What kind of dive gear should I take on a tropical vacation?
Good question especially if it is your first, and certainly if you are used to diving somewhere a bit less tropical.
Our diving brothers and sisters north of here are subjected to underwater environments a little more demanding, and tend to require more gear in gross tonnage. Recollecting my younger and rasher days as a drysuit diver in the Seattle area, brings memories of being encased in a neoprene sack, wearing two sets of long johns, and a 40 lb weight belt. Don't get me started on the ice cream headaches.
It's like Mecca to divers to go tropical diving. Many would wonder; "what other kind is there?". I remember my first couple of trips and the decision process of what to bring. Make no mistake that your local dive shop is very experienced in getting you kitted up, and given the chance will outfit you for any eventuality.
The fact of the matter is that where you are diving on vacation has everything you could need for rent, but rental gear is well, rental gear. It always seems to be "almost" a perfect fit, and you learn to ignore dwelling on previous usage. Check before you go especially if the airlines draconian baggage limits are a factor. Remember when you could have two seventy pound bags on the very same airplanes? It's true, and they even had food for you, and no credit card slot on the restrooms. You could even get water in greater quantities than 4 ounces. Sometimes I miss the last millennium.
I've been a strictly tropical diver for the last ten years and have decided opinions on what a diver needs in this area. So with the shopping season upon us, and your upcoming visit to Roatan (what better gift for a loved one than a trip for two to Roatan? You may get invited along!), my vast, and yet humble experience, let me go through my idea of a traveling tropical dive kit, and let's approach it from what I consider the most important first.
Mask - Number one without a doubt to me. It took time to find the make and model of the mask that is the one. It makes the dive. Now that I need glasses the mask is essential, as I have it fitted with prescription lenses and bifocals. They are amazing and worth the time and expense. I use Prescription Dive Masks(.com), and have been extremely satisfied.
A mask weighs a pound and it should be in your bag any time you travel.
Dive computer - Safety, extended bottom times, and something really cool to have on your arm at the local watering hole. Change your batteries before you leave! An often heard lament here would be from a new arrival getting ready for the first dive. "My computer battery is dead! I don't understand it. I put a new one in there a couple of years ago, and have only gone on three dives since!" Sorry nothing lasts forever, change your battery.
Regulator set - This is the next piece of equipment I would bring if I were to only take three pieces of gear. Regulators to me are very personal. After all, you carry it around in your mouth. Most certainly the dive operator you choose keeps his gear antiseptically squeaky clean, but unless my regulator is stepping out, it has only "been" with me. Have it serviced before you go, and I carry a rebuild kit for mine.
Wet suit - "It's the tropics what do I need that for?" That was exactly what I thought when I moved south. Amazingly you acclimate, and getting in two or three dives a day in water in the low 80°s eventually gets a little chilly. For summer diving starting about June (check your hemisphere) I use a 3mm shorty. This takes me through to about the New Year. January diving for me is in a full length 5mm wet suit. Come February I start wearing a hood, and sniveling pathetically. Slowly and with much personal discomfort the process reverses, then repeats.
BCD - Diving in the tropics is a lightweight proposition. With minimal exposure gear, most use only 10 to 15 lbs of weight to get neutrally buoyant, so a BCD with 65 to 100 lbs of lift is a little over kill. BCDs are bulky and not very luggage friendly, which puts them down this far on the list. Most companies make travel versions of their BCDs that are light and cut down on the bulk for packing. Personally I use a harness type BCD from Dive Rite. Using the Trans-Pac harness with their travel wing gives me a compact unit sporting 25 lbs of lift. (This is an unpaid non-endorsement).
Fins - Everyone has an opinion on this. Jet fins from the time of dinosaurs (1964), Long blade, wide blade, stiff, soft, hinged, split, full foot, with or without booties, and in every color of the rainbow. Wanna dive with yours? Bring 'em.
This is all you need to have an incredible tropical dive vacation, but there is so much stuff in the store and Christmas is coming ! With this in mind let's explore some extra equipment you may feel the need to have with you.
Safety Weenie - I have mine on every dive. We use them as surface markers deployed at the safety stop of the dive to warn boat traffic of our location. Like other weenies you may be aware of, these weenies come in many shapes and sizes. Personally, mine is four feet long, and orally inflated. Besides being used as a locator, in the event of buoyancy issues on the surface it acts as an emergency float. Keep in mind that a 100lb lift bag is approaching the extreme here in the tropics.
Underwater lights - Oh my goodness there are some amazing lights on the market now. The sky's the limit on these, and they are great on a trip not only for night dives and looking in those underwater crevices, but handy on land in third world countries where the power may be a bit less reliable. Some of these are bright enough to use for personal protection, noting that an attacker with charred retinas is less of an attacker.
Camera - Of course. And all the falderal that goes with it!
Gloves - Not allowed. We are in the Roatan Marine Park and the touching of the reef and its denizens is forbidden. We are ready to teach the Peak Performance Buoyancy specialty which will make gloves totally unnecessary, and besides it's warm here.
Snappers, Bangers, Rattles, Shakers, and all the other attention getting devices. Look, I'll be honest with you, we are not fans of these. They are noisey! And used far too often. A dive group with brand new shiny ones will shortly run into the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" scenario. Most of us carry a big stainless carabiner and occasionally, every few dives we might unclip it and bang on our tank to point out something like a passing Sperm Whale.
These are just a few of the myriad thousands of absolutely necessary bits of gear the diver on your shopping list cannot live without. It is a tough decision that can be easily remedied by getting a gift card at your divers favorite Scuba retail outlet, and let them decide.
Don't forget that a plane ticket to Roatan, and a 10 dive package with West End Divers is the ultimate in Holiday Gifting.
We at West End Divers wish you and yours the very Happiest of Holiday seasons, and we hope to see you soon.