The tips from our traveling divers are simple and easy to follow… certainly not intended to be the definitive primer for vacation dive travel, but we think these five simple checks will help make getting ready for your holidays a little less stressful!
The number one piece of advice from our Travel Gurus is, Research. It doesn’t matter if your plans take you to the other side of the world or the other side of the state, do some digging around before you leave home and find out what to expect when you arrive ready to dive. For example, tanks and weights are among the usual suspects, but make a call, or send an email, and make sure the tanks your vacation spot has for you will marry up with your regulators: yoke to yoke or DIN to DIN. If in doubt, take a conversion kit or adaptor with you. This is inexpensive insurance.
Also check that Nitrox is available. Vacation Time usually translates into lots of days in a row each featuring multiple dives, and Nitrox is another inexpensive insurance against “decompression stress.” If you haven’t taken the plunge yet and are not certified to use Nitrox, think seriously about rectifying that BEFORE you leave. With SDI’s simple computer Nitrox online eLearning program, getting a nitrox cert could not be easier.
Most of all, make sure you are correctly outfitted for the type of diving that is going to be on offer where you are heading. If you need some additional piece of gear, buy it before you leave. That way you know you have it, and when you get back, it’s supported by a local shop and local customer service.
GET A BAG
Second most popular tip is: Get a proper bag. Regardless of whether you have whittled your dive gear down to a dive skin, booties, PDC, mask and snorkel or if you are traveling with full tech gear and a HD video unit, carry your gear in a dive bag. It’s more organized, offers better protection, and is specifically designed to hold bulky things like BCs and fins.
There are literally dozens of designs, sizes, unloaded weights, and prices to choose from. The most popular around here are big, soft-sided, well-padded with built-in wheels… a godsend on early morning flights when you have to move gear through airport departure areas before the caffeine has kicked in.
While talking about protecting your dive gear investment with a proper travel bag, our travel team also recommends springing for a small dry bag and a larger mesh bag. Think of these accessories as your luggage on dive days. Stuff you need to keep dry – wallet, ID, undies and a spare Shirt (SDI Logo Polo or T Shirt of course) – goes into the dry bag and stuff that needs to be rinsed after a day of diving goes into the mesh bag.
Waterproof luggage tags on everything including the dry and mesh bags.
And by the way, statistics simply do not support the old argument that a big bag with a dive logo on it is like plastering a sign on your bag saying “Steal Me.” The consensus here is that dive gear in a dive bag is no more a target for theft during transport than any other type of bag. And the benefits of having expensive dive gear cocooned in a real dive bag are too great to ignore.
Tip number three is, pack TSA friendly. This requires a little foresight and a quick reading of the “rules of engagement.” There are some things that the wily traveler does NOT pack… scuba cylinders among them. Even though the rules state, we can travel with cylinders as long as the valves are off and there is NOTHING covering the open neck (and yes, this includes tape or a plastic cover), the benefit simply does not warrant the hassle. (Rent tanks when you get there… but arrange things beforehand.)
The same is true of most other dive gear. I have a friend who labels her gear. In fact she goes a step further and on complex items sticks an official looking label (her company letterhead) boldly printed with the following: “This item is recreational scuba diving equipment for personal use and is certified safe for airline travel.” Not perhaps entirely Kosher, but effective.
One item that can be problematic, but not necessarily a show stopper is a canister light. Many years ago, traveling with a canister light was a novelty and always meant a delay of some sort… after all, how many uses can YOU think of for a battery, lots of wires and a light bulb on an airplane. Not necessarily so any more. A few months ago at a southern US airport, the TSA agent scanning carry-on bags suddenly piped up: “OK, who’s the diver?” When I owned up, she asked: “How many watts is your cave light?” Wow. Needless to say, that day, no show and tell was required. Another day, another agent and who knows.
Perhaps, that is the crux of the challenge. The interpretation of the rules is somewhat elastic. Some days one thing is OK and another the same thing is a problem. To cope, you have to be as flexible. Do what’s asked. Be polite. Accept that “your mileage may vary:” and just because someone allowed you to take your rebreather as carry-on last week is no guarantee it’ll fly in the overhead on THIS flight.
The best general advice on this score is to leave a little extra time for check-in and security when traveling with dive gear in case you are asked to check items you intended for carry-on.
HAVE GEAR SERVICED
The fourth tip is, get it serviced. DO NOT travel with gear that is due for a service and tune up. Get it to your local technician well before any planned trips and vacations. As they say at my local dive center, the best time of year to drop off your gear for its annual service is every six months! Well, you may not dive quite as much as we do and every 12 months is adequate, but DO get into the habit of booking a checkup for your gear a few weeks prior to any big event such as a vacation. That way, you can get a quick pre-trip check-out dive in to confirm everything works as you want it to, before packing it up and getting on the plane!
USE A CHECK LIST
Tip number five from our panel of expert travelers is, make a list… and use it! Remember in your SDI open water class we mentioned the benefits of an equipment check list: things are not forgotten, dive time is maximized, and the whole dive experience is more fun. Well, this is true in spades when going on a dive vacation. Plan out what you need to pack ahead of time and make yourself a list. Then use it when you pack.
Our travelers suggest the list covers everything you’ll need to make the trip a success, and that includes not only the dive gear you have to take but also the little things that will make life easier. These extras include waterproof sunscreen, a light-weight brimmed sun hat, a rain jacket, a travel first-aid kit, a compact save-a-dive kit, waterproof notebook and graphite stick or pencils, a digital camera (one with a water-resistant housing is great) and a handful of heavy-duty re-sealable freezer bags. Oh, and even though SDI has online confirmation of diver certification, don’t forget your C-cards and dive logbook!
Depending on the local laws and regulations, taking along some familiar between dive snacks will make you a popular buddy. Trail mix, protein bars, granola, and gum all go down well between visits to the reefs and wrecks waiting below.
Well, there you have it, our tips for a good time this fall and winter. Remember to dive safe and dive often, and if you need some ideas of where to go, be sure to check out what your local SDI dive center has on offer, and then browse Diving Adventure Magazine’s travel desk.