We scuba dive only by virtue of technology. Diving equipment directly affects our comfort, efficiency and safety underwater and at the surface. And yet, despite our dependence upon it, we often overlook diving equipment’s importance, a case of not seeing the wood for the trees. Like most experienced divers I have owned and rented lots of scuba gear, but I have also taught people to use it, sold it, written about it in books and reviewed it for diving magazines. In my experience there is a huge information vacuum that this new guide, Diving Equipment: Choice, maintenance and function by Jonas Arvidsson fills perfectly. It is one of the few diving titles out there that everyone should own and, in my view, should be a required text for those diving professionals working in instruction, supervision or sales.
‘Diving equipment is anything but thoroughly understood’
Join a large group of divers from different backgrounds, all making the same dive, and chances are you’ll see a real mix of gear choices. To some extent, this reflects how generic scuba equipment is – you can see through any mask, breathe from any regulator and adjust buoyancy with any BCD. But the fact that we may all choose different kit to make the same dive and that many of us change our equipment over time due to dissatisfaction with our original purchases, underscores the importance of thoroughly understanding it. But, at all diving levels, diving equipment is anything but thoroughly understood.
I used to quip that to buy your first set of scuba equipment, all you needed was your credit card and five years diving experience. The experience is needed because when you are very new to diving, it’s hard to know what scuba equipment really represents safety, efficiency and comfort underwater and on the surface for you personally. As a diver under training, you probably used school kit and this is often budget equipment, might not be the best fit and is not always well maintained. Few dive school owners use equipment as basic as that they provide to their customers for good reasons. However, as new divers we rarely have any meaningful insights into equipment ourselves. How can we if we have only used one set? So who can a beginner trust for buying advice?
Sources of information
Almost all sources of scuba equipment information have weaknesses and biases. Equipment manufacturers will usually play to their range’s strengths. For instance, in Europe, even a brand’s cheapest regulator will have passed the same breathing standard as their most expensive – it’s an EU requirement. But breathing performance set by the EU is a minimum standard and you may want a regulator that exceeds this. Determining true performance can be difficult if you can’t understand breathing charts.
Nor are dive shops always as good a source of information as one might expect. Aside from the brand allegiance and personal preferences of shop staff, the sales people’s core understanding of the role equipment plays can be surprisingly weak. In part this is explained by a lack of professional product training from equipment distributors. Even with recreational equipment as basic as reels and fundamental to safety as BCD weight releases, I have found shop staff unable to usefully advise.
Magazine reviews usually reflect the opinion of a single reviewer and, in the past, some reviews have been highly questionable, such as a regulator test that took place in the deep end of a public swimming pool (that magazine is fortunately long gone). Using groups of divers for magazine product reviews tends to yield more dependable information, but is a huge and costly undertaking. Forums are often undermined by a tendency to promote equipment the poster has purchased.
Few people want to let on they’ve made an expensive purchasing mistake, so they’ll either lay low or defend their choice tooth and nail. Another issue that affects advice from some sources is a lack of experience of using competing products. For instance, although I have used drysuits since 1989, I’ve only dived three types. I’m not qualified to comment usefully on drysuits – and yet many forum posts seem to begin with ‘although I’ve never used this kit myself…’
For all these reasons, Diving Equipment: Choice, maintenance and function meets the needs of anyone who wants to thoroughly educate themselves about all aspects of diving equipment. Background has been impeccably researched. The history of recreational equipment, such as regulators, BCD’s and computers is included for interest. But, in the present tense, Jonas takes time out to explain in detail the often perplexing terms used to market equipment. For example the value of CE compliance has been contested in some circles, and Jonas delves into the detail of CE standards and puts them into context, enabling the reader to make informed decisions about their validity for themselves.
‘Easy to read’
In line with other Dived Up publications, the production values are exceptionally high. Writing, editing and layout makes it easy to read, either from cover to cover or as a book to dip into when you want information on a specific equipment range, such as cylinders. Although a technical book, Jonas neatly pulls off the trick of presenting his information in a way that is in no way dumbed-down, yet still completely understandable if you are a lay diver and not an engineer. Vitally, he puts into context how the equipment will be used and how different options might affect performance. For example, Jonas explains the differences in surface stability between stabilizing jackets and back inflations BCDs, which should be an important user consideration. The book is also comprehensively and superbly illustrated throughout. Exploded diagrams of regulators are especially impressive, because these make it far easier to grasp the principles of how regulators actually operate. The combination of the visuals and the clarity of Jonas’s writing simplifies a subject that regularly defies understanding, even at instructor level. There is very little to criticize. I’d liked to have seen more discussion of safe second performance and a section on ‘bladder coping strategies’ in the drysuit chapter would be useful. But these are very minor omissions from an otherwise excellent publication.
It is possible some people will think an equipment book will quickly go out of date. This is not the case with Diving Equipment: Choice, maintenance and function. The basic design of diving equipment rarely changes and there have been few innovations in recent years, just continued development of existing concepts. So this book is good for the long haul.
‘An information resource to empower’
As I’ve already said, it might seem that all of the information you need to know about diving equipment is freely available online, in magazines, from your instructor, your buddy and from your dive shop. It really isn’t. The quality of such information is often shockingly poor. Diving Equipment: Choice, maintenance and function counters these issues superbly and will help divers choose equipment wisely and help responsible retailers properly inform their clients. It is an information resource to empower the consumer and if you are a professional in the diving industry and take pride in your knowledge, this can only enhance your expertise.