Which Dive Computer Do I Get?

By Alan Cale

You’ve reached the point where you are going to buy a dive computer. Maybe because they are required by SDI standards and you are taking a course, maybe you’d just like having all of your own gear, or maybe you want to get a watch computer for daily wear to let everyone know you are the coolest person at work (because you are a diver.)

Where is the first place you start?

For a lot of people, it’s the internet. You will easily find that there is no shortage of information a quick Google search away. Pretty soon, your head is spinning with features. Do you get the computer running RGBM, Bühlmann ZHL-16C, VPM-B or some other algorithm with a name you struggle with?  Is it better to have a console hooked up to a high-pressure hose, an electronic transmitter, or not worry about air pressure on your computer because you have a pressure gauge? Which brand do I get?

We are quickly in over our heads, so where do we go next?

We turn to anonymous people on the internet to help us! Yes, I’m looking at you, diver reading this article now. After reading through some threads online, I’ve noticed there is never a shortage of people willing to offer their opinions. Even though they may phrase it, “X brand is the best out there,” or “You need to have these features,” or even “You are wrong if you buy something other than what I use.” Remember that these are still just opinions from people you don’t know. How long has this person been diving? Are they an instructor? Do they have any teaching experience? How often do they dive?

Who am I, writing this article about dive computers?

So right off the bat, I’m going to tell you to go talk to your instructor! You don’t know me. You probably don’t know the people giving you advice on social media or online forums. But, you do know the instructor that you’ve worked with to get your training. This is someone with whom you’ve put your life in their hands so they can teach you how to be safe in the underwater environment. Let them educate you about the different computers out there that you can use to get the most out of every dive.

Still reading? Alright, I’ll at least offer some advice on available features for you to talk to your instructor or local dive shop about.

Let’s start with configuration.

Do you want that fancy watch one? The air integrated console? Or are you old-school and still use tables, so you just want something to back up your calculations and don’t need a bunch of features?

Console Computers

One option is to replace your pressure gauge with a dive computer in your console. The computer is right where you are already used to checking your pressure. It will be integrated into your air source displaying air pressure and, in many cases, air time remaining and it isn’t an extra piece of gear that you need to put on during your gear up on the boat. For those that are easily seasick, being able to throw on your gear quickly and jump straight into the water once the boat is in position can quickly become a lifesaver. Ask me how I know.

Non-air integrated

Another option is to get a non-air integrated computer that mounts to your high-pressure hose. Often these computers are less expensive than air integrated computers. , And they are easily mounted on any existing dive setup, meaning you don’t have to replace anything you already have, or if you are still renting regulators, your personal computer can be quickly mounted and removed each time. These can also often be mounted on your wrist, so you don’t even need to reach for anything to check it.

What about those fancy ones with the electronic transmitter on the first stage?

This one is my favorite because it will give me numerous points of real-time information, such as gas time remaining, as I mentioned above, my SAC rate, how much pressure I have left in my tank, or how much is in another tank if I get a second transmitter just to name a few. The model I use mounts on my wrist, and I don’t need to unclip anything to quickly access the information I need.

The problem is that a dive computer is an electronic device working in an environment where electronics don’t mix well, and you’ve added a second electronic device with the transmitter. What do you do? In my case I have a second computer in case the first fails. Tech divers, am I right? But do you want to buy two computers in case one fails? With the type of diving I do, the answer is yes. But let’s take a look at the next question to determine what you really need rather than what you want.

What Type of Diving are you doing?

  • Are you a vacation diver who only dives once a year?
  • Are you doing deep wreck dives?
  • Are you using gases other than air?

These kinds of questions are important to ask yourself, so you are not buying a computer with a ton of features you’ll never use. Ask yourself, do I need the computer that can store 4 different gas mixtures that I can switch to in the middle of my dive? Or do you only dive air and maybe Nitrox if you are feeling fancy once in a while? Are you easily distracted by the turtles swimming by? Some computers offer alarms that you can set for Max Depth, Air Time Remaining, NDL warnings, etc. to make sure you are paying attention before it’s too late. If you are the person who is regularly checking your gauges and computer, then maybe these features are things you don’t need.

Is your phone always dead because you forget to charge it?

Maybe you have gone to look in an underwater hole and found your flashlight is dead. A computer with rechargeable batteries might not be for you. There isn’t a bad day quite like going out on the boat, then powering up your computer only to discover it won’t turn on and you can’t just swap the battery from your save-a-dive kit. Take the time to decide if you want replaceable batteries or rechargeable ones. Are you doing dives that are in remote locations, and may not have a place to charge your computer? If so, having replaceable batteries is a must!

Some other features you may run into are electronic compasses, built-in thermometers, automatic adjustment for altitude, GPS, Bluetooth or wired download to your phone or computer just to name a few. I’ve even seen some with games on them for when you have long decompression stops I’m still waiting on one to have an eBook reader so I can keep up with my romance novels.

Just tell me what to get!

I can’t. There isn’t one computer that works for every single diver. Most of the divers I initially went diving with had the same computer as our instructor. This is a great place to start because it’s a model that the instructor is familiar with, the shop probably sells that model and you’ll have local support from them if it needs servicing.

What model did I buy?

The cool-looking dive watch for daily wear because I wanted everyone to know I was the awesome scuba diver. I paid more than my classmates, and I had more features than them, but we were still able to dive together because as soon as one of us indicated our computer was telling us to go up, we went up. Some eventually outgrew the models they bought as they progressed through their training and sold them to get different models. Others still dive with their original computers today because they never went any further than open water and dive only sporadically. For the examples above, there were three different paths for which computer was right for one single class of divers.

One final thing to consider, just because a computer is less expensive than another model, doesn’t necessarily make it better or worse. Two computers can have the exact same algorithm and be in entirely different price ranges due to the different features offered. Look at what each model offers and what you actually need in your computer to determine what price range you fall into.

This is coming right back around to talk to your instructor. 

Talk about the diving you do now as well as your goals for future training. If you are coming from an agency that didn’t require computers and are completely lost at their complexities, talk to your instructor about taking an SDI Computer Diver course. Ask them what models they carry and what they like and dislike about each. Talk about taking an SDI Computer Nitrox course if you are only diving air currently. Most shops  carry multiple models in different price ranges and will be more than happy to explain the differences and similarities in each.

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