To work properly, your mask needs to have a good watertight fit. This need for a precise, personal fit is why your mask should be one of the first pieces of gear you buy, because finding a good fit every time you dive would be a hassle. Buying your mask before your first in-water class session will help you start your underwater journey comfortably and leak-free. Dual-lens masks are generally easier to equalize and can sit closer to your face — many can also be outfitted with corrective/prescription lenses; single lens masks offer a large, unobstructed field of view.
In addition to sizing, each fin has its own characteristics that can affect its performance. Short fins are maneuverable and good at turning. Stiff fins take more effort to kick, but provide a large return on investment in terms of propulsion and thrust. Soft fins are easy to swim in, but aren’t generally the most powerful kickers. Buying your own set of fins early will help you be more comfortable in the water — but if possible, you might want to try a couple of styles during your certification class before purchasing to see which suits your needs best.
You will want to buy your snorkel at the same time you get your mask. Fit isn’t as crucial, but you should be comfortable with the mouthpiece in place and be able to breathe dryly and comfortably. Some models feature flexible, corrugated portions for increased comfort and semi-dry/dry tops that are meant to keep water out. It’s important to have a snorkel because you never know when you may need to spend an extended time swimming or waiting at the surface — but unless you plan to do lots of snorkeling, you will be perfectly fine with a simple, basic model.
Wetsuits keep you from getting cold, but also provide protection from cuts and stings. Fit is crucial: Too tight and you’ll feel like you’ve been squeezed into a sausage casing, too big and you’ll experience a constant flush of cold water. You can get away with renting one, but buying your own guarantees a perfect fit every dive and you’ll never have to wonder if someone has previously relieved themselves in it. Suits come with a number of different features such as wrist/ankle zippers and kneepads and are available in a variety of thicknesses to suit different conditions.
A dive computer calculates no-decompression limits using the same principles you learned while working through dive tables, except it constantly factors in your actual depth and bottom time to give you longer dive times while keeping you within a safe margin. A computer also can monitor ascent rate and tank pressure, log your dives and much more. You can rely on tables — increasingly less common — or rent a computer as the need arises; buying your own prevents the headache of learning to operate a new model each trip and gives you a history of your recent dives.
Your buoyancy compensator controls your buoyancy, secures your tank and acts as storage for any accessories you bring. The two main types are jacket BCs, where the air cell wraps around the front, and back-inflate BCs, where the air cell is only on the back. This is an important piece of gear that you can use for many years. Go for quality and do your research. Many offer convenient features, but above all, make sure your BC is comfortable and stable in the water. Test as many models as you can in real diving situations before buying, even if you have to rent them to try them out.
The good news: Among major-label regulators — the kind sold in dive shops — there is no junk. Regs have been perfected to the point where even budget models can offer high performance. But you must do your research before buying this vital piece of gear; look for regulators than can deliver high volumes of air at depth, under heavy exertion and even low tank pressures. Regulators require regular servicing to stay in safe working order, so renting from a reputable dive shop can save you the hassle and expense while allowing you to try out a plethora of regs.
Night diving allows you to experience the reef in a whole different way, but this type of diving isn’t possible without an underwater flashlight. If night diving isn’t for you, a light can still be a handy tool to have in your underwater arsenal as it can restore colors at depth, illuminate dark overhangs and wrecks, and be used to signal for help in an emergency. Lights can be big, for primary use, or compact and easily stowed in a BC pocket. Many feature multiple power levels and rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Emergency flash and SOS modes are useful in signaling for help.
Surface Marker Buoy
Surface marker buoys, or SMBs, are inflatable tubes that float on the surface to mark a diver’s location. They can be deployed at the surface and underwater, making it easier for your dive boat to keep track of you, and signal to other vessels to keep a safe distance. Larger SMBs are easier to see; some feature reflective tape and other means of increasing visibility. Look for inflation options that work for you, such as oral inflation, low-power inflators and open-bottom designs that can be filled with your exhaust bubbles.
A knife can be an invaluable tool when dealing with entanglements. Small knives are often better-suited for delicate cuts and are easy to stow. A comfortable and secure grip is key for getting enough power into the cut. Some knives come apart for cleaning, and many feature both straight and serrated edges for maximum versatility.
Diving involves lots of travel; a dependable bag will make transporting your gear much easier. Bags with wide openings make for easy packing and allow you to quickly access your equipment. Mesh bags allow air to circulate around wet gear. Make sure the handles and straps of your bag are durable and comfortable to use with heavy loads.