Nov 042013

I’ve been using a diving backplate and harness from Deep Sea Supply for my scuba diving for a number of years now. The harness I use is somewhat Hogarthian, which in simple terms means it is a single piece of webbing and does not include any pockets or weight system integration. With this configuration the best method for using weights with a backplate is to use a weight belt, since it allows for separate ditching. However, weight belts and I don’t get along well unless I use suspenders, which then interferes with the harness and introduces entanglement scenarios I’d rather avoid.

I started by using a combination of bolt on weight plates from DSS (which work great) and small weight pockets on the belt webbing near the base of the backplate. This works well but it means that I have a lot of weight on me which is not quickly ditch-able (weights can be removed from the small pockets, but not quickly). In an effort to avoid this issue I looked at a number of different options for adding ditchable weights to a backplate setup.

I settled on the DiveRite 16LB QB Weight Pocket (#AC3216) as a ditchable weight system for my backplate setup:

Backplate with DiveRite 16LB QB Weight Pocket

The first complaint I had about the system for my usage is the webbing mount point when connected horizontally (the system supports both methods). In the horizontal scenario the webbing connection to the 2″ waist belt is quite loose and will side over standard weight keepers (as seen in the photo below).

16LB QB Weight Pocket

I had to purchase plastic weight keepers with extended D rings in order to keep the pockets in place and secured up against the backplate (as seen in photo below).

16LB QB Weight Pocket attached with belt D ring

The system loads easily and feels secure. The quick release pull works with an expected level of force, but I’ve found the extra velcro stabilizer strap requires a second expenditure of force to release, which could be confusing if a third party is doing the pulling in a rescue scenario.

DSS backplate with DiveRite 16LB QB Weight Pocket

The product is priced well (nothing in diving is cheap) and feels quite well made. The manufacture says each weight pocket is able to accommodate 8 lb of weight for a total of 16lb, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you could double that. I’m using single plastic coated weights in each pocket, and it handles that with only 50% of the weight capacity used. If you are looking for a ditch-able weight system for a backplate harness (or any 2″ webbing harness system) I recommend giving this product a look.

Jul 052010

My 3mm Henderson InstaDry gloves are mostly ratty fingerless gloves at this point. After a particularly cold dive (50 F) I decided it was time to join the warm hands crowd and get some drygloves.

Most drysuit gloves on the market attach directly to the drysuit cuff, replacing the latex seal with a compressed neoprene or dipped vinyl glove. I’ve been wary of these traditional dry gloves for several reasons:

* the glove is attached to the suit and makes working with gear very difficult after your drysuit is on.
* they are quite expensive when you consider that gloves are heavy wear items, and will need repair or replacement (especially true of the DUI zipseal gloves)
* for glove designs where the seal is replaced, a hole in the glove means a drysuit flood.

I wanted to avoid the above pitfalls, so I took my time and did some market research. The best option I found was the Glove Lock ring system from SI Tech, a Swedish company. At roughly $180, it is not the cheapest option (nothing in diving is cheap, though the system may be cheaper in the long run), but it does seem to be the best solution for me.

The Glove Lock system uses rings and a sealing system that allows it to quickly attach plain (and cheap) waterproof gloves to an existing drysuit wrist seal. Once in place, the gloves can be removed before and after the dive, making suiting up messing with gear much easier.

The Glove Lock system only includes the plastic rings and seal system. It is up to the user to find the appropriate waterproof glove to attach to the system, and an insulating glove for underneath. I value my dexterity underwater, so I chose some Atlas 620 fishing gloves to serve as the waterproof layer. Unlike the blue smurf gloves, the orange gloves are only dipped twice. This means they are thiner – easier to handle gear, but not as durable. At roughly $4 a pair, I’m not terribly worried about replacing them eventually. I am using a pair of Mnt Hardware powerstretch gloves as an insulating layer. They are not thick enough for more northern waters, but seem perfect for the low 50s I usually dive.

Because the system leaves the wrist seals in place, it means that a glove leak won’t flood the suit. However, it also means that the user has to equalize the gloves with the rest of the suit. SI Tech includes some plastic straws to go under the wrist seal, but I found I was able to equalize the gloves by keeping a bit of my insulation gloves under the wrist seal. The small air gap allows air to travel into to gloves if I briefly hold my hands higher than the drysuit bubble.

How do they work? Pretty well. Gloves are the last piece of gear I put on before jumping in, so I don’t have any issues with equipment management. Under water, the combination is dexterous enough for me to use small boltsnaps and camera controls without issue, and my hands are toasty warm. Occasionally I need a hand to unlock the seals after a dive, if my gloves and seals are still too wet, but the vast majority of the time they can be used solo. I added some extra weight to my rig to offset the new buoyancy, but I’m probably an extreme case that way – my old beat up gloves were essentially neutral.

I’ve only used them for a few dives, but so far I’m very happy with the system. I highly recommend them compared with the other options out there. The only thing that could be better about the system is cost – but cold water diving is such a low volume industry it is bit surprising they cost as much as they do.

Jun 192010

avalon dive park avalon dive park avalon dive park avalon dive park
Photos of Avalon’s Underwater Dive Park

Adam, Paul, Pete and I took the Dana Point ferry over to Avalon for a day of diving. It started overcast and turned into a lovely sunny day. I need to take more Fridays off. Adam joined the club and picked up a Stanley 24gal tub for transporting gear aka dive box on wheels. Pete and Paul tried out their new DSS backplates. We are starting to look like a scuba gang from the 50’s – same box, same dry suit, same backplates. Hmmm. We need some sort of snap dance to intimidate other gangs.

Aug 242009

Like many divers I used to store my dive gear in a large plastic bin.  The bins are cheap and keep any salt water out of the car trunk.  Eventually I dropped my bin the wrong way and cracked it one too many times.  I started searching for a better system.

Over on scubaboard a fair number of people were using large plastic tool chests or carts as portable dive lockers, with good results.  I headed over to Lowe’s and picked up a Stanley 24 Gallon Mobile Job Chest.  The chest is cheap ($50) and just large enough to fit all of my gear, including the drysuit & undergarment.  I’ve used the box for about 6 months and other than some surface rust on the latches, it seems to have held up well.  It is great for dragging gear over longer distances, like marinas or walking from the ferry to casino point in Avalon. Another benefit is the metal latches – I was able to use a padlock & cable to lock it to a bench while diving Casino Point.

The one thing the box didn’t help much with was my tank.  On a trip to Catalina I tried using a ratchet tie down to strap the tank to the back of the box.  It mostly worked, but felt a bit wobbly.  I was constantly worried the tank was going to slip out.

A form member posted some photos of an interesting modification to the tool box.  He cut holes in the top of the box and added cam bands for attaching the tanks.  This looked like a great idea and I wanted to try it out myself.  I bought some cam bands from Deep Sea Supply and borrowed tools (a dremel & saw) from Pete & Paul.

As you can see from the photos, we cut the cam band holes near the back of the box.  I have a steel 80 tank in the photo, but a steel 100 or AL80 would hang off the back even more.  This might seem a bit strange, but it was done for a good reason.  With the weight of the tank extended over the back, it balances the weight of box over the back wheel.  In fact, if the heavy items are loaded at the back of the box, pulling the whole package is quite easy.

Cutting the holes for the cam bands was more work than I was expecting, but the results are worth it. I hauled my gear and tank around Avalon a week ago, and walked a couple blocks back from the Shores to the car this weekend with little effort. The long term durability of the axle, lid and hinge remain to be seen, but there are no signs of stress or warping thus far. I’m hoping I get get a couple years of use out of it.

Update 2014: The dive box is still going strong. The latches and other bits of meta show some rust, but everything is holding together well!

Dec 212008

Since moving to a dry suit I had to switch from my lovely Mares Superchannels to a fin with a much larger foot pocket – drysuit boots are much larger than wetsuit boots.  After trying several without success, I settled on the OMS Slipstream fins.  They are hard paddle style fins that are neutral in water.  With some modifications I’ve become much more comfortable with them.

Adding spring straps

These are some of the best things you can add to your existing fins.  When properly fitted the fins go on and off very easily and are much more comfortable due to the spring compression.  Spring straps come in a wide variety of attachment points for all the different types of strap posts.  I own Innovative Scuba Concepts Ez Spring Fin Straps for both of my fins (wet & drysuit fins), and am very happy with them.  I don’t see any reason to buy the more expensive offerings.

Remolding the fin foot pocket

The first modification I made to the fins was simply to improve the fit of the foot pocket.  I found it a bit too wide, and not tall enough.  The material the fins are made of is fairly stiff, but with a little heat it can be manipulated a little.  I put on my drysuit boots and boiled a pot of water.  I dipped each fin pocket into the hot water for ten seconds, and then took it out and shoved my foot in the fin.  The pockets changed shape a bit and wrapped around my foot a lot better.  After cooling they retained their new shape.

Adding drain holes to the fin foot pocket.

For some strange reason the Slipstream fins only have two small drain holes on the back side of the foot pocket.  When holding the fins by the straps this means they drain very slowly and hold a few cups worth of water after draining.  I wanted to speed the process up a little, so I added three holes to the very bottom of the foot pocket.  This way, they drain fairly quickly when holding them by the straps.  To add the holes I heated the end of a drill bit up with a lighter, and then drilled three holes in the bottom of the pocket.  After drilling I cleaned the holes up with a x-acto knife.  There is probably a cleaner way to do it, but it works well enough for me.

Fin foot pocket drain holes

Adding fin keepers

When shore diving I often double check my hood, mask, or gloves as I walk to the water.  I usually end up awkwardly trying to tuck my fins under my arm, but that doesn’t work so well when I’m trying to adjust my mask or hood.  There are some commercial fin and mask holders available which are simply a strap loop on a plastic buckle.  However they unfortunately usually include a suicide clip, which is not a good idea in kelp or wrecks (a suicide clip does not require interaction to clip into something).  I considered making my own strap with buckle, but wanted something that would use existing hardware.  I finally settled on 1″ stainless steel split rings.  These rings are added to the straps, which can then be clipped off to a double ended bolt snap.  I will probably need to add the rings to the main spring strap instead of the pull tab, but it seems to work fine for now.

Split rings used as finkeepers
Oct 022008

I’ve been diving a 5mm wetsuit with a 3/5 hooded vest for a year in San Diego. Most people dive 7mm+ and think I’m nuts. I started to agree with them. I momentarily considered moving to a thicker wetsuit, but figured that ultimately it would just be a speed bump on my way to a drysuit. I’ve been doing longer, sometimes deeper dives, and neoprene just isn’t cutting it.

At depth (say 60 or 100′), a neoprene wetsuit is much less warm than it is on the surface, because the pressure of the water compresses the wetsuit. Drysuits on the other hand require you to add and subtract air from them as you move about the water column. This adds complexity, but means that you always have the same amount of insulation, regardless of depth. Since you are mostly dry, you also lose much less heat to the water. The other nice thing about a drysuit is that you can adjust your warmth simply by switching what you wear under the suit – the same suit can be used in freezing or temperate waters. After a lot of research I took a deep breath and got myself measured for a custom fit TLS350 in August.

The wait was pretty unbearable. I finally dove my new suit on Saturday and Sunday. It was a learning experience. It felt like I was back diving for the first time again – there was a whole new set of skills and equipment to relearn. After my third dive I was starting to get more comfortable with the process, but I think it will take me quite a few more before it all becomes second nature.

While the drysuit feels a bit weird and awkward right now, the value of the suit really hit me on the way back from the Coronado Islands. We had just finished two dives and had been in the water the longest for both dives. As we were relaxing at the back of the boat I noticed the rest of the crowd. Most of other divers had changed into dry clothes, but were huddled up under the boat cab and looked absolutely frozen. I was sitting at the back of the boat in the wind and spray and was very content. I probably looked like a smug bastard, but I was warm and dry smug bastard.