Part 2 – Buying an exposure suit for SCUBA diving

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Part 2 – Buying an exposure suit for SCUBA diving

Now that we have covered exposure suit basics, let’s talk about how to fit a wet suit. Fit is one of the most important considerations when shopping for a wet suit. A comfortable but snug fit is the key. An improperly fit wet suit will not keep the diver’s core warm while allowing proper range of motion. A wet suit should fit with no sagging or bunching. It is necessary to invest time in shopping for the right size, style, and thickness, to insure proper fit.

A good way to begin the search for a dive suit it to go to a search engine and type “wet suit” or “dry suit” into the search bar. A plethora of Google Ads for retailers and manufacturers will pop up. Start with the exposure suit manufacturers first, as they have brand specific size charts to assist shoppers with correct fitting. Manufacturers web sites also list thickness, seal type, manufacturing materials, warranty information, and authorised dealers. When you have a good idea of what type and brand suit you are interested in, surf online retailers for an idea of the price ranges. When you have narrowed your search a bit, and you have decided on the price range you are comfortable with, check to see if your LDS is an “authorised dealer”. You want an authorized dealer to sell you a new suit. If you are going to invest hard earned cash in a new exposure suit you want the warranty, and no authorized dealer means no warranty. Once you have found a few suits you want to try on. During fitting, you need to go thru the “fit checklist”.

Fit Checklist for wet and semi-dry suits

  1. There should be no excess room in the neck, torso, crotch, shoulders, arms, knees, or ankles.
  2. A proper fitting wetsuit will be hard to put on when dry, rash guards help.
  3. You should be able to lift your arms over your head, and stretch your arms behind you and in front of you.
  4. You should be able to bend forward, to squat, and bend your knees.
  5. There may be slight restriction in the movements, but there should be no pressure or discomfort.
  6. Front zips are easier to get into alone, back zips sometimes require assistance with zipping.

Wetsuit seam and seal information

Flat-lock Stitching

  1. Recommended for use in water that is above 62°.
  2. Will lie flat.
  3. Will let in water. 

Glued and blind-stitched 

  1. Recommended for use in water that is 55° and higher.
  2. Stitch panels are glued and then blind-stitched. Blind- stitching comes out the same side it went in, making it watertight. It does not pierce the neoprene.
  3. Will let in a little water.

Sealed and taped (glued, blind-stitched, and 100% taped)

  1. Recommended for use in water that is 55° and below.
  2. The stitch is glued and blind- stitched, but it is also taped. No water seeping.

Fit Checklist for a dry suit (when you try on the dry suit, wear the clothing underneath that you will dive in)

  1. It should be easy to step into the suit and pull it up above your waist.
  2. You might need assist with the seals, and the zipper, depending on the style of suit.
  3. The boots should be comfortable, not too loose or snug.
  4. The dry suit shell should fit equally loose throughout, to allow warm clothes underneath and air filling with diving.
  5. You should be able to easily move in all directions and reach all the valves.

Note: Every brand of exposure suit has a unique fit. And, dry suits fit much differently than wet and semi-dry suits. It would be helpful for you to take an experienced diver along to help you shop. Your LDS staff is specially trained to assist you in fitting all manner of diving gear. Fitting new and used exposure suits is essentially the same. And, if you are an experienced diver, fitting a used wet suit should be no biggy. However, if you are a younger diver, or new to the type of suit for which you are shopping, you should have your LDS check the fit and evaluate your knowledge level regarding the use, before you dive the suit.

-Dry suit fitting and use requires special training; they can be fatal if worn without proper fit and training. Don’t buy used without experience.

Price ranges for various types of new suits:

Price Range Guide (new):

Cost  Suit mm Suit Type
$15-$100 None – 0.5mm Bathing suit/rash guard
$100-$300 1mm – 2mm Wet suit shorty, shirt/shorts
$100-$400 1/2mm – 3mm Wet suit long sleeve/leg, Farmer John
$100-$660 2/3mm – 4mm Full wet/semi-dry/suit/gloves/boots
$100-$400 3/4mm – 5mm Full wet/semi-dry/suit/gloves/boots
$100-$800 5/7 mm – 7mm Full wet/semi-dry/suit/gloves/boots
$400- $5000 Dry suit Full dry suit/gloves/hood

If you are shopping for used exposure suits, the type and fitting is the same as shopping for new suits. In addition to the information provided thus far, you need to consider how many times the suit was used at depth. The more a wet or semi-dry suit is compressed and re-compressed, the less it bounces back. Eventually it stays compressed and provides very little exposure protection. If the suit was used in the pool it will probably be somewhat faded. Chlorine/bleach (pool use) breaks down neoprene and will reduce exposure protection, as does prolonged sun exposure (leaving gear out in the sun to dry). Loose stitching or worn tape and/or glue will increase water exchange and reduce exposure protection. Look for neoprene that is not thick and spongy. Look for fading material, worn material, repairs or torn areas, and for loose or failed seams.

I use the same rules with pricing suits as I do other dive gear. I find the year of purchase, and apply the MSRP for that time frame.  I start at 40% of MSRP at time of initial purchase, and deduct from there. I deduct an additional 5-20% based on age >5 years. Then I deduct for all the items listed in the paragraph as well. Remember, if the price seems too good to be true it usually is. Expect to pay no more than 35-40% of Circa MSRP for a nearly new suit, and no more than 20% for a repaired, worn, faded, and obviously well used suit. But, if it is faded, worn, and repaired, it will likely not provide you with the exposure protection you think you are paying for! If in doubt, your LDS should be able to help you with the assessment of the suit. An LDS wants you to buy their new gear though, so don’t be surprised if you get a cool response to a plea for assistance. You can look through my previous blogs for some assistance, as there is often crossover information between blog subjects. And as always, feel free to email blueorbsales@gmail.com with questions.

Authored by Lisa J Henry

“Be the sea”

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Part 1 – Buying an exposure suit for SCUBA diving

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Part 1 – Buying an exposure suit for scuba diving

A dive exposure suit is used during SCUBA diving to protect the diver underwater. You need protection from exposure to the temperature and the environment. There is cold, heat, and critters with all manner of defense mechanisms down there. You want to be safe from hypothermia and physical harm. So, how do you choose the right wetsuit for you?

A wet suit is made from various materials including Neoprene. They are designed to preserve core warmth and prevent hypothermia. Neoprene is spongy fabric with air filled cells that are capable of repeatedly expanding and contracting in response to pressures at various underwater depths.  The wet suit slows the entry of cold water into the suit near the diver’s skin. In doing so, body heat is preserved during the dive. Wet suits come in several thicknesses (measured in millimeters of width of the fabric). The 0.5mm, 2mm, 2/3mm, are for warmer environments. While the 5/7mm, and 7mm are for cold water diving.  There are also different styles of wet suit, providing protection to various parts of the body. Additionally, gloves and hoods serve as exposure protection for the hands and feet.

As you go deeper when you dive, pressure compresses the air filled cells in the neoprene suit. As the neoprene compresses it provided less protection from heat loss. So, when you dive in colder water, or deeper depths, you need a thicker wetsuit. In warmer waters a 0.5mm exposure suit (also known as a “skin”, or wetsuit) may be sufficient, with the goal of protecting you from coral scrapes, sunlight, and invisible stinging “floaties” in the water. After repeated dives, the neoprene tends to lose the ability to decompress after diving, resulting in reduced heat loss protection for the diver on pending dives. The age of the suit and number of dives it has had become important factors when considering the purchase of a used suit. I will discuss this further in part 2. Thankfully, wet suits are a relatively inexpensive form of underwater exposure protection. So if you dive frequently, replacing your dive suit frequently doesn’t have to be a financial disaster.

A semi-dry wet suit is a form of wet suit that provides extra protection from heat loss while diving in colder water. The semi-dry suit is made of neoprene fabrics, like a regular wet suit. The addition of neck, wrist, and ankle seals, reduce water exchange and improve heat retention during the dive. Cold water is kept away, allowing the diver to stay warmer longer at depth. The semi-dry suit is slightly more expensive than a wet suit.

A dry suit is used for diving in very cold water. The suit (“shell”) is made of waterproof fabrics, with neck and wrist seals, and boots. This type of suit prevents water from entering the suit at all. Air is added inside the suit during the dive to insulate the diver from the outside cold temperature and prevent “squeeze”. The diver wears warm clothing underneath the dry suit “shell” for added warmth during the dive as well. Dry suits are much more expensive than a wet suit or semi-dry suit, but are a good investment if you plan to dive cold water frequently.

Temperature ranges for the various types of suits can be found in the table below:

Wetsuit Temperature Guide

Water  Temp.
Range (°F)
Suit mm Suit Type Seal
>72° None – 0.5mm Bathing suit/rashgaurd None
65°- 75° 1mm – 2mm Neoprene shorty, shirt/shorts None
62°- 68° 1/2mm – 3mm Long sleeve/leg, Farmer John None
58°- 63° 2/3mm – 4mm wet suit  glove/hood/boot Wet /Semi -dry
52°- 58° 3/4mm –  5mm Wet suit hood/glove/boot Wet  /Semi-dry 
43°- 52° 5/7 mm – 7mm Wet suit hood/glove/boot Wet /Semi-dry/Dry 
42° and below 7mm or more Wet suit  /boot/glove/hood Dry  

 

Look for Part 2 – Buying an exposure suit for SCUBA diving, where I discuss shopping, fitting, and pricing exposure suits. You can look through my previous blogs for some additional information on buying used gear, there is often crossover information between blog subjects. And as always, feel free to email blueorbsales@gmail.com with questions.

Authored by Lisa J Henry

“Be the sea”

 

 

 

 

How to price a pre-owned SCUBA Regulator?

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How to price a pre-owned SCUBA Regulator?

Shopping for a new regulator can be a confusing task. Your regulator is one the most expensive pieces of your total dive system, and is considered life support gear. You should research thoroughly and get a good fit. I recently published a blog on how to buy a regulator. The blog contains good information on types, engineering, and function, and would be a good primer for this blog. Once you have become familiar with regulators, you can decide if you want to pop for the $1800 luxury regulator set, or settle with a $250 economy model. This blog will help you decide what to pay for a used regulator set.

Your level of diving experience will have a direct impact on the direction you choose when regulator shopping. If you’re a new diver, a pre-owned base model might be sufficient until you have a better idea of the type of diving you will be doing. A good base model regulator set will run above $120 used. As more experienced diver, you may be shopping for cost savings, putting you in the middle price range. You can expect to pay $300 and up for the mid-range regulator sets. On the other hand, if you have money to burn, all the bells and whistles of a brand new luxury regulator might be a good choice. A brand new top of the line regulator set may put you back as much as $1800.

Here is a quick list of variables that will affect your decision making process:

Environmental issues

Your regulator set needs to be dependable. If you’re a cold water or ice diver, you need a sealed 1st stage. There can’t be worries about parts freezing up on your 80fsw wreck dive. Additionally, the second stage needs to crack easily and equally at any temperature and any depth. Cold water regulator sets will cost a little more. If you’re a deep or heavy current diver, you will be on the hunt for special 2nd stage features that prevent free flow in current and provide easy cracking at depth. But, if you are a newer diver, the extra bells and whistles on the more expensive regulators may prove to be a distraction for you. A simple base model may be a better fit until you are a more experienced diver. Your regulator needs to suit the type of conditions you dive, your experience level, and be affordable.

Air delivery system

Scuba equipment engineering has come a long way since the days of Lloyd Bridges and “Sea Hunt”. Regulators are high tech, have more parts, and deliver a smoother easier breath. Regulator air delivery systems are still a big concern though. Do you go with balanced or unbalanced, piston or diaphragm? And, should you worry about sub-par function in less expensive models? These days, due to the litigious nature of society, even the inexpensive regulator sets will safely get the job done. There are regulators in the economy range that will get you safely to 130fsw and back, for many years. Some of them even have a few extras for the more extreme recreational diver.

Comfort

A good regulator is one that functions safely and doesn’t cause discomfort or annoyance at depth. The mouthpiece needs to be soft, sturdy, and free of rubbing. The second stage needs to be light enough to prevent jaw fatigue. The hose needs to be flexible enough to prevent pulling. And, cracking effort needs to be minimal at all depths.

Gear compatibility

Scuba gear has compatibility issues just like electronics. A second stage hose may not be compatible with the safe second, for example. You could end up chasing around town for all kinds of adapters and extra parts. Early research certainly saves time in the end. Make sure all your gear will be compatible before you buy the regulator set. Your specific gear configuration is important. The amount and type of ports, the arrangement of ports, and swivel compatibility, will all affect your comfort at depth. The size or angle of first stage seat on the tank valve is a consideration. Your gear parts needs to work well as a whole system for you to be comfortable during your dives.

Pricing: Age and wear of pre-owned gear

My rule of thumb is pretty easy. I go back and find out how much the gear was selling for at the time of manufacture. If the regulator set was purchased by the seller in 2002, then research prices for it at that time. I look at overall condition. I hook it up to a tank and test it. If the gear has very few signs of wear and works correctly on tank pressure, I am willing to pay up to 40% of the 2002 MSRP. If the gear has average wear, I pay 25-30%. For gear more than 5 yrs old I pay 25-30%, even if it’s in “like-new” condition. If the gear malfunctions on the tank, I pay 10-20% of MSRP, or maybe I won’t buy it at all.  Remember, when buying used gear (especially used life support gear) you MUST get it serviced and repaired at a authorised LDS before it ever goes in the water. NO EXCEPTIONS. Servicing is money out of your pocket, so add the cost of servicing to what you are willing to pay for the gear.

An extra note on buying Titanium regulators

More and more regulators are being built with the high tech and somewhat expensive metal, Titanium. There are good and bad things about buying a titanium regulator.

Pluses are:

  • virtually impervious to saltwater corrosion. But, so is Chrome–plated brass.
  • very light weight and very strong
  • non-toxic

.

Drawbacks are:

  • scratches easily, and after several uses might look more worn than it is in reality
  • recommended for nitrox mixes <40%, it is more flammable than brass. No Tech diving gas mixes

Personally, I think function and comfort are the most important things to look at when buying any scuba gear. I think buying by brand for prestige, or to fit in with your dive buddies, or because your LDS pushes you to buy, is an unsafe and silly endeavor. I also don’t buy more than I need. Why spend the extra cash on extra features you won’t use. Additionally, buying used gear may bring down the price of that brand name gear you just can’t live without.

We all want to look good while diving. There is a certain status and mystique to this extreme sport. But sacrificing comfort or function to look like a super hero may lead to an emergency at depth. Don’t succumb to peer pressure. Buy smart. In the end your purchase should come down to finding the best combination of features for your individual needs, while staying within your budget. When you find something you like, research in detail and test dive it (or make sure there is an adequate return policy). As in previous blogs, my best suggestion is to borrow or rent similar regulator sets to dive before you buy. If testing in the water isn’t an option, make sure the seller of the used gear has an acceptable refund policy and a good reputation. Expect to pay $100 – $500 for base to high end regulators, used, in working condition. And, research before you buy. It is much easier to negotiate a fair price on safe equipment if you are well informed.

Feel free to email with questions or blog suggestions: blueorbsales@gmail.com.

Authored by Lisa J Henry

“Be the sea”

How the heck do I decipher the symbols on my scuba tank?


How the heck do I decipher the symbols on my scuba tank?

I remember being a newer diver, shopping for my first set of scuba tanks, and being completely baffled by the various numbers and symbols on the tanks I looked at. Yes, they did tank instruction in my Open Water classes. Yes, there was so much info in OPW class I was overwhelmed. So, I didn’t remember much about reading the tank information at all. At first glance it is quite confusing, but with a little help you too can be an old hand at decoding your scuba tank markings. This blog should help quite a bit. And, if you still have questions after you finish reading feel free to email me at Blueorbsales@gmail.com and I will help you out…no charge!

When the scuba tank is manufactured, a series of coded numbers and letters are permanently stamped into the rounded neck portion of the tank, as required by US and Canadian law. These codes reveal quite a bit of information about where the tank was made, what it is designed to do, and how it can be safely used to scuba dive. When you are considering a tank purchase, this information is invaluable. The codes will help you decided when a tank is safe and appropriate for your use, and when not.

First, let’s take a look at the basic markings that are common to all tanks, and then we will go through the markings one by one:

DOT/CTC    3AL    3000    

P12345       LUXFER       6 (diamond) 94+    

The first series of letters on the left on the top row indicate which agency regulates the safe handling and transportation, and indicates the tank country of origin. “DOT” – The main agency that governs scuba cylinder transport and handling is the Department of Transportation (DOT).  The old name for the DOT is ICC. “CTC” –  Canada’s version of the DOT is The Canada Transportation Commission. You want to make sure the tank you are buying says “DOT/CTC” meaning it was manufactured and approved for use in the USA according to USA government standards for safety. I don’t suppose there are a lot of tanks from other countries in the USA, but you never know.

The middle code states the type of metal alloy the tank is made from. Many different metal alloys are used to make cylinders. Some of these are:

molybdenum steel – 3A, 3AA

aluminum alloy – 3AL (present day)

SP6498 (to 1972)

E6498 (to 1982)

E9791

As I have mentioned in previous blogs on buying used scuba tanks, there were weaker alloys used before the 1990s in aluminum tanks. These tanks may need an additional routine test called an “Eddy Current” test. You can read about this issue in my previous blog. The previous blog also addresses how the tanks respond during diving with respect to the different alloys. You will definitely want to know whether you are looking at a steel or aluminum tank as you go about your tank purchase.

The last code on the top row states the working tank pressure. Scuba tank pressure is measured in pounds per square in (PSI). The PSI helps determine the amount of air the tank can safely hold, thus affecting the length of your bottom time during a dive. Scuba tank working pressure for recreational use is typically one of the following (the “psi” is not printed on the tank):

Low Pressure (LP) – 2250 psi, 2400 psi

High Pressure (HP) – 3000 psi, 3500 psi

Each tank has a unique serial number. The number is stamped on the tank at the time of manufacture and serves to permanently identify the tank. This number is the first series of numbers on the bottom row.

The middle set of letters on the bottom row of coding is the manufacturer name or ID.  Luxfer and Catalina, for example, put their entire name on that tank. While other manufacturers use abbreviations instead of the company name.

The last set of letters and symbols are the “born on” date. In the case of the above coding example, the month of “birth” is 6 (June), and the year is 1996. This is the date the tank was hydrostatically tested and put into service. The small diamond shape  icon in between the “6” and “96” is the inspection code symbol.

The last marking in this series is a “+” icon, which indicates the tank may safely be overfilled by 10% of the entire fill rating.

The final markings on the bottom row indicate the working capacity of the tank in cubic feet. “S80” would mean the tank holds 80 cubic feet of air. This important because the more cubic feet of air you take to depth, the longer your bottom time potential.

Finally, on this label, you have the following: An aluminum tank made in the USA, 3000 pounds per square inch pressure (PSI), serial number P12345, Manufactured by LUXFER in June of 1993, that may be overfilled by 10%.

Additional numbers stamped into tank aftermarket are Hydro testing dates: 06  98, would mean the hydro was done in June of 1998.

The last thing you would be looking for is the Visual Inspection sticker. The visual inspection month and date is punched out on this sticker, which is usually placed toward the bottom or boot of the tank.  a visual inspection sticker should be on all tanks in service, and a visual inspection should be done yearly on a scuba tank. You can’t get a fill at your LDS if this sticker is expired. The good news is your LDS can take care of this for you relatively inexpensively and quickly!

If you are buying a tank, check all of the markings on the tank carefully. The markings tell you a lot about the tank history and care. If you buy a tank with a >5 yr old hydro date you are running the risk of buying a scrap tank, for example. If you are a younger diver, or you speed thru your air supply at depth, you will want to be sure there is enough cubic feet and PSI in the tank to meet your diving needs. When you look closely and know what you are looking at the coding makes perfect sense! And now, it is no longer a secret code to you.

Authored by Lisa J Henry

“Be the sea”

Florida man dies of lightning strike, don’t be next…

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Florida man dies of lightning strike, don’t be next…

Have you ever wondered what happens when a severe storm comes in while you are diving? Ideally, this will never happen to you, because you do due diligence when it comes to the weather and safe diving. But, what if you are boat diving when one of those wild squalls rolls in and there is lightening? I was watching the weather on the news last night and wondered about lightning strikes when diving. I decided to do a little research and blog about lightening and the boat diver.

During research today I read an old article about a boat diver in Florida who died after lightning struck his scuba tank. Instructors briefly go over weather and boat diving in Open Water Certification classes, to the degree that you should stay in when it storms. So we all know the drill, but I guess this guy went boat diving despite a severe thunderstorm warning. In any case, he paid the ultimate price for being on the water during a storm. The short version of the story goes like this: The diver resurfaced during a boat dive to exit the water. The boat was 30 or so feet away from the diver. While waiting for the boat to swing around, a bolt of lightning struck the diver’s tank and knocked him unconscious. He died from electrocution before ever seeing the shore.

According to an article in Undercurrent.org, 2007, statistics show that approximately 75% of USA fatalities by lightning strike occur in the open or under a tree. While another 12% or so take place near or in the water, while boating or fishing. It would follow that divers would also run a relatively high risk of lightning strike while on the surface of the water. I finished the article determined to write a blog on the issue today, because death by lightning is certainly a potential risk for every diver.

Because of the mechanism of action of lightning, it rarely strikes the surface of the ocean. This is good news. The bad news is water is highly conductive, and the degree of conductivity is proportional to salinity. I remember this from science class. Because water conducts electricity so well, and the ocean has a high salinity, one would assume when lightning strikes the water it would be carried for some distance? And, if you are in or under the water during a strike, you will be electrocuted?

To answer this question I went to review the properties of water and this is what I found:

  1. Rain water is essentially distilled water and conductivity equals zero. And, water from runoff, being for the most part rain water, is a very poor conductor of electricity.
  2. Spring water is slightly more conductive than rain water due to the presence of minerals. Conductivity will vary according to mineral content of the spring water.
  3. Ocean Spray has some salinity. The information I read reinforces my memory, Salt (NaCl) does increase the conductivity of water. Coastal waters and coastal air  contain salt, thus spray is somewhat more conductive than spring water.
  4. Water in areas where fresh water contains some salt are more conductive than ocean spray. The level of salinity of these areas varies with the tides. When the tide flows in, or is high, the salinity tends to increase. With outflowing tides the salinity decreases. These areas are more conductive than ocean spray.
  5. Evaporation increases salinity by raising the salt to water ratio. Loss of fresh water will increase the salinity of the water, thereby increasing the conductivity of the water.
  6. Temperature also determines conductivity. Heat excites atoms and molecules, which increases conductivity. The surface of the ocean tends to have higher concentrations of salt due to evaporation, and warmer temperatures due to the warmth from sunlight, so conductivity is slightly higher at the surface of the ocean.
  7. Pressure (depth) itself doesn’t really have much effect on conductivity.
  8. Distance works in your favor. As you move away from the lightning strike on the ocean (which is rare) or a strike on an object on the ocean surface (much less rare), conductivity decreases.

What is the bottom line? Although lightning rarely strikes the surface of the ocean, it is drawn to objects floating in the ocean. You, your boat, your dive buddies, and flotsam, are all lightning rods. If something or someone floating in the water close to you receives a lightning strike, you will likely get zapped. Even if you are not fatally electrocuted, you could suffer electrical burns, organ injury, and/or cardiac arrest. And, your dive buddy who was struck is likely a fatality.

What should you do if you find yourself caught on the surface in a lightning storm? Get out of the water, onto the boat, and out of your gear as quickly as possible. Then follow the instructions of the boat ops crew until they get you safely to shore. They will likely instruct you to stay towards the middle of the boat, and under cover if possible. Stay away from metal and electrical equipment. If the boat has antennas or a lightning rod of some sort, stay away and do not touch it.

Be your own safety advocate. Check the weather before any kind of diving. Don’t depend on the Dive Guide, boat operator, Instructor, or other dive leader to know the weather forecast. If the forecast is for thunderstorms, don’t go near the water. If you are on the water when a storm appears in the distance, return to shore long before the storm arrives. Stay out of the water, off the dock, and indoors during severe weather. Safety first! Now we know what happens when lightning strikes when you are diving.

Authored by Lisa J Henry

“Be the sea”

The joys of “muck diving”…

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The joys of “muck diving”…

For a change of pace I am going to blog about one of my favorite diving subjects, MUCK DIVING! Muck diving is defined differently by different folks. A term initially used to describe diving in mud, silt, sand, or other substrates consisting of dead sea life or man-made garbage, has expanded to include shallow structure diving. I can’t resist a good muck dive, and I think of a hardcore diver as someone who can’t resist the opportunity to don gear just to play in the sediment on the bottom of the ocean. One of my first experiences as a new diver was slowly poking around the bottom of the shallows (20-25 fsw) in Hood Canal up near Seattle, Washington.

Finding a moment to hover quietly over the bottom, as a new diver trying to learn trim and composed neutral buoyancy, I noticed a small little Goby. He was perched motionless on some very small gravel, still as could be, no doubt feeling safe in his camouflage. I stopped to hang motionless and get a good look at Mr. Goby, and I noticed all sorts of small sea life down there with him. I saw mud dwellers, juvenile life, small crabs, and other organisms packed into the 3-4 square feet around me. Hanging motionless for a few minutes, something very interesting happened. Where there seemed very little life upon my arrival, I was surprised to find a plethora of creatures were as interested in me as I was in them. It didn’t take very long for critters to appear, seemingly from nowhere, and scout me out as a possible new residence. The whole experience was fascinating, and I was hooked on muck diving. Muck diving proved a gateway for underwater photography, which I now enjoy at every opportunity.

My research indicates there is stellar muck diving in many international diving destinations in the Coral Triangle, but I suspect you could find something interesting on most shallow dive sites. The Coral Triangle is located in the Indo-Pacific areas around Malaysia, and the Philippines, including the famed Solomon Islands. Although I have not made it to these sites yet, they are certainly on my bucket-list, and should be on yours too. My understanding is that these areas have some of the richest biodiversity in the world’s oceans. What a wonderful and Zen way to spend a dive, slowly meandering along the bottom of the sea in Indonesia photographing all manner of bizarre and unique critters.

There are some basic rules of course, and the first became apparent very quickly during my initial experience. Because you are diving primarily on a soft unstable silt surface even the smallest unplanned fin kick or hand placement will ruin your visibility. Much care needs to be taken with finning. Maintaining neutral buoyancy is a must. Every movement should be slow and calculated. And, remember not to get so engrossed in the “muck” that you neglect to monitor your direction and PSI. You don’t want to find yourself out of air or lost.

A wonderful additional benefit of muck photography is the surprise photo-bombers you find when you get up to the surface and get a really good look at your photographs. I have found all kinds of interesting creatures in the photograph not obvious while I was trying to focus on my subject. My muck diving depth preference is less than 30 fsw, up where the sunlight is still plentiful. And, it is nice to have the longer bottom time provided by the shallow depth. There are less muck divers than reef, cave, wreck, or depth divers. Less company means all the pleasures of diving off-the-beaten-path.

If you haven’t taken the time to slow down and check out the sea life residing in the shallow bottoms, give it a try the next time you shore dive. You will see some interesting and incredible stuff you miss when whizzing by at depth during a drift dive. And, you might enjoy the added benefit of the truly Zen experience of becoming a temporary reef!

Authored by Lisa J Henry

“Be the sea”

Part 2 – How to choose, care for, and use your snorkel…”Be the sea”

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Part 2 – How to choose, care for, and use your snorkel…”Be the sea”

With so many brands and styles of snorkels available, how do you narrow your choices down to the right one for you? Well, I am going to help you out with that very issue in today’s blog.

Whether you are using a snorkel for snorkeling or scuba diving, there are some good options out there that will suit your need. Here are some bullet points listing things to look for when you buy (some of this is a repeat from the first blog in this series):

  • Comfort and Fit And, if you can have all that and matching colors with your gear you are winning!

A good silicone mouthpiece should be soft and pliable, and should not excessive pull at the corner of your mouth. The snorkel should be held to your head via a “keeper” attached to the left side of your mask. The presence of the snorkel on your mask should not cause discomfort or displacement of the mask to the degree that there is water leakage into the mask. The snorkel should not feel unduly heavy.

  • Features

In my previous blog I discussed some features, but I will review them quickly here. Some snorkels come with the purge valve, to assist in maintaining a dry breathing experience and making the clearing of the snorkel efficient. A corrugated elbow just after the mouthpiece should help with comfort and prevent undue pulling on your mask. And, they come in many fun colors.

  • Semi-dry/Dry

The semi-dry snorkel design helps prevent splashing water from entering the top end of the tube, by using a deflector. A semidry snorkel will fill with water when you are below the water. The dry snorkel, as I discussed in the previous blog offering, has a ball in a cage that closed like a valve and prevented water from entering into the tube. These are obsolete, and I suggest you pass this older type right on by. The dry snorkel keeps a snorkel totally dry while allowing air to pass in and out. This is a challenging concept, and the industry continues to address the problem. Totally dry snorkels tend to be heavier, and cumbersome. A dry snorkel is not totally free of water in the system. Sand, incorrect use, among other things, may introduce water. The idea is to keep the system as dry as possible at the top, while the purge valve assist at the mouth, making the snorkel as functionally “dry” as possible. The industry is constantly changing snorkel designs in an effort to make improvements. I personally dive an Atomic Aquatics SV snorkel and I love it.

  • Length and Diameter

I discussed the importance of length, diameter, and the concept of “dead space” within the snorkel breathing system, in the last blog. The improper snorkel measurements can greatly increase your potential for hypercapnia, as can extended periods of snorkel use. And, because of the potential for blackout while snorkeling, it is considered a buddy sport, just like any time you are in the water recreationally.

  • Price

Price should not be an issue, as the snorkel is one of you less expensive pieces of dive gear. It should and can, with proper care, last a lifetime. You can find a snorkel for as low as $10 used, to $60 new. If you are buying new, I suggest you go with a mid-range priced model (whether semi-dry or dry). Usually mid-range has the extras you need, but you don’t pay for the big name price. If you are buying a used snorkel, get one as new as you can, and expect to pay no more than 25-30% of MSRP if it is in like-new condition. Of course, the more wear, the more your discount. And, keep in mind that clear silicone with yellow over a short time, affecting both the look and the resale of the item.

Considerations when buying a used snorkel

How to care for your snorkel:

Check for ease of breathing, try the snorkel out. Look for signs of wear, damage, discoloration, cracking, or stiff silicone and other parts. Check the mouthpiece, it may need replacement. Verify whether it is a plain tube, a semi-dry, or a dry snorkel. Test it to make sure the purge valve is functional. Look for dirt or grit in small spaces. And remember, no ball/cage snorkels, no mask/snorkel one-piece units. Go as new as you can. And don’t over pay!

Snorkels are essentially maintenance free, requiring only a fresh water rinse after each use (pool, fresh, or salt water). When the mouthpiece becomes worn, rough, or uncomfortable, simply replace it. Your LDS can assist you with the change out. The keeper, attaching the snorkel to the mask, may become weak, loose, or break over time. They are very inexpensive and you can replace it easily yourself. Sand, grit, and dirt, can get into the purge valve, causing it to malfunction. If you can’t fix the problem with a good rinse and blow, see your LDS for a part and some help with repairs. The part is pennies. As with the rest of your dive system, it is best not to leave it exposed to extreme weather for long periods of time, and sun can degrade the silicone and make the plastic brittle.

How to use your snorkel:

Appropriately attach your snorkel to your mask. Don a snorkel vest. Place the mask and snorkel on your head, and put the mouthpiece in your mouth. The snorkel will be at an approximate 45 degree angle as you lay face down in the water. Breathe slowly and deeply in and out of the snorkel while enjoying the underwater scenery! Clearing the snorkel is easy, peasy. With the end of the snorkel out of the water, blow firmly and quickly thru your mouth. Water will be forced out of the purge valve and the top end of the snorkel. Diving with your snorkel is easy too.

How to dive:

If you dive below the water to get a better look at the sea life, take a deep breath before diving. When you surface for another breath, keeping your face and head under water, blow firmly and forcefully just as you surface. This will clear your snorkel as discussed previously. Diving and surfacing for a breath can take some practice, to coordinate the breach of the water with the force needed for exhalation, but with some practice you will quickly be a pro. If you are having difficulty learning on your own, your LDS can give you a quick lesson.

Now you are ready to purchase a snorkel, and start enjoying some undersea adventures. If you have any questions, are looking for a new or used snorkel, or just want to comment, go to blueorbdiving.com and leave me an email @ blueorbsales@gmail.com!

Authored by Lisa J Henry

“Be the sea”

Part 1 – Shopping for a used snorkel…when is a tube not just a tube?

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Part 1 – Shopping for a used snorkel…when is a tube not just a tube?

Are you about to go on a snorkeling or diving vacation in a tropical location? Maybe you are gearing up for your first open water certification class and need a snorkel? Or, maybe you just want to update your outdated gear? This blog series will help you with all of those needs, and more. I will discuss the entire snorkel spectrum, from the “what it is”, thru “how to”, all the way thru “let’s make a deal”. This initial blog will discuss the definition of snorkeling, a brief history, the basic anatomy and function of a snorkel, and safety tips about older snorkels (some of which will be repeated later in the series).

A snorkel is basically a bent tube used for breathing assistance while swimming. Snorkeling, swimming with a snorkel, is a popular recreational activity at tropical resorts and scuba diving locations, as well as swimming pools and lakes all around the world. Snorkels have been mentioned historically all the way back to free-divers sponge diving in Crete, using hollow reeds as snorkels. Snorkeling requires no special training, minimal equipment, and is employed by children and adults alike who wish to observe marine life at the surface with ease, in a natural setting, without the use of Scuba Gear. Scuba divers also use snorkels at the surface for safety. If you have an upcoming Open Water Certification course, you will learn to snorkel as part of your initial scuba diving training. Many experienced divers continue to wear a snorkel after certification, for safety at the surface while waiting for the boat operator to fish them out of the water at the conclusion of their boat dive.

A snorkel tube is typically ~12 inches long, with a diameter of ~1 inch. The tube, constructed of silicone, rubber, or plastic, has a mouthpiece on one end, and has been bent into an “L” or “J” shape. Some have an extra bit of curve on the end opposite of the mouthpiece, allowing improved water resistance. There is frequently a piece of corrugated silicone at the bend just after the mouthpiece, for comfort. A snorkel also has a small attachment to fix the snorkel to your mask without causing mask leakage. Many snorkels also have a one-way valve to assist with purging water and/or preventing water inhalation. Another feature is a splash guard at the top of the snorkel, keeping it partially or completely free of water. Some snorkels actually fold into a small package that can be stored in a BCD pocket during the dive, to improve trim and mask fit at depth. At the surface, the snorkel simply unfolds and is ready for use. These snorkels are becoming very popular.

Modern snorkels are made to allow a snorkeler to float on the surface of the water while quietly observing sea life, or to free-dive and “Blast clear” (or sharply exhale just as surfacing) upon returning to surface. Extended use of longer or wider snorkels can result in a buildup of carbon dioxide in the user. This is because when the snorkeler exhales, the air remaining in the tube (with oxygen already removed) at the end of exhalation is re-inhaled in the next breath. A larger diameter tube, or a longer tube, would increase the amount of poorly oxygenated air the snorkeler rebreathes, despite making the actual act of inhalation easier. A good snorkel doesn’t have to be new, or have expensive features. But, it does need to work safely, fit comfortably, and fit appropriately.

SAFETY POINTS:

  • Some older snorkels are made of natural rubber which “oxidizes” and breaks down with exposure to the sun, causing them to malfunction. Bad buy!
  • Some old snorkels had an appliance at the end of the tube, a ball in a cage functioning as a one way valve. The ball uncovered and covered the tube to preventing water influx. I don’t know when I saw one of these last, but they are unsafe and should not be used.
  • Application of silicone grease to snorkel parts in an attempt to make them watertight, to “renew” them, or make parts work smoother, is unsafe. It can cause parts to stick during use and malfunction. If your snorkel seems to be old or malfunctioning, call the manufacturer or take it to your local dive shop for assessment and repair. DO NOT USE A POORLY FUCTIONING OR POORLY FITTING SNORKEL.
  • Mask/snorkel combinations are unsafe.

Other tips:

  • Rules of swimming should be followed and one should not snorkel alone. Wear a floatation vest specially made and color marked to safely snorkel in. You want to be seen by passing windsurfers, sailboats, motorized boats, and small watercraft.
  • If your snorkeling for extended periods, take care not to black out due to poor oxygenation.
  • Be aware that your body loses heat very quickly in water, and snorkeling for extended periods can cause hypothermia (critically low core body temperature).
  • Stay near the shore or a boat, snorkel within the level of your physical fitness.
  • Watch the weather, snorkeling can be very dangerous in storms or high wave conditions.
  • Safety first!

My next blog will be a tutorial on how to choose your snorkel (new or used), how to snorkel, and how to care for your snorkel. Stay tuned!

Authored by Lisa J Henry

“Be the sea”

Buying the right used scuba diving mask…

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Buying the right used scuba diving mask

Buying a solid, well made, well fitted, used scuba mask is not as simple as everyone thinks. If you grab the first visually appealing mask that happens your way, without checking and testing it, you will have issues at depth. So much so, that these issues could spoil your diving altogether, if not set the stage for cascading problems elsewhere. In this blog I will discuss types of scuba diving masks, how they differ from snorkeling masks, how to fit a mask, and some gadgets to fit to the mask (yep, there are accessories for your mask).

If you are a new diver, about to enter your certification program, your chosen dive shop has probably already reigned you in and strong-armed you to buy their mask/boots/fins/snorkel collection…it is how they make a chunk of change up front. The good news is, this is one instance when they can’t push you to the upgrade at the expense of a mediocre fit. The mask either fits well, or it doesn’t. The other nice thing is the ability (at a reputable dive shop) to take the mask back and exchange it if it fits poorly in the pool. My suggestion is this, however. Beg out of the initial buy BEFORE the classes, and insist on trying the rental or student gear in the water first. When you get in the pool ask to swap for a few minutes with your neighbor student or one of the Dive Cons, so you have an idea of how different masks (fins, snorkels, and boots) fit when wet. A good shop or staff will do everything they can to make you happy with the product before you lay cash out for it. And they will stand by the mask if the purchase turns out to be a mistake.

OK, now let us talk about how to fit a scuba diving mask (new or used). If the mask doesn’t properly fit your face it leaks, plain and simple. The leak can be a constant trickle, or akin to sinking the Titanic, but it WILL leak. It is very hard to enjoy your dive, view your gauges, or see to solve a problem at depth, if your eyes are under the attack of stinging sea water. And, this constant annoyance can become the thing that divides your undivided attention from safe diving practices. One annoyance can cascade into a bunch of annoyances and turn a dive into a nightmare!

So, as you have ascertained – a good fit means no leaks! To check fit: 1. Put a snorkel or regulator in your mouth, 2. Gently set the mask on your face (hair out of the way) without putting the strap around your head, 3. Inhale a small amount of air GENTLY through your nose, 4. Let go of the mask. If it stays on your face, maintain the inhaled suction to the mask and look left/right and down. The mask should NOT fall off your face (meaning it has lost suction). If you have facial hair a good mask seal can become more difficult. You can apply silicone compound (made for this purpose) to the areas with facial hair to improve the seal. Or, you may find you want to shave.

Now that you know how to test a mask for fit, let us look at the parts of the scuba mask: “Skirt” is the part of the mask that contacts and encircles your face. The ”nose pocket” is just that, it is where your nose goes. The “mask strap” is a strap specially made to be both adjustable and to snuggly conform to the back of your head. And, last, the lenses. You look thru the lenses. There are prescription lenses that you can purchase for your specific prescription if you wear contacts or glasses. They are a bit more expensive, but worth the investment. With the exception of the lenses, masks are made of  hypo-allergenic silicone. The lenses, unlike snorkel masks with regular glass or plastic lenses, are made of tempered glass and set into the frame such to avoid breakage at depth. DO NOT wear snorkel masks scuba diving. Make sure the mask you buy is for scuba diving.  DO NOT buy a mask with cloudy, scratched, chipped, or otherwise damaged lenses. The nose pocket should not restrict your nose, or your comfort, and you should be able to easily pinch your nose through the pocket.

Some masks have a one-way “purge valve” in the nose pocket. The valve allows you to clear water entering your mask away with exhalation, without removing or refitting the mask. But, if you use proper mask clearing techniques, the valve is a redundant item that is another point of equipment failure. I do not buy masks with a purge valve.

Used scuba mask types are simple enough. Masks come in all sorts of colors and designs. New divers often prefer the clear mask because it doesn’t restrict the peripheral vision as much. Many eventually graduate to a dark mask color, which makes the color on the reef more vivid. It should be noted, the clear masks tend to yellow over the course of a year or so and look dingy. The yellowing can affect the resale value if you intend to replace the mask at a later date. Masks come with 1 lens, 2 lenses, lenses that also wrap around the side of the mask, and big or small lenses. They come with square, round, or teardrop lens shapes. Masks come various sizes. A popular size is a low volume style, or mini-masks. The lower volume means they clear easier. There are many sizes, shapes, and options. Again, try as many masks on as possible, before you buy.

Now comes the fun stuff, used scuba mask accessories:

Anti-fog solution: Anti-fog comes from many manufacturers, and is all good enough to get the job done. I have had divers tell me they use all kinds of things from no-sting hair gel, to Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. You are basically creating a slick surface to prevent water from sticking to the glass. I use the good old stand-by, SPIT. And, if at depth, they fog…I crack my mask and allow some water in  to swish around, then I purge it! Easy Peasy.

You should always have a replacement mask strap in your save-a-dive kit. While you can get to the surface with a broken mask strap, and maybe even finish a dive, no one recommends doing an entire dive without a mask! Safety first!

Mask strap covers, generally made of neoprene, cover the strap making it easy to don/doff with thicker cold water gloves on. They are also great places to show off your individuality. And, they can help identify your buddy under water. I have the one of the diver flipping off the shark! LOVE IT.

Your mask might come in a case, which is a nice protector for travelling, on the boat, and for storage. Your mask is an investment, protect it.

There are various magnifying devices sold that attach to your mask and work like bifocals. I have a small 1in circle that magnifies x8 on the lower left corner of my main mask. If my contacts (I dive with contacts – but that is another blog) slip out, I can use the magnifier to read my computer and analog gauges (I always dive with analog back-up and so should you) to get me safely to my exit point.

There are camera attachments for your scuba mask. While they look fun and convenient, hands free, easy to point and shoot, they are not. They are one more thing near your face taking your attention away from the dive. They are cumbersome. And, they are heavy on the mask, causing an otherwise well fitted mask to leak. The same can be said of computer attachments. And, these are another failure point at depth. I do not recommend either of them.

Check the durability of the mask. As always, check the mask for defect, cracking, peeling, breakage, and wear. Don’t buy anything overused.

And last, used mask PRICE. Expect to pay no more than 50% of a brand name mask if it is in excellent shape. Usually you are looking at 35-45% of MSRP of a similar item.

Well, there you have it, “Mask 101”. If you need information on other used scuba gear purchases, email. If you are unsure how to fit a used scuba mask, or if you have issues after you buy the mask, email me or your local dive shop. Some used gear sellers will answer questions, give estimates, and assist with other diving related issues for free, BlueOrbDiving.com is one of those sellers! Read my past blogs, you may find answers to your scuba diving gear questions there. Look for a later blog on used mask reviews, and email at blueorbsales@gmail.com with questions or concerns.

Authored by Lisa J Henry

“Be the sea”

Fin with the best of them…buying used scuba diving fins.

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Fin with the best of them…buying used scuba diving fins.

This blog is a gear review for buying used scuba diving fins from year 2012 and older, open heel and full foot types, for in-water features. Let us start with performance areas you’ll want to check out when buying the fin. Then we can go on to review the types of fins and how they work in the water during your dive. And we will look briefly at costs. When you search for a good scuba diving fin for your individual needs, consider:

Ease of donning/doffing the fin. You will want a fin that dons easily both on deck, and at depth. And, you want the fit to doff easily on shore/boat ladder at the end of your dive.

Buckle/strap fit, adjustability on deck and at depth, and durability. Look for a snug buckle, that’s adjusts easily and dependably with one hand. Steer clear of a strap that is cracked, thin, old and faded, poorly fitting, or difficult to handle. My preference is “spring straps”. They are a little more expensive, but they fit snug, are very durable, and last a lifetime.

Comfort of pockets is important. You can’t enjoy a dive if your fins can’t be trusted to stay on when you need to add propulsion. And, you can damage your feet if they are too tight. You should not experience rubbing thru your boot, pinching, or tingling to your toes/feet.

Efficiency during kicking is evaluated using the flutter kick, but you will want to evaluate the fin during a frog kick and/or dolphin kick as well. Manufacturers publish information and efficiency and propulsion. I will discuss this later in the blog. You want the maximum amount of propulsion relative to effort during the kick.

The amount of stress the fins apply to your joints and muscles is a necessary consideration. There are fins, for example, that are ideal for folks needing to shift stress off of the knees.

Look for good acceleration and maneuverability at depth. Different styles of fins accelerate and maneuver differently.

The best open heel fins reviewed includes: TUSA X-pert zoom Z3, the Tilos Saber, the Apollo Biofin Pro-C series, Scubapro Seawing Nova, and Beuchat Power Jet fin. The Atomics ”Smoke on the Water” split fins, got the best open heel scores overall with reviewers, voters, and testers…scoring nearly 100% across the board. I dive these fins myself. For full foot fins: Mares Wave and Mako and Tusa Z-pert Evolution scored well with voters for the closed foot style fins. While Oceanic Caribe X, and Mares Avanti Superchannel did the best overall, also reaching the near 100% mark in all categories. All of these fins got great overall industry magazine reviews, best scores on “customer votes” surveys, and best marks on Speed/Thrust/Slolam tests, in 2012. The APS Manata Ray, The Aquatex Duo-Vortex, Cressi-Sub Reaction, Scubapro Twin Jet Max, Scubapro Kinetics, got the lowest scores overall in all categories.

How do fins work, hydro-dynamically that is…split fins vs. blade fins? Traditional “paddle” or “blade” scuba diving fins work by pushing water directly towards the rear of the fin. As the fin is pushed thru the water creating propulsion, some water spills over the top of the fin during the kick, creating drag. Blade fins have a large stiff surface area, creating great resistance in the water, making them the fin of choice for wrecks, cave, and/ or current diving. Blade fins are better for tight spaces, where you may need to move back and forth, or make slow and deliberate movements. Blade fins work great in strong currents, and have better acceleration, but require more energy and add greater stress to your ankles and knees than split fins.

Split scuba diving fins work like pliable propellers, with an added angle on thrust, on the basis of different water flow rate on opposite surfaces. This difference reduces drag and creates propulsion. And, unlike the blade fin, water that wants to travel over the top of the fin is actually drawn into the split and forced out the back. The end results is the split fins require less exertion by the diver to propel, an improved in trim by reducing the width of the kick size, and removal of the stress to the knee by necessitating a straight leg kick from the hip for best result. You can conserve as much as 40% air and energy with split fins as a novice diver with split fins. They are excellent for new divers, divers needing to manage the stress on knees and ankles, and open space diving.

As far as price goes, you can expect to pay more for brand names. Atomics and Scubapro listed above will run around $220, maybe more for spring straps. The cheaper blade fins can be as low as $60-70 for brand name fins, new. To price used fins, look up the new MSRP (manufacturer suggested retail price) for the fin or something similar, and then look it up on eBay. For 3-7yr old fins you can expect to pay 30% – 50% of MSRP, depending on wear. For wear beyond “average”, deduct from 30% of MSRP. Of course, ultimately, used goods are worth what folks are willing to pay. And, be sure you find a reputable seller.

In the end, the choice between split and blade fins depends on many factors. For example, type of diving, strength of current, lower body strength and flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, experience of the diver, all come into play when you are choosing between split and blade fins. As with any other gear, you should try both types before you buy. And, always examine the fins for cracks, defects, wear, buckle function, and fit. And then, go do some great diving!

Authored by Lisa J Henry

“Be the sea”

Reference: Scubadiving.com 2012 article “18 best new fins”, Scubalab 2012 “In Search of the Perfect Fin (2012), and dive-gear-reviews.com “Best Fins – Dive Gear reviews (2012), scuba.com “Scuba Fins in Review”. Various Scubaboard articles were reviewed. And, Google, Amazon, and Ebay market values were reviewed.