Posted October 21, 2015
By MARWAN ALENEZI
It has long been accepted that the serious professional or recreational diver owns personal scuba gear. The person feels safer, treats equipment better and generally dives more often with gear at hand. With equipment rental prices skyrocketing as more people get certified around the world, many divers took the next step and purchased the essentials themselves.
Minimizing weight, packing efficiently, preparing for delays and learning from others could save hundreds of dollars, countless hours, and, of course, a diving trip full of stress or worry.
While the very nature of scuba diving includes bulky equipment and travel, it doesn’t mean that transporting equipment always has to be a serious hassle.
Standard gear is generally defined as a BCD (inflatable jacket), a dive computer, neoprene wetsuit and boots, regulator, mask, a snorkel and fins. Even with only those items in mind, going on a dive trip without checking a bag is just not going to happen.
The first step is to minimize weight. NEVER pack any weights, weight belts or (obviously) tanks on your trip, as those are free to borrow at any normal dive operator’s shop.
If you haven’t bought equipment yet, consider how often you will travel with it. If you think you will be moving around often, it goes a long way to purchase a travel BCD. Some of these jackets weigh as little as four pounds, which is a huge save when you remember that this piece of gear is almost always the largest and heaviest. Many can be rolled or folded, saving valuable space as opposed to the bulky (or even average) BCDs.
An increase in traveling divers made the TSA look for a diving expert to share his experience.
Charlie Foreman, a customer support manager in Mississippi, has been diving and instructing for 30 years. He has over 5,500 thousand dives under his belt and is also an avid underwater photographer. He created a blog post on the TSA website specifically to address scuba gear issues in travel.
“Always pack expensive dive equipment and accessories in your carry-on luggage.” he wrote. “The most valuable are the computer and regulator. Computers can stay on your wrist…almost all of them are practically watches. Remember to take out the batteries.”
Some agents unfamiliar with the device can sometimes ask about the type of batteries you have on you as you pass security. Other than that, it also helps conserve battery on the flight, making it less likely that the computer will shut down before you jump underwater. Never put batteries in your checked luggage. This could waste your time before the flight because some are generally not allowed the plane’s cargo for safety.
Always mind your regulators because they are the most sensitive (and expensive) piece of equipment. If feasible, it helps to purchase a small regulator bag that will almost always guarantee safety. If not, just make sure its on your carry on, but not stuffed at an awkward angle for hours during flight, as this could affect air flow when used later. Needless to say, you don’t want that problem underwater.
Masks and snorkels could also fit in your carry on as well, and for prescription masks especially, that’s highly recommended. One benefit to carrying your mask with you is that it diminishes the need for a hard case to cover it in if you put in your checked bag. That saves a bit of weight and a lot of space. Prescriptions should also be with you in case of baggage loss or theft.
As for your checked luggage, the most important thing to remember is to lock it, preferably with a TSA approved lock.
Pack your BCD in your bag first and place it in the middle of the bag. Surround it with your fins to protect it during the flight, as many fins are surprisingly durable. Cover it all up with your wetsuit for cushioning support. Remember, dive insurance doesn’t cover lost/damaged gear! For extra convenience and safety, always check in a bag with wheels. You don’t want to drop heavy equipment after it safely arrives at your destination.
In the words of an Matt Lamp’l, an instructor at Grove Scuba “I always carry a $20 bill in front of the guy handling my luggage!”
After safely distributing and minimizing gear and weight, divers should also know how to minimize unexpected delays with TSA. If you’re bringing a dive knife, always remember to keep it under eight inches and check it. If you have anti-fog spray, a tube of silicon (for your O-ring or camera housing), or even just sunscreen, remember to keep them in your checked baggage to save time before your flight, or make sure they are less than 3.4 ounces to abide by TSA regulations. If you have any lights for night diving, take the batteries out to avoid extra screening and inspection.
According to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), the thing that will be of most help and convenience when travelling is having all of your documentation at hand. Hotel bookings, dive resort packages, and certifications can all be valuable when stopped by a security agent before arrival or departure.
According to Dive Guru, PADI’s renowned scuba community blog, a wise travelling diver always makes a list of equipment when packing and keeps that list with them in case the bags are lost, inspected or have something stolen from them.
Another tip according to Scuba Guru and countless other diving blogs includes using a luggage scale to avoid surprises during check-in.
Finally, and maybe most significantly, your choice of airline can define how tedious or expensive it is to travel with gear. Some airlines are humorously referred to online as those that “love divers”. Dive friendly airlines are those that fully comprehend that divers travel with a lot of equipment (like other sport/outdoor travelers). They have great baggage allowances in general or apply special rules for those with scuba gear.
InselAir allows 22 pounds for dive gear, perfect for a short trip form Florida to Bonaire/ Curacao. Thompson Fly travelers get 11 pounds if they show valid certification at check in. Qatar Airlines allow an extra 22 pounds for dive gear as long as it is placed in its own bag. Interjet, a Mexican airline, allows up to 110 pounds to be checked.
These airlines may seem random, but they are just a few of many. The idea remains: wherever you are traveling, many airlines understand the traveling diver’s struggle, and when notified in advance, can apply special concessions on weight limits.
While the nature of scuba diving includes bulky equipment and travel, it doesn’t mean that transporting equipment has to be a serious hassle. As with everything, ample preparation and research can make or break a diving adventure.