Beginner Advice Please
“I am a complete beginner and need to buy the kit.
Any advice on good on-line scuba diving retailers will be much appreciated.
My mate is fairly experienced, so he will be able to help me”.
I am absolutely delighted to hear that you are thinking of buying some diving equipment. It is a researched and documented fact that if you own your own kit, you will go diving more regularly than if you haven’t got anything.
I would certainly advocate that as a new diver you get the core kit of mask, boat fins, snorkel, boots, a shortie / basic thermal protection and a timing device.
This is your basic snorkelling equipment which will last you from now until kingdom come, provided you look after it carefully. It also means that when you start / continue learning, you have the basics which will also be fine for pool work and blue water diving.
Once you have your core kit I would suggest that you don’t go on a mad spending spree - yet.
The thing about learning to dive (or any other sport for that matter) is that you don't know, what you don't know. This is not a criticism, just a fact of life.
It is terribly easy to peruse the magazines, let your fingers do the walking on the web or post a question on the Forums. And if you are British diver you will probably end up making the decision to buy a certain brand of BCD and regulators. But is it truly the right equipment for the style of diving you are currently doing, and what you aspire to do in the future?
To get the most out of your equipment you really need to have some in-water time and experience before you buy it. Borrow, hire, steal, beg equipment from fellow divers or your local club or dive centre and try it out. Or attend an equipment manufacturer demo day or the ScubaFests. But please pace yourself.
Try and dive ‘familiar’ diving equipment when you try out one new piece of kit to reduce the stress levels. By getting some in-water time, you will gain a mental and physical reference which enables you to start forming ideas of what equipment you want, and the route you wish to follow.
I am really glad to hear that you have an experienced mate who has taken you under his wing.
The one thing that I would say is that staff in dive centres have exposure to a large range of equipment from a number of manufacturers. They go on product days and launches, they get given the odd sample to play with, and it’s all so that they can understand the product better.
Dive centre staff are out there using the kit in anger, and diving it on a very regular basis. They should ask you what kind of diving are you doing now, and what do you intend to do in the future, and will advise you accordingly as to what kind of kit will suit you. This means that you will be given good solid equipment advice by someone who is more experienced than your average amateur diver.
The beauty about shopping in a LDS (Local Dive Shop), is that you get to feel, touch, try on and look at the equipment for real.
If you ask for help the staff will walk you around the shop and show you the difference between a pool fin, a boat fin, a nature's wing fin, a spring strap, a traditional fin strap and a quick release strap.
Absolutely nothing can replace the opportunity of feeling, touching, smelling, lifting, finding out just how heavy something is, and trying on new up-to-date equipment. It’s almost a rite of passage for a diver to walk into a dive shop with a pocketful of cash and buy your drysuit / regulator / bcd and thoroughly delight in the frisson, thrill and excitement of that hands-on experience.
Buying on the web is just not the same thing. Pushing a button or two and waiting for a brown box to be delivered is quite pedestrian in comparison.
It should be noted it is not polite to visit a dive centre and benefit from their time, knowledge and counselling to then go and buy the product off the net for the sake of a few pounds. I have seen this happen all too often, and it is little wonder that dive centre staff sometimes end up quite jaded by this behaviour.
If you buy via the web you might get a more competitive price. This is because all you are paying for is for someone to take a piece of kit off a shelf, put it into a box and post it to you. There is rarely counselling and advice, and no cup of tea.
There is no substitute to having an experienced professional standing next to you, seeing how the kit fits and knowing how it will perform in the water.
When you buy in a LDS you gain education, information and benefit from the shop’s experience.
It is worth noting that your LDS doesn't necessarily need to be your nearest dive centre. My nearest dive centre is a is 12 minutes / 5 miles away. The one I use is 51 minutes / 28 miles away because of their great servicing, advice and gas blending. And your LDS will be ‘the one’ where you get good service, advice, mentoring and they actively go diving.
Buying on the web appears to be a great, short term gain, but you will definitely lose long term.
Now more than ever you need to support your LDS. (LDS equipment sales are one revenue source that helps to pay for rates, electricity, insurance, salaries, etc). Around the turn / start of the year I was hearing every week about yet another dive retail centre closing their doors and I know of another two dive centres that have gone down in the last 8 weeks. The blood letting continues.
The price you will be charged in-store is a fair one because it’s the suggested retail price. Remember diving is effectively a luxury sport where you want life support equipment that will always perform efficiently in a harsh environment. You need it to work properly and that costs real money to research, develop, test and manufacture.
By demanding cheaper equipment you will get just that. There have been comments on the Forums about cheap weight belts falling to bits, cheap clips and knives rusting up, cheap reels jamming and tangling, and I am aware of a couple of lovely masks that are sadly now just plain nasty.
These two low profile masks fitted 95% of all faces, looked great and were a sensible price. Unfortunately because the public kept on demanding cheaper masks, production was switched to another factory, and now these products are inferior and sales have dropped right off. The silicone used is horribly hard and the frames crack. By demanding cheaper kit the product has been destroyed. Everyone loses.
It is worth pointing out that I am also not saying ‘never buy from the internet’. That is just plain daft. We are very time poor these days, and when you know precisely what you need, and that it will fit you perfectly, buying on-line is a useful, timely solution. But as a new diver, or a diver upgrading key pieces of equipment, you really benefit from buying your equipment in store because of the personal hands on service you will receive. And you leave with something that properly fits you.
Whatever your position on internet sales, if they become all that we have got left, along with some very large regional centres, then not only you, but everyone will lose out.
So if you end up spending a tad more now on kit at your local dive centre, it should mean that in the future we all won’t be doing 100 mile round trips to get cylinder fills and regulators serviced which is better for our pockets and kinder to the environment. And the great thing is that we will be well looked after by like-minded kit monster professionals who still get huge thrill out of playing with shiny toys.
Good luck with your diving, I hope this helps.