While there are cold water destinations for international travel, most people prefer to dive in tropical and sub tropical locations. This is mainly because the weather is not only nicer there…the presence of beautiful beaches are always an added bonus.
Let’s just briefly touch base on a few cold water options. These tend to be for the hardy and adventurous souls. They also tend to be less popular and subsequently, these trips are more expensive. You can go ice diving in the Antarctica, you can go diving for Alaskan King Crabs in Alaska, you can dive WWII ship wrecks off the Coast of France and England. There is also ice diving in the White Sea in Russia where you can dive with beluga whales. One really cool location, no pun intended is the Silfra Fissure in Iceland where you can dive between two tectonic plates. A few other locations are Scapa Flow in Scotland where there are WWI wrecks, British Columbia where there are beautiful cold water reefs and maybe six-gill sharks, if you are lucky. There are more but these are the most famous locations.
Forget about renting your gear, the only thing you will rent are tanks. You also need to have all of your regulators environmentally sealed for the cold water. Otherwise, they will freeze up. You will also need dry suits due to the extremely cold water. Even 7mm suits will not suffice for these dives. You will need special training for not only the dry suit but also for ice diving. These are truly magnificent places to dive. I ended up getting rid of all my cold water gear, so I guess I will never do these dives but it is not too late for you.
So let’s discuss warm water diving which will cover over 95% of the international diving trips. You know how I feel about renting gear especially for newer divers, so I won’t flog a dead horse with it. I have included a brief discussion on the gear you will need on your dives if you chose to bring your own stuff.
Let’s start with your dive suit. Warm water means thinner wetsuits. Since your dive suit is thinner, it is not as buoyant so you will not need as much weight to gain neutral buoyancy. Since your weight is less, you can get by with a BC with less lift, so your BC will be also smaller and lighter.
There are pros and cons for weight integrated BC’s. The pros are that they are easier to use and also less bulky than having a separate weight belt. The cons are if you get tangled up in seaweed or kelp and you have to take off your tank and BC, you will not have any weight to keep you submerged. You, therefore, have to really hold on tight to your tank and vest while you are disentangling yourself. If you have a weight belt this presents no problem. Luckily for you, this is highly unlikely to happen in warm water diving. Kelp is more common in cold water. When I dove in cold water I was using close to 40 lbs of lead weights, so I wore a weight harness under my BC. This allowed for me to divide the weight up. Because of the weight on my harness, I did not have a problem with buoyancy if I had to take my vest off. I highly recommend doing this. It also makes your BC tank combo a little easier to handle and to don.
Even though I don’t dive much any more, I still kept my weight harness. I find it handy when I do underwater glamour photography because the harness helps for me to stay submerged in the pool during my shooting.
Now back to your gear, because you have a much more streamlined profile you don’t need large fins to propel you through the water. While you may think positively buoyant fins would be a good idea, you would be wrong. Get fins that are slightly negatively buoyant. It makes shallow water diving much easier, otherwise, your fins will keep on pulling you to the surface. Also don’t waste your money on split fins, they are the biggest piece of crap in the world. You will kick up silt even if your are ten feet about the bottom. They simply create too much turbulence in the water. Not to mention they will set you back a $150.00. I had two pair languishing in my spare parts bin at home until I finally donated them to a local dive club. The fins will be open heeled fins, the closed heel fins are crap so avoid them. One thing that I remain steadfast on and that is use spring straps for all of your fins. They are more comfortable, easier to put on and will never ever rot and break. You already know what happens when your fin straps dry rot. Get comfortable hard soled scuba boots with treads. You will also need to get scuba socks, especially if you are going to do a lot of diving. Your feet and the backs of your ankles or Achilles tendon region will thank you (the spot where you sandal strap sits). Regarding your mask, make sure that it not only fits well but that you pack it in a hard case. Dive masks can cost a $100.00 or more at a pop, so protect your investment.
I highly recommend reducing the number of hoses coming off your 1st stage regulator as much as possible. That is why I used “hoseless” dive computers and air integrated BCs. I hate having a backup stage 2 regulator dragging and bouncing off reefs and the sandy/rocky bottom. I can’t think of a better way to end up with a backup regulator not working when you need it the most.
When possible always dive with at least a 10 cf pony bottle with its own dedicated regulator. Even though you have a partner, do you really want to rely on them for air in case of an emergency? The way I see it now two people end up dead instead on just one. You can travel with the pony bottle on planes. All you have to do is to undo the valve and put a microfiber towel in the opening of the tank. Then when you get to your location the local dive shop will check it out and refill it and you are good to go. When I did solo dives I used a 30 cf pony bottle as an emergency backup one only. Do not rely on it as part of your dive profile. To monitor the pressure for your pony bottle you can use a small button style pressure gauge. I made a little sling harness that clipped to the front of my BC. Some people attach it to their main tank, that is also fine. However, I prefer having it in front because I like to keep track of the tank and also I keep it turned off to prevent any accidental loss of air.
When you bring your gear on a plane most all of it can get packed as check in luggage. To protect my gear I always packed it in the wet dive bag that I would bring on the dive boat. I then packed it inside a larger canvas duffel bag. This protected the gear more plus no matter how well you dry your gear off on the last day of your trip, it will still be wet and drippy when you get on the plane. Which is all the more reason to pack it in that water proof dive bag first. When you pack your gear at the beginning of the trip make sure that you are at least 5lbs under the max weight for that bag. This will come in handy for the return trip because wet gear weighs more than does dry gear. Of note, this is more appropriate for cold water diving because the thicker suits dry slower. However, the thinner suits also tend to dry slowly in the tropics because of the high humidity. So either way you are covered.
You will have to leave room in your carry on luggage for your dive computer/gauges and regulators and, of course, your dive camera. There is a special way to pack your regulator. Your stage one has a rubber cap to keep water out when it is not being used. This will be the only time that you don’t leave it in place unless it is attached to a tank. What you do is stuff a microfiber towel between the yoke and the valve. This will keep it clean and dry. They make small pouches to hold your regulator for travel, frankly, any small bag will suffice. When you pack your dive camera and strobes make sure the batteries are out and that lids are unbuckled. If you have it “dive ready” the pressure from the flight will make it virtually impossible to open up the water proof housings.
One more thing that I did not mention mainly because this is something that you should have with you any time that you go on a dive trip, road or otherwise, and that is a “save a dive kit”. In this kit you will keep a small set of tools and Allen wrenches, spare mask straps, snorkel keepers, fin straps (just in case), zipper lubricant, gorilla tape to patch torn pockets on your BC, and by far, the most important thing is spare “O” rings for your yoke stage one regulator. These “O” rings go on the valve of the dive tank. Even if you rent your tanks, the “O” rings can go bad. What do you do if the boat you are on doesn’t have any? That dive shop is a long ways away. Bring extra zip ties, they come in handy for a lot of things.
I am sorry, there always seems to be just one more thing, God I feel like Columbo. When you start your diving career, start keeping a dive log. Log in every dive you make. Some places may actually want proof of your last dive and the number of dives you have. Also keep track of all your certifications. The important ones are deep diving, night diving, wreck diving and eventually rescue diving. Your initial training and certification only gets you to 60ft, you will need the deep diving cert before many places will allow you to dive beyond that depth. If you really get serious about diving get your nitrox certification. Most dive computers have that option built in, so you should be ok there.
You can bring a dive knife in your check-in luggage. This is to cut away entanglements, again less likely in warm water diving but you still can get caught up in fishing line. I like to bring a small net bag with me, not for goodies because you can’t take anything with you but for any garbage you might find along the way. Remember, we need to preserve our environment for future divers.
Even if you just bring your own dive suit, fins, mask and snorkel, you should still consider bringing a dedicated bag for it. Because now you will have room to fit both sets of gear into a single bag. So by renting your scuba gear, you will be saving the cost of one bag on the plane. Even if you just bring the bear minimum with you, remember to still bring those extra straps and so on with you. Be gentle and observant when you dive, any damage you do to the coral may take hundreds of years to repair. If you have to touch the coral to steady yourself only use one finger and look for a dark spot, this is dead coral. I used to take a pointer stick with me just for that purpose. It comes with a lanyard, so you can leave it on your non-dominant wrist. So, regardless of how much gear you bring, get in the water and have a great time. Your trip can be all about the diving or it can be just be for a small portion of your trip, it doesn’t matter. Just do it safely and remember just leave bubbles behind.
One of the best and easiest places to go diving for the new diver is Cozumel in Mexico. It is the home of drift diving. It is the easiest type of diving of all. You simply jump off the back of the boat and the boat follows your bubbles. There are numerous dive masters everywhere, so when you hit your 500psi mark simply get their attention and they will let a marker float to the surface and the boat will pick you up. Not to mention you will get spoiled on this dive because you will see so much marine life. I saw more in my first ten dives there than I did in my next 90 dives. They also have one of the best wrecks you can dive on in Cozumel. It is totally safe even for a non-wreck certified diver.
Bonaire is another great place to dive which it is known for its wall diving. The water visibility like in Cozumel, is around a 100ft. and there is plenty of things to see. While in Bonaire, you will be most likely staying at a dedicated dive resort that offers boat dives as part of their package. They typically have one to two boat dives (guided) a day and have unlimited shore/wall diving (unguided). There are places all over the world to dive. The ones I mention just happen to not only be among the best places to dive, they are also the most forgiving places to dive for new divers.
The information I have provided is based on a history of my many varied dives and mishaps. No matter how well you prepare for your dives, mishaps can and will happen, How serious they become depends on you. I want to make this declaration, these two chapters on diving are not by all means the gospel on diving. Always follow the instructions of your dive instructors and your dive masters. These chapters are simply included to help you get ready for your dive trips and to do so in a safe manner. There are literally hundreds of books written on diving not to mention countless websites with valuable information. Also don’t forget that your local dive shop can be a wealth of information for you.