Dive Like A Pro: Which safety gear to carry?

Safety gear, BSAC shoot

Our panel of industry training gurus turn their attention to the equipment they feel should be in every diver’s kit bag, whatever their level of experience

Also read: Dive Like A Pro: Hardboat diving

Diving is not a dangerous sport so long as you stick to the limits of your training, are mindful of weather conditions and complete all your buddy and equipment checks. Occasionally, however, the proverbial can hit the fan, which is when it pays to be suitable prepared with the safety equipment needed to deal with whatever emergency situation has shown its ugly face.

Starfish (Nick Watson)

Dai Atkins, BSAC National Diving Officer: “I’ve cut my foot! It’s bleeding! My buddy said: ‘You’ll die’. If only I’d had a plaster on that dive trip in July…

Sporting activities carry with them some inherent risks – and diving isn’t any different. But being prepared for any risky encounters or to enable a quick response to an incident helps maintain a good safety record for our hobby.

“Now the usual refinements for more commonplace risks like cuts, burns, decompression illness, hypothermia and such-like will be addressed by more significant items of kit put in place, we hope, by the dive manager. First-aid kits of different sizes and oxygen kits containing a variety of administration masks will have been thought of, with a responsible person placed in charge of them.

Attracting attention

“But there are other things we can personally carry that give us a fighting chance of improving overall safety on a dive. being able to summon assistance is one area to consider – beyond yelling at the top of your voice, technological advances have been made by way of whistles and air horns that can audibly alert surface support if you need some help. 

Photographer Jane Morgan - soft coral

“If you’re out of earshot, visible means of attracting attention rather than exhausting yourself by waving include items such as dive-flags; large, highly visible DSMBs; and mirrors, which can be put to good use.

“For the more discerning diver EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) and PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) might be carried to report your location at the surface in an emergency. You should of course ensure that you have registered and activated them before you get in the water.

Strobes are also a useful aid for being seen in low-light conditions – just don’t scrimp on the batteries, and check them regularly.

“On the dive itself, tools to get out of a fix will be handy – so shears or a line-cutter will be of use if you find yourself trapped in that nasty monofilament stuff, or even a bit of someone else’s line (though do be sure it’s not someone’s guideline before you chop through it!). 

“Simple predicaments such as losing your way back to the shot could be prevented if you took a bearing, or knew in which general direction the shoreline lay. So a compass could be useful, or a spare reel that might be used to line off and find your way back – assuming that no one got tangled in it and has chopped through it with their Aquasnips (see above). 

Keeping in contact

“A buddy-line – or short piece of rope or webbing – might come in useful to maintain contact with your buddy (although it’s not as adaptable or reliable as using your hands). if the visibility starts to get a bit murky it does allow some communication by rope-pulls, but don’t fix it to yourself!

“A small waterproof notebook and pencil for writing messages could also be handy – attaching a note (or slate) to a DSMB can alert surface support of a problem and give more information when making early decisions.

“Carefully locating all these items in your kit where they won’t foul up your dive – but are equally easily located and retrieved – takes some fettling, but be innovative with the clips, bungee and elasticated pantyhose. And of course, get some tutelage and be practised in their use. 

“Finally, don’t forget the more benign risks that can still have an impact – being out on a boat all day in standard British sunshine can bring on effects of heatstroke, sunburn and dehydration, so to stop the delirium associated with these remember to pack your sunscreen, floppy hat and sunglasses, and take plenty of water.”

Into the Kelp Forest

Garry Dallas, Training Director for RAID UK & Malta: “After rocking up on a boat-dive or driving a fair way to a dive-site, we really don’t want to find out that a piece of our equipment isn’t working.

“Covering all bases: what if your regs had a problem? Do you have a spare working regulator, that is, a stage regulator set, and perhaps some basic tools to deal with this scenario? If you’re not on a club-organised event, maybe arrange a shared O2 set-up between friends, and a list of contact numbers for friends, family, Coastguard etc. All this needs to be readily accessible after a dive, in the unlikely event that it’s needed.

“Then we can look at fixing something during a dive, or at the surface. Did anyone in your group bring an SMB for that shore-dive to highlight that a diver is under water? Has every member of the group got their own DSMB and spool/reel?

Navigation and position

“A planned route or map for the underwater terrain, entry and egress, is always helpful. If it’s a night-dive, use a flashing marker fixed to the SMB, and one on each member of the team. These items are never needed when a dive goes perfectly to plan but they really help if someone gets separated from the group.

“When you look at your personal kit, it’s very useful to have a cutting device, and I don’t mean a James Bond-type, SAS 12in blade strapped to the outside of your ankle, but a more compact and practical Eezycut Trilobite or Z-knife attached to your computer.

“Signalling devices, both audible and visual, for attracting attention, compass, a spare cylinder-valve wheel (I kid you not, I’ve seen them fall off), spare torch in case your primary fails, spare mask, nasal spray, wetnotes or slate, even a spare double-ender bolt-snap – one day I’ll explain why this is a piece of kit every diver should carry.

“Also very useful can be cable-ties, bungee or line from a reel or spool.”

Image courtesy of BSAC. Photographer Jane Morgan shallow

GUE’s John Kendall: “Because diving involves putting ourselves in a place where we cannot naturally survive, everything that enables us to exist there could be considered safety gear. As a cave and technical diver, I consider carefully every piece of equipment that I carry, and make sure I have adequate back-ups as well. 

“A great example of this is lights. I carry a minimum of three lights on every dive: a primary and two back-up lights. That way I have practised using my lights on every dive, and know that they work for when I need them to. My lights enable me to communicate with my team under water, but can also be used to help signal to a boat from a distance. 

“Another vital piece of communications equipment is a decent DSMB. While this will work only over a short distance (VHS is line of sight, and with an antenna only a few centimetres from the surface of the water, that’s not very far), it can help a dive-boat find us if we start drifting on the surface. 

“I like to use oral-inflate closed-circuit ones, because I find these very easy and controllable to deploy, while maintaining their inflation even over a long decompression hang. Regular practice in deploying an SMB is key to making this safe rather than a risk. In addition, for offshore dives I carry a portable, waterproof VHS/GPS radio. 

Safety gear
Lightweight but useful for on-the-spot repairs

“Under water, I always carry a minimum of two cutting devices, a knife in a sheath on the waistband of my harness, and a line-cutter in my drysuit pocket. That way I can always get to one of them in the event of any kind of entanglement.

“I also carry a spare mask on every dive, and while many people consider this to be overkill, I have experienced mask failures on more than one occasion, and in one case it was during a particularly restricted bit of cave.

“Having my mask dismantle itself did not make the situation particularly enjoyable, but being able to simply reach into my pocket and pull out my spare made it a minor issue rather than a major incident.

“The other things I carry in my pocket are a pair of waterproof spanners. One is a stainless-steel adjustable, and the other is a cunning quad spanner with Allen key ends. Between these two tools I can repair most regulator issues.”

DSMB a priority

PADI examiner, Course Director and TecRec IT Vikki Batten: “A DSMB and reel/spool is the kit I never dive in the sea without. Depending on the dive I might have a small back-up or, for a tech dive in the UK, I would have three of each – a primary, a back-up and one to signal the need for my emergency gas supply to be lowered from the boat. 

“When I’m in a cave, the DSMB stays at home, but we still carry reels and spools – always at least one safety spool, but often many different sizes and length for different jobs. In fact on dives with complex navigation, teams drysuit-diving in caves often pass spools and reels to the person laying line, rather like passing a relay baton, to maintain the continuous line to the surface.

“Perfecting line-laying and passing equipment through the team is lots of fun, and a true test of working together.”

Spare Kit
A spare O-ring can save a dive – don’t assume someone else will have one!

PADI Instructor Examiner, Course Director & Regional Training Consultant Emily Petley-Jones: “While a good spares kit might not be considered as ‘safety gear’, having one available can help prevent divers from making unsafe decisions. There is nothing more frustrating than travelling for hours to reach a dive-site only to discover that one of your fin-straps is broken. If you have a spare, this is a quick and easy fix, and everyone gets to dive. 

Without a spare, the correct decision would be to abort the dive, but the ‘summit fever’ aspect of getting so far and not wishing to disappoint anyone can take over. Unfortunately, it can also happen that a diver will opt to botch together a quick fix so as not to disappoint their buddy.

“This is when poor judgment can potentially lead to an accident. To help prevent this sort of situation, consider having a kit check-list (on a slate or laminated) so that you can thoroughly check that you have everything before leaving home.

Out-of-signal locations

“From a safety point of view there are several considerations, such as the risk-assessment for the chosen location, and how you are going to communicate should an emergency situation arise.

“One major factor to consider is that while most people will carry a mobile phone, st some locations getting a signal can be a challenge, in which case you should review other communication options such as a radio or personal locator beacon.”

PADI Quality Management Consultant, Course Director & Instructor Examiner Jason Sockett: “A dive knife, DSMB and reel are essential pieces of safety kit I would carry on a dive. I have never been a fan of the large Rambo-style knives but I always carry a small knife that has a ‘hook’ in the blade. Quite a few companies make these line-cutters, which are incredible. If you do have any sort of knife, remember to keep it sharp.

“Consider what size of DSMB to buy. If you are diving in open water with a swell and are some distance from the boat, will the captain be able to see it? Once you have bought your DSMB and reel, keep practising deployment. ”

Photographs courtesy of Garry Dallas, Jane Morgan, BSAC & Nick Watson

Also on Divernet: Buying Your Own Gear, Packing Gear For A Dive TripWhat To Check Before DivingNight DivingDeveloping Core SkillsColdwater Diving, Caring For Diving EquipmentCalling A DiveConnecting On The Dive


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