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July 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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What Do You Have in Your Dive Bag?

better to have it and not need it

from the July, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In Undercurrent's mid-month email, we asked what items you might carry with you on a dive; items such as a surface marker device like a buoy or flag, a knife, a flashlight; items that are better to have and not need than to need but not have.

Gear to be Located By

Victor I. Ruess, MD, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at UCSF (San Francisco, CA), always packs a small strobe light in his BC pocket, replacing the batteries before any trip, in addition to the sausage and mirror, which he says are probably more hit-or-miss and no good after dark or in overcast.

Getting lost at the surface appears to be the greatest hazard a diver faces.

"Most potential problems are under one's control and can be avoided through prudent diving, except for being left behind. Somebody else's screw-up is what you need to worry about and prepare for as best you can." He's happy to dive with an EPIRB off Wolf and Darwin for the same reason.

"Getting lost at the surface appears to be the greatest hazard a diver faces. I'm a great believer in low-tech emergency solutions, ones that don't rely on batteries or electronics. I never dive without my large surface marker flag on its extending surface, strapped to my tanks by a couple of elastic straps. I've used it in places like Aldabra, the Maldives and in Cocos, where divers from another boat reported seeing it (looking like a flashing light) from around six miles away. I'm surprised these are not offered more often in dive shops, but I suppose it's an easy matter to make your own with some lengths of plastic tubing and some elasticized cord."

Getting left behind on the surface is an obvious worry. Many subscribers suggested carrying a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) in a watertight case. This was reinforced by Dennis Chasteen (Lee, NH) when he wrote, "When diving from a boat or solo, I also carry a Nautilus Marine Rescue GPS . . . In addition to the safety equipment that you list, I also have a Dive Alert on my BC inflator hose, a whistle, a signaling mirror and a small strobe. I use a thumb reel affixed to my SMB when diving in current." It's worked for him: He's been diving for 60 years and is still going strong at 76.

Ollie McClung (Birmingham, AL) relies on a signal mirror and a simple whistle. He says, "Two things I always include: A signal mirror (actually I carry a CD/DVD in my BCD pocket -- cheap and easily replaceable) and a simple whistle. Yes, there are fancier, louder devices, but for normal diving where conditions are pretty tame, a plain whistle will do."

Tabby Stone (Playa Del Rey, CA) tells Undercurrent, "In one BC pocket, I always have an inflatable surface marker and a long floating one that I bought years ago, but haven't seen sold in a long time. I also have a small flashlight in that pocket. There's a fold-up snorkel in the other BC pocket. If I'm going someplace with lots of current, I take an emergency radio, and on the shoulder of my BC I've got an Adventure Lights SOS light that is supposed to be visible for up to a mile."

Underwater photographers can always use their strobes as position signaling devices, suggests Maxine Barrett (Rancho Palos Verdes, CA).

"After a routine 60-minute dive in the Southern Maldives two years ago," says Paul Bizon (Wilsonville, OR), our group surfaced in an unexpected storm of high winds, waves, and sideways rain. "Two items stick with me to this day that I will always have with me on my future dives.†One was the Nautilus Lifeline GPS unit that was attached to a dive buddy who was blown away from us out of sight. He was eventually brought aboard another boat after an hour following his calling out GPS coordinates over his GPS unit to our captain. The second item that I now have a new-found appreciation for is a large buoyant marker sausage (not the weenie size) that three of us used as a buoy. We hung onto it for 45 minutes while bobbing in zero [surface] visibility, heavy wind, and severe chop."

Send Me a Message:

Now here's an underused idea. "I always carry a slate for writing so that I am clear about what I really need or want in any situation," writes photographer Cathy Church from Grand Cayman. "Or I can send a message to the surface with [another diver] so that there are no misunderstandings if, for example, I am unable to ascend but just need some time to clear a reverse block or something."

That's a good point. Technical divers often carry more than one delayed deployment surface marker buoy (in different colors) so that they can send a message to the surface if need be.

"Who knows when my safety may depend on a written description to ask or answer the story better than a hand signal," she continued. "A message like: I can't find my buddy. He was just over there, but I want you to help me look for him right now."


Robert Delfs (Bali, Indonesia) was known to carry a bottle of fresh water and a hat as well in case he ever suffered a long wait in the sun. It was just after he'd heard about the six Japanese divers lost at Palau.

He also has a pouch attached to his wing harness containing a reef-hook, a very bright flashing strobe, cutting shears, a blunt-tipped knife, a whistle and a 10-foot long (3m) surface-marker buoy.

When asked, he reflected, "The reason I always carry a very substantial reef-hook is my memory of a dive I did with you, John, at GPS Point, near Sangeang Island outside the Komodo National Park. It was when the weight-pockets fell out of a BC you were testing, so you did your safety stop using your reef hook attached to the top of a bommie at around 40 feet (12m)."

A pony bottle with its own regulator is something Duncan McLaren (Glasgow, Scotland) always carries. He says, "You might never need it, but one of your companions might have problems, and I, for one, would rather let them have my pony regulator than my main one! If in a panic and my main regulator is snatched, then I can use the pony."

Karen Kessel (Sonora, CA) says, "The two things that have always saved a dive or a trip are zip ties and duct tape. I never leave home without them. Oh, and a New Skin brush-on Band-Aid. It holds up for days in salt water if you get blisters from your fins."

"O-rings and straps," says Jim Perrow (Winthrop, WA) are essential items. "Also, I do not go without gloves, and I carry an extra pair of white garden gloves in my bag. I've trained with gloves on at all times in the pool, lake or ocean [since 1974], otherwise fingers get soft and cold. If you have not been trained with gloves on, then how do you know how to work knobs, valves, and fins and mask when you must wear them?"

Of course, some dive operations discourage the use of gloves as a way of discouraging divers from touching the coral.

Finally, sage words from David Inman (Devon, PA), who makes the important point, "Before the trip, spend some time inspecting and maintaining your equipment, so you don't have to worry about it in the rush of the first day.†Also, back at home, do not neglect regular service of your regulator, alternate air source, computer, and BC."

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