View Full Version : Getting equipped for scuba lessons.

Capt Nemo
12-07-2012, 08:27 PM
If you are ready to take the plunge and want to learn scuba here's info on basic gear needed for class. Most of this gear is required by most dive shops to either have or to buy before getting certified. Also having this equipment allows you to go snorkeling and freediving without the added cost of air fills, or gear rental. After 20+ years of being scuba certified, I find myself snorkeling and freediving more than I use scuba.

The basic gear you will need is mask, snorkel, fins, and wetsuit boots. I would also recommend a 3-7mm full wetsuit with gloves and hood. While the full wetsuit almost doubles the cost, you will be thankfull when you are in the pool and everyone around you is shivering cold after a 1/2 hour of submergence.

You can pick up some good gear in thrift stores! Check it over good before buying. Basic gear used for scuba and snorkeling comes through quite often, and can be in new condition.

Anything like BCD's, regulators, gauges, ect, should be bought at a dive shop, and not online or in a thrift store. Regulator warranties are worth buying them new!!! Much used gear no longer has parts made for it, and isn't worth the hassel.

Proper swimwear

The first most important thing to get is a proper swimsuit. For guys, this means the dreadded Speedo! The racing styles tend to be higher cut than the diving style, but both are fine. There is a jammer style which are like bike shorts. Baggies under a wetsuit will bunch up, and may get pulled off upon removal.

For women, you will want a good one-piece where the straps crisscross or come together in the center of the back. Racing, waterpolo, or T-back frontzip suits work best. Bikinis should not be worn, as they can get untied or pulled off by the wetsuit. And for both guys and gals, you will be changing in parking lots and around other people, so wardrobe failures are probably not in your best interest! Women also get an advantage with the one piece, as it will help slow down heat/water transfer under their wetsuit.


There are many styles of masks available, but many aren't meant for diving. For diving, you want a mask with a nose pocket to allow for equalization of both the mask and ears/sinuses. Swimming goggles and masks do not have this, and can cause mask squeeze when used at more than a few feet underwater.

Look for a mask with a silicone skirt, rather than the cheaper PVC skirts. Silicone skirts come in clear, black, and recently white. Older masks may use black or various color rubber, and may cause reactions to those with latex or sulphur allergies. Also look for a double skirt around the top and sides.

Faceplates can be either oval, single lens or double lens. Look for the ones that say tempered. Tempered glass will shatter into small chunks with duller edges than plate glass which shatters into long sharp shards. Glass lenses will be scratch resistant unlike polycarbonate. Some will have side windows for extra wide vision. For those with glasses or contacts, masks can be fitted with prescription lenses and bifocals. Most of these are double lens masks. Some masks can be fitted at the dive shop if you know your prescription, and can be changed as needed.

Other masks have a purge valve built in the nose pocket to allow easy clearing underwater. However, the valve may leak over time and you will have to replace the valve if keeping the mask clear or equalizing becomes a problem. Some masks may have color correcting glass, but these depend on the color of the water. (green vs. blue) Another accessory is a neoprene mask strap, which can add to comfort,/* and less hair entanglement problems.

Fitting your mask is rather simple, just hold the mask to your face, inhale, and hold your breath. The mask should be stuck to your face without need of the strap. If the mask does not stick, check for hair in the seal, and try again. If it still does not stick, try a different mask.

A new mask should be cleaned with toothpaste before use. In the molding process, the mold release makes a thin film on the glass which will promote fogging, and antifog products will not work. Use a paste, not a gel type toothpaste. Tarter control paste works best. Spend a good 15 minutes scrubbing the inside of the glass, and then rinse.

When you buy a mask, also get a bottle of defog. It works better than spit! Before using the mask, squirt some defog on the glass and rub it in good. Then rinse the mask, and put it on immediatly. Don't let the inside of the glass dry or you will have to reapply. The defog works by spreading out the condensation that forms on the glass. I prefer the gel type, as some will wedge in the crevices, and slowly reapply as condensations forms. Both gel and liquid will sting if it gets in the eyes from a bad rinse job.


The snorkel is useful for surface swimming without using up your air supply. It also comes in useful for freediving and shallow water where scuba really isn't needed. The most basic is the simple J tube. While not the easiest to use, it is still the most reliable. Next come the vented tubes. They have a purge valve at the bottom, and when cleared, dump water out both the purge and top of the tube. The easiest to use is the dry snorkel tubes. They have a valve at the top and also a purge at the bottom. However, they will collapse or fill with water past 15 feet, and not always clear completely. It's one of those "make it more complex, and the easier it is to gum up the works!" There are compact tubes made of silicone that can coil up into a hockey puck sized package and can be stored in a BC pocket until needed.

Older J tubes were made of black (other colors too) rubber and can become very untasty in the mouth with age. Again, there may be allergies to this material. Most newer snorkels are silicone, and may use regulator mouthpieces that can be changed if damaged. Another thing to look for is a smooth interior for any corragated tubes, as the corragations could hold water, and make clearing a problem.


There are many types and designs. The main designs are the solid body, the vented, and the split fin. The solid body fins are the oldest design, and as you expect, the fin is solid from footpocket to tip. The long spearfishing designs are of this type and are the most powerful. The jet fins for their size are the next best to the spearfishing fins. These fins have 3 vents just ahead of the footpocket. The old version of this fin is made of black rubber, and is extremely durable, and inexpensive. Newer versions use polyethelene for blades and synthetic rubber in the footpocket. The jet fin is pretty much standard for technical diving. The split fin has a long slit up the center of the blade. It does reduce kicking force, and allows you to go longer distances before getting tired, but it reduces power and acceleration.

Many fins come in both full foot and open heel designs. The full foot is made for wearing barefoot, but you will want to wear a lycra sock to prevent chafing. They do not work well when wetsuits are needed. They are also very size dependant. Open heel designs are adjustable and can accomodate wetsuit boots easily.

Fitting is pretty simple. Wearing the wetsuit boot of your choice put the fin on without the strap and flop it around a bit. If it's loose, go down a size. If it stays put, put on the strap and wear it awhile. If your foot goes numb, or feels pinched, you want to go up a size.



You will need wetsuit boots for class, so this is where I'll start. Most boots are made to go above the ankle, and are of 7mm neoprene. There are many styles of sole bonded to them. The bootie or sock is just nylon coated neoprene and no sole. These will get the bottoms ripped up pretty quick, so you have to be careful of what you step on! My preferance is a sock with a soft urethane molded sole, with no rubber on top of the foot. These slide in and out of fins easier than when you have rubber on the top of the foot. Hard soles with rubber on top of the sock make the fins stick, and make life hard putting fins on and taking them off. Another feature is whether you want a zipper or not. Zippers will create a gap in your thermal protection, but make on and off easier.

Boots with felt soles should not be used!!! The felt may pick up invasive species and transfer them! They have become illegal to sell in the UK, and other nations/states are beginning to ban them. If you find them, DO NOT BUY!

For fitting, they should be tight fitting but give the toes wiggle room.

The Wetsuit

Again, while not absolutely needed for class, it does come in handy during lessons. Having and training in the pool with your own wetsuit, can aid in the open water dives where you would need to wear a wetsuit. It is also helpful for snorkeling as it can provide extra buoyancy, warmth, and prevent stings and sunburn. Women, have much better fat distrobution, and hence, better insulation, but, they generally have much less "thermal mass" than men, and thus get cold faster. This is why you will often see women wearing 7mm suits even in tropical water.

A wetsuit works by keeping a thin film of warm water next to the skin. On a loose fitting wetsuit, that water can flow out of the suit, bringing in cold water from outside, which the body then has to warm up. This is why wetsuits must fit as tight as possible, without cutting off circulation or limiting movement. Wetsuits will also compress with depth, and become thinner the deeper you go. While a 7mm suit feels like being the Michilan Man when you first put it on, the compression and lubrication of the water will move it into place, and soon you won't notice it much. It also helps to have a custom fit suit. This suit is cut to your measurements, and fits better, keeping you warmer. However, stock suits have replaced custom fit suits, due to everyone not wanting to wait, and thus the custom builders have gone out of business, or almost completely stopped doing custom work.

A good wetsuit should be glued and blind stiched. The best are glued and taped over the seams. Overlock and flatlock seams are not watertight due to the thread completely penetrating the neoprene. The overlock seams are the worst, as they are not watertight, and form a ridge inside the suit, which channels the water, and lets it flow in and out of the suit. One design that has made a comeback is the skin-in style suit. This wetsuit has glued and blindstiched outer seams, with bare smoothskin neoprene on the inside. This suit seals to the skin and is very warm for it's thickness. These suits will also have a titanium foil layer that looks either silver or gold. You should use a lubricant to don a suit of this style, and be very careful with fingernails. Hyperstrech wetsuits use more carbon in the neoprene which adds to the strechiness, making a great "one size fits all" wetsuit. However, they do tend to wear out faster due to repeated compression of the material. The suit becomes thinner with use. The material also tends to pill easy.

The three main styles of wetsuit are the two piece, jumpsuit, and the shortie. The two piece wetsuits usually have an overall, called a John or Jane, and a full torso jacket/shortie. These are some of the warmest suits, and also the most flexible, as the jacket or John may be worn alone in tropical water. The next is the jumpsuit, which is a full body wetsuit. The stock suit craze moved the zipper to the back, so surf suits and dive suits are built the same way. Most older divers don't like the back zip style, as the zipper can dig with the weight of scuba gear, and miss the thick spine pad. The shortie is like a jumpsuit only with short sleves and legs cut off mid thigh. Shorties are most often used in tropical waters or for pool sessions. High cut leg openings (French cut) are again coming back into style for women.


The hood helps keep heat from escaping from the head. It should fit the same as a wetsuit, tight, but shouldn't choke or give a headache. There are 3 main styles, the hooded vest, the bibbed hood, and the drysuit hood. The hooded vest is a vest with a hood attached, that is worn under the wetsuit. This is used in the coldest waters, along with the drysuit hood for drysuits. The bibbed hood has a large bib attached to the bottom, which is tucked into the wetsuit. The drysuit hood just covers the head and neck, and has smoothskin around the face and neck. This hood will somewhat, to totally seal around the face and drysuit neck seal, keeping the head wet to totally dry during the dive. There is also a beanie for warm water use.

Gloves or mitts

You have two main choices, gloves, or mitts. The wetsuit mitts are three finger, giving you a thumb, index finger, and the other three fingers together. Most divers hate the mitts except in the coldest water! There is a dry version as well that can keep the hands dry during the dive, and are used when diving commercially in chemical vats, PCB cleanup, or ice diving, ect. Most will choose gloves. A 3-5mm glove gives good dexterity, and 7mm is like diving in mitts. Webbed gloves offer fair dexterity, and some propulsion for snorkeling and freediving, but aren't needed for scuba except, in the case of handicapped divers. Most gloves will have gripping surfaces applied to the palms and fingers.

With all wetsuits and components, be mindful of transferring invasive species!!! One nasty bugger like the zebra/quagga mussel can hitch rides on wetsuits and gear, so quarantine gear when changing bodies of water. One test showed 150 zebra mussel larvae per square inch on a wetsuit after a 1 hour dive. They can live for up to 2 weeks out of the water.

Other gear that's handy.


The dive knife is a tool, and not a weapon!!! Try sticking a shark with most dive knives, and you just pissed him off, and don't come crying when he bites you!!! The dive knife is used for cutting line and prying. Nothing more! Monofiliment line is almost invisible underwater, and getting caught in it is very easy! A good knife should have both straight and serrated edges, and be of good quality stainless steel, and 2 1/2"-3" in length. Longer clip point blades are useful for prying. Most will come with a rubber/plastic sheath, and leg/arm straps. Smaller knives work best strapped to the arm with the handle toward the hand. Larger knives should be strapped to the waist or leg.

Diver's Flag

The dive flag is required in most areas to warn boaters. They may be attached to inner tubes or have their own float. Locally, a flag must be used if further than 150' from shore, or outside of a marked swimming area, and the diver must stay within 50' of the flag. Other areas may use the blue/white Alfa flag.

Dive Skin or Polartec Suit

The dive skin and polartec suits can either be worn by themselves or with a wetsuit or drysuit. The dive skin is a lycra frontzip bodysuit with stirrup feet and thumb/finger loops in the cuffs. The polartec is a heavier, multilayer suit of identical construction. Alone, these suits will provide protection from stings, scrapes, and sunburn. They will offer some thermal protection, as they do slow down the thin layer of warm water next to the skin. When worn with a wetsuit, they will aid in doffing and donning, and help trap the warm water in the wetsuit. Used with a neoprene drysuit, they will keep a diver much warmer.

Gear Bag and Hangers

A good gear bag should be able to hold all your gear. It should also have mesh panels to aid in drying. Wetsuit hangers should be wide and strong. Skinny hangers can crease the wetsuit leading to cold spots, or simply cannot handle the weight. There are also hangers for hoods, boots and gloves.

Weight Belt

A weight belt is sometimes needed for freediving and for scuba. While most BC's currently use integrated weight systems, you're not going to wear the BC while freediving. With thicker wetsuits, a weight belt is needed, as the buoyancy becomes a problem. A 7mm wetsuit can require at least 10 lbs of lead to become neutral at the surface, and can go to 30 pounds for some. There are two main forms of weight belt, the hard, and the shot. The hard belt uses solid lead weights, and the shot belt uses bags of lead shot in pouches. Hard weight comes in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11 pound blocks, with the larger molded concave. Shot weights come in 2, 3, 4, and 5 pound bags. Metal buckles are preferred, but plastic buckles work too.

Start with your wetsuit and gear on and add weight until you float with your eyes at water level. For scuba, do the same with an empty cylinder, or add an extra 2 lbs for a full one. A weight belt should open to the right, so when putting it on the buckle should be in the left hand, and the strap on the right.

Always treat your weight belt as a disposable item!!! Ditch your weight belt immediatly if having trouble staying buoyant! The cost of a new one is not worth your life!

Shot weights both in belts and integrated systems produce lead dust from the shot grinding against themselves. This will leave lead dust on pool decks and in the water. Hard weights leave very little residue unless scraped on pool decks. Vinyl coated weights are totally safe from residue problems.

Capt Nemo
12-10-2012, 06:00 PM
Finally done! :p

12-10-2012, 06:04 PM
Great info! I really want to be scuba certified but it seems like my health issues may prevent it. I'm on two wait lists for specialist, one for my heart, one for my ears, to see if anything can be done to help current conditions and specifically if I am healthy enough for scuba! Everything you put here really echoes what my local dive shop has told me.

Capt Nemo
12-10-2012, 06:34 PM
Yes it does! Truth doesn't change!

You may need ProPlugs for the ears. For the heart, scuba doesn't need to be super strenous. If you're finning around the pool in your tail, you should be just fine. The big thing is lung problems that cause scarring, as that can reduce lung compliance and cause embolism.

The average scuba swim test is roughly: (what I can remember of it)

200 meters with at least 2 laps of butterfly/crawl. (assume 25 meter pool)
Tread water for 5-6 minutes.
Underwater swim 10 meters with no push off. (30 ft)

If you could handle that, I'd say you're fine!

Mermaid Melanie
12-11-2012, 02:47 AM
If you are thinking of doing a PADI Open water course the performance requirements are :

Swim 200m without stopping ( not timed and there is no specification on how the student should swim... you can alternate between methods. also asking someone to do the butterfly is a bit much..that is for sure not a requirement.

Tread water for 10 mins... you can float or tread, no touching the bottom or sides ... basically just keep your head out of the water for 10 mins.

Skin Diving Skills - there is no swim 10 meters underwater but you do get taught methods for freediving - however in the PADI course they teach hyperventilation before diving down which goes against free diving theory as it can lead to shallow water black outs ... the correct method fro free diving is to slow down your heartbeat using your breathing.

Those are the basic "watermanship skills" the rest are diving related and theres around 25 skills total

Buoyancy is the most important thing you can master in scuba diving.

Remember these courses can be taught to 10 year olds.

Hope that helped somehow !

Capt Nemo
12-14-2012, 07:15 PM
The underwater swim was an old NASDS requirement.

The old NASDS course had the swim test as the first 1 hour pool session, and the next two pool sessions were devoted to snorkeling. After that, the next 7 were focused on scuba.

Mermaid Melanie
12-26-2012, 08:53 AM
Ah i see ! with PADI they keep making the courses easier and easier - eve the divemaster course has had a lot of basic dive theory cut out of it now - its a shame really cause I know without that I would have found the instructor theory much more difficult !

12-27-2012, 11:00 PM
The PADI instructor can still make it a quality course. If the instructor teaches it properly, it should still be a challenging and rewarding experience. The problem I'm noticing is lazy instructors (in all training agencies) are creating divemasters with poor skills. Then they become instructors without a proper foundation and a complete disregard for standards. I've noticed an increase in arrogance that creates a "won't happen to me" attitude. I hope this trend changes soon.

Capt Nemo
12-28-2012, 03:24 PM
It won't!!! Too much money involved in raking new divers over the coals for their dollar. Half the cost is agency training materials, and the other half is pool/gear rental, and most dive shops loose money on training. They have to make it up in gear prices. The other half of the problem is people wanting everything NOW, and not wanting to spend the time to do it right. Trying to pack everything into a 3 hour cruise isn't going to happen. So, that's why we get the scarry newbies!

Another 3 hour cruise!

12-30-2012, 01:16 AM
Thank you for this information it was really enlightening. I am starting lessons soon and i am SO excited!! :yay:

12-31-2012, 02:08 AM
Brittany...I'm sure you'll love it.

Mermaid Melanie
01-24-2013, 11:26 PM
I Personally have had to fail a few students for either not being fit enough for the swim test of simply just not succeeding in the pool sessions. I would not say its about lazy instructors where I live... we all work extremely hard on the teaching aspect and we get paid very little sometimes about 25 dollars for a 12 to 14 hour work day ... and if your student drops out or fails you dont get the full amount of money and may be out of work for a day or two ( everyone here is freelance pretty much )I have come across people who expect if they pay for the course they should receive the certification ... just because you take a class doesn't mean you pass the exam ... and unfortunately I have seen some "Divemasters" who are no more skilled than an Open Water Divers ! as for "it won't happen to me" - Iv'e never come across this attitude in Thailand. - most people here are painfully aware of the dangers of diving and have seen what poor attention, instruction and carelessness can cause. Here in Phuket I would say training is pretty good :)

The PADI instructor can still make it a quality course. If the instructor teaches it properly, it should still be a challenging and rewarding experience. The problem I'm noticing is lazy instructors (in all training agencies) are creating divemasters with poor skills. Then they become instructors without a proper foundation and a complete disregard for standards. I've noticed an increase in arrogance that creates a "won't happen to me" attitude. I hope this trend changes soon.

01-24-2013, 11:37 PM
I have also refused to certify students for not being able to meet the requirements...and not gotten paid at all for not certifying them. That never made sense to me because the shop didn't give them a refund...they didn't have to pay the PADI fees. So, the shop basically made out like a bandit. A big problem here is a large amount of instructors. This island is supersaturated with instructors. And there are 5 PADI IEs every year adding to that number. The shops are quick to take advantage of new instructors. By the time they figure it out and start speaking up for themselves, there's another IE and a new batch of fresh baby instructors.

01-24-2013, 11:47 PM
Great info! If I get to do a scuba camp this summer, I'll definitely have to come back to this thread. =)

Mermaid Melanie
01-25-2013, 12:34 AM
Here we also have so many instructors theres an IE every month lol but the same sort of thing does happen here - last season I worked for one of the bigger companies and they paid alright and we had a great team of instructors working together ! but this year the owner raised prices for customers and cut our pay ??! its getting tough to find a centre thats cares about the customers and the staff!

I have also refused to certify students for not being able to meet the requirements...and not gotten paid at all for not certifying them. That never made sense to me because the shop didn't give them a refund...they didn't have to pay the PADI fees. So, the shop basically made out like a bandit. A big problem here is a large amount of instructors. This island is supersaturated with instructors. And there are 5 PADI IEs every year adding to that number. The shops are quick to take advantage of new instructors. By the time they figure it out and start speaking up for themselves, there's another IE and a new batch of fresh baby instructors.