Scuba diving to me was one of those things like a back burner on a stove left on high. I was always busy trying new things, seeing new places, and having great experiences, but scuba diving was always in my peripheral vision, constantly teasing me and stating, “hey … over here … you know you want to try me … sooner or later you’re going to have to face me … what are you waiting for?”
The truth is that I wasn’t afraid of learning to scuba dive; I was afraid that it wouldn’t live up to the hype my imagination conjured up. Actually that’s not completely true. I was worried about one thing: Would I be able to equalize the pressure as I descended? I knew that all the times I went free diving, my ears would ache. Maybe I didn’t have what it takes to equalize my ears. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to take part in one of the greatest and most exciting adventures I had always had on that back burner.
Finally, the opportunity to get my open water certification was real. Over the course of two weekends, I earned my certification while learning how to properly equalize my ears during a descent or ascent, among other things. A huge weight was instantly lifted off my shoulders as my body got the green light to go ahead and have many, many great adventures at depth around the world. A whole new realm of possibilities instantly opened up.
Getting certified at an official PADI training facility was a great decision. The quality of the training became evident early on when the focus of the training was on safety. One of the many benefits of the training was having a much greater understanding of all the moving parts of a safe and enjoyable scuba diving experience. Once these became clear to me, I was able to easily categorize the gear used in the sport into three buckets: Gear needed to survive underwater, gear needed to greatly increase my safety underwater, and gear needed to have an enjoyable and fun underwater experience. Some pieces of gear may float from category to category depending on the diving circumstances, but in general this suited my needs for now.
Another aspect of the training was the introduction to the vast array of products which satisfy the many different needs of a diver. Regulators, octopuses, buoyancy compensators, tanks, air pressure gauges, compasses, dive computers, suits, boots, gloves, fins, masks, snorkels, knives, lights, weights, the list goes on and on.
Yet once I got a good grasp on what’s needed to survive, it became clear what my priorities ought to be for acquiring gear. If my life literally depends on a specific piece of gear, I don’t want to rent it from a local dive shop and I don’t want to buy it used. I don’t know its history. I’m not willing to hope or rely on the word of others to ensure this life-support gear is issue-free. Now I realize many would debate back and forth on which pieces of gear are truly “vital”, but for me, it includes:
- A regulator (what you use to breathe through)
- A secondary air source / octopus (what your buddy uses to breathe through if his regulator or air supply fails)
- A tank of air (the reservoir of air you consume)
- A dive computer (helps avoid decompression sickness at minimum)
If I know these 4 pieces of gear are in good working order, I should be ok in most situations, and so should my dive buddy. I cannot survive underwater without these essentials. Even if it doesn’t have the best fit or isn’t in the best condition, I could rent the rest of the gear and feel confident that I will be safe.
Of all the products I learned about, the dive computer was the biggest surprise. Traditionally, divers used manual dive tables to calculate how long they could remain at a specific depth in order to avoid decompression sickness. With the advent of dive computers, divers now have a computer with them which automatically calculates this for them, with much greater accuracy. But that’s not all. Many good dive computers also have multi-level diving capabilities, depth and time recording, decompression status, ascent rate indicators, and some even offer air integration, meaning they can monitor the current air pressure in the tank. They combine many instruments into one. Great dive computers offer even more. This was very attractive to me because if there’s an opportunity to reduce the amount of hoses, instruments, and gadgets which are hanging off of me during a dive, the less chance there is of getting one of them snagged on something or breaking.
There was much discussion about dive computers during the training. One of the students asked the instructors if there was a dive computer manufacturer which stood above the rest. While the instructors, with their more than 60 years of combined diving experience, had tried various dive computers throughout their careers their unanimous advice was to get a Suunto dive computer. Their reasoning was simple: they had never met any diver who had a Suunto dive computer which failed. The quality and reliability of a Suunto was second to none. Considering this was in my “gear needed to survive underwater” bucket that was enough evidence for me.
Suunto makes many great dive computers depending on your skill level and needs. My goal was to find the perfect dive computer to satisfy my current needs as well as for the foreseeable future. Knowing I was interested in learning how to use mixed gasses such as Nitrox in the near future as well as needing a compass combined with an air integration option, the Suunto D6i was the choice for me. Having all my instruments combined into one great and easy to use watch-sized dive computer would allow to me to have very safe and enjoyable dives.
Upon receiving my D6i, I immediately contacted my dive buddy and scheduled a time for us to hit up the local quarry where I could get acquainted with this incredible device. The great people at my local PADI dive shop took the time to thoroughly explain all the features and options of my D6i. This training from experienced divers was priceless. With a 20 minute in-depth explanation of the D6i and a couple minutes to configure the D6i to my liking, I was ready to go. The air pressure transmitter then was effortlessly synched to my dive computer and my dive buddy and I were off to the quarry.
My dive buddy also has a Suunto; just a different model – the D4i and he loves and swears by it. At the quarry, we got suited up and then proceeded to use our dive computer’s Plan mode to plan our dives for the day and discuss how to best use our air. Once we came up with our plan, we headed out into the water. We swam out to the location where we would descend and set our dive computers to one of the “Dive” modes. My D6i has 5 dive modes: Air, Nitrox, Gauge, Free, and Off. Only having an open water certification at this point, I set mine to the “Air” dive mode while he set his to the “Nitrox” dive mode. The dive computes did a pre-dive check of their systems and then provided us with a dive screen appropriate for divers when they are at the surface of the water. As we descended, the D6i automatically switched to the diving screen profile and was configured to take a snapshot of all my data at 20 second intervals. This kept a very accurate log of each of my dives automatically. Each snapshot recorded the time, current depth, air pressure, and water temperature. The interval, and many other settings, can be easily changed depending on my needs.
Once at depth, I tested the many facets of the dive computer in order to get accustomed to using it with ease. In urgent situations, you want as much critical knowledge available via muscle memory as possible. For me, this included confidently operating the D6i’s tilt-compensated 3D digital compass, light, and knowing where on the screen to find key information at a moment’s notice.
Throughout the day, I was able to keep a close watch on my remaining air pressure and the amount of elapsed time on the current dive as well as the remaining time I had at depth. As we descended to greater depths, I could monitor the water temperature and easily see the screen while I used the built-in backlight. During each ascent to the surface, the D6i showed me my rate of ascent and if I ascended at too fast of a rate, it would “penalize” me by sounding an alarm and advising me to wait at my current depth for 1 minute. At the 3 meter / 15 foot mark, the D6i changed its screen profile to a countdown timer of the standard 3 minutes to prevent DCS. Once at the surface, the D6i switched back to its surface screen profile where it immediately started counting my surface interval while counting down the time until I was able to fly. It is evident the D6i’s primary goal is to keep its owner safe. Suunto has covered all its bases with this amazing device.
At the end of a successful and fun day of diving, I returned home and plugged my D6i into my computer to upload the logged data into Suunto’s comprehensive DM4 software. Once uploaded, I was able to review my dives and review even more information about my dives. The DM4 software has the option to sync my dives to an online profile at Movescount where I can share my “moves” with others, such as my dive buddy. Having the ability of not only storing a log of my dives but also learning which conditions change my rate of air consumption, this software is a great tool for refining my dive skills.
I have just broken the surface into what the D6i is capable of in my first experience using it yet it has already surpassed my expectations. The build quality, reliability, ease of configuration, layout of the menus and commands, the unencumbered screen profiles, and the integration with software and online systems make the D6i not only stand well above its competition, but allow me to enjoy my dives knowing I have my best friend wrapped around my wrist.