Originally posted 2018-03-07 23:56:15.
Buying Scuba Equipment – How To Avoid Noobie Mistakes
by Andy Davis
Scuba equipment is an expensive investment. But take one look at eBay and you’ll find a mountain of nearly-new kit that is rapidly replaced or upgraded by divers. It’s a sign of costly, regretful, purchasing decisions. To put it succinctly; there’s a lot of junk products being foisted onto unsuspecting scuba divers.
Here’s 8 tips to help sieve the wheat from the chaff, before you waste money on scuba equipment you won’t be happy with:
1. Look at the economy of design. Products with superfluous features and over-complex approaches tend to represent a ‘smoke-and-mirrors’ sales strategy. Most often ‘less is more’. Irrelevant features and fancy design flourishes are most often added to disguise a lack of function that otherwise makes products noncompetitive in the market. No design genius or dive expertise? Simply add trivial fancies and otherwise dilute the product function through nonsensical design theatrics. Clever design achieves the function with the minimum components and effort. Bad design uses more components to achieve a worse outcome.
Definition: Economy of Design
The application of using only what is necessary to achieve your goals in a design.
We’ve all heard the famous anecdote about how NASA spent 15 years and a million dollars to design a pen that worked in the vacuum and cold of space. The Russians just used a pencil…
2. Be wary of what you’re told to want. Manufacturers get away with selling crap through creating an illusion of desirability and need. No…. you don’t need 20 D-rings on a BCD. No… you don’t need splits in your fins. No… you don’t need inches of padding in a non-load bearing harness system. No….you don’t need 65lbs of lift in a single-tank jacket BCD. No… you don’t need 8 gas mixes in a recreational diving computer. Decide for yourself what features and functions are critical and needed…. don’t let manufacturers brainwash you to believing otherwise. If a product contains features that have no logical reason to be included, it’s a red warning light that the product is otherwise lacking appropriate functionality or genuine innovation. It’s a dive manufacturer way of jive-talking a lack-lustre product into a higher price range than it deserves.
3. Steer clear of marketing jargon. Manufacturers use inane jargon to promote the concept that their product is somehow ground-breaking and new. In the military, we used to call this concept ‘B*llsh$t Baffles Brains‘. The biggest clue to this is the absurd use of TLAs (three letter abbreviations). They sound scientific and impressive, right? Look closely… it’s an inflator hose… not a DLE (dynamic lift enhancer). It’s a mask strap… not a KRS (kinaethetic retaining system). Don’t buy (literally!) into the BS hype. Look at product marketing with a clear head and you’ll find all those nonsense terms to be hilarious.
4. Tech does not mean technical. Divers often want to invest in ‘future-proofed’ kit that will grow with them into more advanced diving activities. Manufacturers know this…. and market junk gear to appeal to those who attribute the words ‘tec’, ‘tech’ or ‘tek’ towards implied suitability for advanced diving use. All that glistens is not gold – and these words are used far too often in conjunction with products that are actually the antithesis of real technical diving equipment. Be very dubious when manufacturers add the ‘T-word’ to product names. Tech is a specific approach to diving, not a product name.
5. Understand your needs. I’ve seen hordes of dive kit that illustrates that some manufacturers don’t have a fundamental understanding of how their scuba equipment is properly used. They produce gear that ‘looks the part’, but doesn’t actually meet divers’ needs. There can be fundamental flaws that render the product incapable of delivering. Finger spools whose holes don’t easily accept a bolt-snap. Reels using lines that kink and twist. Knives that rust in days. BCDs with D-rings in the wrong places to support pony tanks. Pockets that are inaccessible to the diver. Know how the kit needs to be used, then pick up the products and test their function. You’ll be amazed at how much simply doesn’t work properly. Likewise; do you need fins for straight-line speed? You competitively scuba race? Or do you really want fins that offer control and manoeuvrability? Do you need a “high power” inflator mechanism? Why? Is your aim to fill your BCD as quickly and powerfully as possible? Or do you really need a finely-tuned inflator that offers a more subtle, controlled approach to BCD buoyancy?
6. Be Skeptical of ‘official’ reviews and tests. There is a lot of bias and marketing in many scuba equipment reviews and tests. Be a sceptic when considering these sources of information. Reviews and tests should contain both positive and negative results for a given item. If the same reviewer/tester raves about the pros, but rarely the cons, you’d probably be correct to assume that they’re doing some subtle marketing in return for some form of manufacturer kick-back. Sometimes that kick-back is simply free diving kit in return for guaranteed favourable reviews. The same is true where a reviewer/tester only features the same brands over and again. Quite often magazines or websites only review kit supplied by manufacturers who pump advertising revenue into their media. There is some very crappy kit on the market; so why do we never see this resulting in very negative reviews?
7. All brands have strengths and weaknesses. Just because a given manufacturer might produce an awesome BCD doesn’t mean it sells great dive computers. Or fins. Or masks. Or wetsuits. It’s unreasonable to expect a single manufacturer to excel in everything. Smaller manufacturers tend to specialize only in the products that they genuinely excel at. Larger manufacturers know they will profit from offering a complete line of diving products. Whilst they might focus design effort on a few key ‘reputation building’ items; the remainder of their catalogue might just be generic junk – branded and sold at a premium. The only logical reason to stick with a single manufacturer would be because of exceptional customer service. Otherwise, let each item stand on its individual merits and select accordingly.
8. Future-proofing. It’s wise to ‘begin with the end in mind’ and buy scuba equipment that you think will grow with your needs into more advanced diving activities. That said, you must understand clearly what that diving actually entails and what specific features your kit will need in the long-run. Manufacturers seem to delight in bedazzling naive divers who are simply looking to purchase diving equipment more advanced than their current knowledge and training. If you want to future proof your investments in scuba equipment, then do be prepared to do some serious research first. The best source is directly from divers, or instructors, who are actually doing the diving that you hope to progress to. Talk to them and find out what they use; and why. Don’t ever buy expensive scuba gear based on an assumption or because manufacturers boast a stellar list of features, impressive three-letter-abbreviations or liberally use the ‘T-word’ in product names.
About the Author
Andy Davis is a RAID, PADI TecRec, ANDI, BSAC and SSI qualified independent technical diving instructor who specializes in teaching advanced sidemount, trimix and wreck exploration diving courses across South East Asia. Currently residing in ‘wreck diving heaven’ at Subic Bay, Philippines, he has amassed more than 9000 open circuit and CCR dives over 27 years of diving across the globe.
Andy has published many magazine articles on technical diving, has written course materials for dive training agency syllabus, tests and reviews diving gear for major manufacturers and consults with the Philippines Underwater Archaeology Society.
He is currently writing a series of books to be published on advanced diving topics. Prior to becoming a professional technical diving educator in 2006, Andy was a commissioned officer in the Royal Air Force and has served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Belize and Cyprus.