No time is the right time for an equipment malfunction. We divers are so dependent upon our gear that it only makes sense that we all should know how to properly maintain it and repair simple breakdowns. Unfortunately, that’s most often not the case.
Dive gear is complicated, mechanical and often computerized (not to mention expensive), so many divers shy away from even the most routine maintenance — beyond the obligatory après-dive rinse-and-pack. Taking the time to get to know your equipment by thoroughly reading manuals, researching trusted sources online, and asking dive professionals the right questions can help you build a base of knowledge that can lead to safer dives and fewer expensive repairs or replacements. And it’s an important step in becoming a complete diver.
“Knowing basic maintenance gives you confidence,” says Mike Ward, president of Dive Lab, a Panama City Beach, Florida, gear testing and training facility that handles breathing-machine performance testing for ScubaLab’s annual regulator test. “Unlike your car running out of gas, where you can pull over and call a tow truck, when you are at 80 feet and all of a sudden you blow an O-ring on your high-pressure gauge — you have a serious problem that can ruin your day.”
“When a diver gets to know their gear by cleaning and checking it routinely, they’ll have a better understanding of how it works,” says certified repair technician Kenny Menendez of Scuba World in Orlando, Florida. “This should lead the diver to customize their gear to fit them better and help them resolve underwater issues faster and more safely.”
“As I developed as a diver, I naturally felt that servicing my own gear would be the right thing to do,” says Justin Maly, a marine engineer and manager of Scuba St. Lucia at Anse Chastanet Resort. “It’s important to have a basic knowledge of the way dive gear works, because with knowledge comes empowerment and confidence. And you’ll save a little money.”
For those who are less than mechanically inclined or flat-out intimidated by the idea of self-servicing dive gear, we asked these professionals for their best advice for taking control of your own kit.
Get Some Confidence
Many divers resist the idea of gear maintenance and repair out of simple fear. However, avoiding proper upkeep can lead to disappointment — or disaster. Sometimes, you just have to dive in.
“Remember how nervous you were when you did your open-water course? That was just fear of the unknown,” Maly says. “The same thing applies to equipment repair. I recommend taking a manufacturer’s course or a PADI equipment specialist course. Most any local dive shop will be more than happy to educate you on basic equipment repair.”
“Divers should at least attempt basic cleaning and inspection for corrosion and damage. Most manufacturers offer guides that explain regular user maintenance, including how to do basic disassembly,” says Ward. “Second-stage regulators are a breeding ground for all kinds of nasty bugs. If you cannot remove the regulator cover and diaphragm, you can’t clean, disinfect and dry it properly.”
“Sometimes your gear lives in the closet for many months before you head for that special island for the best vacation ever,” Maly says. “Proper service and maintenance will help ensure that your trip will be amazing. If there’s a question if your dive gear will malfunction — don’t dive it.”
Get Ahead of Problems
Every great dive begins with properly functioning equipment. By performing your own cleaning, inspection and routine maintenance, you can prevent annoying and sometimes dangerous malfunctions before they happen.
“There are a lot of variables that are out of our control while diving, such as weather, temperature and current,” says Menendez. “The condition of our gear is very much in our control, and we should all make sure it’s tiptop.”
“It’s very easy to skip cleaning and disinfecting, but this is basic maintenance that really makes a difference in performance and makes the gear last a lot longer,” Ward says.
“Storing your gear properly should be at the top of your list,” says Menendez. “Keeping equipment inside the house will prolong the life of your gear; air conditioning will prevent temperature fluctuations and keep humidity low.”
“One of the most common problems I see is sticky power-inflator buttons, which can be a dangerous problem if it creates a runaway ascent,” Maly says. “Always inspect your silicone — whether it’s your mask, mouthpiece or hoses — because the life span of silicone is greatly reduced by exposure to heat and sunlight.”
Get the Right Tools
No dive kit is complete without tools. Having the right tool can make the difference between the best dive of your life and the salty aftertaste of your own tears.
“I strongly believe that every diver, regardless of skill level, should have at minimum a save-a-dive kit,” says Maly. “There are many different companies making these kits, and one day yours will live up to its name, not to mention help a fellow diver in need.”
Beyond the most basic components of a good save-a-dive kit — O-rings, zip ties, mask and fin straps, silicone lubricant, first-stage plugs, defog solution and a scuba-specific multitool — some other basic tools to consider are adjustable wrenches, Allen wrenches, needle-nose pliers, cutting snips, tweezers, nonabrasive brushes, and screwdrivers of assorted formats and sizes. An air compressor or even a can of compressed air can be very useful, along with a magnifying glass. And for divers with the ambition and proper training, tools specific to your equipment are often available for more-invasive procedures.
“An intermediate pressure gauge will enable you to check the first stage to second stage pressure,” says Ward. “Brass O-ring picks are good because brass will not scratch the chrome surfaces of your equipment when changing O-rings.”
Get the right help
Some maintenance and repair, however, is best left to the pros. Knowing when to say when should be informed by honest self-assessment and reflexive caution.
“Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations,” Ward says. “Unless you are trained as a tech, leave the most difficult procedures to the professionals who are certified and do it all the time.”
“Regulators, BCs, inflators and tank valves need to be completely disassembled, cleaned and reassembled with new parts on a regular basis,” says Menendez. “Authorized techs have the appropriate tools, parts and calibration equipment.”
“Make sure the person performing your service has been trained by a factory-authorized trainer,” says Ward. “And make sure they can do a complete service such as comparing the submersible pressure gauge, pressure testing low-pressure hoses, and giving you documentation.”
“Every equipment manufacturer has a list of authorized technicians — it’s completely reasonable to ask a tech if they are knowledgeable about your model,” Menendez says. “Explain any concerns so the technician can thoroughly diagnose any problems, and after the initial test, ask to be contacted with an estimate so there are no surprises. Then, be sure to test the equipment when picking it up, and ask for any tips or advice that pertains to your specific gear.”
“If you look around, you’re sure to find an ‘equipment nerd’ like me at most reputable dive shops,” says Maly. “Ask if you can watch your gear being serviced. I personally love having my guests watch me repair their gear and sharing my knowledge.”