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Garmin Descent

Review – Garmin Descent Dive Computer

By Gear

GARMIN DESCENT MK1 DIVE COMPUTER REVIEW
By: Vinnie
Date: September 2020
Garmin Descent

The Garmin Descent Mk1 was one of the most exciting dive computers back when it was launched, coming as it did with all the features that one could ever want in a dive computer – and then some.  The Descent it as close to being a “Do Everything” device as it gets, with ability to track other activities (running, cycling, etc) as well as the usual fitness metrics such as steps, HR, calories burned, etc.   And all of it backed up by Garmin’s famous ecosystem which allows for consolidation and viewing of all your activities.    This combination makes for a very unique dive computer – one with no real competition in terms of feature set.

As a long-term Garmin user myself – I have a couple of Garmin 520 computers I use with my bike, a Garmin 935XT watch I use for running and triathlons and a Vivosmart 4 I wear as a daily activity/sleep/recovery tracker, I was very excited at the idea of adding a Garmin dive computer to our portfolio of dive products, and asked for a review unit to be sent out to me.

I have been testing it out on land and in water over the past couple of week – lets see whether it lives up to the hype.

THE BASICS

The Garmin Descent comes in a compact, rigid cardboard box, inside which you find the watch, some manuals and the charging cable.     No extraneous packing, fairly eco-friendly – so that’s good.     A travel case ala Shearwater would have been nice to have at this price point, but that’s an academic quibble, to be honest (I actually prefer to just stick the dive computer in a pocket in my carry-on when I travel, rather than add another box).

 

Inside the box was a robust-looking unit, with a black body, chromed external bezel, chrome bezel and a soft rubber strap.   Also packed in was the charging cable and the usual papers that no one ever reads.

With a diameter of 50mm, the Garmin Descent dive computer is not small by any means, but the short lugs make it surprisingly wearable as a day-to-day watch – which is one of the main benefits of getting a dive computer in this form factor.  It certainly looked very sharp, in a “purposeful tool” kind of way, as opposed to “wrist jewellery” kind of way.

THE DIVING FEATURES

Let’s start with what it does not have – air integration (although it is expected that the Mk2 version will have this).       That’s the easy part.

Now let’s talk about what it does have.   The short answer to that is “everything else”.    As far as the standard features go, here is a list:

  • Air mode
  • Nitrox mode
  • Apnea/Free Diving mode
  • Apnea Hunt Mode (where the alarms are disabled)
  • Gauge mode
  • Full ready for decompression diving
  • Trimix mode
  • Ability to define and switch between 6 different gas mixes
  • Open Circuit vs Closed Circuit mode
  • Multiple conservative settings – Low, Standard, High and Custom, where you can define your own gradient factors
  • Digital compass (excellent!)
  • Dive Planning Mode

In addition, there are a whole lot of other standard features, like many alarms, dive stopwatch mode, altitude settings, fresh vs sea water settings, etc. which I will not waste time covering.

The algorithm used by the Garmin is the industry standard Buhlmann ZH-L16C – same as the Shearwater and a proven, reliable model.       In addition to the standard 3 settings for conservatism, you can also tweak the algorithm exactly as you please, which does away with the limitations imposed by overly conservative or overly liberal computers:   this is done by adjusting the Gradient Factors (and *shameless plug alert* you learn more about Gradient Factors and a lot more in my Decompression Theory masterclass.  Ahem).

That alone makes it a very impressive unit, capable of covering virtually all use cases you would expect underwater.    But wait, there is more.     There are 3 very cool additional features on this computer:

The first is Optical HR which works underwater – unlike the Scubapro Galileo, which claims to adjust the deco profile based on your heart rate, I do not believe that the Descent does so (and it is debatable whether that adjustment has any significant or measurable real world impact on diver safety).     But it is still nice to be able to see your HR and get a sense of how hard you are working underwater, and also for analysis afterwards (great on dives where you were working against a current or had unusually high air consumption).

The second is built-in GPS and surface navigation, which not only marks the entry/exit coordinates of your dive, but also shows you a map of where you are and even allows surface navigation.   Presumably, your boat will have its own GPS, but still, it is always nice to have this feature – the more data you have on the surface, the better.

GPS in your watch – showing entry, exit and a map of the surroundings.   I wants it!!!

The last is the ability to see Tide Charts for your location.   As a dive professional, I find this very useful – and that holds true for recreational divers as well, in terms of knowing what to expect as far as currents and vis go.   Being able to look up this info on my watch, as opposed to firing up a browser on my phone, is pretty slick stuff.

Seriously amazing stuff, Garmin.    My gear lust was fully awakened once I had a chance to play around with this.

NON-DIVING FEATURES

If this is all that the Garmin Descent dive computer was capable of, it would still be a very impressive dive computer.    But as the saying goes, wait – there is more.

Built on a Fenix 5 platform, the Descent is actually a full-featured smart sports watch, with all the capabilities of the dedicated Garmin sports watches – you can use it for various activities including cycling, running, pool swims, open water swims and more (strength, yoga, walking, etc).   In addition, for those of you with dedicated accessories, the Garmin Descent also pairs with accessories like cycling power meters, external HR straps and running pods.     If you wear it as your primary fitness device, it will also do things like track steps, calories burned, stress levels (based on HR variability) and more.

Despite its size, the Descent was very comfortable on the wrist for a run (sorry, no photos while actually running – I dont carry a phone)

As mentioned earlier, I use a Garmin 935XT as my main sports watch for running and triathlons, but the Descent has pretty much all of the same functionality as well.     I used it instead of the 935XT for a few runs, and it worked just as well – despite the device being a fair bit thicker and heavier, it was surprisingly comfortable.   I credit the soft rubber strap, which allows you to get it snug enough without being uncomfortable.    And I got all the advanced running metrics like GCT, Vertical Oscillation, etc. that I get from the 935.   So zero compromises in functionality.

The Descent also pairs with the Connect IQ app store (a part of the Garmin Connect phone app), which lets you download various third party apps and screens for the dive computer – this includes watch faces, activity apps, etc.

ConnectIQ apps let you customize and get additional info on your device

Furthermore, you can also get your phone call and message notifications on your Garmin device – just like any other smart watch.

In short, the Descent isnt just a device you wear for diving – it is a single device that can stay strapped on your wrist all day, every day.

USAGE AND ERGONOMICS

I’ve managed to take the Descent out for a few dives over the past few weeks and see what it was like to actually use the device.

The display on the Garmin is nice and bright – not as amazing as the Shearwater OLED display, but sufficiently bright and easy to view underwater.

Dhruv modeling the Garmin underwater – the display is legible and easy to read even in low vis

Battery life is very good – Garmin claims about 36-40 hours for diving, and up to 10 days in watch mode.   I have not had a chance to test this rigorously, but based on my usage and battery levels, it seems to be more or less right.    And this is a sensible amount of battery life – while this is obviously a matter of personal preference, I can’t be bothered dealing with a device that needs charging every day or two.    Give me something that will run a week of diving without needing any attention.

Charging is through a USB cable with a proprietary connector which attaches to contacts on the reverse side of the watch – standard stuff.     The cable t0 computer connection is very secure indeed – this is NOT going to accidentally come loose at night, resulting in you having an computer with low batteries on the morning of the dive.

Charging cable

Ergonomics, in terms of setting up, will be very familiar to users of other Garmin devices.    Coming from my 935XT, I was able to get into the Descent without needing any manual or anything.     For someone new to the Garmin system, the immense array of options, it can seem a bit much in the beginning, but once you understand the logic of how the menu system is structured, it is surprisingly intuitive.

In dive mode, you have 3 display screens and you can tap on the screen to toggle between them, or use the up/down arrow keys.   The primary screen shows the essential info – dive time, depth, NDL and, in the case of nitrox or trimix, your gas mix and related info.     The second screen shows compass heading, depth, time and NDL.    And the last screen shows heart rate info, as well as the standard essential dive details.

 

The 3 display screens of the Garmin Descent

This is the one place where I felt the Garmin Descent could do better.

For starters, both the NDL and the dive time field read in MM:SS format – which is quite unusual compared to other dive computers, which display minutes only.      Perhaps it is just me, but whenever I see something displayed in the MM:SS format, my brain automatically equates that to a “time” display, not a NDL or deco time display.   So this was one thing that took me by surprise.

Another issue I have with the display is that the arguably most important information – NDL – is in the same font/color size as a bunch of other information that is not as critical, and so does not stand out as much.      Personally, I would have preferred to see that info in a different color or larger font size, so that it stood out more.

The biggest issue, for me, however, was the lack of clarity on labels.   Take a look at this shot, taken during a dive:

Screen 3 display during a dive

Is TOD time of the day or time of dive?    One would expect, from the fact that it occupies a more prominent display that it would be the dive time – however, the standard notation for that is Dive Time, not ToD.  And if so, what is 15:46?   The time of the day was around 1-1:30pm, and the Garmin – which was paired to my phone and to the GPS – should have picked up the correct time automatically.   So neither of these two numbers actually represents the time of the day.     Even if one of them is dive time, what is the other?      And why would you waste display space with something as irrelevant as time of day?

Admittedly, I was searching for new sites and also comparing this unit to a couple of other units I was testing, so my attention was split many ways – and in practice, it would be easy enough to figure this information out with use.   However,  one thing I have learned is that if something isn’t marked clearly (and often, even if it is), odds are good someone will misinterpret it.   So I am a big believer of making stuff as clearly marked as possible, especially for safety-critical units.   And any in case, in this day and age of advanced displays, there is absolutely no reason to have unmarked fields.

The decompression screen is a little easier to read, but still is somewhat confusing at first glance (I have taken this screen off the Garmin website, as I did not have the time to test this computer on some deco dives):

Garmin Descent Mk1 decompression screen

The bottom left number should be PPO2 (an assumption, given the lack of labels, but a pretty safe one) and the top left number is the total dive time.    But given that you are in deco and so past your NDL, why does display show 12:32 under NDL?   I can only assume it is total time to ascend – but if so, why not label it as such?     Surely the display header can be changed accordingly, to avoid the issue of someone mistakenly assuming they still have 12 minutes of no-deco time left.

Are any of these fatal flaws?   Not really.    A couple of dives and you will soon understand the layout and what the fields mean.    However, you just need to be aware that there will be a short learning curve as you get used to the display, and you need to make the effort to cross that curve.

Lastly, the dive planning mode works pretty much as advertised – easy to use and you can add additional surface time to the planning mode to get an idea of what your allowed bottom times would be at some point in the future.  .   You can even plan decompression dives on the unit, if you so desire.

CONNECTIVITY AND APP SUPPORT

The Garmin Connect phone app is the centerpiece of the Garmin eco-system and repository for all your workouts.        Like all your other Garmin devices, the Garmin Descent will connect to it via Bluetooth (something that works seamlessly – even on Windoze and Android) and automatically upload your dive, where you can see it on the app, share it on Strava, etc.    This includes a visual display of your profile, GPS info as well as all the dive metrics including HR.

Screenshots from the Garmin Connect app

The Garmin Connect is also the hub from which you can download apps onto the device – and this raises the issue of reliability.

I am a long-term Garmin user and very happy with their eco-system but even the most hardcore of Garmin fans has to admit that their devices, especially first generation ones, often have teething issues that can make them fairly annoying to use.    Add to that the ability to add apps of unknown provenance and you have set the recipe for an untimely crash.     That’s bad enough when it happens on a bike or a run (it is a proven fact that if you cannot save your workout on Strava, you do not get any training benefit from it!) but happening on a dive can be downright dangerous.

However, the good news is that once you start a dive, the Garmin locks out all the other apps and functionality, thereby improving reliability.   Certainly, the computer worked perfectly for me and searching online doesn’t seem to indicate too many reliability issues – which isn’t surprising.  Garmin also makes products for the aviation industry and those have to be made with a very high degree of reliability – obviously, some of that has been carried over here.

Watch faces, weather apps, activity apps and more allow you to customize your Garmin

Garmin also has a Garmin Dive app, which provides a single place for keeping all your dive-related activities.  I installed it and tried out, and it seemed to be very similar to the regular Garmin Connect app, just more of a “dive log” style.   I didn’t spend too much time on it.

SUMMARY

There is no dancing around the elephant in the room – the price of this unit.   It has a MRP of Rs 109,000 (and the incoming Garmin Descent Mk2 is even higher) – even factoring in the fact that we will be selling it at a healthy discount, this is NOT a cheap dive computer.

So is it a dive computer that is worth buying?

Obviously, whether you even need to spend this much on a dive computer is a matter of personal choice.     You can certainly get by with an entry-level, no-frills dive computer – but the higher-end dive computers have a lot of features which, while not essential, do add a lot of convenience to your diving and which I certainly cannot live without.     So that’s a personal choice – for me, I would rather suck it up and pay the premium once and then enjoy the benefits over several years.   That’s worth a lot more to me than a flagship phone, for example.   But I also get the rationale for buying a more value-priced computer.

So let’s rephrase the question – if you are looking for a high-end dive computer, is the Garmin Descent worth buying?

As I mentioned at the start of this article, there is nothing like the Garmin Descent on the market today.      It is a top-end dive computer and a top-end smart sports/fitness watch rolled into one, and it does both without any significant compromises.     The Garmin 945XT (the current successor to the 935XT) is about Rs 55,000 or so.   A top-end wrist-watch dive computer like the Shearwater Teric is around Rs 80,000.     This computer gives you the best of both and only for a relatively small premium (once you factor in our selling price).     So from that point of view, it is even… dare I say it… good value.

If you do not care about land-based features but only care about getting the best possible computer, then something like the Shearwater Teric is the closest one-to-one competitor to the Garmin Descent.   I will have a direct head-to-head comparison of these two dive computers coming soon, but they each bring something different to the table – in the Garmin’s case, it has the GPS navigation and a longer battery life air while the Teric has a significant better (in terms of legibility and intuitiveness) display and air integration.

The Garmin Descent does have some foibles when it comes to how the information is presented, and all else being equal, I would prefer a computer without these issues.   However, all else is most definitely NOT equal – and the strengths and features of the Descent make it a very appealing option for divers looking for a do-it-all sports watch.

xHowever, I will only recommend this computer to divers who are willing to spend that little bit of effort getting to know this computer on the first couple of dives – if you are ok with that, this is certainly a contender in the top-dog category.    I am certainly very tempted to get one myself, to use with my teaching kit (where the Perdix AI is a bit overkill).

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.    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

By Articles, Gear, Reviews

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.

Review Mares Pure SLS BCD

How To Prioritize What Scuba Gear To Buy?

By Articles, Gear, Opinions

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.

1st stage - mares epic adj 82x regulator

Mares Epic ADJ 82X Regulator Review

By Articles, Gear, Reviews
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.
Mares Quattros

Buyer’s Guide to Scuba Fins

By Articles, Gear, Opinions, Training

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.

Sharkskin Thermal Protection Chillproof – Review

By Gear, Reviews

Disclosure:   The Chillproof Jacket and the green Rapid Dry top were requested by us so that we could do a review, and will be returned.    All the other items referred to in the review are/were the personal property of Vinnie, which he purchased at full retail from shops in Thailand and Malaysia.    As always, our gear reviews are opinionated and represent what we truly feel about the product – we aren’t trying to sell page views or advertising:  we like playing around with gear and we want our fellow divers to get the best possible value for their money.  

One benefit of working at a dive center is that I get to play with a lot of dive gear – both stuff that we try out to use at the dive center and stuff that we try out for sale.    As a result, I have developed a deep-rooted religious aversion to paying retail for anything – after all, why should I, when I have access to the entire catalog of Mares, Aqualung and Scubapro to try out?   Between them, pretty much all my diving needs are covered several times over. There are, however, a few products which I like so much that I am willing to make an exception.   One of them are NOS Cressi Master Frog fins (seriously – if you know any for sale, please let me know. I have had breakups that were less painful than learning that Cressi discontinued these fins). Another is Sharkskin’s range of thermal protection gear.

Up-front alert:  I am a fanboy.   I’ve been using Sharkskin products for 7-8 years now and when I wore through my last one, I walked into a dive shop in Kuala Lumpur, slapped down my credit card and paid full retail for a new one.   As such, I was super-excited to learn that Sharkskin is now available in India, which has prompted this article.

Sharkskin Thermal Protection – Review

Anushka, one of our DMTs, happy and warm in her Sharkskin

WHAT IS SHARKSKIN?

Let’s get one thing out of the way – these are not really made of sharkskin (I know someone who got hate mail about this).    So what are they?   They are amazing, dear reader, that’s what they are.  Amazing.

Sharkskin’s major selling point is what they call their “Chillproof” fabric.   This is an innovative, technical piece of apparel which consists of 3 layers:

  • An inner fleece layer that sits against your skin and wicks away moisture
  • A middle windproof layer which prevents windchill (and if you have ever come up from a dive and shivered like crazy, you know how much windchill can affect your thermal peace of mind!)
  • An outer, stretchable nylon/lycra blend which provides abrasion resistance and UV resistance, and is also water repellant, to shed splashes.

Supposedly, it provides the thermal properties of 2.5-3mm of neoprene – while also being neutrally buoyant (so it wont mess up your weighting), anti-microbial and also odor- and itch-resistant.    No, it is definitely not your run-of-the-mill garment.

IS IT WORTH THE HYPE?

In case I was too subtle in my introduction, short answer:  yes!

Anyone who has dived with me knows that I am a complete and utter wimp, and get cold very quickly (the days of cold water diving in a dry suit/dry hood/dry gloves seem to be very far away).   If I am in the water for a couple of hours, I almost always wear a full length wetsuit, to avoid getting cold.   And even on dives where I am ok in the water, coming out of the water is pretty much a guarantee of the shivers till I can take off the wetsuit, find a towel and put on a dry T-shirt.  As a result, I end up wearing a wetsuit even in warm water – and wetsuits simply are Not Fun:  they are a pain to put on, you need more weight to dive with a wetsuit and there are the post-micturation odor issues that would make even the Big Lebowski shake his head.

Review: Sharkskin Chillproof Thermal Protection

Vinnie posing with his Chillproof Climate Control LS

However, with Sharkskin jackets, I find that not only do I stay warmer in the water, I also stay warmer when I get out of the water.   In practice, I have  found that my threshold temperature for needing a wetsuit has down by 2 degrees compared to other neoprene jackets and vests that I have tried.    In other words, where I would wear a wetsuit in water that is 28-29C, I now can manage with just a Sharkskin top and board shorts in waters down to 26-27C.
Doesnt sound like much, you say?   Well, it means that instead of wearing a wetsuit all year long, now I only need to wear it 2-3 months a year.    9 months less of needing to wrestle in and out of a tight wetsuit every dive.  9 fewer months of being encumbered on each dive.  9 months of less weights, less air adjustments in my BCD and generally a lot more comfortable.
And in cooler (not as warm, let’s say) water, I can wear a Sharkskin under my wetsuit and extend the temperature range of my wetsuit by a few more degrees.    So I am less likely to need a 5mm suit – in fact, ever since I got my first Sharkskin, I stopped using my 5mm suit.
What if you are not a wimp like me?  Well, perhaps you dive in shorts and rash guard and only put on a full length wetsuit at the lower range of tropical temperatures – in this case, you may be able to replace your wetsuit entirely with a Sharkskin!
About the only somewhat negative thing I can say about them – I am not too wild about their hoods.   I like my head to be warm and am used to diving with a 3mm hood all the time.   The Sharkskin hood is a fair bit thinner and doesn’t keep me as warm as a regular hood.   However, the flip side is that the Sharkskin hood is also a lot more comfortable – and for someone who has never tried a hood before, it’s a great way to gain additional warmth without the cloying sensation of a neoprene hood.

THE SHARKSKIN RANGE

 

If there is one thing Sharkskin doesn’t do too well, it is come up with sensible names for their products.    It’s a fairly confusing mess which had me confused for the longest time (and still does), so let me try to demystify it for you.

The core range is the Sharkskin ChillProof Long Sleeve, with a higher end ChillProof Climate Control variant (this has a silver outer layer, which prevents over-heating in the sun as you are kitting up to dive, for example).

 

I used to own the ChillProof long sleeve earlier and replaced with the Climate Control variant recently, and while I haven’t done any controlled testing, I do think I don’t get hot as much with this version when I am traveling to/from the dive site, for example.  So the Climate Control part does seem to work, in my opinion.

Shark Skin chillproof long sleeve

The ChillProof LongSleeves also comes in a hooded variant – one of our current DMTs at the time of writing this article (who may be the only person who gets even colder than me) bought this and it has helped her tremendously with staying warm in the water.   There is no Climate Control variant of the hooded jacket, however.

There is also a full-zip version, called the Chillproof Longsleeve Full Zip.    As the name implies, this zips up and down entirely, giving you more options to regulate your body temperature.   In water, you dive with the jacket fully or partially zipped up and on the boat, you unzip it to stay cool.   In my opinion, the full zipper is an unnecessary complication for divers – at most, the quarter-zip on the Chillproof Climate Control is more than sufficient to make the unit easy to don/doff.

Shark Skin chillproof Hooded Jacket

There is also a Chillproof Hooded Jacket- this jacket meant to be worn on the boat, before/after dives (or also when doing other activities that involve water exposure where warmth is a requirement).

It is a fairly common sight to see dive professionals packing fleece jackets on the boat to stay warm and avoid windchill between dives – but unlike regular fleece jackets, this puppy is designed to be exposed to water, courtesy of those three layers I mentioned earlier.

Shark Skin chillproof vest

Next up is Sharkskin’s short sleeve/sleeveless range, which can be worn as stand-alone units or as base layers under a wetsuit (or a full sleeved Sharkskin jacket).     There are three items here.

First is the Chillproof Short Sleeve, which is available without a hood only.    If you need something a little lighter than a Fullsleeve ChillProof, this is the one for you.   It can be worn stand-alone or as a layer under a wetsuit.

The next two items are primarily designed to be base layers – ChillProof Sleeveless Vests, without and with a hood.   While you can wear them as a stand-alone unit, I would not recommend that if that is your primary usage:   I used to own a  ChillProof Sleeveless Vest With Hood, and found the lack of sleeves let a little more water into my torso than I would have preferred.   For occasional use with shorts, it was fine – but if your goal is to buy something you can wear with shorts to replace a wetsuit, get a version with sleeves, in my opinion.

As base layers under a wetsuit, however, the Sleeveless Vests are fantastic.    They are a lot more comfortable than neoprene or rubber-lined vests, and also feel a lot warmer against your skin.   My old one is torn after years of use, and I will be getting another one to replace it.

Shark Skin Rapid Dry Short and Long Sleeve

Lastly, we have Sharkskin’s answer to the lycra rash guard.     It’s a loose-fitting top with thickness comparable to Lycra, but in a weave-style fabric which feels a lot more comfortable against the skin.    I find most Lycra rashguards feel a little strange (almost sticky) against the skin, and also are prone to bunching and pulling at the joints if the sleeves are a little twisted.   The Rapid Drys are significantly more comfortable and sit against your skin with the comfort that approaches that of cotton

This is one item in their range with which I have not used in the water (the above comments were based on wearing one around on land).   But based on my positive experiences with other Sharkskin models,  I have just ordered one for myself (my third Sharkskin item and 7th overall, if you are keeping track).  I will update the review once I have tried it on. Incidentally, there also appears to be a lime green model in the Rapid Dry, which is not show in the photo above – see below:

Review: Sharkskin Chillproof Thermal Protection

 

There are also other items (such as shorts), which I have omitted from the review, as they are designed primarily for kayaking and other surface activities.

THE ALTERNATIVES

There really are very few products that are directly comparable to Sharkskin.   The typical lycra and neoprene rashguards dont have offer anywhere close to the same degree of comfort, warmth and favorable buoyancy characteristics.

Mares has recently released a range of products called the Fireskin, which utilizes similar principles in construction as the Sharkskin – as you would guess from the name, they are directly taking on Sharkskin with this range of products and the pricing is very competitive (actually, significantly cheaper than Sharkskin).

I have yet to try out a Fireskin unit in the water, but will do so soon and post a review of that.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Thermal protection is important for every diver:  even in warm water and even for divers who don’t get cold often.  There is a big difference between “not getting cold” and “being comfortably warm”, for one – and one that has a tremendous impact on how much you enjoy your dives.      And here, Sharkskin is a product that you should know about.

For those who don’t get cold easily, it can actually replace the 3mm wetsuit as the default thermal protection unit of choice.     I would recommend a ChillProof Long Sleeve as a good option to try out – it is easily warmer than a 3mm neoprene shorty, in my opinion.

For those who do get cold easily, a Sharkskin Sleeveless vest under a wetsuit significantly increases the usable range in which you can wear your wetsuit.   A ChillProof Sleeveless Vest (with or without a hood) is a great way to add extra warmth to your wetsuit without increasing buoyancy.

And if you are the type who gets cold between dives, the ChillProof Hooded Jacket can replace a regular fleece jacket

Darth Vinnie looking for his missing red lightsaber

No, Sharkskin products are not cheap.    You can actually buy a 3mm wetsuit for slightly less than the cost of a Sharkskin ChillProof Long Sleeve top (and the cost of that Sharkskin Hooded Jacket above makes me want to cry).     But they are fantastic and do a great job, which makes them worth the money to me (enough for me to buy several units at full retail).

As those of you who follow my recommendations know, I rarely recommend top-of-the-line stuff unless there is a significant reason to do so.   In general, I feel that functional value in most goods typically resides in the middle of the range:  at the entry level, one gives up too many features to get the lowest price.  At the top of the range, one gets a lot of neat features which are nice to have, but not essential:  and whether or not those features are worth the premium is a personal decision.   Sharkskin is one of the few premium products that I recommend whole-heartedly for everyone – you get a Better Product for your money, and in the long run, that’s a more economical purchase.

And it is not just me –  when I got my first Sharkskin, a fellow instructor liked it so much that he pretty much made me pass it on to him.     I was also relieved of my other Sharkskin, a ChillProof Sleeveless, by another instructor on similar grounds.      So now I keep my current Sharkskins in my room and not in the dive shop – now that it is sold in the country, no one is taking mine from me: they can jolly well order their own damn piece.

And speaking of ordering their own damn pieces:  in the week between my writing this review and it getting posted online, 3 of our dive staff and 3 of our DMTs/Instructor candidates have all ordered Sharkskin products.    And I have also gotten myself a Rapid Dry long sleeve top.

Diveindia sells a full range of Sharkskin jackets – our top recommendations are the ChillProof Long Sleeves (both regular and Climate Control version) for people looking for a better alternative to neoprene rash guards or shorty wetsuits, and the ChillProof Sleeveless Vest (with or without the hood) as something to layer under your existing wetsuit.

BCD Buyers Guide: How to buy the right BCD

By Gear, Reviews
Buying or selecting dive gear can be difficult, with an overwhelming choice of brands and models out there.  And the industry is also not averse to using the safety aspect to try to create a false sense of urgency sometimes. We are starting a series of articles that aims to cut through the noise, buzzwords and marketing-speak, and provide divers with a way to evaluate gear themselves, based on their own preferences.
There is obviously an element of subjectivity in all these things, and we encourage you to ask more questions and do more research.  Ultimately, as certified divers, your goal should be to gain enough information that you are able to make a decision yourself, as opposed to relying on pre-packaged answers.
Anyway, here is post 1 of the series – Selecting a BCD:  A Buyer’s Guide.

Review: Aqualung i300 Dive Computer

By Gear, Opinions, Reviews

Review: Aqualung i300 Dive Computer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aqualung i300 Dive Computer

THE SPECIFICATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3361

THE ALGORITHM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

i300

TESTING THE COMPUTER IN THE WATER

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3363

CONCLUSIONS AND FINAL THOUGHTS

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

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

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

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

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

Buy the i300 at a special price

 

Scuba Diving Articles

Deep Sea Diving India

By Articles, Gear

Deep Sea Diving in India

with

DIVE INDIA at Havelock, Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Scuba diving, or ‘deep sea diving’ as it is popularly known in these parts, is a sport consisting of exploring the underwater world using Self-Containing Underwater Breathing Apparatus (S.C.U.B.A.). At the recreational/sport level, it is conducted from depths ranging from 5m to 40m.    Beginners can experience the thrill and excitement of deep sea diving by doing an Intro to Scuba program, whereby they get a guided dive with a dive professional up to depths of 12m. Those interested in a richer/more extensive scuba diving experience can do the Open Water certification course, a 4-day program which trains them as scuba divers and includes atleast 4 open water dives in the ocean.
Diveindia is the pioneer of scuba diving, in the Andamans, India’s largest scuba diver training center and India’s first scuba diving instructor training facility. Our highly-experienced team (which includes 2 full-time instructor trainers on the staff) has developed a unique training curriculum which takes the standard Open Water course taught across the world and builds upon it to provide one of the best beginner certification programs you will find in Asia. We also conduct daily deep sea diving programs for beginners who just want to try scuba diving and experience breathing underwater – catering to all skill, fitness and comfort levels (including nervous divers!).
If done properly, diving is an extremely safe sport and we take great pride in not just meeting but exceeding international safety standards when it comes to diving safety.

Come experience Deep Sea Diving in India at Havlock, Andaman and Nicobar Islands with DIVE INDIA