Peregrine also checks off my other vital criteria – a battery that is either rechargeable or user-replaceable.   Unlike the Perdix, which uses a user-replaceable AA battery, the Peregrine offers wireless charging – place it on the provided USB mat and it charges.     The mat is slightly smaller than the dive computer, so easy enough to pack and carry on a trip.   For what it is worth, the Peregrine also seems to charge off the wireless charger I use for my mobile phone.

The Peregrine also has Bluetooth connectivity with Shearwater’s desktop or phone (Android/iOS) app, which lets you upload your dive logs to Shearwater’s cloud-based server and view them on the app.

Screenshot_20200813-212446_ShearwaterDisplaying the dives on the Shearwater app

The dive log on the Shearwater app shows you your profile as well as tissue loading at any time.   This log is from a Perdix, but the Peregrine information is very similar.

The app also allows you to upgrade your computer’s firmware.

Unlike the Perdix, the Peregrine does not offer a digital compass or air integration.  While neither of these features are essential, they are certainly nice to have.   However, to be fair, the computers offering these features are all one entire price tier above the Peregrine in price as well (typicall Rs 10,000 – Rs 15,000 more expensive).

USAGE

While I didnt have a chance to take the Shearwater Peregrine dive computer into the ocean for a dive, I did do a little freediving with it to see how it behaved.   Also, a lot of my experience with the Perdix translates over directly to the Peregrine as well – after all, both these operate on more or less the same platform.

From an algorithm point of view, there is nothing to say about the ZHL-16C – as mentioned earlier, it is the gold standard of decompression algorithms.      So what remains is ease of use, along with features.   And “ease of use” has always been a strong point of Shearwaters, given their origins in tech diving.

Setting up a computer before the dive is very easy – it is a few buttons to adjust the nitrox and once you do, the nitrox percentage is clearly visible on your display.        As with most computers these day, the Peregrine turns on automatically once you descend to about 1m of water.   And as discussed earlier, the display is super legible and easy to read.

Peregrine_Front_NX32_15.7MPicture courtesy Shearwater

The Shearwater display breaks up into 3 panels.   The upper left panel shows you the dive depth and time.   The upper right panel shows you decompression information (critically, the no-deco info and deco info are displayed in different locations, to prevent you from confusing the 2 numbers).     And the smart use of color coding highlights important information – eg, that you are running low on NDL in the photo above.

The bottom panel can be customized as per your preferences.  On my unit, I have replaced the time and temperature with average depth, which is useful for me to estimate my air consumption and overall nitrogen loading (just because my computer is doing that for me doesn’t mean I switch my brain off!).

You can also get a visual display of your tissue loading, for each of the 16 compartments in the Buhlmann model – while this is typically not the most actionable of information, I find it a very useful learning tool to correlate nitrogen loading from actual diving to the theory of decompression.   Seeing how the graph changes over the course of a diving vacation, or even after a shallow dive vs a deep dive can be very instructive.

Peregrine_Front_Air-15M_TissueTissue loading as a visual graph – as always, color coded to make it easy to understand

The Shearwater also has a very easy to use dive planning mode – you can choose to plan your dive as if it were about to start immediately or after some time (eg, if you still had some more surface interval to complete), and figure out your NDLs accordingly.

20200813_173040Use the screen on the left to set when the dive is starting (now or later) and then, on the subsequent screen, you can see your NDLs

And as mentioned, the solid, easy to press buttons make the entire experience of navigating the Shearwater Peregrine dive computer an absolute pleasure (users of the Suunto Zoop, for example, will know and appreciate what I mean!).   Having used and reviewed a LOT of dive equipment, I cannot describe how happy I get when I see manufacturers getting ergonomics and usability right – these are things that you appreciate every single minute of use, and mean far, far more to me than a laundry list of features which are a nightmare to actually use.

Lastly, battery life is rated up to 30 hours, give or take, depending on screen brightness.   I haven’t had a chance to test this but after a few days of playing around with the dive computer quite thoroughly, including some water sessions, the battery indicators still reads full.   So I expect it to be more or less as per spec- this means you can easily get one dive trip out of it, without needing to faff around with charging the unit every day or two.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS

So how does the Shearwater fare against the competition and is it worth buying?

At a price of Rs 36,000 (at the time of writing this article), the Peregrine is more expensive than the Aqualung i200 and the Mares Smart, both of which have an MRP of around Rs 27,000.

However, while it may be marketed as an “entry level” computer by Shearwater, that is only when compared to Shearwater’s offerings.     As computers go, the Peregrine is far more advanced than typical entry level computers – it may not have all the bells and whistles of its bigger brothers, but when it comes to basic decompression horsepower, it stomps over everything else:  decompression, 3 gas tech open circuit, customizable deco profile, a fantastic color display – these are all features you typically find on computers costing well over Rs 60,000.

As you gain skills and expand the scope of your diving, it is possible for you to outgrow the entry-level computers fairly quickly.    However, the Peregrine’s advanced deco capabilities means that it will stay with you for everything short of rebreathers or trimix.    Personally, this is a tradeoff I would be very happy to make:  while the absolute entry-level computers do get the job done, the Shearwater is a big step up in terms of ease of use and also scalability, in terms of growing with you as a diver.

That said, there are a couple of features that it is missing – air integration and digital compass.   These are both nice-to-have features for sure and given a choice, I would have preferred a dive computer which had these options.    But keep in mind that all dive computers with these options cost a lot more (Rs 45,000 and higher, and that excludes the cost of the air transmitter) – and those computers also lack the same functionality when it comes to core decompression features.

So as far as tradeoffs go – compared to the next pricing level, you are gaining a far more advanced computer and saving a significant chunk of money but by giving up on a couple of nice-to-have but non-essential attributes.     Is that a fair trade-off?   It really depends on your personal preferences.

Ideally, I would rather pay more and not to make a trade-off at all.    But if I had to, I’d pick the Shearwater options.  The way I look at it:   I can always get a small compass and clip it to the side of the computer’s strap or to my BCD, if need be (and while it may be important to me, I also realize a compass isn’t something most recreational divers use a lot).     And while I really like air integration and would dearly love to have it if given a choice, I would pick a customizable algorithm and ability to handle multiple gas mixes over it:  one is “nice to have”, the other actually impacts my diving in a meaningful way.   And then there is the matter of the price difference too – skipping these extraneous features saves you a lot of money.

What the Peregrine lacks in bells and whistles, it makes up by in core functionality that no one else offers for anywhere close to this price:  you are getting most of the core functionality of the Perdix, for only a modest premium over an entry-level computer.

Very highly recommended – and definitely makes our “Recommended Gear” list!

Purchase

DIVEIndia is an authorized distributor for all Shearwater products, including the Peregrine, and you can use the link above to purchase your own unit.

Do note, however, that our reviews are not affected by the fact that we sell the item – rather, we only sell the items that we like.   We sell Mares, Aqualung, Tusa, Scubapro, Shearwater and more – between them, there are enough quality dive products that we have absolutely no need to push gear that isn’t up to the mark.   The stuff we recommend is the stuff that we believe in ourselves.

How to pick a dive computer

By Articles, Gear, Reviews

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.

dc1

 

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.

Oh, and we do carry a range of dive computers in our online gear shop – Mares, Aqualung, Deep Blu, Scubapro, Shearwater and Garmin – at very competitive prices (hint, hint!).   Feel free to drop us an email at sales@diveindia.com if you have any questions and we would be happy to help you pick the right dive computer for yourself.