Posts Tagged ‘Basic Skills’

Dive Gear Maintenance Made Easy

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Shutterstock

Gear Maintenance Made Easy

If you are a serious diver, odds are you’ve invested significant money in your dive gear. So it goes without saying you want to take care of that gear, right? Not only will proper maintenance greatly prolong the life of your gear, but it’s also one of the best insurance policies for staying safe while diving. Regular user maintenance requires that you visually inspect, clean and properly handle all the pieces of your setup using specific steps for both pre- and postdive care. So, before your next dive trip, follow the pre-dive steps in this guide to make sure your gear is safe and ready-to-dive. And at the end of your trip, or once you get home, follow the postdive steps to keep everything in top-notch condition until next time.

Masks, Fins, Snorkels

Predive Stretch out all the straps to look for fine cracks in the rubber; these are especially common in the heavy rubber straps on open-heel fins, and they’re clear signs of impending failure. If you do find any, immediately replace the straps. If you use a “strap wrapper” to cover your rubber mask strap, either slide the cover to the side or remove it so that the strap underneath can be fully inspected. Next, examine the silicone of your mask skirt, the flexible hose of your snorkel and the snorkel’s mouthpiece for any tears. The most common failure area on a mask is the feather-edged seal on the skirt. This can become imperfect or irregular in shape with time and heavy use, and that irregularity can create leaks. Finally, check all the buckles, which can crack, split or become clogged with debris that can interfere with how they function, and check the frame of your mask for cracking, chips or other obvious signs of wear, especially in the areas immediately adjacent to the glass lens.

Postdive To avoid mildew growth, rinse your mask, fins and snorkel in warm, fresh water and allow them to drip dry completely before packing them away. And pack these items loosely so nothing bends the fin blades, crushes the foot pockets or distorts the mask skirt. Leaving these items squashed into a weird position for a long period of time will cause them to take on an unnatural shape.

Regulators/Gauges

Predive It’s a good idea to connect your regulator to a tank when preparing your gear for a dive trip. Take a few breaths from the regulator, a few breaths from the octopus and check the SPG for an accurate reading. Visually inspect all regulator hoses to ensure there are no cracks, make sure there are no holes or tears in the mouthpieces and check the metal fittings for corrosion. If you use hose protectors, slide them away from the first stage to check beneath them. At the same time, look for corrosion on the metal first stage. Cracks in the hoses or obvious corrosion on any of the regulator’s components require professional service from a qualified technician. Next, disconnect the regulator from the tank, replace the dust cover, inhale on each regulator forcefully and hold a vacuum. Each regulator should let in either a very tiny trickle of air or no air at all. Also check each second-stage housing for cracks, and if you have analog, oil-filled gauges, make sure they aren’t leaking any fluid. Most divers now use computers, and although these devices rarely fail, a dead battery can cut a dive day short. So check the battery indicator on your computer and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for when and how to replace these batteries. If you have an analog compass, rotate the housing to ensure that the compass card moves freely.

Postdive When rinsing your regulator, make sure the purge valves on the second stages don’t get depressed and the first stage dust cover is firmly in place. After dunking the entire octopus, rinse your second stages by running warm water through the regulator mouthpiece and out the exhaust diaphragm. Rinse the fitting that connects to your low-pressure inflator by working the slip coupling back and forth while holding it under warm running water.

BCs

Predive Check your BC inflator by connecting it to a regulator that’s hooked to a tank. Shoot a few bursts of air into the BC, then release the inflate button and listen for air leaking into the BC that would indicate a stuck inflator. A technician must repair any leaks before you get in the water. Next, inflate your BC until the pressure-relief valve pops off and let the BC stand for about 20 minutes to see if it holds air pressure. While the BC is inflated, check the cummerbund, waist strap, shoulder straps, tank band and all the buckles for excessive wear. If your BC has metal buckles, check them for corrosion, which will weaken the metal structure and eventually cause the buckle to fail. A buildup of a white chalky substance or green powder in addition to rust are all indications of corrosion. Minor corrosion can generally be cleaned with a stiff brush and a little white vinegar–be sure to rinse the item afterward so the vinegar is thoroughly removed–and a quick spray of food-grade silicone will help prevent future corrosion if routinely applied after your equipment is clean and completely dry.

Postdive Rinse your BC in fresh, warm water. Even better, add a small amount of unscented shampoo or a dive-gear wash solution to the rinse water. Take all the air out of your BC, place it in the bottom of the rinse tank, hold it down with your weights and let it soak for about 30 minutes. Then, drain the tank, rinse the equipment to remove most of the soap, refill the tank with fresh water and allow the equipment to soak a few more minutes to remove any soap residue. To rinse the inside, depress the manual-inflate button and hold the mouthpiece under running water until the BC is 60 to 70 percent full of water. Shake the BC to agitate the water and then drain it through each of the dump valves and the inflator hose. You should use each of the dumps, including the pull dump on the BC inflator hose, to remove salt crystals and sand from each of these important valves. Once you drain the water, fully inflate the BC, allow the remaining water in the BC to settle for a minute or two, and then drain it again. Finally, inflate the BC to about 50 percent of its volume and let it air-dry away from direct sunlight.

Tanks

Predive If you have your own scuba tanks, check the numbers stamped into the metal on the top of each tank, near the valve, for the hydrostatic test date–it expires on the last day of the month five years after the last date of inspection–and check the VIP sticker for the visual inspection date–it expires on the last day of the month one year from the date of inspection. If a tank is out of inspection, it must be inspected again before any dive shop will fill it. Next, check the tank valve for any impact damage or corrosion. Corrosion around the burst disc or the hand wheel can be an early indication that these items will fail. Burst disc failure will cause you to lose all of the air in your cylinder very rapidly, and if the thin brass stem that holds the hand wheel gets too weak, it can break off. Also look at the front of the valve and check the O-rings. If they appear fuzzy or you see obvious nicks or cuts in them, replace them.

Postdive Never store your tanks completely full or completely empty. Without some pressure, empty tanks can take on contaminants and moisture that can lead to corrosion. Full tanks, especially aluminum cylinders, can crack if stored for long periods of time. So, it’s best to store these cylinders with between 300 and 500 psi, and of course, store them where they won’t be knocked over or subjected to any other impacts.

Exposure Suits

Predive Examine wetsuits for tears, cuts or significant fraying around the cuffs, neck and the seams of the suit. Significant areas of missing or “pulled” stitching can lead to split seams, especially in high-stretch suits in which the seams recieve a lot of stress. Make sure the zippers pull smoothly and lubricate them with a thin application of paraffin-based wax where necessary. Drysuits require a more detailed inspection of the cuff and neck seals as well as the dry zipper. Any imperfections, cracks or cuts can cause the seals to leak. Inspect the dry zipper for missing or bent teeth or advanced wear in the fabric that holds the zipper in place. Unlike wetsuits, it is generally cost effective to repair drysuit seals and zippers. Only a qualified service technician should perform these repairs. You must also check the operation of the valves on the suit. Like the low-pressure inflator on a BC, check the drysuit’s inflate valve by attaching it to a tank and operating the valve a few times; it should allow air into the suit easily without sticking or inflating after releasing the button. Checking the suit’s vent valves can be more difficult. Do this by putting the suit on and inflating it completely, wait to see if the suit holds air, then activate each deflate valve several times to make sure they vent properly and reseal as they’re supposed to. If you notice leaks in the suit’s material, patch them according to the manufacturer’s recommendations or return the suit to your dealer for service. Patched leaks may need to cure for 24 hours or more, so it’s best to check your drysuit at least a few days before you plan to use it.

Postdive Exposure suits can be hand washed in a tub of warm water. It is best to use a wetsuit shampoo available from any retail dive facility to help prevent the suit from fading or breaking down the integrity of the rubber. Wetsuits can also be washed in a machine with a hand wash cycle. Take it out before the spin cycle and allow it to drip dry.

Surface Interval For Gear

Always let your equipment dry thoroughly inside and out before packing it away. If you have the room, it is best to hang BCs, exposure suits and regulators in a cool, dry closet. The garage may not be the best place to store your gear, especially if you live in a hot, humid climate. However, many divers lack the space to do this. With the exception of your exposure suit, equipment can be stored in a good-quality piece of dive luggage without damage, but make sure the bag is large enough that the gear doesn’t fold or crimp in unnatural ways. Store your BC about 20 percent full of air to keep the internal sides of the bladder from sticking together. To further protect against age-related damage, apply a light coat of food-grade silicone to all rubber and metal components. Don’t spray the silicone directly on the components. Instead, spray a light coating on a soft cloth and rub it onto your regulator hoses, rubber fin straps and metal buckles. You can also preserve the life of the zippers on your gear bags and exposure suits by applying a dry-suit zipper wax. Simply pull the wax stick along the exterior of the zipper on each side, and then work the zipper back and forth a few times to distribute the wax. Store your mask in a rigid box to protect it from impact. You can add your computer and compass to the box as well. As a final note, before storing your equipment, look for items that need to be replaced or otherwise repaired. It is best to repair these items immediately so that your stored equipment is ready to dive when you are.

Gear Check

Certain components of your equipment require annual inspection and service by a qualified technician. It’s a mistake to assume that if you haven’t used your equipment it doesn’t require service. In fact, most technicians agree that rarely used equipment needs regular service more than equipment that sees more frequent use. Both your regulator and your BC should be checked in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations, usually once a year.

How to Prepare for your First Night Dive

Saturday, December 12th, 2015
Scuba Diver Underwater at Night

Exploring the underwater world at night can be even more incredible than diving during the day.

Shutterstock

FIVE TIPS FOR YOUR FIRST NIGHT DIVE

Night diving is one of the most magical experiences you can have as a diver. But diving in the dark does require a little extra preparation to stay safe. Here are five tips to get you ready.

1. Be Gear Savvy

Night dives include equipment you might not use during the day, such as underwater flashlights and tank strobes. Be sure to install the batteries, check the bulbs and familiarize yourself with how these items work beforehand so you’re not fumbling in the dark.

2. Give Yourself A Hand

Hand signals are hard to see at night, so night divers use their flashlights for modified signals. For example, wave the beam of your flashlight on the bottom in front of your buddy (never in the eyes) to get her attention.

3. Dive It During The Day

The best way to prepare for a night dive is to explore the site during the day beforehand. You’ll know the layout of the reef, your entry and exit points, and exactly which sections of the dive site you want to see.

4. Brush Up On Compass Skills

During the day, it’s easy to navigate by underwater landmarks in good visibility. At night, you’ll only see the patch of reef illuminated by your flashlight, so your compass is the most reliable way to get around.

5. Practice Going Slowly

Slower is always better underwater. You breathe less air and see more when you take your time. That goes double for night diving. Not to mention that getting lost or having to make a long surface swim can quickly turn from frustrating to dangerous in the dark.

Dive Hacks: Tips for Wreck Diving

Monday, October 26th, 2015
Diver near wrecks in Morehead City, North Carolina

Tanya Burnett

Shipwreck fanatic (aka metal head) Robert Purifoy talks wreck diving.

Shipwrecks are magnetic to divers. Mysterious, poignant and sometimes haunting, sunken ships have compelled humankind since we first figured out a way to breathe underwater. There’s something seductive about the hidden treasures they harbor in their rusty bellies, and some of the world’s most popular dive destinations owe their fame to wrecks.

From the historic warships of Chuuk Lagoon, Palau, Bikini Atoll and the Scapa Flow to the man-made attractions of the Florida Keys, New Zealand, Grand Cayman and Australia, the draw of artificial reefs is global. But sunken ships pose unique challenges to divers, including the potential for entanglement in fishing line, laceration by sharp metal or becoming lost deep in their bowels. Specific training and equipment are prudent when attempting any wreck dive, and there’s no quick and easy substitute for experience.

Robert Purifoy of Olympus Dive Center in Morehead City, North Carolina, has been intrigued by shipwrecks since before he was old enough to become certified. As the son of North Carolina pioneer George Purifoy, who was instrumental in discovering such famous regional sites as the U-352 and the USS Schurz, he started working on dive boats at age 10, earned his instructor rating in 1990, and now runs charters as captain of the 65-foot Olympus.

“The older shipwrecks that were true warships and have a history are fascinating to me,” says Purifoy. “Other wrecks I like for the marine life that congregates around them. Artificial or historic — every wreck has its own unique appeal.”

His backyard on the fabled Outer Banks of North Carolina boasts wrecks sunk on purpose and by tragic events, and offers a variety of challenges, from depth to size, condition and beyond.

“The U-352 is my favorite wreck, for sure. It’s easy to navigate and one of those bucket-list dives because of the history,” Purifoy says. “Another favorite is one of the newer ships that was sunk as an artificial reef, the USCGC Spar, because it’s got a lot of relief, sits close to the Gulf Stream for consistent good visibility, and is usually inhabited by quite a few sand tiger sharks.”

It’s a world-class training ground for wreck divers— here are four choice lessons from Purifoy’s logbook.

PREPARE FOR ACTION

Wreck diving can become complicated and strenuous. Before your next expedition (or local artificial reef ) consider the added benefit of taking a specialty course, having your gear serviced and increasing your normal workout.

“A little preparation goes a long way, and training is the first step,” Purifoy says. “We always recommend that people come out early and do a shallow warm-up dive to make sure they have their weight right, their computer is working properly, and there’s nothing else that might cause them to miss the dive. There’s nothing more disappointing than making it to that bucket-list wreck dive and everything goes as planned except for you.”

LEARN THE HISTORY

Finding out the layout and back story of a sunken ship can aid in navigation, clue you in to cool features and create a deeper appreciation for what you’re experiencing. Purifoy says your best source for information is always the local dive professionals, who have likely explored most every inch of the wrecks in their region.

“Knowing the history of the ship makes it come alive,” says Purifoy. “Beyond that, it helps you to set goals or objectives for your dive. Otherwise, you might surface and hear everyone else on the boat saying, ‘Wow, did you see that big propeller?’ And you’re thinking, ‘What propeller?’”

CONSERVE THE KICKS

Although there’s no substitute for proper buoyancy (which should be perfected before attempting a penetration), inside a wreck (after the proper training), limiting the amount of kicking you do will decrease the risk of a siltout or debris falling from an overhead environment.

“When penetrating a wreck that has a good water flow and visibility, I use a pull-and-glide technique as opposed to kicking,” says Purifoy. “It’s a technique that cave divers often use where you reach out and carefully take a handhold to give yourself a pull and just glide. If it’s a tight space where there’s not a lot of water moving, I use a very careful frog kick.”

TAKE THE RIGHT TOOLS

The rigors of wreck diving require specialized gear to solve specific problems. Packing along a bright light to illuminate the dark corners, a clean slate to diagram structural features, a reel and line to mark your path through winding corridors, and a sharp cutting tool to shred potential entanglements can increase your safety and enjoyment.

“With the proper training, I recommend a stage bottle, especially for penetration,” Purifoy says. “In addition, I recommend a dual-outlet-valve system where you have two first stages, so if you were to have a hose get cut or break, you could turn one of those valves off and still have a fully independent scuba unit to complete your dive.” His redundancy strategy can be carried over into other accessories as well, from dive computers to torches. “I always dive with at least two computers, or at least a computer and a secondary timing device,” says Purifoy. “And keep in mind that your backup light needs to be as good as your primary light because it may become your primary light.”

GEAR SOLUTIONS

The right tools — including a multipurpose cutting tool—increase your safety when wreck diving.

CRESSI ALLIGATOR

Cressi Alligator

Courtesy Cressi

This clever unit combines the strength of a knife with the utility of scissors in a single compact package (6.5 inches in length) that can fit comfortably inside most BC pockets. For added function, the blade is serrated to increase its bite and the shears are spring-loaded for easy use with gloves. Plus, it’s built from corrosion-resistant stainless steel, offers rubber handle inserts to ensure a positive grip, and stows neatly into a low-profile molded sheath.

MSRP $74.95; INFO cressiusa.com

5 Tips to Streamline Gear for Easy Diving

Saturday, September 12th, 2015
Wearing just enough weight underwater allows your BC to save air.

Shutterstock

Wearing just enough weight underwater allows your BC to save air

Staying streamlined underwater has many benefits, from reducing your risk of snagging hoses on delicate corals to improving air consumption by reducing drag as you swim. Follow these five tips to help stay sleek on your next dive.

  1. CARRY ONLY WHAT YOU NEED: Loading down the D-rings with so much gear you look like a Christmas tree is a common mistake divers make. Instead of clipping on every gadget you own for every dive, be selective according to your dive plan. Shallow reef ? Leave the stage bottle behind. Wreck penetration?
    Trade your fish ID cards for a reel and dive lights.

  2. MINIMIZE AND SECURE HOSES: Never leave your hoses hanging, and cut out extra hoses when you can. For example, using a computer with a remote air sensor will eliminate the need for a high-pressure hose. Otherwise, make sure your octopus and gauges are clipped securely to your BC, with the hoses routed properly under your arms.

  3. STOW THE SNORKEL: For many divers, a snorkel can be cumbersome underwater, and a snag hazard. Sure, your open-water instructor said it was required equipment. But honestly, when is the last time you used it while scuba diving? Instead of clipping it on your mask, opt for a collapsible model that fits in your BC pocket.

  4. DIAL IN YOUR WEIGHT: Wearing too much weight underwater forces you to over inflate your BC, which causes drag and burns more air. Wear just enough weight that when you exhale completely at the surface, you sink to eye level. You’ll have to work a little to descend at first, but once you’re 5 to 10 feet down, you’ll have near-perfect buoyancy, without adding any air to your BC.

  5. GET THE RIGHT FIT: Comfortable, well-fitting gear is another key to staying streamlined, and the most important pieces to consider are your wetsuit and BC. The best way to get the right fit is to visit your local dive shop, where you can take your time to find the make, model and size that suit you perfectly. However, if you plan to use rental gear, show up at the dive center a little earlier than normal so you have time to try on a few sizes before heading to the boat.

For more information on getting the right scuba gear click here

Dive Hacks: Tips for Diving with Sharks

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

People think we’re crazy. When the subject of diving with sharks — and the pure, unfettered joy of it — creeps into conversation with the uninitiated, looks of terror, disgust or disbelief typically follow. Despite your most detailed and rational explanation, it’s often impossible to convince the naive, media-hype believers that it’s positively awesome to share the water with these exquisite creatures. The simple fact is those people don’t know what they’re missing.

Shark dives are some of the most coveted experiences in the underwater world. And dive destinations, operators and sites around the world that offer consistent close encounters are among the scuba tribe’s most popular. From Florida to North Carolina, Rhode Island, the Bahamas, Isla Mujeres, South Africa, Fiji, Cocos Island, Fakarava, Isla Guadalupe, the Galapagos and beyond, if there are heaps of sharks in the water, you’ll find divers doing their best to get close. But what are the best practices for getting close to these often skittish and bashful animals?

To discover the secrets of a true shark whisperer, I asked UNEXSO’s Cristina Zenato (unexso.com), a cave explorer, master instructor and educator in Grand Bahama who has been hand feeding and hypnotizing sharks (through tonic immobility) for more than 20 years.

“My babies — the Caribbean reef sharks — are always on the top of my list,” says the Women Divers Hall of Famer of her favorite species. “But I am fascinated by many different species, including the goblin shark and the sevengill, and I have a special place in my heart for the blue shark.”

Here are five things she says to consider before your next encounter.

LEVERAGE LOCAL KNOWLEDGE

Before any dive that involves large numbers or large species of sharks — whether it’s fed, baited or otherwise — Zenato recommends relying on the instructions of the local dive pros rather than basing your plan on what you think you know. “What is an acceptable procedure for one species of shark might be totally inappropriate with another,” she explains. “It’s important to rely on the understanding and knowledge of the professionals who work with the animals on a regular basis.”

BE SELECTIVE WITH OPERATORS

Many of the world’s best shark dives are orchestrated by commercial operators. But before committing your safety and dive dollars, it pays to ask the right questions. “In general I would ask how long they’ve been established and do they have a good safety record,” says Zenato. “Do they have a standard description of what they’re going to do or their rules? And how do they answer your questions and address your concerns?”

DRESS FOR SUCCESS

Most shark-dive operators have specific rules for equipment. Most require full wetsuits and sometimes even black gloves and hoods for pro- tection. According to Zenato: “This is not the place to test a new wetsuit, camera, BC or other equipment. Dive with gear you are comfortable and familiar with so you can enjoy the time with the animals and not worry about anything else.” And about what you’ve heard about sharks being attracted to colors, especially yellow or pink? “They are attracted by contrast more than colors,” she says. “If you’re in a full yellow wetsuit, they’re not going to be attracted to that. But if you’re wearing a black wetsuit with- out black gloves, your white hands will have enough contrast to attract inquisitive attention.”

PRACTICE GLOBAL AWARENESS

Because sharks are such dynamic swimmers, diving with them is a 3-D experience. Strong situational awareness is essential to ensure your safety and enjoyment. “You have to be aware of everything around you
— the sharks, the boat, the current, the other divers, where you’re drifting,” Zenato says. “Pay close attention to instructions, and be ready when it’s time to get out of the water. Furthermore, if you’re a photographer, take your eye away from the viewfinder every once in a while and just look at the whole scene.”

BE AWARE OF BODY LANGUAGE

If you’re lucky (or savvy) enough to encounter sharks in an open-water environment, be mindful of physical cues that can translate their mood or intentions. “There’s a huge difference between an animal that has never been exposed to divers and one that is used to baited dives,” Zenato explains. “A wild animal that is not used to this kind of repetitive in- teraction will have a more natural display. Quick movements such as sudden changes of direction, rapid dropping of the pectoral fins or any other fast action indicates an uncomfortable animal. Also, when the inquisitive nature of some sharks — for example, blue sharks and oceanic whitetips — intrudes on your personal space, it might be time to get out of the water.”