DO IT YOUR­SELF

Why divers should know how to main­tain their own gear — and what to leave to the pros

Scuba Diving - - Train - BY ERIC MICHAEL

No time is the right time for an equip­ment mal­func­tion. We divers are so de­pen­dent upon our gear that it only makes sense that we all should know how to prop­erly main­tain it and re­pair sim­ple break­downs. Un­for­tu­nately, that’s most of­ten not the case.

Dive gear is com­pli­cated, me­chan­i­cal and of­ten com­put­er­ized (not to men­tion ex­pen­sive), so many divers shy away from even the most rou­tine main­te­nance — beyond the oblig­a­tory après-dive rinse-and-pack. Tak­ing the time to get to know your equip­ment by thor­oughly read­ing man­u­als, re­search­ing trusted sources on­line, and ask­ing dive pro­fes­sion­als the right ques­tions can help you build a base of knowl­edge that can lead to safer dives and fewer ex­pen­sive re­pairs or re­place­ments. And it’s an im­por­tant step in be­com­ing a com­plete diver.

“Know­ing ba­sic main­te­nance gives you con­fi­dence,” says Mike Ward, pres­i­dent of Dive Lab, a Panama City Beach, Florida, gear test­ing and train­ing fa­cil­ity that han­dles breath­ing-ma­chine per­for­mance test­ing for Scubalab’s an­nual reg­u­la­tor test. “Un­like your car run­ning out of gas, where you can pull over and call a tow truck, when you are at 80 feet and all of a sud­den you blow an O-ring on your high-pres­sure gauge — you have a se­ri­ous prob­lem that can ruin your day.”

“When a diver gets to know their gear by clean­ing and check­ing it rou­tinely, they’ll have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how it works,” says cer­ti­fied re­pair tech­ni­cian Kenny Me­nen­dez of Scuba World in Or­lando, Florida. “This should lead the diver to cus­tom­ize their gear to fit them bet­ter and help them re­solve un­der­wa­ter is­sues faster and more safely.”

“As I de­vel­oped as a diver, I nat­u­rally felt that ser­vic­ing my own gear would be the right thing to do,” says Justin Maly, a marine en­gi­neer and man­ager of Scuba St. Lucia at Anse Chas­tanet Re­sort. “It’s im­por­tant to have a ba­sic knowl­edge of the way dive gear works, be­cause with knowl­edge comes empowerment and con­fi­dence. And you’ll save a lit­tle money.”

For those who are less than me­chan­i­cally in­clined or flat-out in­tim­i­dated by the idea of self-ser­vic­ing dive gear, we asked these pro­fes­sion­als for their best ad­vice for tak­ing con­trol of your own kit.

GET SOME CON­FI­DENCE

Many divers re­sist the idea of gear main­te­nance and re­pair out of sim­ple fear. How­ever, avoid­ing proper up­keep can lead to dis­ap­point­ment — or dis­as­ter. Some­times, you just have to dive in.

“Re­mem­ber how ner­vous you were when you did your open-water course? That was just fear of the un­known,” Maly says. “The same thing ap­plies to equip­ment re­pair. I rec­om­mend tak­ing a man­u­fac­turer’s course or a PADI equip­ment spe­cial­ist course. Most any lo­cal dive shop will be more than happy to ed­u­cate you on ba­sic equip­ment re­pair.”

“Divers should at least at­tempt ba­sic clean­ing and in­spec­tion for cor­ro­sion and dam­age. Most man­u­fac­tur­ers of­fer guides that ex­plain reg­u­lar user main­te­nance, in­clud­ing how to do ba­sic dis­as­sem­bly,” says Ward. “Sec­ond-stage reg­u­la­tors are a breed­ing ground for all kinds of nasty bugs. If you can­not re­move the reg­u­la­tor cover and di­aphragm, you can’t clean, dis­in­fect and dry it prop­erly.”

“Some­times your gear lives in the closet for many months be­fore you head for that spe­cial is­land for the best va­ca­tion ever,” Maly says. “Proper ser­vice and main­te­nance will help en­sure that your trip will be amaz­ing. If there’s a ques­tion if your dive gear will mal­func­tion — don’t dive it.”

GET AHEAD OF PROB­LEMS

Ev­ery great dive be­gins with prop­erly func­tion­ing equip­ment. By per­form­ing your own clean­ing, in­spec­tion and rou­tine main­te­nance, you can pre­vent an­noy­ing and some­times dan­ger­ous mal­func­tions be­fore they hap­pen.

“There are a lot of vari­ables that are out of our con­trol while div­ing, such as weather, tem­per­a­ture and cur­rent,” says Me­nen­dez. “The con­di­tion of our gear is very much in our con­trol, and we should all make sure it’s tip­top.”

“It’s very easy to skip clean­ing and dis­in­fect­ing, but this is ba­sic main­te­nance that re­ally makes a dif­fer­ence in per­for­mance and makes the gear last a lot longer,” Ward says.

“Stor­ing your gear prop­erly should be at the top of your list,” says Me­nen­dez. “Keep­ing equip­ment in­side the house will pro­long the life of your gear; air con­di­tion­ing will pre­vent tem­per­a­ture fluc­tu­a­tions and keep hu­mid­ity low.”

“One of the most com­mon prob­lems I see is sticky power-in­fla­tor but­tons, which can be a dan­ger­ous prob­lem if it cre­ates a run­away as­cent,” Maly says. “Al­ways in­spect your sil­i­cone — whether it’s your mask, mouth­piece or hoses — be­cause the life span of sil­i­cone is greatly re­duced by ex­po­sure to heat and sun­light.”

GET THE RIGHT TOOLS

No dive kit is com­plete with­out tools. Hav­ing the right tool can make the dif­fer­ence be­tween the best dive of your life and the salty af­ter­taste of your own tears.

“I strongly be­lieve that ev­ery diver, re­gard­less of skill level, should have at min­i­mum a save-a-dive kit,” says Maly. “There are many dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies mak­ing these kits, and one day yours will live up to its name, not to men­tion help a fel­low diver in need.”

Beyond the most ba­sic components of a good save-a-dive kit — O-rings, zip ties, mask and fin straps, sil­i­cone lu­bri­cant, first-stage plugs, de­fog so­lu­tion and a scuba-spe­cific mul­ti­tool — some other ba­sic tools to con­sider are ad­justable wrenches, Allen wrenches, nee­dle-nose pli­ers, cut­ting snips, tweez­ers, nonabra­sive brushes, and screw­drivers of as­sorted for­mats and sizes. An air com­pres­sor or even a can of com­pressed air can be very use­ful, along with a mag­ni­fy­ing glass. And for divers with the am­bi­tion and proper train­ing, tools spe­cific to your equip­ment are of­ten avail­able for more-in­va­sive pro­ce­dures.

“An in­ter­me­di­ate pres­sure gauge will en­able you to check the first stage to sec­ond stage pres­sure,” says Ward. “Brass O-ring picks are good be­cause brass will not scratch the chrome sur­faces of your equip­ment when chang­ing O-rings.”

GET THE RIGHT HELP

Some main­te­nance and re­pair, how­ever, is best left to the pros. Know­ing when to say when should be in­formed by hon­est self-as­sess­ment and re­flex­ive cau­tion.

“Al­ways fol­low the man­u­fac­turer’s rec­om­men­da­tions,” Ward says. “Un­less you are trained as a tech, leave the most dif­fi­cult pro­ce­dures to the pro­fes­sion­als who are cer­ti­fied and do it all the time.”

“Reg­u­la­tors, BCS, in­fla­tors and tank valves need to be com­pletely dis­as­sem­bled, cleaned and re­assem­bled with new parts on a reg­u­lar ba­sis,” says Me­nen­dez. “Au­tho­rized techs have the ap­pro­pri­ate tools, parts and cal­i­bra­tion equip­ment.”

“Make sure the per­son per­form­ing your ser­vice has been trained by a fac­to­ryau­tho­rized trainer,” says Ward. “And make sure they can do a com­plete ser­vice such as com­par­ing the sub­mersible pres­sure gauge, pres­sure test­ing low-pres­sure hoses, and giv­ing you doc­u­men­ta­tion.”

“Ev­ery equip­ment man­u­fac­turer has a list of au­tho­rized tech­ni­cians — it’s com­pletely rea­son­able to ask a tech if they are knowl­edge­able about your model,” Me­nen­dez says. “Ex­plain any con­cerns so the tech­ni­cian can thor­oughly di­ag­nose any prob­lems, and af­ter the ini­tial test, ask to be con­tacted with an es­ti­mate so there are no sur­prises. Then, be sure to test the equip­ment when pick­ing it up, and ask for any tips or ad­vice that per­tains to your spe­cific gear.”

“If you look around, you’re sure to find an ‘equip­ment nerd’ like me at most rep­utable dive shops,” says Maly. “Ask if you can watch your gear be­ing ser­viced. I per­son­ally love hav­ing my guests watch me re­pair their gear and shar­ing my knowl­edge.”

“It’s im­por­tant to have a ba­sic knowl­edge of the way our dive gear works, be­cause with knowl­edge comes empowerment and con­fi­dence.”

ERIC MICHAEL is a for­mer ed­i­tor-in-chief of both Scuba Div­ing and Sport Diver mag­a­zines, a vet­eran Scubalab test-team diver, and au­thor of Dive Hacks since 2015.

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