Scuba Buoyancy Masterclass Series #1
STREAMLINED SCUBA EQUIPMENT
by Andy Davis, PADI TecRec, ANDI, BSAC and SSI Technical Diving Instructor
Streamlined scuba equipment is a critical factor in making overall improvements to your comfort and control in the water. Scuba divers should consider streamlined scuba kit to be a high priority when purchasing and configuring their equipment for diving. This article explains the benefits of streamlined scuba equipment, along with how to assess your streamlining and some tips to improve it.
The Benefits of Streamlined Scuba Equipment
Streamlined scuba equipment, in conjunction with proper horizontal trim and correct weighting, will help improve your air consumption and reduce the effort needed to move through the water. The diver should critically examine their configuration with an aim to reducing their overall ‘profile’ in the water though minor tweaks and adjustments.
Every small adjustment adds up to an overall noticeable improvement. In addition, to increasing economy in the water, streamlined scuba equipment is critical for divers who wish to enter enclosed areas (such as wreck penetration), where entanglement poses a safety hazard. Even general open-water divers should be aware of entanglement risks; as many dive sites may have monofilament fishing line, nets or kelp that can get caught in non-streamlined scuba equipment.
Another issue with badly configured and/or unnecessary scuba kit is that it subtly adds pressure to the diver through increased task loading. This can be especially important if the diver ever encounters an emergency that requires fast response and direct access to critical functions on their scuba equipment.
Scuba kit that dangles around the divers’ body will interfere with that fast response and can serve to promote a panicked mental state. Tangled and dangling equipment can also significantly hamper diver rescue situations, where it interferes with the swift removal of equipment from the scuba diver.
A properly streamlined diver should have no item of equipment projecting, or dangling, from them. They will have considered the necessity and design of the equipment they choose to carry. In addition, they will have devised stowage solutions for that equipment onto their scuba kit that keeps everything secure and unobtrusive.
Assessing streamlined scuba equipment from a critical perspective
Streamlined Scuba Equipment – Hose Configuration
Hoses should be sized and routed to that they are flush to the body. They shouldn’t be projecting at all angles and have surplus length that causes them to ‘bow’ outwards. Start with an assessment of your regulator 1st stage and be aware of how the hose ports are located. Attach your first stage so that the location of the hose ports allows the hoses to be routed close to the body. You can obtain right-angled hose adaptors to help with your routing, if required.
If a hose on your regulator is longer than you require it to be then buy a more appropriately sized hose. Many divers are not aware that hoses are sold in a variety of lengths and materials (rubber, flexible Kevlar, stainless steel braided etc).
Streamlined Scuba Equipment - Dangling Accessories
Carrying too many novelty gadgets, badly stored hanging from the BCD, is a common novice diver mistake and often results in a novice diver being labeled as a ‘Christmas Tree Diver’. Enthusiastic novice divers are often tempted to purchase every available gadget from their local dive shop shelves and transfer it onto their person by means of lanyards, retractors, quick-release buckles, nylon bands, carabineers and ‘telephone cable’ retainers. At the very least, these are distracting for the diver. At the worst, they pose safety hazards.
Don’t carry stuff that isn’t needed. Research the appropriate gear for the diving that you will be doing and understand that the need for redundancy has to be balanced against risk and likelihood of primary equipment failure. Think about kit choices carefully and with an integrated, multi-functional approach.
Where equipment is needed – make sure it is stowed in pockets, not hanging off d-rings like an underwater Christmas tree. Replace fancy retractors with solid, reliable, low-profile bolt-snaps. Consider putting bellow pockets on the wet/dry suit for storage. There is no need to strap a Rambo sized knife to the calf, when a 2” titanium knife attached directly to your BCD is far more convenient and practical.
As a general rule, ‘less is more’. A minimalist approach to diving configuration and equipment will pay dividends to the efficiency and economy of the diver.
Streamlined Scuba Equipment - Alternate Air Source (AAS)
There’s simply no excuse for a dangling AAS. Not only is this bad streamlining, it also impacts on the possible success of emergency procedures that the diver may, one day, have to rely on. Stow the AAS securely and close to your torso. There are many effective ways to do this; and also, many very ineffective ways that normally involve ‘clever’ gadget clips.
One simple solution is to utilize a simple rubber ‘snorkel holder’. This figure-of-8 shaped piece of rubber can be threaded through itself on any d-ring attachment point. The mouthpiece of the regulator then fits securely into the open loop of the holder. These cost about 50 cents and do a better job than most, far more expensive, AAS holders.
Another solution that is very popular with technical, cave, wreck and other advanced divers is to secure the AAS close to their chin, using a ‘neck bungee’. This is simply an appropriate length of bungee cord that is made into a ‘necklace’ that holds the AAS mouthpiece under the diver’s chin. It can be designed to allow donation of the AAS in an emergency, or to be permanently attached if the diver chooses to donate their primary regulator and keep their AAS for themselves. Either design requires nothing more than 2 knots and a couple of tie-wraps.
Streamlined Scuba Equipment - Submersible Pressure Gauge (SPG)
Again, there’s no excuse for a dangling SPG. A few dollars will buy a marine stainless steel boltsnap that can be tied securely to the SPG with some cave/reel line. The SPG can then be clipped securely to any attachment point (most commonly a hip or shoulder d-ring). SPG hoses are often far longer than required. Consider getting a 24” SPG hose, which will be sufficient for most divers to route the SPG to their hip, or under their arm to their chest.
Streamlined Scuba Equipment - Essential Tips
Streamlined Scuba Equipment - Use Bolt Snaps/Clips
Piston design, marine stainless steel, bolt snaps are used to create a robust method of securing ancillaries; without risk of entanglement, accidental loss or excess bulk. This is a highly popular solution, favored by the technical and cave diving communities – who have lots of ancillaries to carry and need a simple, rugged method of attachment/stowage. They don’t break, they don’t cost very much and they do the job perfectly.
Attach the kit to the clips with a little bit of cave line (the same line you have on your reel), with a cave knot (directions for tying this knot are contained on our website’s resources page). This is simple and effective stowage, but you can cut items free in an emergency (i.e. if tangled up).
For torches and other expensive items, the diver can put/leave a wrist loop on the torch. When deploying, the hand goes through the loop, before unclipping the snap. It cannot then be easily lost. Do the same in reverse to store it.
Streamlined Scuba Equipment - Avoid Using ‘Suicide Clips’
Suicide clips is the name given to any attachment device that doesn’t require positive input from the diver to attach something; for instance spring-gate carabineers. These devices only require a brief contact to accidentally ensnare and entangle the diver against ropes, wire, line, netting or kelp that they may swim into when diving.
Avoiding this type of attachment is especially important for diving in wrecks, where confined spaces, silt and the presence of many lines, wires and nets pose considerable entanglement safety hazards. They are called ‘suicide clips’ for a reason – experienced divers (especially those who dive in wrecks and caves) know that these clips have caused fatal incidents!
Streamlined Scuba Equipment - Use Bungee Loops In Pockets
Divers often fret about losing expensive items during a scuba dive. This leads them to degrade their streamlining by resorting to cluttered ‘retractors’ or ‘curly cords’. If your existing scuba equipment has been fitted with bolt-snaps, then there is a sure-fire way to prevent stuff being lost.
Simply attach some loops of bungee cord into the BCD and/or exposure suit pockets. This allows the diver to store everything in their pockets by clipping the attached bolt snaps directly to the bungee loop. To access that equipment underwater, they only need to pull out the whole loop, select and detach the kit needed and then return the loop (and other attached kit) back into the pocket. This helps prevent equipment being accidentally dropped and also makes the process of obtaining equipment from the pockets much easier.
You shouldn’t ever drop an item that’s being held in your hand, but if that is a concern, simply wear a modest home-made ‘bracelet’ of bungee cord around your wrist. When you need an item, un-clip its bolt-snap from the bungee loop in your pocket and transfer the bolt-snap to the bungee on your wrist. Complete security… without a cluttered mess.
Streamlined Scuba Equipment - Purchase Equipment With Streamlining In Mind
For instance, a 30m finger spool is just as (or more) effective and cheaper for DSMB deployment and minor wreck penetration, than a huge plastic or metal winding reel. Unless surface water conditions involve very strong currents or large waves, opt for a small size DSMB (i.e. 3’ with oral inflate), rather than a 6’ semi-closed bag.
Choose a 2-3” bladed BCD knife, rather than a 4-6” version. Very few recreational divers have any for a larger knife that can hammer, chisel and pry things. The primary requirement for a knife is to cut entanglements and a 2” blade is more than sufficient for this purpose.
Choose a small LED torch that can run for many hours on a couple of AA or C-cell batteries. Monster size, pistol-grip style torches that require 4-8 D-cell batteries are very hard to streamline/store when not actively carried/used.
Streamlined Scuba Equipment - Mount Your Gauges On Your Wrist, Not In A Console
Most divers find it instinctive and natural to check information that is displayed on wrist mounted gauges. Divers who use wrist mounted gauges are likely to check them more frequently and retain a better awareness of the information that is presented on them. This is a reaction that they develop long before becoming divers, because the vast majority of people choose to wear watches on their wrist. A wrist mounted gauge is much more convenient to monitor, especially when the diver may have his hands otherwise occupied (when ascending with a DSMB, or following a penetration line into a wreck).
Wrist mounted gauges (i.e. dive computers, depth gauges or timing devices) are much more low-profile and streamlined that large multi-gauge consoles attached to the SPG hose.
The only beneficial reason to opt for a large multi-gauge console is if the diver wants to use an air-integrated dive computer. When considering the need for direct (hose, not wireless) air integration, the diver should also consider the drawbacks in respect of streamlining, weight and the convenience of use.