Perhaps one of the most common questions from a new diver is whether they should buy gear. After all, entering the world of scuba diving is exciting and nothing makes you feel like a legit diver quite like having your own gear.
However, once you begin to check around for scuba gear, you may quickly find yourself in the land of sticker shock. After all, scuba diving is a very expensive hobby. So, for the age old question: should you rent or should you buy?
There is no simple answer to this as it depends on many things including how frequently you dive, where you plan to dive and your individual budget. I am a firm believer that no diver should immediately go out and purchase lots of new gear. Rather, I favor a gradual approach that allows good decision-making.
So how does a diver take on such an approach? Let’s examine the various things that divers should consider before embarking on an equipment spending spree.
Why a Brand New Diver Shouldn’t Buy Equipment
There are very good reasons why a new diver should fight that initial rush of excitement to load up on gear. First, consider a diver that has not yet completed their open water certification. You don’t really know if you like diving yet.
Sure, you love the idea. But you may find that it is more of an infrequent thing you do rather than a passion. For this type of diver, buying equipment just does not make much financial sense.
Even if you’ve already earned your certification, you should really get some more dives under your belt before making a heavy investment.
Once you are confident that you enjoy diving and want to continue pursuing it, it is a good time to start considering purchasing gear. However, before doing so, it is critical to answer a number of questions.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying
How often do you plan to dive?
This is perhaps the core question that should be asked prior to buying equipment.
If you plan to dive rather infrequently, purchasing a lot of equipment simply does not make sense. It will be much more affordable to rent.
Rental equipment is relatively cheap in most places. If you only plan to dive on vacation a few times a year, you probably won’t get great value out of purchases, especially for more high ticket items.
Where do you plan to dive?
Travel is another thing to consider. Carting equipment in a vehicle is relatively easy and cost free. Transporting it in a plane will cost about $50-60 in baggage fees each time you travel.
However, if you live near dive sites, buying equipment makes much more sense long term.
Even landlocked people may find nearby lakes and quarries they enjoy diving. This isn’t to say that people who only travel to dive shouldn’t buy equipment; merely that it is something to consider.
What is your budget?
This isn’t the most critical question, but is certainly an important one.
Are you attempting this new hobby on a shoestring budget? Diving equipment is very expensive and renting may very well be the best option for you.
Do you have plenty of disposable income? In that case, you’re more likely to not be bothering if you end up buying equipment that you don’t like. Somewhere in between?
You’ll want to do some research.
Have you tried a variety of equipment?
When you did your open water certification, you likely borrowed or rented equipment from your training center. So you’ve tried some things. But have you tried various brands or styles?
Before deciding to make a commitment, it is in the best interest of a diver to try a few different types of equipment.
This will help ensure that you know that you like what you’re getting if you choose to purchase. Different equipment can feel pretty distinct.
There are Exceptions – Some Equipment is Good to Buy
After building an argument about why you should not jump into the purchase of diving equipment, allow me to briefly contradict myself.
There are a few small exceptions to this recommendation.
The first is that of a mask. I highly recommend purchasing a mask fairly early in your diving career. In fact, once you’ve decided you want to dive even periodically, a mask is a good purchase.
There are several reasons for this. First, a mask is an absolutely critical piece of equipment. You want a mask that fits you very well, sealing the water out. While you learned to clear your mask in training, this is an annoying procedure to have to do frequently.
Additionally, masks are relatively inexpensive compared to other types of equipment.
You can get a high quality mask for $80 or less. I recommend trying on masks at your local dive shop for fit rather than purchasing online. Be sure to inhale to check how it seals.
Another piece of equipment that a new diver might consider is a snorkel. There is a bit of debate in the scuba community about this. If you are diving quarries and lakes, you don’t really need a snorkel.
If you are diving anywhere with waves, a snorkel is an important safety item.
A quality snorkel with a safety valve that blocks water when a wave crests over the top of it is a fairly inexpensive purchase too. So a snorkel won’t break the bank, but decide whether you need one first. (Note that some dive companies require them).
The final piece of equipment that a diver should feel comfortable with purchasing earlier in their career is fins.
Unlike masks, you can’t really determine what you like without using them in the water. So you’ll want to try a few different varieties first it possible. Once you get to find a type you like, a purchase should be fine.
There are a number of reasons why purchasing fins can be a good idea. First, they are relatively easy to travel with as they are lightweight and fit in luggage.
Secondly, having fins that you are comfortable with is important. New fins can cause muscle cramps. While cramps underwater are easy to clear up, experiencing frequent cramps on a dive can definitely detract from the enjoyment.
There are many other types of equipment that you can purchase. These include BCDs, an octopus (regulator and gauges), dive computers, and wetsuits. These are things that are much more expensive and divers should think carefully before deciding to purchase.
Dive computers are perhaps the most debatable item on this list. Many people will tell you that you absolutely need one. I dive 10 – 15 times a year and don’t own one yet. Although if you pursue further certifications (particularly Nitrox), a dive computer may be a good idea.
I’m Not Going to Buy – How Does Rental Work?
Renting equipment is quite simple. Most dive operators have plenty of equipment. It isn’t going to be top of the line equipment, but it will generally be pretty good and well maintained.
When you book a dive, you typically will also book an equipment rental. (Don’t worry … even if you forget your equipment at home, you can likely add it on the day of).
There are a number of ways that equipment is rented. Most dive operators have two packages.
The first package is for full equipment.
This is everything you will need for your dive. In the Caribbean, you’re looking at mask, snorkel, fins, BCD, regulator, and gauges.
In the Pacific, throw in a wetsuit, hood, and gloves. This is the most expensive package. In my experience, it varies from $40 – 60 per day.
The next package is everything but the basics. This assumes you have your own mask, fins, and snorkel.
They provide the big ticket items. This is typically $10 – 15 cheaper.
Finally, many places also have ‘a la carte’ pricing where you pick what you want and pay a price per item.
Some dive operators include equipment rental in the cost of their dives. This is not the norm, but is common enough that I’ve seen it offered a few places and dove once in Belize with this setup. Obviously, these dive packages are usually a bit more expensive than other operators.
What are the Benefits of Renting and Buying?
Now that we’ve provided some basic advice around the issue, it’s probably best to close with a summary of the benefits of each option.
Benefits of Buying
- It helps with safety. Having equipment that fits cuts down on issues experienced underwater (leaky masks, cramps). Having a dive computer you are familiar with also reduces risks.
- Owning your equipment helps with comfort. You will know what to expect on dives and where things are located. For example, most people eventually have to pull their emergency air dump on their BCD. This is more of a reflex and owning your own gear means you won’t fumble around for the valve.
- Buying is cost-efficient if you dive a lot. While rental fees are small, $40 times 10 days of diving a year will add up over time, eventually paying for the cost of gear. $40 times 3 days a year won’t.
Benefits of Renting
- If you rent equipment, you don’t have to worry about forgetting your equipment at home and don’t have to hassle with transportation.
- If you dive in different climates or vastly different types of dives, you’ll need very different equipment. Even for divers of moderate frequency, renting may still be the best decision financially.
- Renting does not require a high upfront cost. Purchase prices can be a barrier for many divers. Renting avoids this.
- When you rent, you don’t have to worry about maintaining your equipment. Regulators require maintenance every two years and other items like dive computers need periodic maintenance as well.
The decision to buy or rent equipment is an important one for many divers. While new divers may feel excitement (or pressure from a dive shop) to buy gear, it is recommended that they consider their planned frequency of diving, budget, and locations before making the decision.
In the short term, purchases of equipment such as masks, fins, and a snorkel are perfectly fine as these are relatively low cost items and have strong benefits to buying early. However, more expensive purchases should be carefully researched and considered. Many people thoroughly enjoy diving while renting most of their equipment.
Mike resides in landlocked Indiana but takes every opportunity to travel to warm waters for diving. When in his home state, he typically dives quarries. His favorite place to dive is the reef off of Ambergris Caye, Belize. When not diving, he works as a researcher, runs marathons, and spends time with his three kids.