Scuba diving needs to start before getting near the water. Questions need to be answered. What kind of diving am I doing: reef, wreck, cave, deep, shallow etc...? Where am I diving: lake, river, ocean, ocean inlet? What are the expected water conditions: fresh, salt, cold, warm, clear, murky? How am I entering the water: boat, shore, pier? How many dives am I planning on doing? Once these questions are answered, you can then determine the equipment that you will want and need for the dive.
When getting ready for this past weekend's dive, I asked myself these questions in order to make sure my dive would be as smooth and enjoyable as it could be.
We were taking the commercial dive boat Gypsy Blood out of Point Pleasant. We were headed to the wreck of the Gulf Trade which sits 90 feet below the surface, 13 miles off Barnegat Beach. Water temperature at the bottom were predicted to be in the high 40's to low 50's Fahrenheit. Visibility in NJ is usually not fantastic to begin with and has the potential to get really bad, really fast. There is also normally some current which can change at a moment's notice. The plan was to do two dives.
Because these entire dives were going to be primarily between 80-90 feet deep, it was beneficial to use a higher percentage of oxygen than regular air. To do this you need to have a nitrox certification. Once you are a certified diver,the nitrox class is a one night class to learn the benefits and considerations that need to be taken into account when using a nitrox mix. For these dives I filled our tanks with 28% oxygen. The increased oxygen gave us more time on the bottom without having to do any mandatory decompression stops. Note that a 3 minute safety stop should always be used as a precaution.
On this boat, as well as many other boats in NJ, all divers must have a safety sausage, in case you need to surface away from the boat and cannot make the swim back. The safety sausage increases your visibility on the surface tremendously. The other requirement is a pony bottle with its own regulator and pressure guage. This is basically a mini additional air supply system, in case something goes wrong with your primary air supply or there is an emergency that causes you to use all of your primary air.
Being that the water temperature is still quite cold a dry suit or thick wetsuit is necessary to minimize the chances of hypothermia. As I am not completely comfortable with my newly purchased dry suit just yet, I chose to wear my 7mm semi dry with a hood along with my 7mm boots and 5 mm gloves. Since this is a relatively thick neoprene it requires more weight to descend than if I were wearing a thinner wetsuit.
Weighting can be a little tricky because everything that you wear as well as the water and conditions, can have an effect on how much weight you need to add to get down. I use a steel 120 tank which is larger and heavier than an aluminum 80 (most common), so that helps lessen the additional weight I need to add. However, saltwater is more dense than freshwater so compensations need to be made for that. Also, possible current needs to be taken into consideration. I looked in my log book (see my post on logging dives), knowing I dove this location with the same set up before and decided I needed 18 lbs of additional weight. Body weight also has an effect on how much additional weight is needed, so it is always good to bring a bit of extra weight as I do fluctuate in weight a little bit and predicting water conditions is not an exact science.
Additional equipment can be helpful or add to the experience of the dive. Cutting tools should always be carried, especially on shipwrecks where there is a lot of fishing line. Ropes, ghost nets and other entanglements are also a possibility. While diving in NJ, I always bring a light because it is usually dark and murky. I sometimes bring a collection bag in case I find something interesting and a lift bag to help me bring anything slightly weighty to the surface. Since this was a wreck dive, with a good possibility of murky water and current, a wreck reel is also important. When there is current it is important to descend and ascend on the anchor line to ensure that you find the wreck when you go down, and can get back to the boat at the end of the dive. Once you descend on the anchor line, you attach your wreck reel near the anchorline, do your dive and then wind the reel back up, bringing you back to the anchor line for your ascent. For fun, I also bring a go pro camera on a stick to help get pics or videos of anything I want to capture or would like to identify later.
I find it helpful to start laying things out ahead of time so I have a chance to review and think about anything else I might need. Masks, fins, defog, towels, sweatshirts, food, sea sickness medications, sun tan lotion, repair kits and anything else, not just for the dive but for before and after as well. Testing equipment to ensure everything is working properly is also a wise decision. It is important to be as prepared as possible, because once you are on the boat it may be hard to find a replacement for anything forgotten or broken. Good preparation is a big help to experiencing good dives.