Open Water Tricks and Tips

So I thought it was time to share some well earnt experience, what with the Open Water season being upon us, and the club having been out of action for a while, thanks to that weird international bug issue etc…

So here is a whimsical guide with a few tips and tricks that can help you on your open water adventures. I hope it’s of some use.

Bin Bags

Bin bags are an awesome thing to pack in your kit. Throw a roll in your bag every dive, for you and your buddy’s use. Not only are they handy for collecting rubbish from a dive trip so you leave only footprints in the sand and nothing else. They also help you keep your kit tidy, clean, and can even provide warmth.

Firstly, and most usefully they create a quick and easy changing space. When you climb out of the gravel pit the floor is really dusty, dirty and covered in leaves and dirt. The trick is to only let your boot soles touch the ground and nothing else.

Use a bin bag to get changed into. Step out of your booties into a bin bag. It keeps your wet feet clean, while you dry off and get dressed. Then use the same bin bag to put your dirty boots into before you put them into your dive bag, so the rest of your kit and suit doesn’t get covered in mud and dirt. Less cleaning to do when you get home. It’s not just good for the lake either, it’s handy in a beach car park, a grassy bank, or anywhere else you get changed.

If it’s cold, use your dive knife to cut a hole in the bottom and sides of a bin bag and throw it over you like a T shirt. It quickly creates a wind proof barrier which rapidly warms up, while you stow your gear and get yourself ready to get changed. Open another up along the bottom and step into it and you’ve created a “skirt” which you can use to cover your modesty while you get changed.

Alternatives I’ve seen (some of which may be a bit bulkier), are Builders Bulk bags (lots of room to change in, but take up a lot of space), Tarpaulins (But they pick up dirty easily and have to be cleaned), and Builders Rubble Bags (tougher than bin bags but more expensive). So for me, the trusty bin bag wins every time.

Petrol Station Gloves

The closer you get to the coast, you will be lucky to find a pair of diesel nylon gloves at any petrol station in the area… Why you ask? That’s because they are easily the best thing ever for helping you get wet suit gloves on. For those of you who get cold fingers, a pair of wetsuit gloves are the perfect companion to your wetsuit. However, thick ones especially, are a real struggle to get on. Especially with sweaty hands in the summer. They stick to you like a sticky thing! That’s where petrol station gloves come in handy. Put a pair of these slightly oversized plastic gloves on, then your wetsuit gloves on after that. The wetsuit gloves slide on easily over the nylon, and you won’t even notice them once on. So, before you leave on your dive trip, nip into a local petrol station and grab a few gloves from the pump before you head off. It’s a bit cheeky, but it makes your life so much easier at the dive site.

Suit cleaning

So you’ve been on a dive, sea or fresh, and you need to wash your kit. Equipment care is a key part of any dive. Look after your kit and it looks after you. The general rule of thumb is to wash out everything diligently with fresh water. Lay it out in the garden and hose it down, stick it in the bath, your pool, or a water butt or dustbin full of clean fresh water. Check each bit for kit for trapped sand, or dirt, and allow it to dry naturally out of the sunlight.

However, when you suit get a bit stinky (don’t fib, we know you peed in your suit), what do you do? You can’t put it in the washing machine it’ll kill the motor with the weight, and washing detergent eats neoprene. So the recommendation is to fill up a bath with fresh water, add a small amount of fabric conditioner only, and allow it to soak for an hour. Rise it off fully with fresh water and allow it to dry naturally as before.

Storing your suit and kit is also just as important. Dive gear degrades in sunlight, so it should be stored in the dark. Wet suits should be hung up on a wide arm coat hanger, and if that’s not available, rolled not folded. Fins should be stored flat, and the rest of your gear boxed or bagged to prevent dust. Always and only ever store it dry, or you’ll grow some amazing penicillin. I’m just not sure you’d want to use it to feel healthy.

Stowage – Boxes vs Bags

Storage is another complex topic. The most popular of course is a large dive bag. They are generally designed for and fit for purpose. Made of strong materials up to the rigors of diving, and have loads of pockets for all the odds and ends. There are alternatives however, from the cheap and simple net or mesh bag (useful for stowage of basic kit, and then repurposed in the water as a scallop or treasure bag). Up to the more modern Gear Gulpers or Dive Boxes. I’m a fan of the Gear Gulper Box. It’s basically a large plastic moving box. But it’s big enough to get almost all your gear in. It’s easy to stack, robust, and great for covering in stickers from all your trips to show where you’ve been. The downside is, it’s one big box, so no multi pocket solutions for odds and ends. Plus it can get pretty heavy, so not ideal if you have a bad back. That said though, a couple with kit spread out, can be very useful. You do need space in your vehicle for it all to fit though. Either way, you want something that holds your gear safely, keeps it protected, and doesn’t get crushed if piled in the back of a car or van.

The one thing we don’t advocate however, and have seen multiple times, is IKEA bags… The idea is sound. They are big, free/cheap and great for carrying heavy loads. The downside is, they can’t be zipped shut, so everything falls out, and it’s not padded or protected in anyway. Please don’t use them… Your kit is worth more than that.

Weight belts

We always advocate using a simple weight belt, nylon belt with a METAL never plastic quick release buckle. Weights are dependent on your buoyancy and your suits buoyancy. However we recommend buying multiple smaller 1kg weights or a couple of 2Kg with some 1/2 kg trim weights. Keep it simple till you are sure what you need.

Never carry your belt by the buckle end. The weights slide off and you get sore toes. Always hold it by the tail end, or loop the tail through the buckle and carry as a complete closed belt.

Position your weights over your hips rather than over your spine. Avoid putting them around your front too, as this can pull on your back and make a dive uncomfortable. Bear in mind you need to fit the belt with your wetsuit on, as you’ll be a little thicker in the middle with the added neoprene around your waist, but most belt are really long, so you may need to cut it down.

To prevent your weights sliding up and down the belt out of position, you can buy plastic weight keepers, but the simplest option is the old school twist in the belt. Slide the weight to where you want it using the first hole, then twist the belt before threading the tail through the second. It will then stay in place.

Carrying Kit

The key to getting to, or getting out, from your dive site is the skill of handling your kit so that you don’t look like some sort of overloaded asthmatic camel, struggling to keep your kit off the floor as you get from A to B.

My recommendation is to wear as much of it as possible as if you were diving with it. Obviously, you can’t walk in your fins. So they need to come off. You need to extend your fin straps and sling those over one arm and hang them at the elbow. You can either wear your mask around your neck, or if that’s in the way, shove it into the foot pocket of one of your fins. Wear your weight belt, carrying it just wastes a hand for other stuff. Tuck your snorkel down your weight belt. Leave everything else where it is and you should be good to go, leaving you two free hands to climb up ladders, cliff faces, or stairs…

The other bonus to this is that you aren’t dragging your kit along the floor picking up dirt, potentially tearing holes in your gear.

Don’t Put Holes in your wet suit

The club suits are one of our most expensive assets. So it’s a bit of a bug bare when we find so many holes in them when they come back, and there’s really no need for it. I get it, accidents happen, you could get bashed against a rock in the waves, but it’s rare. So what the biggest cause?

In my experience, it’s that you spend too much time dragging your bums and knees down cliffs, or pulling too hard whilst putting your suits on. Also occasionally poor storage (folds compress and degrade the rubber)…

So to the cliff issue. The only thing that should be touching the floor are the soles of your boots (where have I heard that before?). Believe it or not, crawling up hills on your knees or sliding down on you bum isn’t actually effective, and it plays havoc with your wetsuit. Just Stand up. Cary your kit as previously described, and surprisingly you’ll actually get up and down with a lot less hassle. Just take it one step at a time and go slow.

Next to the suit pulling issue. People struggle putting their suits on, because they don’t understand the physics of neoprene. It’s simple, if you pull on it, it constricts. So it gets tighter the more you pull on it. Pull on it too hard, it splits and suddenly you have holes in your suit and costly repair bills…

When you put your suit on, you need to be gentle first of all. Then you need to pull it on in small amounts at a time. Unless you get the ankles of your suit where they should be, then the rest of the suit won’t follow. Then build it up to the shins, knees, thighs and hips sand so on. Pinch small amounts of neoprene and work it slowly up your body a stage at a time. Rush it, and you will struggle, but guaranteed if you take your time, it will go on faster than it you struggle and pull at it, plus less chance of tearing.

Baby Powder/Talc vs Lube

On the subject of getting into your suit, assistance products come up. The two main ones being baby powder/talc or lube. These products help you to stay less sticky, and slide into your suit rather than fight with it. For wet suits the most common thing is baby powder. Spread it around inside your suit covering all areas, and put a bit around your ankles and wrists. Then don your suit in the way described above and it should glide on really easily.

Lube, or water based jelly is another option to help you slide into your suit. The downside here is it’s a bit messy, sometimes a bit sticky, and definitely more expensive than baby powder. So usually you’ll find people only using it with dry suits on their cuffs and neck seals. That said, a lot of more modern wetsuits now use super stretch neoprene with a smooth skin coating very similar to dry suits. So in key areas such as this, a small amount of lube may assist you in getting on the difficult sections of your suit. Just don’t mix baby powder with lube, it gets really messy and gloopy…

Zip Care

Zips are challenge. Especially if you use them near the sea. Salt can calcify in zips and seize them. Making them break or lock up. The obvious thing would be to rinse them with fresh water, but even fresh water can be known to calcify. Zips in constant use, tend to be ok, as they’re always moving, but if you know you are going to be storing the item with the zip for a while, for example out of season, then you need to care for it before you put it away. Bees wax is the old school method. Either by melting it into the zip with friction or a gentle softening with a lighter. Make sure you get it into the pull part then work the pull up and down the zip to spread the wax.

There are also some proprietary solutions too, such as Zip Slip, Silicone Grease and others. All of which are a little easier than wax to add, usually with a brush. Work it into the zip and work the pull up and down to spread. Regular use will ensure your zip stays smooth and effective.

Bootie Fin Clips

Bootie fins, are the staple of open water diving. Wearing wet suit boots (Booties), allows you to keep your feet warm when diving, gives you the ability to walk to, or across a dive site without hurting your feet, and even provides sun protection.

However, designers of bootie fins really don’t think about the average dive student when it comes to buckle design. The big secret about bootie fins, is never to undo the undoable buckles, unless you’re replacing the whole strap… I see it so many times, impatient divers rushing to get their fins off in the water, reach for the buckle and pop the quick release and pull their fins off. By the time they are back on a boat, pier or beach, they discover the clip receiver section of the buckle (The bit left on the fin itself), has fallen off, and the fin has now become unusable because you cannot reattach the strap anymore.

If you are ever using bootie fins, ONLY ever loosen the strap using the buckle, do not unclip them. Once on, pull the strap tight for comfort and off you go diving. When you’re done, loosen them again at the buckle, but don’t unclip them. The straps stay in place, you get to reuse your kit for the next dive without a costly trip to the dive shop for replacement parts or new fins.

Knives/Netcutters

When I started snorkelling, the aim of the game was to find the biggest knife you could… Something like Rambo used to carry! Some people went so far that they didn’t need a weight belt, they were carrying around almost machetes! Add to this, the fact that at the time, there were no such things as lanyards, so enterprising young people such as myself and others, used the coils from old landline telephones (yes I’m that old). They were great. They coiled nice and small, meant you didn’t lose your knife if you dropped it, and were nice and springy and stretchy. Downside, if you dropped your knife, the “spring” pulled it back real quick and stabbed you…

It was about this time that knives with blunt ends and net cutters started appearing, and lanyards went out of fashion… I wonder why?

Whichever you choose, as it’s a personal choice, you shouldn’t be disappointed. Net cutters are great as they are impossible to stab yourself with, and they come in a great selection of colours and styles from really small to really big. They are simple to use, and there are no laws or training you need to consider.

Luckily now with knives, small is best. Aside from the legal ramifications, and meeting the law over length and use (sporting goods are technically exempt if being used for that specific purpose, but why take the chance?) All you need is a small knife with a blade no more than 3 inches long. A smooth cutting edge one side for fishing line and filament, and a serrated opposite side for ropes and similar. A hardened pommel can also be useful as a hammer, but not essential.

I would recommend a hard plastic sheath over a nylon one. It’s less likely to get damaged, and protects you more. Then you need to fix it to you somehow.

The most common place is with straps on your lower leg, but you can also attach it to your upper arm, or weight belt. Wherever you choose, it needs to be easily accessible in an emergency. So make sure you can reach it. Especially when you are wearing all your kit.

So there you have it, a lot of information for you to digest and take in. Hopefully it’s of use, and you found it both informative and humorous.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to ask me or any of your instructors, who will be able to advise and guide you.