Your dive gear represents a substantial investment, not only in dollars but also in important life-support equipment. While it is money well spent on a delightful and fun pastime, you’ll want to protect that investment so that your gear withstands the rigors of our sport for a long time to come.
Not protecting and maintaining your gear can get expensive. While dive gear is made tough for an extremely difficult environment, if not well maintained it will cease to function properly. And although it’s extremely rare, equipment failure while diving can lead to dangerous consequences.
Fortunately, there are easy preventions and solutions. But let’s review the enemies first so that we can better understand how they attack and how to combat them.
Corrosion is a process where loose oxygen molecules attach to metal parts in a process known as oxidation. Metal is lost so that critical parts are eaten away and pitted and eventually made useless. Corrosion can attack gear made of stainless steel, aluminum, copper, and chrome-plated brass, and of course steel.
An o-ring seal is particularly vulnerable to corrosion. How an o-ring seals is not just a function of the rubber o-ring but also what it seals against. If that metal surface is pitted by corrosion the seal will be compromised. The pliable delicate o-ring itself will be torn-up by the rough edges.
Springs also fall victim. With every molecule the spring corrodes away it becomes less effective and will eventually fail.
There are many critical moving parts that make your dive gear function. Many of these are machined in metal to very close tolerances. Most obvious is the regulator. Corrosion pits small, smooth and intricately moving parts. Burs can form, scratching and gouging occurs and performance suffers.
The corrosion problem becomes even worse and progresses faster when you have two dissimilar metals in contact with one another. An electro-chemical reaction occurs that accelerates the process.
Dried salt water forms crystals. If not dissolved and swept away by freshwater, these crystals will morph into tiny sharp points that scratch metal surfaces and tear at delicate soft surfaces.
After ocean diving the buoyancy compensator (BC) will have potentially damaging salt water inside the bladder. Salt crystals can also seize up other BC parts such as exhaust valves and inflators. Connectors will not slip on and off as designed. The moving mechanical valves on dry suits can also be damaged.
Sand grains imbed themselves in o-rings and soft valve mechanisms dramatically reducing efficiency or causing them to fail all together. Regulators will free-flow and BC valves will become jammed. Quick-connects clogged with sand can become impossible to use.
And like tough salt crystals, these tiny rocks scratch metal, silicone, rubber and plastic parts again reducing effectiveness leading to possible failure.
Even zippers can be affected by sand. Zippers clogged with sand need more force to close. Too much tugging and pulling will rupture the zipper rendering it useless. And of course Velcro covered in sand becomes useless as well.
Rot comes from bacteria brought on by organic material amongst your dive gear, usually wet dive gear. The organic material is made up of skin and skin oils sloughed from your body, sweat, urine, and microscopic marine creatures you may have unintentionally picked up on your last dive.
Anything that’s rotting smells bad. But it is worse than that. Bacteria can also attack soft parts of gear, especially neoprene dive suits. Bacteria have a bad habit of infiltrating the fabric of wet neoprene and can slowly break it down.
This enemy is likely the least considered. Often divers think those pool sessions for training dives are harmless and rinsing is not needed because the water is “fresh.” Except, freshwater pools high in chlorine can damage your gear, especially the bladder of your BC. Note: Chlorine levels in ordinary tap water are not high enough to damage your gear.
The good news is you don’t need a sophisticated arsenal to do battle with all these enemies. All you need is a source of fresh water, a large bucket (or bathtub), maybe some mild detergent and the tincture of time.
The mantra here is, “Rinse, rinse, soak and rinse some more.” Thoroughly rinse all your dive gear with fresh water as soon as possible after a dive, especially delicate and sensitive pieces of gear such as regulators and BC inflators. Properly rinsing away salt water will slow corrosion, prevent salt crystal formation and wash away that pesky sand.
Odds are you will not have a full-on freshwater rinse facility available to you on the boat or at the beach. However, there are a few things you can do to hold your gear over until you can deliver a full and proper rinse. Usually on dive boats there is a tank of fresh water designated for cameras and usually regulators. Use it, but understand that the water here is generally already contaminated and a better soak/rinse is necessary as soon as you reach home. Other alternatives are the freshwater hose on the boat (if equipped) or on the beach a freshwater shower. If none of these are present keep a freshwater bottle handy to give a gentle swish to your regulator and BC inflator.
The most important item to rinse is the regulator system. First, always make sure the cap that covers the first stage inlet is securely in place before rinsing or soaking the regulator. In addition, avoid pushing the purge button down on the second stage, as this will allow water and debris inside. And never use a forceful stream of water. A gentle rinse is best.
If possible, soak your gear for an hour or more, gently swish, and then soak for another hour.
The BC needs special attention. You need to rinse the interior of the BC as well as the outside. Flush the inside of the BC with freshwater by depressing the oral inflation button while you use a hose to fill the BC. Swish the water around, dump it out and then inflate the BC and place it in a shady area to dry. When dry, partially deflate the BC for storage.
Should you use a rinse agent? To be safe, check the owner’s manual for information about using chemical agents, and only use a mild rinse agent or detergent deemed safe for dive gear. For wet suits a bit of soap every once in a while is beneficial to keep the suit from smelling funky. In a pinch you can get by with just a touch of mild dishwashing liquid or bleach-free laundry soap. Rinse all soaps away with fresh water. Finally, rinse the rest of your dive gear (fins, mask and snorkel) and your dive bag to remove sand.
DRYING AND STORAGE
Never put your gear away while it’s still wet. Instead, let it dry completely in a shady place with plenty of airflow.
Invest in a heavy-duty wet suit/gear hanger, available at your dive center. They’re relatively inexpensive, and are perfect for storing all your gear in one place, especially exposure suits. If possible, avoid folding your wet suit. If you must, loosely roll the wet suit around other gear. Avoid tight folds and creases, which will break down neoprene seams, nylon lining and latex elements.
Also, consider hanging suits inside out, as this will help deter bacteria growth. Hang dry suits upside down for quicker drying.
The way you dry, hang and store your gear matters. Do not hang regulators in such a way that puts undue stress on the hoses. It’s better to loosely coil them on the top of your dive bag or store them in a large plastic bin with a lid.
OTHER ENEMIES OF DIVE GEAR:
Sunlight and Cracking
The foe of sun damage shows itself in fading and warping. Furthermore gear can dry out causing cracking and perhaps failure. Wet suits fade quickly and if left for an excessive time will break down. Of most concern would be the excessive drying, cracking (or even melting) of plastic or rubber parts.
Preventions include drying or storing gear in a shady environment. To thwart “dry rot” some gear items can be lightly coated with silicone spray (obtained from an professional dive shop).
Friction and Cuts
The main culprit of this problem is poor buoyancy while diving over a reef or wreck. Stay off the reef with proper buoyancy control. Also, if diving from a rocky beach be aware of tides and shallow reef bottom configuration. Practice proper rocky beach diving techniques for entries and exits.
If your feel contact with the reef is evitable, consider supplemental kneepads to slip over your dry or wet suit. Wet suits with Kevlar kneepads hold up nicely for divers that are especially tough on their suits.
The success of your next dive trip depends on several factors but perhaps none more than properly functioning gear. As much as possible you’ll want a carefree dive with minimal concern about the operating condition of the equipment. There are simple and easy things you can do to keep your gear in good working order. A good next dive begins with proper cleaning, inspection, corrections, and storage from the previous dive.