Considering all the pre-dive preparation that goes into scuba diving and the reality being that we divers are so reliant upon our dive gear it only makes sense to be prepared to handle basic, foreseeable problems so as to not the miss a day of diving (or more!) due to equipment malfunction, failure or loss. Admittedly, not everything that can go wrong with scuba equipment can be anticipated, but there are some simple steps divers can take to address minor hiccups before they cause the cancellation of a dive.
Unfortunately, divers are often overwhelmed by the idea of assembling their own save-a-dive kit so we have provided a rough guideline to getting started below. Keep in mind, what you find useful or necessary may vary and by no means is this an exhaustive list of what divers around the world will need to bring along to be fully prepared for any hiccup. However, this should help you to troubleshoot the most common problems that may arise before, after or during a dive.
Getting started on your own save-a-dive kit
There are some basic items that will make you as a diver self-sufficient when it comes to common gear problems:
Container – First of all, you’ll have to determine an appropriate sized container for all your spare parts, tools, etc. Some opt to use a dedicated small dive bag or reg bag while others opt for tackle boxes, tool boxes or pelican cases. Whatever you decide should be based on size, organization, accessibility and appropriate water tightness. Keep in mind you will likely have several items that you don’t want getting wet (rust and corrosion turn once helpful tools into paperweights when you need them most).
Various o-rings, including tank valve o-rings (for yoke configurations) or regulator o-rings (for DIN configurations) are essential. Make sure these are oxygen compatible if you are using high percentages of nitrox or pure O2 for decompression.
O-ring picks – O-rings will not do you much good if you don’t have a tool to dislodge old, worn or broken o-rings. O-ring picks look much like dental tools; however, ideally they should be made out of brass as stainless steel tools can scratch delicate surfaces on valve faces or regulators.
Dive Tools – A basic toolkit is essential to fixing minor problems. You can get some handheld combination tools that are made specifically for diving equipment or pre-made tool kits to fulfill the same purpose. You should have some hex/alan keys (imperial and metric), wrenches or a small adjustable crescent wrench, a flat head (and possibly a Phillips head screwdriver), needle nose pliers and a cutting device.
Silicone grease – used sparingly to lubricate o-rings.
Zip ties/zap straps – preferably of various sizes. These can be used in emergencies to fasten broken gear and are what are generally used to attach mouthpieces to regulator second stages.
Mouthpiece – The regulator mouthpiece is a replaceable part. Many divers have a preference and it might be nice to have an extra of the one you like, but there are many inexpensive ones that can be used as a temporary fix or given to a buddy in need so as not to miss a dive.
Spare straps – Mask straps and fin straps tend to break at the most inopportune times. Having a spare of each on hand can save a day of diving in a hurry. Some are proprietary, so check and make sure you get some that will work with your equipment. Of course, spring straps on fins will prevent breakage in the first place.
Cave line – Good sturdy line is used to fasten clips, et cetera to dive gear and occasionally needs to be replaced.
Lighter – To burn/melt ends of bungee or cave line. Also to burn down extremely frayed edges of drysuit zippers or sharp ends of cut zip ties.
A More Comprehensive Kit
Again, having spare parts and even a couple spare pieces of gear for you and your equipment will help save your dives, when traveling you may not be able to access replacement parts very easily. But, keep in mind that if your buddy’s gear malfunctions or breaks, you may end up without someone to dive with and have to call the dive. Therefore, it is a good idea to have fairly generic items on hand.
Port plugs – Having a couple for low pressure ports and one for a high pressure port for your regulator’s first stage will enable you to make on the fly reconfigurations. This can be useful if you’ve forgotten to remove your drysuit inflator hose prior to travel to warm destinations or if a different equipment configuration requires you to move hoses about.
Hoses – Replacement hoses can save a dive, over time all regulator hoses will need to be replaced. Very rarely is there a catastrophic hose failure, but it can happen. Regardless
Bungee – also known as shock cord. Bungee can be used to attach gear to pockets, to create back-up reg “necklaces” and to tie off various items in a pinch. Surgical tubing is sometimes used as a substitute.
Nuts, bolts, wingnuts & other hardware – Some bcds, such as backplates & wings are held together with nuts and bolts; accessories lie knives or argon mounting kits are sometimes attached this way as well. It just makes sense to have spares if this applies to any of your equipment, especially if it is a critical element of your gear configuration.
Aquaseal – Aquaseal is an adhesive that can be used very effectively to patch small holes in drysuits and other waterproof gear (apply to inside of suit). It does take approximately a day to dry and must be applied to clean dry surfaces, so understand this is not an on-the-fly fix. However, if you are planning on taking an extended trip to a fairly remote diving destination, this is a valuable item in your save a dive kit.
Latex Seal Cement – This adhesive is used to attach latex seals to drysuits; it can also be used to attach other items such as pockets to some suits (depends upon material).
Wetsuit Glue – This adhesive is used to patch holes and tears in wetsuits. It serves this purpose MUCH better than Aquaseal because it is flexible once it has dry.
Patch kits – various materials are available as patch kits for seals, wetsuits & drysuits.
Toothpicks/chopsticks – surprisingly very useful for applying various adhesives.
Reference material – user manuals, guide books, tide tables, etc.
Bicycle Innertube – used as retaining rings on bcd webbing to retain flashlights, excess webbing, etc.
Bolt snaps, clips, lanyards, etc – extra attachments are a good idea, these can rust, be lost, get broken and are used to attach lights, cameras and various other accessories to the diver.
Spare batteries – Any non-rechargeable batteries used for gear such as dive lights, dive computers, bottom timers, cameras, strobes, etc should be on hand for longer and/or remote trips. Even on dive trips to more civilized locations this should be considered. Is this a battery that may not be available at the local corner store? If you have any doubt, it is probably worth having a spare. That is, if it is a user replaceable battery.
Beyond tools and parts, sometimes it may make sense just to have a couple extras in case of emergency. Spare gloves or drygloves or user replaceable seals (like DUI’s zip seals) have saved more than one dive, for instance. What you decide to bring with you is up to you and may depend on where you’re diving. Trips to exotic locations may impose packing challenges, but what are the logistics in getting something repaired or replaced while you are on the dive trip? How comprehensive is your save a dive kit and how user-replaceable is your gear?
Many divers carry a spare mask with them at all times in a drysuit or wetsuit pocket. This has come in exceptional useful time and time again, more often than not lending it to a student or a buddy, but occasionally I have suffered a broken mask strap/buckle after a long swim out and having a back-up to switch to has made a world of difference in executing a timely dive (sometimes there is no choice when tides and currents dictate your timing).
First Aid – A well-stocked first aid kit is something to get in the habit of carrying. Make sure its contents are inventoried occasionally and replaced as appropriate. You never know when you may need to use it. An addition to regular first aid items divers may want to add some vinegar and a saline spray to their diving first aid kit. And if you have a pocket mask or other barrier for rescue breaths, you should check to see if it is equipped with an inlet for emergency oxygen.
If you are unfamiliar with how to perform basic first aid and/or CPR there are many courses available, such as the PADI Emergency First Responder course (EFR).
Oxygen Kit – When treating a diving related injury it is critical to get the injured diver breathing pure oxygen as soon as possible until EMS arrives. Having oxygen on hand can mean a significantly better chance of recovery. Reputable dive operations ought to be responsible for this, but if you are at all in doubt and able to bring your own kit along, it provides incredible piece of mind. And if you are not always diving with a formal dive operation it may well be worth having your own.
Personal emergency oxygen kits are available to the public and we are able to refill this bottles when necessary at our blending station at IDC. Training for oxygen use is available through PADI’s Oxygen Provider Course.