Buy, Don’t Rent: This may seem counter-intuitive, but when you’re looking at the big picture it’s a lot cheaper to buy dive gear than it is to rent. This becomes more apparent the longer you own your gear, which can be a very long time if you take care of it. It’s common to see divers using BCs, regs and fins more than 10 years old. The truth is, most divers buy new gear not because their old gear wears out, but because they just want to get some cool new stuff.
Pile Up Your Purchases: Do you homework, save your money, watch for sales, and then when the time is right, make your move. Roll three or four major purchases into one big buy. The higher the potential total price tag, the more incentive your dive store will have to negotiate, and the more room—margin-wise—they’ll have to maneuver in. Plus, in the face of a big sale they might be more likely to throw in some “freebies” to sweeten the deal.
Consider a One-Brand Package Deal: If you can find three or four big items that strike your fancy, all from the same manufacturer, and you buy them together, such a package often gives the dive store more room to deal. And sometimes the manufacturer will do it for you by marketing a total package—reg, octo, BC, dive computer—at a very attractive price. If you do the math and see you’re getting a good price, and if you like the gear in the package, press the dive store for his best deal and then jump on it.
Be on the Lookout For End of Season Specials: Just like in the automobile business, as the new year approaches retailers are looking to clear out their inventory for the new models. This is a prime opportunity to score some great deals on last year’s gear.
Ask For Free Air: When making a major gear purchase, as one of your negotiating tools try to see if you can get, say, 10 free air fills thrown in as part of the deal. An air card can cost upwards of $50 these days, yet filling a tank really presents no out-of-pocket costs for an established dive store. Consequently, it can be an easy way for them to sweeten the deal, and it will save you some money on future dives.
Don’t Forget Dealer Prep: The better dive stores will adjust and bench test a new reg before it goes out the door, as well as help you set up a new BC, rig your new console, and offer tips on programming your new dive computer—but sometimes you’ve got to ask for it. This is less a way to save money as it is to get the most out of your money. But remember, dive store operators are human, and they're busy. If you don’t ask, they may not offer.
Don’t Assume that Price Equals Performance: ScubaLab equipment tests have demonstrated over and over again that paying the highest price doesn’t always mean you’re getting the best performer. There are lots of economy and mid-range models that stand up quite well against the high-priced competition. Within a particular brand, for example, we often find that the mid-priced models deliver the identical performance as their more expensive cousins, they just lack some of the features. If you don’t want or need these extra features, why pay for them? This is also where it helps to look for “Best Buy” ratings. In ScubaLab tests, a Best Buy indicates the model that delivered the best performance relative to its price.
Prefer Fit to Features: With many scuba products, especially masks, wetsuits and BCs, a good fit is vastly more important than making sure you get a bunch of bells and whistles. Good-fitting gear not only makes the time you spend under water a lot more enjoyable, but while features usually cost extra, fit is always free.
Shop Elsewhere For the Generic Items: Dry boxes, general purpose bags, first aid kits, tools—anything you need that’s not unique to scuba diving may be found for a lot cheaper at the big box stores.
Invest in Extra O-Rings: The cost of a box of multi-sized O-rings to seal camera housings, dive lights and dive computer battery compartments is infinitesimal compared to the value of this expensive dive equipment. By investing in O-rings up front, you’ll have lots and lots of spares, and you’ll change them more often.
Take Care of Your Gear and it Will Take Care of You: Washing and soaking your dive gear in fresh water, and allowing it to dry thoroughly out of the sun after every dive will make it last longer. With regular inspections you can detect and fix small tears and loose fasteners before they turn into costly problems.Wetsuits should be hung on fat hangers or folded neatly, drysuits should be folded and bagged. Both should be protected from light and o-zone. Finally, many regs come with a virtual lifetime warranty—provided they are serviced regularly. That will not only save money over the long term, but regular services enable your reg to benefit from upgrades required by manufacturer recalls (which you might not even be aware of) which will keep it in top operating form while you enjoy the underwater world.