First off, I would like to give you a short introduction to who I am, so that you’re not saying “Who’s this guy think he is, and why should I listen to him?” So here we go... My Name is Dillon, I am a cold-water trained PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, and have been diving for a little over 5 years, most importantly I have worked in the Dive Industry for just over two years now at local dive shop in Canada. My main area of expertise is in the servicing and sales of SCUBA gear. I have extensive experience in everything from visual inspections, compressor maintenance, dry suit repair, regulator servicing and more. I am a Scubapro, Hollis, Oceanic, Aries, Zeagle and Tusa service technician. As well as Whites dry suits service technician. So to say the least, I have paid my dues and done my fair share of training to get myself in a position to hopefully shed light on some myths and maybe give the readers a little more information they may have been lacking (I am in no way looking for an ego boost but appreciate any “ohs” or “awes”).
Now that I have successfully bored you OR captured you with the short story of my position in the diving industry, I would like to get into the deep and dirty of this feature. Servicing your gear and why it is important? I am going to speak about topics such as: Regulator Service, Tank Service and Gas Fills, BCD Service, Self Maintenance and Manufacturer Warranties. I will also be doing another feature in the near future about purchasing dive gear. I am going to keep this novel worthy topic to an acceptable amount of reading so if I haven’t covered something on your mind please feel free to comment and I will do my best to reply to each and every one!
Let’s start this topic off with the first thing that should always be imprinted into your mind, not only when you take your regulator in for service, but when you pack it away under your dive gear, store it for an extended period of time or wonder if your regulator is overdue for service. This is your life support system! It is of the same importance as the systems on a space shuttle, it is delivering oxygen rich air to your lungs to control your body’s functions, and we all know what happens without it.
By far this is the MOST important piece of equipment that you own, as reasoned in the above paragraph so we must take care of it accordingly. Your regulator should be serviced annually (with some brands 2 years, and we will talk about this shortly) no matter if you have 1 dive or 100 dives. Why? Because your regulator is built of many moving parts, especially o-rings which are made of either Rubber and on most or all newer regulators it will be EPDM (Oxygen Compatible to 40%). After a year the integrity of the o-rings start to diminish and the lubricants start to wear down and become stale. So it’s not a matter of “Oh but I only dove with it 4 times so I can service it in another year”, it’s a time issue. Just like the oil in your car, only good for 3 - 4 months, you wouldn’t think twice about changing the oil in your summer sports car. So which one is more important to you? And why would you want to cut corners in this case.
Taking your regulator in for annual service is not as expensive as you may think, 100 – 200 dollars a year and cheaper with some equipment manufacturers covering the parts for you. Some brands say that you need to service your regulator every two years. I would strongly (emphasis on the strong) advice that you use the following to determine when you take your regulator to your local dive shop. Consider the following:
1. Service your Regulator Annually if you do 1 – 50 dives a year; which is typical of a vacation diver
2. If you are what the SCUBA industry labels as an “active diver” you do 50 – 100 dives a year, and in this case you should service your regulator annually and definitely do not wait two years.
3. Are you in the 100 + range? If so way to go! You should be proud to call yourself a dive-a-holic or dive addict. Get your regulator serviced at least two times a year if you can afford it.
Personally, I teach and dive for my own leisure, so not only do I rely on my gear, so do my students and buddies, and therefore I get mine serviced every 6 – 12 months at the least. Some manufacturers cover you for parts under your warranties every 6 months, wait until you read down to the warranty section of my feature and I will elaborate for you!
Tank Service and Gas Fills
So everyone should have learnt in their respective beginner dive courses a little bit about scuba tanks. If so you should know that there are two types of tanks, Steel and Aluminums. Also that these tanks should receive a visual inspection every year and a hydro static inspection every 3-5 years depending which country you live in (North America is 5 years). There are also a few types of pressures for steel tanks, where as aluminums are to a max of 3000 and some HP Aluminums to 3300 PSI (200 Bar to 220 Bar). Steels have three types of pressure ratings, Low Pressure (2400 PSI/160 Bar), Pressure (3000PSI/200Bar), and High Pressure (3400PSI/230Bar) which are most popular. In respect to buoyancy of aluminums and steels, an aluminum 80 tank will make you positively buoyant about 6 pounds or 3kgs at the end of your dive, whereas a steel 100 will stay negative 6 pounds and remain neutral when empty. I am going to try and keep this as plain and simple as possible so that every level of reader can enjoy this equally.
Let’s start with aluminums and what you should know for servicing them. Aluminum tanks are tough, because they have such thick walls but they do not handle impact very well and with older tanks are especially prone to cracks, bursts and dents in the metal. Service of your aluminum tank should mean simply that you are being careful when moving the tank or transporting it, keeping an up to date visual inspection (visuals) and making sure that you take it to a reputable fill station as to keep out contaminates which could cause interior corrosion. The type of corrosion that would be commonly found in an aluminum tank is aluminum oxide, caused by moisture build up from an improperly maintained compressor or letting your tank run out of air ( this is a mandatory visual inspection from any dive shop and for your own safety you should recommend it). Also Valve service is very important and is recommended by tank manufactures annually, a note on this is that you can either get a valve rebuild or a valve clean. Some dive operations will simply clean and replace o-rings, where as others will replace the valve inner workings, which I personally recommend as to avoid catastrophic failure.
Steel tanks have mostly the same service requirements that aluminums do, such as keeping care during transport, up to date visual inspections and getting the valve serviced. In regards to corrosion of the inner tank, what we (the visual inspector) would commonly come across is a bit of rust. If you have experienced your dive shop saying “we tumbled your tank” this doesn’t mean they pushed it down the drive way, or tried to see how many times they could make it flip when throwing it. It means that they filled the tank with a composite that takes a small layer off, rinsed it, and dried it to like new conditions. Just like coating your skis with a fresh layer of wax. This is a result of fast fills, which can be avoided by taking it again to a reputable dive outfit. The last consideration for care of YOUR steel tank is that you should give the dive shop adequate time to fill your tank. There is something called a hot fill, which is when the tank is filled to 10 percent it’s working pressure (LP/P/HP remember!) which would increase the heat of the metal causing it to expand and contract when cooling. This is bad for your tank and WILL reduce the life of your tank. So don’t blame the dive shop for fast or hot fills, it’s up to your time restraints.
One of the only complaints I get, besides customers jealous of my stunning good looks, is that “You Failed my tank so you could sell me a new one!” You have every right to think that, and I can’t speak for other dive shops, but I can speak for my own when I say, we like to walk on our own two legs. There could be many reasons that your tank failed visual inspection, but most commonly there are cracks in the tank threads (more than three to be exact). This would cause a failure that would severely injure the tank filler if it were to fail. Another reason may be that your tank is old dude! The maximum life expectancy for an aluminum tank is 25 years old and 30 years for steel. So we are not looking to make money, we just want to ensure the safety of ourselves and co-industry workers by getting a sketchy tank off the market.
Gas fills are simple: Reputable dive shop, maintained compressor, and visually inspected tanks. In North America most dive shops should have their air tested quarterly to grade “E” standard and filters changed every 100-200 hours to a maximum of 6 months, YOU SHOULD NOT be afraid to ask the shop owner these questions and if they can’t answer, go elsewhere. With enriched air or custom fills over 40 percent you are required to have your tank oxygen serviced, this includes cleaning of the valve and inner tank to avoid an oxygen explosion which could potentially level the dive store to rubble.
Just like any piece of your gear, the BCD is very important and a failure would be cause to end your dive or possibly put yourself at harm. So what consists of a BCD Service? Well you have the major parts of your BCD that you need to consider: the inflator, the bladder and the dump valves. All of these require attention, some annually and some are after every dive. You are responsible for checking the function of your BCD and for bringing it in for service when needed. I would recommend checking the following for proper operation before and after every dive:
1. Your inflator is adding and releasing air on press of the inflator and deflator buttons and is not slowly leaking or “auto-filling” your bladder.
2. The washers that keep your dump valves and inflator are hand tight and not loose.
3. Your BCD holds air over night when fully inflated
4. Your BCD’s dump valves are free of debris to avoid an overfilling or dumping problem during your dive.
When you bring your Regulators in for service, bring in your BCD, you can’t go diving without your regulator so you might as well have your BCD’s inflator valve serviced and valves cleaned, it will cost you 40 dollars at the very most and is well worth it to avoid failure. What we do is take your inflator off, inspect the body for any cracks and replace the inner workings with a special kit from the manufacturer.
Self maintenance is one of the most important skills you can have as a SCUBA diver, even if it is not your own gear. The golden rule, if you could not do anything and you are the type of person that things a screw driver is a garden tool, then you can remember this: RINSE, RINSE, and RE-RINSE! It’s that easy, the simple dunk in cold water is going to be the difference between a short time or a life time with your gear. The fact of the matter is, diving is a very expensive hobby, and very gear dependant, so we cannot risk purchasing something twice, or hurting ourselves.
Besides rinsing self maintenance can be very easy and I would like you to refer to the list that I have provided below for each piece of dive gear that you might own. A few key things to note are the difference between a rinse and a soak, duh! Rinse means you are not leaving it submerged for extended periods of time!
Mask – Fresh water soak, inspect silicone strap for nicks which can lead to complete tear
Snorkel – Fresh water soak, inspect the purge valve for nicks and cuts
Fins – Fresh water rinse or soak depending on your love for them, if you have spring straps you are in the clear. If you have rubber straps, check around the buckles for wear or discolouration
BCD – Fill Bladder with Water and Rotate for an even rinse, drain and inflate to dry, then drain
Regulator – If you have a yoke regulator rinse the 1st stage and hang over edge of rinse bucket, and soak the second stages for an hour or so. If you have a DIN regulator, you are likely to have a water proof cap, if not, get one, and soak entire regulator for an hour or so
Computer – Soak in sink, do not leave over night or your batter life will mysteriously disappear
Other Accessories – Lights, Knives, Lift Bags (rinse inside) and Reels etc. Can all be soaked!
Wetsuits – Do you pee in your wetsuit? Well everyone sweats in it, you just don’t feel it so get your hands on some organic cleaners like Mirazyme or Dettol and soak that baby!
Dry Suits – Rinse outside, especially valves and make sure they are functioning properly
That about covers the cleaning duties post dive for your gear, if you would like to know more about changing o-rings and things like that I will be happy to answer any comments, and requests for future features on gear more specific to your needs.
There are so many scuba manufacturers out there today so I am not going to focus too much on any particular one; I will however give you my opinion on which is the best and which options I would go for. There are lots of rules and regulations that store operators are given when they become a specific brand dealer, and this goes with any type of retail store, but it is more elaborate in regards to service for your scuba equipment.
Regulators are a big one... Most manufacturers will have a special parts warranty that will give you free parts if you stay within your service agreement, which is usually annual, but with a few crazy ones on a two year plan. Right off the bats we need to make sure that the shop that you get your gear serviced at, let’s say you have scubapro gear for a second, IS a scubapro authorized dealer. Otherwise the service you are receiving could potentially be unreliable and void your warranty as a customer. Also we need to consider the reputation of the shop. After all as we discussed how important it is for maintaining a safe diver career to have properly serviced gear, does this shop have the proper training, and good reviews from customers, do they keep a clean establishment? Ask all these questions to yourself before choosing your service technicians.
Here is another myth being cast away, and has been a huge issue in the dive industry for many years: Online Gear Purchase. Just like with the tanks, we aren’t trying to convince you not to buy online, arguably to the customer it may be cheaper, but you lose some serious benefits, such as your warranty, not limited to customer service, having in stock items, and damaged goods. Plain and simple, NO and I mean NO manufacturer supports any sales of their goods online, sites like leisure pro and scuba gear dot com will state on their site that they do have this warranty. But I would impress upon you that they do not, and if you would like to call the manufacturer they will surely back this up. I want to remain as un-biased as possible here, and say that you should buy things online, like clips and hoses and mask straps and cool t-shirts. But save your big gear for the dive shops and keep the industry alive. Also so people like me have a day job to go to!
Warranty parts are usually free with manufactures in most cases, and even more amazing is that you could benefit from this more than once a year. If you are a good customer to your dive shop, ask them about being able to receive warranty part agreements every 6 months if you do over 100 dives a year. It is worth the extra labour fees as your regulator is itching for a cleaning!
If you service all of your gear annually, you should have no problem with any of it, but just be aware of the possible problems and it will make you a more complete diver. Service costs are nothing compared to the result of inadequate care for your gear. So shell out the couple hundred dollars and take care of yourself too! Thank you very much to each and everyone that read my feature, and I hope to have given you a little information into the world of SCUBA gear service and how absolutely important it is for all of these things to be done.
Happy and safe diving, and please look out for many more features about buying gear, selling gear, training advice and more.